The Only Sicilian Mafioso In America To Turn Himself In

THE WITNESS: I grew up in my country for 26 years almost, and all the people--I would say 99 percent, they never go to the law because the law was too slow, and the law make no justice for what they have done. They prefer Don Tomas, Don Nicolas, Don Ciccio, whatever they call them....

After Joseph (Joe Cago) Valachi and before Sammy (The Bull) Gravano, one of the most important New York mob turncoats was Luigi Ronsisvalle, a "diabolically funny mob hit man."

Ronsisvalle left (credit:  Old School)

Ronsisvalle was born and was raised in Sicily, where he followed Mafia developments "like an American kid follows baseball."

He moved to the United States in 1966 when he was 25. He ″knew almost nothing″ about America's Cosa Nostra when he arrived here.

″In Sicily you could whistle and in two minutes, you’d have 200 guys behind you with a shotgun.″

Ronsisvalle said that while he was growing up in Sicily, he always wanted to be ″a man of honor. " In Sicily, people who thought they'd been wronged preferred to go to the Mafia for justice because the law took too long and the justice wasn't severe enough.

″If a man wrongs another man″ the courts could jail him for five years, but ″in Mafia justice you shoot him in the head,″ he said.

Italian organized crime families in the United States are not part of the Sicilian Mafia and do not provide a system of justice for members, Ronsisvalle said.

″La Cosa Nostra is something American,″ he said. ″In Sicily you could whistle and in two minutes, you’d have 200 guys behind you with a shotgun.″

He arrived in the U.S with an introduction that linked him to a cadre of 12 shooters imported from Sicily two years prior by boss Joe Bonanno to beef up his ranks for battle. Ronsisvalle would cause the Fed's headaches by recanting his Pizza Connection testimony, which we wrote about previously. His testimony also was known for the way it would evolve over time.

Still, he filled important blanks regarding Knickerbocker Avenue in the late 1970s. He was there in 1976 when Salvatore (Toto) Catalano took over the Brooklyn stronghold for the Bonanno crime family following the assassination of Pietro Licata. A slew of books published around 1990 make full use of Ronsisvalle's testimony, including Last Days of the Sicilians, The Pizza Connection, and the riveting, though somewhat inaccurate, Octopus; all three are HIGHLY recommended.

Ronsisvalle was a convicted killer who, when he testified before the President’s Commission on Organized Crime, was called "by far the most spellbinding witness."

He testified during the Commission's fifth public hearing on organized crime in the United States. He wasn't the only Mafioso to appear, but he might as well have been. Antonio Gambino, a reputed member of the Gambino family, was brought to court from a jail  cell, where he was serving time on a heroin-trafficking conviction. Gambino responded to every question posed to him by invoking his ″Fifth Amendment″ right.

Ronsisvalle led the commission through a multitude of crimes, including more than a dozen hits he committed for the Brooklyn arm of the Bonanno crime family since his 1966 arrival from Sicily.

He told of numerous trips across the continent to deliver suitcases or car trunks full of heroin, thefts in the Manhattan diamond district, delivery of fake passports to Sicilian immigrants waiting to cross the border into the United States from Canada, extortion, murder plots against Federal prosecutors, double-crossings, and the murder of a woman in a Wall Street robbery.

Ronsisvalle described carrying several hundred kilograms of heroin between Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and New York.

He was convicted for the 1976 killing of a man who had allegedly raped his own niece. Ronsasville was also convicted of threatening a witness in another case.

He turned himself in in 1979, but the FBI didn't know enough at the time to ask him about anything important. His wealth of knowledge wasn't tapped into until years later, in 1985 as part of President Ronald Reagan's Commission on Organized Crime.

Among his jobs in New York was acting as a drug courier (he supposedly carried more than a ton of heroin in 1977 alone.) He delivered heroin to some Gambinos wiseguys who hung out on 18th Avenue, including some who lived in Cherry Hill in New Jersey.

Born in 1940 in Catania, Sicily, he entered the U.S. in March 1966. He killed 13 people, 11 for business and two for pleasure, he said.

He was among the mobsters who hung out at the table in the back room of the Cafe Viale. Upstairs was a floating baccarat game that was periodically raided.

After dropping the name of a man in the Sicilian Mafia, Ronsisvalle met with Paolo LaPorta, who would brag to an undercover DEA agent that he and his crew were laundering $5 million in drug money a day.

LaPorta asked Ronsisvalle to show his guts, and Luigi entered a nearby drugstore to rob it. The druggist fired a gun at him during the robbery, and the Sicilian hobbled out with a bullet lodged in his leg. LaPorta, hearing the shot, had sped away, leaving Ronsisvalle in the lurch.

Ronsisvalle made it home, however, and as soon as he was well enough, he accompanied LaPorta to Niagra Falls. The two crossed into Canada with six passports, which they traded to six Sicilians to help them cross into America. They were paid $500 a head for the forged passports.

Due to the wealth of research material, I need to write this story in parts...