Joe Massino, Last Godfather, First Rat

Joseph Charles Massino (born January 10, 1943) was boss of the Bonanno crime family after the death of his mentor, Phil “Rusty” Rastelli.

Massino is considered to be among the last of the clever, old-school dons, hence the "last Godfather" rubric. This only added to the shock that whirled through organized crime upon the revelation of Massino’s transition to government informer after losing a massive RICO trial in July 2004. He had been convicted of racketeering, seven murders, arson, extortion, loansharking, illegal gambling, conspiracy and money laundering and was told he would be a candidate for the death realty, which likely fueled his decision to become, in mafia parlance, a rat.

Sonny Black

Massino, by the late 1960s, seemed to have already figured out his path in life. He was married, had children and ran his own lunch wagon business in Maspeth, Queens, where he also lived so as to be near his parents. He was a hustler back then, a hardworking joe who hawked Christmas trees during the winter when the wagon was closed.

Massino’s ace in the hole was that he was close friends with Carmine and Martin Rastelli, brothers of Phillip “Rusty” Rastelli, who ran the depot from which Joe and others in the business purchased their lunch wagon supplies.

Massino went on to become a protege of Phillip Rastelli, who would become Bonanno boss during Massino’s journey from associate to made guy. Massino gave kickbacks from the profits of hawking lunch wagon grub to Rastelli. As he got more deeply involved with the mob, he began to get to know a wider circle of “street guys,” both made guys or associates, such as himself.

He took to the criminal life seriously with the help of his brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale and carjacker Duane Leisenheimer; the trio would hijack trucks and fence the stolen cargo. Massino even began running numbers from his lunch wagon, as easily as he fried onions for the burgers.

The year 1975 was a decisive one for Massino; he made the leap that not every man is capable of, and one that the mob demands: he participated in a murder. The victim was Vito Borelli, whom Massino, along with John Gotti (and others) executed for Paul Castellano, Gambino family boss. Borelli apparently had the temerity to say aloud to the wrong people that there was a pretty close resemblance between Big Paul and the chicken magnate Frank Purdue.

The Borelli hit put Massino a few steps closer to becoming a made man in the Bonanno family. 

That came to fruition a couple of years later, in June 1977. Massino was inducted into the Bonanno Family along with Anthony Spero and a group of other men in a ceremony supposedly conducted by Carmine Galante. Galante, among other things, would present a problem, the solving of which would be a major stepping stone for an eager, ambitious Massino.

Only a few years earlier, Galante, who had served many years in prison on drug charges, was released on parole at roughly the same time that Rastelli had been sent to prison. Galante began working on a plan to seize control of the Bonanno family, to which he'd been a member since its founding, working for Joe Bonanno himself. He in fact signaled his violent power-play intentions loud and clear: On January 25, 1974, loyal Galante henchmen fixed dynamite around the front door of a mausoleum; the explosion blew the bronze doors off the last resting place of Frank Costello. The former Prime Minister of the Underworld had not even been dead a year when Galante, reputedly an old nemesis of his, committed would could have been a symbolic act of revenge, as well as a clear alert that he was on the street and taking no prisoners.

"On January 25, 1974, loyal Galante henchmen fixed dynamite around the front door of a mausoleum; the explosion blew the bronze doors off the last resting place of Frank Costello."

As a former consigliere and underboss in the Bonanno family, Galante considered himself the rightful heir to the throne. During the 1970s, Galante had allegedly organized the murders of at least eight members of the Gambino family with whom he had an intense rivalry to take control of a massive drug-trafficking operation.

By Massino’s induction, Galante was a bald, bespectacled capo with a stooped walk. Galante continued his heroin importation business and also brought into the U.S. some young Sicilian mobsters from his ancestral birthplace of Castellammare del Golfo to work for him as bodyguards, contract killers and drug traffickers. The "Zips" as they were known, had Galante's total trust and confidence.

Galante refused to share any of the drug profits with his brethren in crime. The other New York crime families grew alarmed by Galante's brazen attempt to take over the narcotics business.

Only two years after his induction and Galante had become a problem that needed serious attention – the kind of attention that left some people dead in the street – or on the back patio of a small eatery. Massino, who would always remain loyal to Rastelli, fearing that the angry capo wanted to be boss and was even already acting like one, delivered a request to the Commission on Rastelli's behalf to have Galante killed. The Commission had no compunction; the hit was approved and executed on July 12, 1979.

Carmine Galante was assassinated just as he finished eating lunch on the sun-splashed backyard patio of Joe and Mary's Italian-American Restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, along with Leonard Coppola, a Bonanno capo and restaurant owner/cousin Giuseppe Turano, who was also a family soldier. At 2:45 pm in the afternoon, three ski-masked men scrambled through the restaurant and onto the patio and opened fire with shotguns and handguns. Cigar still clenched in his mouth (unless the rumor is true that mob-hunting cop Joe Coffey placed it there after the fact), Galante was shot dead along with Coppola and Turano. An enterprising photographer located himself on the roof of a nearby building and caught the iconic picture of a dead Galante, a bullet hole where one of his eyes had been, and that cigar still clutched there, as if in defiance of death.

Carmine Galante's last dinner.
Galante's bodyguards, Cesare Bonventre and Baldassare "Baldo" Amato, quietly made their exit, making it clear that they had agreed to betray him. Galante was murdered -- supposedly -- by shooters Anthony "Bruno" Indelicato, Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera, Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano and Louis "Louie Gaeta" Giongetti. These men were hired by Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato. We do know surveillance on the Ravenite Gambino club in downtown Manhattan happened to catch Bruno meeting then-Gambino underboss Neil Dellacroce. It is believed Bruno was reporting the success of the mission, which lends weight to the theory that Galante’s was a Commission-sanctioned hit.

Galante was buried at Saint John's Cemetery in Queens; a larger-than-life Bonanno figure was suddenly gone, creating space for an emerging up and comer to start shoveling his weight around.

And Massino had the backing to do it: a grateful Rastelli subsequently took full control of the family and rewarded Massino's loyalty by promoting him to caporegime.

One insurrection had been dealt with; it only took a few years for the next one to arise. Massino, higher up in the mob, played more of a hands-on role in this next score settling. He also showed he was a deft schemer with a strong spirit. He proved his mettle as a Mafia boss in the methodical way he went about putting down this pending insurrection, behind which were no less than three capos, who, like Galante, didn’t think an imprisoned Rastelli belonged in the big seat, but who also like Galante didn’t have enough friends.

In 1981, Massino got word from family loyalists that Bonanno capos Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Dominick "Big Trin" Trincera and Philip "Phil Lucky" Giaccone were planning to kill the Rastelli loyalists within the Bonanno family and take control – it was as if they wanted to pick up where Galante left off, without seemingly having any fear that they could meet the same fate. Adding a further layer of complexity to this, Massino, when first made a soldier, was first placed under Giaccone; he developed a hatred for the soft-spoken good-looking gentleman, who even Lefty Guns had to admit to his pal, undercover cop Joe Pistone playing his Donnie Brasco role, that Giaccone was a good man who made wrong decisions.

The Commission at that time was much smaller, and Massino only had to deal with only two family bosses. Massino was schooled in Mafia politics and knew he needed the proper backing, which he was certain to get once the position he was in was correctly perceived by people who mattered. In this case, they were Colombo crime family boss Carmine "Junior" Persico and Gambino boss Paul Castellano. He met with them “for advice,” laying out all his cards face up: three renegade capos were seeking to take out the boss of a family. Persico and Castellano were quick to respond; they told Massino that he and his men had every right “to defend themselves,” which was the green light the Bonannos needed to take out the three capos.

Massino and Napolitano lured the three renegades to a sit-down regarding the future leadership of the Bonanno family. All problems would be resolved, hands would be shaken, forgiveness served like little cups of espresso. When the three capos arrived at the meeting – with Frank Lino in tow – in the basement of a closed-for-the-night club owned at the time by Sammy “Bull” Gravano, Massino had already tilted the playing field in his favor.

Sal Vitale and Vito Rizzuto, along with other members of the family’s Canadian wing, at a preset moment once the gathering had begun, burst out of a closet and Trinchera, Giaccone and Indelicato were killed in a bloody, violent one-sided firefight from which only Frank Lino possessed the presence of mind to run threw a door and make his escape. He called his relation in the Gambino family, and after a sit-down, was assured he had never been a target and was allowed to stay in the family, his honor intact.

This wasn’t the end of the situation for Massino, however, as a guest failed to turn up at the capos’ farewell party: Indelicato's son Bruno was supposed to have been killed as well, but missed the meeting. Massino and Napolitano turned to soldier Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero and this young fellow whom he was mentoring, Donnie Brasco. Primarily due to Napolitano’s pushing, Massino apparently acquiesced and let Lefty and Donnie take care of Bruno, although in later years Massino did all he could to distance himself from Brasco.

Massino later came into conflict with Napolitano over Napolitano's proposal to admit mobster Donnie Brasco into the family before Massino's loyal associate (not to mention brother-in-law) Sal Vitale. Vitale had been a soldier and participant in several killings by then, while Brasco had only been known for a few years, primarily by Napolitano’s crew, and hadn't taken part in any sanctioned mob hits.

Although Brasco accepted the contract, he disappeared and the FBI soon revealed that Donnie Brasco was really an undercover agent for the FBI’s organized crime division.

In August 1981, the Bonanno family blamed Napolitano for bringing an undercover agent into their midst, as well as almost making him a member. In order to send a message, Massino was ordered by Rastelli from behind bars to kill Napolitano. Knowing he more than likely would die, Napolitano went to the home of a family associate for a supposed meeting – and after being greeted by capo Frank Coppa, was tossed down a flight of stairs and shot. Still alive, Napolitano simply asked the men to kill him “right,” and end his suffering. Years later mobsters would still confirm, “Sonny Black died like a man.” 

On February 18, 1982, Anthony Mirra was shot in the head by his nephew Joseph D'Amico, who had been sent to kill him by Richard Cantarella, who got the order from Al Embarrato. Massino gave the order to Embarrato. 

Mirra had recently been released from prison, but had in fact been the first Bonanno to befriend Brasco and was responsible for initially bringing him into the family. Like Napolitano, Mirra died for this.

Soon after the Mirra murder, Massino went into hiding with Duane "Goldie" Leisenheimer. So on March 5, 1982, when family members were charged with conspiracy to murder Indelicato, Giaccone and Trinchera, Massino was still in hiding. It was while in hiding that he gave the order for at least one more murder, that of Gerlando Sciascia, a.k.a. George from Canada, who was considered a threat to the family.

Massino soon decided to turn himself over to the police to face the music. In 1985, Massino was indicted for labor racketeering and was eventually found guilty of a wide range of violations, earning a 10-year sentence.

When Rastelli died in 1991 Massino was the obvious choice for new boss.

Two years later, Massino was released from prison and went about rebuilding. He had his work cut out for him but proved more than up to the task.

The Bonanno family had fallen into disfavor after the Donnie Brasco operation; the other families kicked them off the Commission. Thus, they couldn’t share in the large scale racketeer enterprises with the other families, and soon became known as the family the most deeply into dealing drugs, as it seemed to become their principle source of income for a time.

The infiltration of Donnie Brasco actually wound up helping the Bonanno family, too. When the great Mafia Commission Trial indicted the administration of the other four New York crime families, the Bonnanos escaped unscathed due to the fact that the family had been kicked off the big meeting table.

Massino ran the Bonanno family with Vitale as underboss and 73-year-old Spero, with him Massino had been made decades earlier by Galante, as consigliere.

Massino, with his penchant for secrecy and discretion, quietly started to put a “wall” around the family to protect it from law enforcement, while making sure that the cash was flowing in. He lived quietly with his family and closed down all the Bonanno social clubs. He fixed it so that his principal source of legitimate income appeared to come from a catering service, as well as the restaurant he partly owned, Casablanca, in Maspeth, Queens.

The Bonanno family regained its seat on the Commission and its crews beefed up interests in unions, loansharking and gambling (remaining in narcotics, too, along with the other families). Massino had even begun to change the name of the family from Bonanno to Massino, to disconnect it from its own outlaw past. In a column written in the year 2000, Jerry Capeci even dubbed Massino as the Mob Boss of the Millennium.

But just as Massino was at the pinnacle of his career, it all fell apart.

George from Canada

Vitale, who by this time had managed to get himself put on the shelf, and Spero both went away. That was just the beginning. By the time of Massino’s arrest in 2003, a long line of capos had been arrested – and turned informants, including Vitale, who had been fed up with the way Massino had been treating him.

Facing murder charges, among other things, Massino pled innocent. If convicted he faced life in prison. On May 24, 2004 the trial began. Massino was accused of seven murders, including the three capos, as well as Napolitano and Mirra. On July 30, 2004 Massino was found guilty on all counts. He was scheduled to get life in prison without parole when he was to be sentenced Feb. 1, 2005. But first he would have to go through another trial, and this one could end with a death sentence for the Bonanno boss.

On January 27, 2005 the unbelievable news broke: Massino was co-operating with authorities; he had, in fact, secretly recorded his acting boss Vincent Basciano plotting the assassination of a federal prosecutor.

And so it began. Joe Massino, the Last Godfather, also became the first New York Godfather to become a turncoat.


  1. This article says that gerlando sciascia was murdered in the 80's while Massino was on the lam, but he wasn't killed until 1999.

  2. Pretty soon there isn't going to be anybody to write about...nobody significant, anyway... at least not until the Feds or the State (NY) start "digging" up old unsolved mob murder cases.

    I would actually pay somebody "ten-grand" for an anonymous (no other questions asked), but accurate location of a certain somebody murdered and buried by the Genovese crime family in 1979.


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