Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Mafia crumbles as the `Last Don' sings

THE OBSERVER , NEW YORK

The American Mafia has been dealt one of the biggest blows in its history with a revelation that a Godfather has turned informant.

Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, boss of the Bonanno family, is the first official boss of a Mafia family ever to violate the bloody code of omerta, the vow of silence that has lain behind the success of the brotherhood's huge criminal empire.

It has emerged that he has been co-operating with the FBI since last September while awaiting sentencing for ordering seven murders.

Fellow gangsters are stunned that the first boss to "rat" on his colleagues is such a man as Massino. Known as the "Last Don," he was long hailed as an old school leader. Unlike such flamboyant figures as John Gotti, Massino avoided the limelight, living simply in a New York suburb as he ruled his empire with a rod of iron.

Omerta was the key to his success in rejuvenating the Bonanno family which had been hit by a devastating FBI sting in the 1980s.

Now that Massino himself has broken the vow, many experts believe the Mafia in the US is effectively doomed. If Massino can sell out, there is little incentive for soldiers lower down the pecking order to maintain their loyalty, they say.

"The Mafia as we know it is effectively over," said Ronald Goldstock, former head of New York's organized crime task force.

"If people in the lower orders didn't know that their bosses would sell them out, then they know it now," he said.

Since the news emerged that Massino was informing there have been reports of a huge crisis in the other Mafia families.

Some senior figures are reported to have fled New York.

The extent of Massino's betrayal of his fellow mobsters has emerged from court transcripts detailing conversations between Massino and a co-defendant, Vincent Basciano, at several meetings in December and last month. At one stage Basciano and Massino are heard discussing the murder of a mob associate, Randolph Pizzolo. Massino asks Basciano why he had to kill him.

"I thought this kid would have been a good wake-up call for everybody," Basciano chillingly replied.

Other transcripts reveal Basciano discussing a conspiracy to kill court prosecutor Greg Andres.

Though the authorities won't officially confirm it, the clear implication of the transcripts is that Massino was wearing a wire when he talked to Basciano. That means not only that Massino has agreed to confess all but that he is co-operating to help convict his comrades.

Such a thing would have been unthinkable a few decades ago in the Mafia's heyday. However, its power in the US has faded. While Italian mobsters still dominate the news and the movies, it is the new ethnic gangs, Russians and Mexicans, which are the dominant players on the New York crime scene.

"It is the end of an era. Some of these people will continue to be involved in crime but the old-style Mafia does not really exist any more," Goldstock said.

The reasons for Massino's betrayal now seem obvious. It is believed that prosecutors will now no longer seek the death penalty for his role in the brutal mob killings of which he has been convicted. Nor will they pursue Massino's ill-gotten gains. This could have led to relatives losing their homes.

Perhaps the greatest reason was that Massino, despite having devoted his whole life to the Bonannos, was himself convicted by the word of a turncoat from his own family.

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