Pitera Crew Member Hopes Third Time Is The Charm

Vincent (Kojak) Giattino, 69, one of the few members of Bonanno soldier Thomas (Tommy Karate) Pitera's crew who didn't flip after arrest over 30 years ago, is once again seeking compassionate release. 
Vincent (Kojak) Giattino
Giattino was on America's Most Wanted prior to his 1991 arrest in Florida.

Two previous compassionate release efforts were nixed, including one this past July that Judge Margo K. Brodie shot down, noting, Giattino “committed two heinous murders using guns equipped with silencers and trafficked narcotics as a devout member of BCF (Bonanno Crime Family).”

With this latest effort, attorney Anthony Cecutti is hoping he can win release for Giattino by highlighting two recent decisions to release two other convicted murderers who were serving life sentences. Those decisions involved Colombo capo Anthony Russo, who ordered murders during the Colombo war, and Paul Moore, a drug trafficker who fatally shot a rival. Both were given reduced sentences on the same day last month by Judge Frederic Block under the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that Donald Trump signed into law in 2018.

“We respectfully request that this court do the same and reduce Mr. Giattino’s life sentence to 35 years,” Cecutti asked in a Nov. 26 filing in Brooklyn federal court, according to an SI Live report.

In the case of Russo and Moore, Block noted that both men were model prisoners, and that they were punished with life sentences for exercising their right to trial. Neither man has been released yet as Block reduced their life sentences to prison terms of 35 years. Russo, 70, still has six more years to serve, and Moore, 56, has about three years to go. (Both could get credit for good behavior, however.)

As per court filings, "Giattino was shown to be a member of the Pitera crew of the Bonanno organized crime family, and the government presented extensive evidence as to interstate crimes committed by that crew, including accomplice witness testimony with regard to, inter alia, a shipment of narcotics from California to New York."

Giattino was convicted of racketeering, murder, narcotics, and firearms offenses following trial in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Judge Reena Raggi sentenced him to five concurrent life terms of imprisonment, two 10-year terms to be served concurrently with the life terms, and one 30-year term to be served consecutively to the other terms, to be followed by 23 years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay a $200,000 fine.

Giattino, in his heyday a foreboding, menacing man with muscles and a bald head, was one of the US Marshal Service's 15 most wanted fugitives when he was arrested in August 1991 in Pompano Beach, Florida, by an FBI agent after he was profiled on America's Most Wanted.

Celest, left, and Tommy Karate Pitera
Pitera blamed Burdi for the overdose death of his wife Celeste, pictured above with Pitera.

Cecutti has argued that the sentences were excessive and that prosecutors had offered Giattino a plea deal with a 10-year sentence, which he rejected. The attorney also noted Giattino suffers from hypertension, asthma, diabetes, and obesity, and worries about contracting COVID-19.

In 1992, erstwhile Pitera crew member Frank Gangi testified extensively at the trials of Pitera and Giattino. 

Giattino was convicted for participating in the murders of William (Willie Boy) Johnson and Phyllis Burdi. He also was alleged to have helped with the killing of a zip member of the Bonanno family who Joe Massino wanted off the face of the earth.

Giattino is currently being housed at Allenwood Medium FCI in Pennsylvania with a release date of LIFE, as per the BOP.

Gambino soldier Eddie Lino turned to Pitera for help killing Willie Boy, who had been outed for informing on John Gotti since the 1960s, according to U.S. attorney David Shapiro and DEA agent Jim Hunt.

“I’m honored,” Pitera told Lino after hearing the request. (Bonanno higher ups, including Eddie Lino's brother, Frank, viewed the hit as part of an ongoing effort to cement an alliance with the Gambinos.)

At 6 am on the morning of August 29, 1988, Willie Boy Johnson was leaving his house when Pitera, Kojak, and Eddie Lino allegedly gunned him down, each opening fire as Johnson tried to run. (Pitera was not convicted of the Willie Boy murder, and Eddie Lino was killed in 1990 allegedly by the Mafia Cops on the orders of Luchese underboss Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso.)

Burdi was set up by Gangi and then shot to death in 1987. Pitera was said to have killed the woman, a neighborhood friend, because he blamed her for giving drugs to his wife, Celeste, who died of a drug overdose.

Giattino and Richie David allegedly accompanied Pitera when he murdered her. Pitera ordered both to carry the lifeless Burdi into the bathroom, where he dismembered her. Pitera allegedly took Burdi’s head home and placed it in his freezer, where he kept it for a while before dumping it in the Atlantic Ocean.

Kojak also allegedly participated in the February 11, 1987, murder and dismemberment of Cesare Bonventre, a Sicilian member of the Bonanno family, who was killed shortly before he would have been indicted in the Pizza Connection case.