The Rehabilitation Of Joe Bonanno

Joseph Bonanno was expelled from the Mafia in the 1960s: He became an "unmade" man, losing his button, his boss position, and his seat on the Commission.

Joe Bonanno
Joe Bonanno. Read about the shootout on Troutman Street at Gangsters Inc.

But hope springs eternal, and sly Don Peppino made ongoing efforts to rehabilitate himself for a return to Cosa Nostra well into the late 1970s. Either to start a new crime family in Arizona or to take control of the existing one in Los Angeles, Bonanno, from his retirement perch in Tucson, apparently kept hope alive that one day he'd stage a triumphant Mafia comeback. (He never succeeded; we're not changing our tune: Bonanno never got anywhere with these efforts. But if any man ever could have done it, Joe Bonanno was him). And in the process, some FBI agents believed he orchestrated or helped plot at least one hit, of a Los Angeles capo who reportedly had been attempting to stage a coup and create a new West Coast family. Bonanno also was linked to narcotics trafficking.

One of the more intriguing details from the FBI files, in March 1979, Bonanno sent a message to Carmine Galante, his former underboss, when Galante was in the process of consolidating power in the New York Mafia. Galante was slain a few months later, in July of that year, before he could force recognition of his status as the legitimate top banana in the Bonanno family.

The full text of the entry: 

RE PHOENIX AIRTEL TO ALBANY, MARCH 8, 1979.

INFORMATION RECEIVED MARCH 12, 1979, FROM SOURCE OF NARCOTICS STRIKE FORCE, TUCSON, ARIZONA, INDICATES RECENT CONTACT BY BONANNO, SR., WITH CARMINE GALENTE (sic).


BONANNO, SR., SENT A MESSAGE TO GALENTE = THE MESSAGE RECENTLY SENT BY BONANNO, SR., MENTIONED CARMINE GALENTE.

GALENTE IS REFERRED TO AS "CIGARO" BY BONANNO, SR.

DURING NEW YORK INTERVIEWS WITH CARMINE GALENTE, DETERMINE IDENTITY OF RECENT CONTACT BETWEEN BONANNO, SR AND GALENTE


RE PHOENIX AIRTEL TO ALBANY, MARCH 8, 1979. 

INFORMATION RECEIVED MARCH 12, 1979, FROM SOURCE OF NARCOTICS STRIKE FORCE, TUCSON, ARIZONA, INDICATES RECENT CONTACT BY BONANNO, SR., WITH CARMINE GALENTE. 




There's no followup to that entry (that we could find), though it was previously noted that the New York Office would not seek to question Galante due to his "uncooperative attitude when approached in the past."

Shortly after, the FBI got its hands on a copy of Bonanno's autobiography, though they were clueless about what it was exactly: "As the Bureau is aware, a federal search warrant was executed on the premises of captioned subject at 255 Sierra Vista Drive in Tucson, Arizona on 3/17/79. During the search of the BONANN0 residence, located in a basement office of BONANN0 in what he has described as his "buco" (safe), was a series of papers consisting of hundreds of handwritten notes of BONANN0, all written in his handwriting. Some of these were in English and some were in either Sicilian or Italian."


In the document, Bonanno "traces the history of the Commission, the ruling body of organized crime in the U. S. since it was organized in 1931. It is noted that he is an authority on the Commission since he was a charter member, elected as ' the first'one, nominated to it, and in the 1950s and 1960s he was the chairman of the nominating committee of the Commission. He names members of the Commission and the nature of some of their meetings. He identifies factions and enmities within the Commission." 

NOTEThe quoted material is from the FBI files on Joseph Bonanno. They, and other materials, are freely available at the Internet Archive, a non-profit library.

Certain mob figures could have been sensitive to Bonanno's plight. Especially in the case of Carmine (Lilo) Galante, who was no fan of Carlo Gambino and Tommy Luchese, the bosses who engineered the successful ousting of arch-rival Joe Bonanno. And while we're at it, Lilo also had issues with the Genovese family, assuming there was a method to the madness that inspired him, in 1974, to order someone to use dynamite to blast the bronze doors off of Frank Costello's mausoleum.

A detailed story of Bonanno's life after his expulsion from the Mafia hasn't been written, other than Bonanno's own memoir and memoirs by his son Bill. This topic has always interested us and we've been asked many times over the years about Bonanno's life following his "retirement" from the mob. In these weeks stuck at home, with a surplus of free time, we decided to see what we could find by poring through Bonanno's FBI files and some books, including memoirs written by former Chicago FBI agent Bill Roemer who retired to Arizona -- Roemer: Man Against the Mob (1989) -- and onetime West Coast wiseguy Jimmy (The Weasel) Fratianno -- who once said that any made man who got involved with Joe Bonanno risked death because communicating with Bonanno was a "capital offense" -- The Last Mafioso (1980) with author Ovid Demaris and Vengeance is Mine (1987) with author Michael J. Zuckerman.

One source we stayed away from: Bill Bonanno. We can't forget something once pointed out to us about Bill's truthfulness. "It was the spring of 1954. I took my “oath of office” in a large warehouse in Brooklyn. The heads of the four other New York Families—Joe Profaci, Tommy Lucchese, Frank Costello, and Albert Anastasia—were there, along with several other bosses from Buffalo, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Philadelphia." No. They weren't there, Bill (RIP).

In tandem to its learning about Joe Bonanno's fall in the early 1960s, the FBI, as per its post-Apalachin intelligence gathering efforts, was also learning the extent of the Mafia's penetration of the country. They were building on leads from the investigation of the 1957 Apalachin meeting, plus details gleaned from informants, like former Genovese soldier Joe Valachi. (Interestingly, Joe Bonanno supposedly was the Mafia sponsor for both notorious turncoats: Valachi and Jimmy The Weasel, the latter, according to Roemer).

Finally correctly recognizing the previously invisible criminal organization loosely sprawled across the continental USA for what it was (a wealthy and violent confederation of large interlocking crime rings with a vast and seemingly limitless ability to corrupt), the FBI had hit upon an extremely effective way to quickly update and expand the knowledge base the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had been building since the 1930s: the FBI planted electronic listening devices -- bugs -- in the headquarters of mob bosses. The spigot had been opened and the details were spilling. Law enforcement learned who was who and who did what in the mob. (Profaci soldier Greg Scarpa apparently didn't have a surplus of knowledge about the West Coast crime families.)


Bonanno first purchased property in Arizona in the 1940s. Specifically, on January 28, 1943, he told the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he had moved to Tucson, Arizona, and had taken up residence at 1122 North First Avenue.

(As per the FBI, "on January 11, 1943, Bonanno became embroiled in a gangland killing that rocked the entire Italian community in the United States. Carlo Tresca, editor of the Italian-language newspaper H Martello and a self-proclaimed anarchist, was shot on a street corner in Lower Manhattan shortly after leaving his office. ... The prime suspect was quickly established to be Carmine Galante.... In March, 1943, a publication was issued by the Friends of Carlo Tresca condemning the Castellammarese branch of the American underworld and its leader, Joseph (Peppino) Bonanno, "an iron-willed, truculent ruffian." Bonanno, unfortunately, was not around to enjoy the description because, on January 28; scarcely a week after the New York Police Department announced that it had assigned 1,000 policemen to the Tresca investigation, he informed the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he had moved to Tucson, Arizona, and had taken up residence at 1122 North First Avenue.")

On September 8, 1959, he attracted the Chicago Outfit's attention. As per Little Al, the FBI wiretap in Chicago, Oufit boss Sam Giancana and "consiglieri" Tony Accardo had met to talk about an upcoming election and a local prosecutor who they were certain was taking cues from the FBI regarding gambling raids. Then they talked about Joe Bonanno.

Joe was making waves, Giancana told Accardo. Joe had been acting very independent in his dealings with his New York colleagues. Bonanno also had moved to Tucson and was "planting a flag" there, Giancana said, adding that, "Whoever goes for a vacation or lives there, they gotta go to him now."

The Big Tuna was not happy. "The c-cksucker!" Accardo bellowed. "That's open territory. Who is he to plant a flag up there and take up squatter's rights?"

But Roemer, who highlighted the little back-and-forth between the two Chicago mobsters in his memoir, seems to have emphasized the wrong place. In Bonanno's FBI file it is noted: "Accardo and Giancana, discussed the possibility that Bonanno was then trying to expand his influence to include the Nevada gambling-bonanza, even though that has traditionally been a "loose" or "open" territory in which any or all of La Cosa Nostra families are allowed to have members and conduct activities."





Comments

Popular This Week

Hoodwinked: Restaurateur on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares Was a Mobster

Luchese Trio Go Down For Life For Gangland Hit In The Bronx

Anastasia's Home with "Strange Tiled Room" for Sale