Prelude To The Galante Murders

The following, which is admittedly sketchy in terms of detail (it is based on a quick encounter between wiseguys and goodguys in a parking lot at night), was cut from our series on Carmine Galante, which we're still finishing up. (After we publish the last remaining installment, we plan to republish the entire story as one single piece.)

The Eternal Dance
At 9:30 in the evening of Tuesday, June 5, 1979, some five weeks before the murder of Carmine Galante, two undercover police officers in an unmarked Plymouth Valiant drove into the parking lot of the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream on Long Island.

Green Acres Mall parking lot circa 1980
Green Acres Mall parking lot circa 1980

The purpose of the visit was to surveil the California Pizza at Green Acres, which was suspected of being a source of significant drug-dealing activity. The place also was known to belong to Bonanno wiseguy Gerlando (George from Canada) Sciascia, a made member of the Bonanno crime family and also a top member of the Sicilian faction. Sciascia, who was born in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, was closely tied to certain top members of the Montreal crew and was using his restaurant as a front to sell heroin supplied via the Montreal connection. (So law enforcement believed at the time.)

The surveillance team had no sooner parked outside the restaurant when they spotted, sitting in another parked car, two other notorious zips linked to the Bonanno family. Baldassare (Baldo) Amato and Cesare Bonventre were among the most aggressive Zips in the Bonanno family’s Brooklyn-based Sicilian faction. Both were considered top associates of Carmine (Lilo) Galante, the man currently attempting to helm the crime family.

The officers drove away from the restaurant toward the Gimbels and parked in such a way that they could covertly watch the two zips in the Cadillac without being observed.

Amato and Bonventre sat still in their car for about a half hour. 

Then, the Cadillac slowly pulled out of its spot and drove closer to Sciascia’s California Pizza.

Around then, the two officers noticed someone else had shown up for the  party: a second Cadillac also was quietly idling outside the California Pizza.

Soon enough, it was closing time, Through binoculars, one of the officers watched as a man and a woman departed the restaurant and locked up for the night. The man had silver hair and a stocky build—the officers believed he was probably George Sciascia (pronounced Zsa-zsa). He finished with the door and got into a third Cadillac parked near the eatery.

The guy who was probably Sciascia then drove toward the Cadillac the two zips were in and idled alongside it for about a minute while the occupants of the two vehicles briefly communicated.

Sciascia’s Cadillac—the third Cadillac—then headed north and stopped suddenly in the middle of the lot.


And the Cadillac with Amato and Bonventre made a sharp turn and also stopped, facing south.

Baffled by the odd movements of the two vehicles, the officers sensed something consequential was in progress and radioed for backup. Within minutes, another unmarked police car slowly entered the lot and parked out of sight of the various Sicilian wiseguys and god knows who else.

“I observed [Cadillac] number three flash its high beams,” one of the officers later recalled for Lee Lamothe and Adrian Humphreys, the authors of The Sixth Family: The Collapse of the New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto, referring to Sciascia’s car.

“I observed [Cadillac] number one do the same,” meaning Bonventre and Amato’s car. “Number three then proceeded up to number one.”

In quick succession, they saw Bonventre step out carrying a white plastic bag tightly concealed against his body. He delivered it to the other Cadillac and emerged clutching a leather jacket draped around something stiff, about three feet long, the shape of a shotgun. He carried it over to the driver’s side of the third Cadillac (actually the “second” Cadillac as noted earlier) and handed it to the man at the wheel.

All three Cadillacs then sped away, quickly.

The officers in the Valiant chased after the man they thought was Sciascia in one of the Cadillacs, but the vehicle sped away from the scene clean, moving “at a tremendously high rate of speed,” the officer said, “as fast as the car can go starting from a dead stop.”

Cadillac number two with the (forever) unidentified occupants also sped away and vanished into the night.

George from Canada and Big Joe Massino
Fuzzy surveillance pic of George Sciascia and Joe Massino around the time Baldo and Cesare were arrested on weapons charges.

The backup car, the one the surveillance team had radioed for, hit pay dirt, however, and pulled over Bonventre and Amato’s Cadillac near the westbound exit for Sunrise Highway.

Bonventre identified himself as a 28-year-old pizza man from Brooklyn, born in Castellammare del Golfo. (The pizza business must be good, the officers thought; he was carrying $1,800 in $50 bills.) His passenger, Amato, said he was a 27-year-old deli owner, also of Brooklyn and Castellammare.

One of the officers used his flashlight to examine the contents of the car, which included a startling array of goodies that would’ve made Ted Bundy blush. The pizza man and his deli man friend were driving around with a small arsenal comprising a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 five-shot (the same model the officer himself carried), the serial number of which someone had taken great pains to obliterate;  a Colt .38, also loaded;.and  two black wool knit ski masks. And that’s just the backseat. A box on the floor by the front seat held a switchblade knife and bullets. Three additional knives, two pairs of rubber gloves, and a rubber Halloween mask were found in the trunk.

Also collected was “pocket litter,” as police call it, scraps of paper, matchbook covers, etc., covered in handwritten scribblings—names and telephone numbers. At the time, the officers simply documented the handwritten data, being far more interested in the shotgun that apparently had been distributed from Sciascia’s car.

Bonventre and Amato were arrested on weapons charges—and were swiftly, granted bail and allowed to return to whatever business they were up to --- that apparently required them to have guns, masks, rubber gloves, and knives close by.

As for the names and phone numbers—which belonged to cafés in Brooklyn (operated by various gangsters associated with the Zips) and heroin traffickers in America and Sicily—it would take around a decade before they became meaningful —and were linked to defendants in the Pizza Connection case.

Whether the missing shotgun was one of the two shotguns used some five weeks later on the back patio of Joe and Mary's Italian restaurant is a question that would taunt at least two FBI agents for quite some time.

Another source for this story: