Bonanno Soldier Who "Committed Suicide" With Son In 1999 Angered Cohorts By Withdrawing From Pizza Connection Drug Deal

Making Toto Catalano say the rosary probably wasn't a good idea...

On May 21, 1999, a young woman made a frantic call to a police dispatcher saying that her father, Giovanni Ligammari, 60, and brother, Pietro, 37, had hanged themselves and were dead.

Johnny Ligammari with Joseph (Big Joey) Massino, Vito Rizzuto, and Gerlando (George from Canada) Sciascia.
Ligammari, second from right, leaves Capri Motel with Joseph (Big Joey) Massino, far right; Vito Rizzuto, second from left; and Sicilian Bonanno capo Gerlando (George from Canada) Sciascia.

The father and son were found hanging face to face via separate nooses (made from nylon packing cord) from the basement rafters of the older man's two-family home in an affluent Bergen County suburb.

Giovanni Ligammari, a New Jersey contractor as well as a Sicilian member of the Bonanno family (his son also became a Bonanno soldier), was captured on May 6,1981, the day after the murders of three Bonanno capos, in photographs by the FBI, which had set up surveillance on the Capri Motel at 555 Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx. 

The FBI had snapped numerous pictures of Ligammari leaving the motel with Joseph (Big Joey) Massino and two key Sicilian members of the Bonanno family: the then-Montreal-based Vito Rizzuto and the New York-based Gerlando (George from Canada) Sciascia. (An informant tipped off the agents about the gathering at the motel.)

Fun fact: Sal Vitale nearly killed Ligammari when he accidentally fired his "tommy gun" in one of the dry-run practice sessions prior to the 1981 murders of Alphonse (Sonny Red) Indelicato, Phil Giaccone, and Dominick (Big Trin) Trinchera...

The bushy-haired Ligammari had previously been photographed wearing a plaid jacket while walking alongside Bonanno powerhouse Salvatore (Toto) Catalano that February.

Ligammari was arrested a few years later in 1984 in connection with the infamous Pizza Connection heroin trafficking case. Prosecutors described the drug ring, which operated from 1975 to 1984, as a joint effort by Sicilian and U.S. branches of the Mafia, which purportedly masterminded the smuggling of $1.65 billion worth of heroin into the United States.

The Pizza Connection trial was preceded by a four-year investigation, according to Federal officials, that "destroyed a major money-making unit within the Bonanno crime family." Evidence about the smugglers was assembled mainly via surveillance of suspects and their families in the US, Italy and Switzerland. Through court-authorized telephone taps, hundreds of telephone conversations were monitored. The defendants often used public telephones at prearranged times to receive calls. In most of the conversations, the defendants spoke guardedly, often in a Sicilian dialect, rarely referring to heroin or money. Instead they discussed deliveries of parcels, or suits, or tomato cans.

Catalano was a Queens bakery owner as well as as a powerful captain in the Bonanno family. Catalano became a target of investigators in 1981 based on information from informers about the hits on the three capos. One of the informants said Catalano ''is a major heroin dealer in Queens but that he does not touch the narcotics himself.'' Between October 1980 and September 1982 members of the "Catalano faction" were alleged to have transported $25.4 million in proceeds from drug sales to Bermuda, Switzerland, and other foreign countries.

Gaetano Badalamenti, a high-ranking member of the Sicilian Mafia, was one of the major ringleaders in the Pizza Connection Case, who supplied the Catalano group with drugs.

Ligammari, a member of the Catalano faction, was convicted with others in 1987 of helping to finance the operation in which the Sicilian Mafia funneled heroin into the United States using a multitude of pizza parlors based in New York and New Jersey as well as in the Midwest.

Specifically, as per court filings related to the Pizza Connection case, Ligammari was convicted on conspiracy and racketeering counts. "The government alleges that, as a member of the conspiracy, Ligammari agreed to help fund the narcotics purchases of the New York group, a group which included (Salvatore) Mazzurco, (Giuseppe) Ganci, and (Salvatore) Lamberti."

As per the filings, "Two series of events in particular support a finding that Ligammari did join the conspiracy," referring to surveilled meetings and intercepted telephone calls of February 13-14 and February 23-24, 1984, which "provide sufficient evidence to rationally support the jury's conclusion that Ligammari was guilty."

In June 1987, U.S. District Judge Pierre Leval sentenced Ligammari and others to 15 years and ordered him to pay $200,000 into a fund to be used to give medical and psychiatric treatment to drug addicts.

Ligammari served eight years. Upon his release in 1995, he returned to his home in the suburbs of New Jersey, where he lived until he and his son were found hanging in the basement in mid 1999.
Frank Lucianna, the Hackensack, N.J.-based lawyer who represented him, said Ligammari had been fighting depression after emerging from prison "a broken man."

Investigators initially said they had no idea what prompted the duo to take their own lives. They left no note. ''It smells,'' one veteran F.B.I. agent who worked on the case and agreed to speak only if his name was withheld told the New York Times. ''It just doesn't jibe at all, you know? And I'm not normally a doubting Thomas. But on this one I am.''

Giuseppe Ganci, left, and Salvatore Catalano
Heroin merchants Giuseppe Ganci, left, and Salvatore Catalano.

''I got a call the afternoon the bodies were discovered from one of our old sources who said they'd actually been killed,'' said one former prosecutor who worked on the Pizza Connection case. ''But then I called an F.B.I. guy I know, and he told me that the initial report was a double suicide. Either way,'' he said, ''it's weird. Voluntary suicide or not. Father and son? Very strange.''

Andy Petepiece, in The Bonanno Family: A History of New York's Bonanno Mafia Family, notes that the murders were eventually formally ruled as suicides.

Not long before the FBI arrests, Ligammari got cold feet and pulled out of a drug deal that had been arranged with Badalamenti's nephew Pietro (Pete) Alfano, the then-owner of a pizzeria in Oregon, Illinois (who survived a hit attempt during the Pizza Connection trial). Alfano was the "main point of contact in the United States" for the heroin trafficking ring. 

Ligammari's decision precipitated a crises among the Catalano consortium.

Shortly after word filtered around that Ligammari had nixed that pending drug deal with Badalamenti (the consummation of which Badalamenti had been counting on for badly needed funds), Catalano would be seen pacing nervously in and out of a pizzeria, sometimes peering out of one of the pizzeria's windows. 

The evening after Ligammari "changed his mind," Ganci called Catalano at home. The two spoke in a Sicilian dialect.

“You’re saying the rosary?” Ganci asked. 

“What can I do?” replied Catalano.

The FBI smashed the Pizza Connection ring that same month, in April 1984, and the crisis was never resolved (to our knowledge).