Profile Of First Bonanno Member To Defect

As noted in a previous story, as per recently released records, Felix Sater, a former associate of President Donald Trump, played a key role in helping the Feds pressure Frank Coppa, the first member of the Bonanno family to flip.

Frank Coppa, Joe Massino surveillance photo
Not Before and After: Frank Coppa, left, Joe Massino when still Bonannos.

Others, including Richard Cantarella and Sal Vitale, brother-in-law to then-Bonanno boss Joseph Massino, quickly followed.

Massino, ever since getting out of prison in 1992, had taken measures to buffer the Bonanno family and himself from law enforcement. He closed social clubs, organized crews into separate cells, and focused on anti-surveillance efforts (including taking vacations outside the US with top aids and their wives to have discussions), among other things.

Despite Massino's extensive efforts to fortify the Massino family the Bonanno family, the defection of Coppa, a longtime member of Massino's inner circle, was as serious as heart failure: Coppa was among the select wiseguys who could put Massino away for centuries.

Massino reacted with rage: He began threatening violence and death against defectors -- as well as their blood relatives.

Massino wasn't alone. Other top Bonanno wiseguys also discussed killing informants' families (a sign that the topic had been internally debated?)

In Mob Boss, about Al D'Arco's life in the Luchese family, acting boss of the Bonanno family Anthony Spero once uttered a jolting remark regarding informants' families: "All the family members of those who become rats should be killed. Women, children, everything. Murder them."

A similar sentiment was expressed later by Bonanno acting boss Anthony (Tony Green) Urso, who spoke of killing the child of a cooperating witness: "Why should the rats' kids be happy, where my kids or your kids should suffer because I'm away for life?" Urso asked. "If you take one kid, I hate to say it, and do what you gotta do, they'll f---ing think twice."

Massino "told me he knows he [Vitale] has been cooperating," as turncoat capo Frank Lino testified during Massino's trial. "He said he was very upset, and he’d give him a 'receipt.'"

Coppa's son, Frank Jr., was a Bonanno family soldier, and Massino told Lino to "keep Frank Coppa Jr. close to the family...."

Then it was Lino's turn to experience Massino's wrath after the boss's January 2003 arrest -- and both were in prison. Massino summoned Lino to jailhouse meetings with his lawyers "against my will," as Lino said. "I figured they were jeopardizing my family."

At one of these meetings, Lino and Massino allegedly got into a physical scuffle that required their lawyers to separate them. Can you imagine Frank Lino and Joe Massino getting into a brawl? Later a source who actually watched it happen told The New York Post the scene was like "two fat walruses banging into each other."

New York's other four families all had defectors prior to the Bonannos. In fact, the Bonannos, for a period, anyway, had enjoyed exclusive bragging rights about being the lone family that never produced a single defector. (They seemed a bit delusional, in our view. While they may have been exclusively spared a defector, for a window of time at least, they had been infiltrated by FBI agent Donnie Brasco, which sounds at least as bad, if not worse.)

But once Coppa flipped, it set off a chain reaction that culminated in a steady stream of defections that would bring down the so-called Last Don.

"His decision to join Team America was huge," as one law enforcement official told Gang Land News.

"After 40 years of zeroes, we soon had seven made guys playing for the good guys, including the underboss and a capo, and the results were staggering," the official added.

As the "first made member of the Bonanno family to agree to testify for the government, Coppa was in a unique position to detail the inner workings and specific history of the Bonanno family," prosecutors noted in court filings with Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis.

Another law enforcement official told us that Coppa flipping was the beginning of the end of the Bonannos’ reign. Coppa, he noted, had been a powerful Bonanno captain from Dyker Heights who was known for owning a pizza joint on 13th Avenue.

“He ends up making cases against all these powerful guys. And before you know it, everybody’s getting arrested and everybody’s flipping,” the now-retired investigator said.

Frank Coppa

Coppa, a portly native of Bensonhurt, Brooklyn, finished high school and went to college (for a few months anyway).

He started out a humble grocery clerk employed on the waterfront and in trucking. He managed to hold a few legitimate jobs, including driving a truck and waiting tables. He also had a budding crook within him, and he and longtime friend, the aforementioned Frank Lino, earned their criminal bona fides burglarizing houses; when not robbing houses, they joined the other hoodlums who hung out on Avenue U.

At age 19. Coppa was arrested for the first time for attempted burglary (of a clothing store).

Coppa began handling swag and allegedly made his first significant score (a cool $20,000) off a load of stolen watches and fur coats. Having that kind of cash in his pocket helped nudge Coppa toward crime, which he viewed as having much more potential than hustling tables and brown-bagging groceries.

Coppa became friendly with gangsters from the Bonanno, Colombo and Genovese families. Eventually, he grew closer to those affiliated with the Bonannos.

In 1977, Coppa took the path of no return and was inducted into the Mafia in a ceremony presided over by Bonanno strongman Carmine Galante. Later, members of law enforcement would say that Coppa, had he led a law-abiding life, could have made a fortune legitimately.

That same year he was made, Coppa was introduced to Joe Massino, at the Parakeet eatery in the Fulton Fish Market by Matteo (Little Moe) Valvo, who was then Massino's captain.

Coppa went on to quickly involve himself in a series of rackets over decades.

But Coppa also almost was killed before any of that could happen. In the late 1970s, a bomb detonated in his car while outside a Bagel Nosh store, injuring Coppa.

Coppa believed he knew who was behind the bomb: Tony Coglitore, another wiseguy whom Coppa had beaten out of $8,000. The then-Bonanno soldier spoke with his captain, Matteo Valvo, for permission to retaliate.

Coppa had Gambino soldier Eddie Lino and another man try to kill Coglitore.

As per Bonanno debriefings, Coppa profited from mob life ever since his making by Galante, whom Coppa truly believed was the official boss of the Bonanno crime family. Coppa was startled to learn differently after Galante was slain with two others in 1979: the upstart capo/former underboss was only acting like he was boss.

Coppa then learned that Phil Rastelli, the family's official boss, had put together the Galante hit while behind bars. Supposedly the Galante hit was the only thing Rastelli successfully handled during his reign as boss.

For the Galante slaying, Rastelli had relied on capo Joe Massino, the stocky truck hijacker from Queens whom Coppa had forgotten about after their initial 1977 meeting in Manhattan.

Coppa also learned that Massino was a rising star in the Bonanno family.

And within a couple of years, Massino would again lead the charge for "Rusty" -- by orchestrating the murders of three "rebel" Bonanno capos. Coppa would be directly involved in that one, though he wouldn't fire a pistol.

The murders of the three capos would be among 14 gangland slayings that Coppa would detail for the FBI....(not 12 slayings, as we incorrectly first reported).... This will be finished in a separate story....