Alleged boro crime boss indicted on murder charges

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Joseph Massino, of 163-37 84th St. in Howard...

By Alex Davidson

The Justice Department last Thursday filed murder and racketeering charges against the alleged head of the Bonanno organized crime family, a suspected underboss and two other men believed to be captains.

Joseph Massino, of 163-37 84th St. in Howard Beach, who is thought to be the head of the family, was charged in the 19-count superseding indictment in connection with the August 1981 murder of family captain, Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn said in a press release.

He was held without bail after his indictment last Thursday and was scheduled to reappear in court Jan. 23 for a bail hearing.

Napolitano was murdered because he helped introduce an undercover FBI agent, called Donnie Brasco whose real name was Joseph Pistone, into the crime ring, according to the U.S. attorney.

“Rocked by the Donnie Brasco infiltration more than 20 years ago, the Bonannos —- already one of the most insular and secretive families — circled the wagons, closed ranks and became obsessively discreet,” said Kevin Donovan, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI in New York. “It has taken over two decades to get the goods on Joe Massino for the murder of ‘Sonny Black’ Napolitano, but justice delayed is not always justice denied.”

Massino, believed to be the only boss of the five La Cosa Nostra organized crime families in New York City who is not in prison, was charged along with suspected underboss Salvatore Vitale of Syosset, I.I. and suspected captains Frank Lino who is already in jail, and Daniel Mongelli of Staten Island, the U.S. attorney said.

All four are charged with racketeering conspiracy, murder, loansharking and illegal gambling, the U.S. attorney said.

The defendants, who face life imprisonment if convicted on the murder charges, all pleaded not guilty.

Massino and Lino could be required to pay fines of $750,000 while Mongelli and Vitale might have to pay out $250,000, according to federal authorities.

“Today’s indictment charges the sole boss of a major New York organized crime family who was still at liberty, demonstrating our commitment to eradicating the New York metropolitan area of the influence of organized crime,” said U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf. “We believe there is no clearer way to demonstrate that our fight against organized crime continues unabated.”

Massino had been friendly with the late Gambino mob boss and Howard Beach neighbor John Gotti, who died June 10 from cancer in prison in Missouri. The two became acquainted when Massino was serving a six-year term for labor racketeering.

The Bonanno organized crime family was started by Joseph Bonnano, who immigrated from Italy to America in 1908.

Gotti, known as the “Dapper Don” for his flamboyant style, was convicted in 1992 of racketeering conspiracy and six murders. He was sentenced to life in prison.

His brother Peter, also a Howard Beach resident, is currently on trial in Brooklyn federal court for extortion, wire fraud, labor racketeering, money laundering, illegal gambling and witness tampering, focusing on the Gambino family’s hold on labor unions and businesses operating at city piers. He is believed to be the head of the Gambino family.

The federal charges against Massino stem from Napolitano’s role in helping FBI agent Joseph Pistone infiltrate the Bonanno organized crime family. Prosecutors allege that when major players in the family found out about Napolitano’s association with Pistone, who was known to its members as “Donnie Brasco,” they decided to kill Napolitano.

His body was recovered in a Staten Island swamp in August 1982, more than a year after his death, authorities said. The medical examiner said his death was caused by a gunshot wound to the head.

Prosecutors said the superseding indictment is the result of a four-year investigation. The story of “Donnie Brasco” was made into a 1997 movie starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino that detailed the alleged events leading up to Napolitano’s murder.

The Justice Department release listed a total of 30 defendants who have so far been charged in this case, with federal prosecutors having already issued indictments in March, June and October of last year. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 156

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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