Did Sonny Black Scam the Bonanno Family?

In 1986, at the age of 71, Santo Trafficante faced the most formidable indictment of his life. The reason was Dominick (Sonny Black) Napolitano, a onetime Bonanno capo

Santo Trafficante, left, and Dominick Sonny Black Napolitano
Sonny Black leads Santo Trafficante out of a motel room.

The Feds wanted Santo Trafficante on a platter.

Operation Coldwater ran from 1979 to 1981 and was the FBI's attempt to infiltrate the Mafia then infesting Florida's Gulf Coast. However, from its inception, the op's true goal was much more targeted in nature.

Santo Trafficante was considered nothing less than The Godfather of most of Florida, who'd deemed it "open territory" for the Northern-based Mafia families, with provisos, of course. He first had to give his approval, then, of course, he got a piece of their action. Or at least so said the Feds. (Mafia cases are generally easy to "build" -- as there's never a lack of motive with which prosecutors can enchant the jury...)

After all attempts to flip some of his men failed and infiltration of his organization proved impossible, the FBI hit upon the idea of creating a juicy asset in the form of an illegal gambling den parked right in Trafficante's backyard. The place was designed from the start to attract one of the major Mafia families.

Christened as King's Court, it was located on the much-trafficked U.S. Route 19 in the town of Holiday, Florida, 40 miles northwest of Tampa and part of Pasco County, then still undergoing its transition into a bustling resort/retirement community.

King's Court was set up as a private club unopen to the general public. (This allowed the agents to avoid the need for a liquor license). For $25, a member could bring in his own liquor and pay for ice and soft-drink setups.

A staff of citizens was even hired. Bartenders, waitresses, even a piano player worked at the club, never knowing they had unwittingly joined an FBI secret operation.

Five undercover agents pretended to be mob wannabes from the North. They hung out in the club, acting like they worked there or whatever. All of them kept an eye open for criminal opportunities that might arise. "Tony Rossi" was the owner of the fake illegal gambling den (his real name was Special Agent Edgar S. Robb).

To further create a criminal mystique about the place, the agents ran illegal card games in a back room, with "the house" getting a cut. Small-time hoods mostly from New York and Chicago began drifting into the club.

Soon enough low-level ties were established with the Gambino and Luchese families in New York and the Outfit in Chicago. (A captain in the local sheriff's office even showed up for payoffs.)

Fast forward a year. Despite all the bullshit talk from these Northern and Midwest tough guys about bringing Trafficante into the club to ramp up the action, nothing significant had happened. Trafficante didn't know the club existed, as far as the Feds knew.

In an attempt to stir the pot, the FBI decided to utilize an "asset" it had developed in New York. His name was Donnie Brasco and yes, much of this is told in Special Agent Joseph Pistone's book. But there is a key piece of the story that is missing. Rather it's not missing; it's mistold.

Toward the end of 1980, thanks to Donnie Brasco's duplicity in New York, it looked like the FBI was finally going to snag a Bonanno capo: Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano had taken a major interest in King's Court.

Sonny Black, whose standing in the Mafia was substantial, made several trips down to Holiday in 1980 and 1981 as he prepared to take personal charge of the club and whatever additional rackets could be spun off it. The untapped opportunities proved so tempting to the crafty Mafioso he was caught on wiretap declaring he was considering departing Greenpoint, Brooklyn to live in Florida.

Sonny Black considered relocating to Holiday, Florida.
Sonny Black considered relocating to Holiday, Florida.

But first, as the story goes, he needed the nod from Trafficante.

So Sonny Black thoughtfully purchased a greeting card that conveyed a double message about "good friends" and slipped $1,000 cash into it. He even inscribed a touching expression of sentiment: "From my family to your family."

Sonny Black was staying at the Best Western Tahitian Motor Lodge in Holiday, in room number 161. On Jan. 17, 1981, Santo Trafficante himself walked into the motel room (which the FBI had bugged well in advance).

We are told that in that room at that meeting, Sonny Black handed over the card and cash and a grateful Trafficante accepted it, then departed, having given the capo the okay to proceed with his plans.

Napolitano was later overheard reporting that the "Old Man" had agreed to a one-third cut from the club's "Las Vegas Nights," and that Trafficante had agreed to supply the dealers and pitmen. Sonny Black further noted that a second payoff of $2,000 was handed over to Trafficante.

Trafficante, by accepting payment from Sonny Black for approval to launch a mobbed up gambling operation, opened himself up to major RICO statutes, for which he was later indicted, as noted previously in the story.

Frank Ragano made a career defending Trafficante in court.
Frank Ragano made a career defending Trafficante in court.

Enter Frank Ragano, the defense attorney and angel on Trafficante's shoulder who'd saved the mob boss's ass from the fire more than once (and spent the last years of his life haunted by the work he'd done for the powerful Cosa Nostra boss).

Ragano had some 25,000 pages of discovery material to wade through when he swooped in to take over the case following Trafficante's personal appeal to him.

Only four days before the jury was slated to be chosen, Ragano decided to focus on only the most important evidence against Trafficante, the exact touchpoints tying Santo to criminal activity that enabled the prosecutors to indict him.
"From a fast-scanning I noticed a remarkable fact: there was a vital omission from the prosecution's case," he told Selwyn Raab in Mob Lawyer: Including the Inside Account of Who Killed Jimmy Hoffa and JFK.

The FBI's only evidence of any payoffs came solely from Sonny Black. None of the agents had ever seen a payoff, none of the agents had ever caught Santo mentioning a payoff. Something stank, and Ragano knew it immediately.

He said he next visited Trafficante and confronted the mob boss with some blunt questions: Had he accepted a $1,000 payoff from Sonny Black? Had he accepted a single red cent from Sonny Black?

"No, no," Santo replied. "Sonny Black tried to give it to me but I wouldn't take it. I didn't trust him or like him. He was stupid."

Santo claimed he'd only met with Sonny Black because his "good friends"--top Mafiosi in New York--had vouched for him. Santo distrusted the New York mobster, calling him "impetuous and avaricious." He didn't like the way Sonny Black had bragged about having the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in his pocket.

Santo further told Ragano that he had advised Sonny Black to go into legitimate business--bingo, in fact, was so profitable that there was no reason to even get involved with anything illegal, Santo said he advised Sonny.

It sounded like bullshit to Ragano. Yet Ragano also knew Trafficante intimately. "How often had I heard him warn people about being greedy and accepting money too readily from people whose trustworthiness was not firmly established?"

Trafficante was so concerned about bugs as well that he rarely ever said a single incriminating word, even to close associates in hotel rooms or restaurants.

Ragano found the transcript from the meeting in Sonny Black's motel room. The bugged meeting. He found the pages on which were transcribed every word spoken in that room during Trafficante's visit with the New York Mafioso. He read it and smiled.

Ragano next faced a tactical issue. He couldn't have the indictment thrown out. He couldn't stop the trial. So how could he squash the agents' testimony regarding the payoff, of which there was no evidence. Aside from that one meeting, Santo was never caught in a single photo or frame of film nor was his voice caught on any additional tape, aside from the wiretap in Sonny Black's room during the single meeting he claimed he had.

He waited three weeks into trial until "Tony Rossi" was testifying. He waited until the proceedings reached the point at which mention of the payoff was imminent. Fearing the jury would believe any testimony from an FBI agent out of inherent faith in the government, he knew he had to shut Rossi down before he could mention anything about a payoff.

Ragano promptly stood up and requested a sidebar with the judge. The prosecutor joined him at the side of the judge's bench, the one farthest from the jury.

"Your honor, the prosecutor is about to perpetuate a fraud on the jury and the court. Let me show your honor the transcript of what actually occurred when the defendant, Santo Trafficante, was offered $1,000," Ragano said, and handed over the pages.

They read:

NAPOLITANO: Santo, this is from the club over here, from us and the club and--

TRAFFICANTE: Ah, forget about it.

NAPOLITANO: I didn't sign it or nothin'. So-

TRAFFICANTE: Forget about it.

NAPOLITANO: Please, do me a favor. Now, see, uh--

TRAFFICANTE: Forget about it.

NAPOLITANO: Awright, well then, then just read the card, I mean it's a beautiful card.

TRAFFICANTE: Huh! Nah, I'll tell ya [unintelligible].


TRAFFICANTE: Take care of yourself.

After reading the transcript, the judge "fixed his gaze on" the prosecutor and ordered him to change his line of questioning.

Several days later, the prosecutor acknowledged at a hearing the nonexistence of any evidence whatsoever to prove that Santo had done anything to advance a Mafia enterprise. The judge granted a motion for acquittal.
Did Sonny Black pocket the $1,000? Maybe not for the cash so much as to save face?  Did he lie to his cohorts, including Joe Pistone, who repeats the claim in his books?


  1. Although considered a hero by many,Pistone is obviously lying about quite in a bit in his books and interviews.He had to be far more involved in criminal activity than he owns up to in order to be as trusted and accepted as he was in that crew,otherwise,he wouldn't of lasted for a hot New York minute,let alone the YEARS he spent around those guys.There is NO WAY he just hung out,played Gin Rummy,helped unload a handful of highjacked trucks,and threw Lefty and Sonny an occasional tribute from an imaginary jewelry score every so often.It sounds like he tried that route in the beginning with Jilly Greca's Colombo crew and it almost got him killed.Even pertaining to this incident,he willfully lied.It could be said that he was just relating what Sonny Black told him had this not been exposed as a lie by Trafficante's lawyer BEFORE he wrote his first book,but it was and yet he still chose to tell the tale.Then again,he also was lucky to have not bought it for either the Fed boat incident,or the "Rocky" follies.More than likely,he lucked out with the boat because Lefty was the only one who found out about it and must've decided to keep it to himself for fear of ending up in a trunk right along side of his good buddy "Donnie".The Rocky incident is even more astonishing as there were high level sit-downs over it.He also told Lefty and Sonny Black two different stories about how he met the infamous "Rocky" and how long he had known him for,which further convinces me that Pistone had a guadian angel.On top of all of this,there is no doubt in my mind that Frank Balistreri found out who "Donny" and "Tony Conte" really were a few years before the aforementioned foibles(explaining the abrupt termination of their business together)and chose not to report his findings for a variety of reasons.My opinions about his truthfulness aside,Pistone certainly had balls of steel to go along with a prodigous amount of good fortune.

  2. oh that is fucking awesome!!!
    A. Ragano was a great lawyer
    B. Trafficante was a great gangster
    NIce job

  3. And Sonny pulls the wool over evryones eyes!!!!

  4. Thank you man!!! I totally agree. There are lots of holes in that book. I've read it multiple times and there are loose ends. I thought Pistone would've released a COMPREHENSIVE final version of Operation Donnie Brasco but I don't think it'll ever happen. Glad I'm not the only one. What was that shit about him stealing a half million or whatever worth of narcotics. I don't think we really know much at all about what really happened.

  5. I distribute vending machines to taverns and restaurants in the Milwaukee area. Jukeboxes, pool tables, dart games, video games. One of my accounts stated to me a number of years ago a relative of his knew Mr. Pistone quite well during the time he was in Milwaukee. He stated to me that Mr. Pistone absolutely loved being involved with the people that he was investigating. That he very much enjoyed the role he was playing. Basically, that Mr. Pistone loved being a gangster. It was also stated to me that Mr. Pistone spent quite a lot of time at the Shorecrest Hotel on the east side of Milwaukee, and that Mr. Pistone spent a lot of time with various women, what was stated to me were escorts. And that there was also some drug use involving Mr. Pistone at the time.
    My tavern account is not much of a drinker, and to my knowledge I have known him to lie. The story that was stated to me was much more detailed, and quite shocking.

  6. Could you email me? eddie2843@gmail.com

    I'm wondering if it jibes with other stuff I've heard. All my sources remain anonymous....

  7. Agree 100% with mummaluke nice post

  8. Im glad you brought that up about the half million dollars of drug money from the book. Ive said all along he was more crooked than he let on. In fact the person who accused pistone of taking the $ was an undercover fed who didn't know that pistone was an fbi agent.

  9. Most wiseguys always keep a little for themselves. If they don't, they aint too wise. As far as Pistone not being squeaky clean and getting his hands dirty, I believe it 100%. The feds will never reveal the complete truth. If they did, they would have never gotten the convictions. It's like Gravano not mentioning he was involved in a cop murder to the feds. You think he never told them that? That would have made his murder count at 20, instead of 19. But how would the feds look if they put a cop killer on the stand? They kept it hush-hush because they wanted Gotti any which way.

  10. Thank you! Exactly! Love to know the story behind the story.....

  11. I was thinking the exact same thing, Old School. And don't forget about Sammy being in the drug business. I think time has proven he was an experienced drug dealer. A source who served time with Gravano told me Gravano was looking to recruit guys to work with him in junk (E, it turned out to be) when they got out, right there in the can. And Gaspipe Casso was dismissed as a turncoat because the Feds didn't want him talking about his drug deals with Gravano. The Feds wanted Gotti so bad, they even put on ice Gaspipe's evidence regarding the Mafia Cops...they were willing to let those two bastards get off in order to catch Gotti. And why? Headlines/promotions. As a taxpaying citizen I say, fuck Gotti, get those two murdering detectives off the goddamn street....

  12. sonny from brooklynOct 3, 2014, 7:09:00 PM

    Hey ed- why dont you do a story anthony chicchetti of red hook/carroll gardens?

  13. Jesus Christ Ed! the stories you put out get better and better!

  14. I can assure you Mr. Balistrieri did not know Mr. Pistone was a law enforcement agent.

  15. How can you assure anyone of what Balistrieri knew? Were you part of his inner circle?

  16. Well, pretty slick move on his part to drop the relationship when he did. Whatever his reason.

  17. I'll have to look into it. Punchy's old stomping ground.....

  18. Yeah I always thought that was strange about the drug deal although I assumed that Mirra just made it up. Pistone never really tied up that part of story and it really makes me scratch my head when I hear of his close ties to corrupt agent John Connolly.

  19. sonny from brooklynOct 6, 2014, 11:24:00 AM

    He is anthony casso's ilegitimate son though he wont admit it and he is the boss here in carroll gardens.he is young but old school, feared and respected by all nationalitys..never be another punchy thats for sure!!!

  20. John Connolly... interesting. Apparently in the Pizza Connection Trial Pistone was severely limited as to what he could say by the judge and was really pissed off about it. The writer refers to his "sanitized" version of his story. There must've been more to it than Mirra lying but who knows. It's odd that the other guy was also undercover. And they pulled Pistone over some perceived looming violence... but really there was none. It was over until Massino struck at Sonny Black later on. Odd.


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