More Than You Ever Knew About Bonanno Boss Philip Rusty Rastelli

"(Phil Rusty) Rastelli was someone you didn’t cross. The mob was not the romanticized, glorified guys in the movies. They are gangsters, thugs, murderers. There is no poetry about them."
--Joe Pistone

Philip (Rusty) Rastelli had been Bonanno underboss to Natale (Joe Diamond) Evola; he rose to the top when a group of capos elected him after Evola died in late August 1973.

Bonanno boss Phil Rusty Rasteli
Philip (Rusty) Rastelli 

Rastelli, who listed his occupation as a radio dispatcher for a taxi company, spent half his life in prison. During his 18-year reign as boss (from 1973 to 1991) he was a free man for only about three years. Then, thanks to two lengthy prison sentences—10 years for antitrust violations, and 12 years for directing a huge labor racketeering conspiracy—after 1976, he mostly ran the Bonanno family’s operations from behind bars.

He was an unpopular boss, and he presided over the disintegration of the family.

Described once as a tall, good-looking man, Rastelli was a fitness fanatic who did 1,500 sit-ups a day.

He maintained a modest home in Brooklyn that cost $185 a month.

At his trial in 1986, he had his attorney bring a large box of English toffee to court to offer to FBI agents who showed up to testify against him. He laughed when the candy got stuck in their teeth.

His power base was a branch of the Teamsters Union that organized workers in New York's storage industry. Rastelli specialized in industrial relations.

In 1968, during a strike in the city, he approved the formation of a “flying squad” of tough guys who fire-bombed trucks, slashed tires, and assaulted strike-breakers.

In 1974, after the owner of a Long Island company refused to sign a new union contract, Rastelli sent his men to set six of the owner's vehicles ablaze with Molotov cocktails.

Even staunch loyalist Joe Massino, who murdered for Rastelli and had genuine affection for the man, was critical of his leadership skills. How smart could Rastelli be? He spent half his life in jail, Massino once complained to wiseguy brother-in-law Sal Vitale.

Joe Pistone, former FBI agent Donnie Brasco, once said: "Rastelli was someone you didn’t cross. The mob was not the romanticized, glorified guys in the movies. They are gangsters, thugs, murderers. There is no poetry about them."

Genovese family boss ″Fat Tony″ Salerno once said that Rastelli could be ″boss if the family wants him. But as far as the Commission, he can't be on it.″ (Around the same time, a senior organized crime prosecutor said that the Bonanno idea of a family meeting was ″to sit around in a circle and shoot at each other.″)

Rusty’s lawyer described him as ″truly a man of honor. Maybe one of the last such men.″ Rastelli was ″a soft-spoken man who had respect for the legal system. I never heard a bad word about him.″

Rastelli was born in Brooklyn on January 13, 1918,  the sixth of eight children of Neapolitan immigrants. His formal education at New York PS 110 ended at age 15.

He reportedly first attracted the attention of police at the age of 8, when he was charged with delinquency.

His first conviction came three years after school stopped, after he killed someone in a car accident. Rastelli had been driving without a licence.

From there Rastelli graduated to robberies, contempt of court, and disorderly conduct related to dice games.

In 1950 he was arrested for assault and robbery, and was sentenced to five to 10 years, though it’s unclear that he ever served the time.

In January 1953, he was questioned about the shooting, and wounding, of Michael Russo.

Then in December 1959, Russo was shot again—and was killed.

Rastelli turned himself in for the murder and was tried for it, and was actually acquitted.

Phil Rastelli in February 1985.

One of the more interesting things about Rastelli was his first wife, Connie, who departed dramatically from the traditional interpretation of the homemaking Mafia wife.

Rastelli would describe the marital bond between the two as "chaotic" -- and he also  complained that his wife was "domineering."

Not for her cooking dinner and cleaning house, though she may have done those things—presumably, if she could find the time. She had lots on her plate, it’d seem.

We do know that she drove Rastelli's getaway car on armed robberies, and that she kept her husband's gambling records. She also went on to run abortion mills for extra cash.

She also was narrowly acquitted by a hung jury on a murder charge.

When Connie discovered that the man she had wedded was fooling around behind her back with a much younger woman up in Canada, she beat her rival unconscious and subsequently shot Rastelli twice; nevertheless, loyal to a fault, she did not talk to the authorities until Rastelli informed her that the marriage was over.

Then she confessed her own and Rastelli's involvement in the Russo murder and other crimes, including racketeering, but in March 1962, before legal proceedings could begin, Connie was shot dead by an unknown assassin and her body was found in the building in which she lived.

Rastelli got married again, to his girlfriend Irene McKee in 1964. The marriage was dissolved one year later on incompatibility grounds.

His sole acknowledged income was a monthly social security check that he received only after the age of 65; his legal fees were paid by relatives.

He claimed that police harassment made it difficult for him to remain employed, and dismissed an article in Fortune that rated him as the ninth top Mafia figure in terms of money and power.

Rastelli died of liver cancer at Booth Hospital in 1991.

He had been released from federal prison in Springfield, Mo., where he was serving a 12-year sentence for labor racketeering, because he was dying.