Joseph Charles "Big Joey" Massino (born
January 10, 1943), also known as "The Last Don", "The Horatio Alger of
the Mob" and "The Ear", is an American mobster and former boss of the
Bonanno crime family, who eventually turned government witness. He was
convicted in July 2004 of racketeering, seven murders, arson,
extortion, loansharking, illegal gambling, conspiracy and money
To avoid the death penalty Massino agreed to turn
state's evidence and testify against his former associates. He was
sentenced to life imprisonment in 2005. He was referred to as the "Last
Don" by the media because at the time, he was the only official head
of the Five Families not in prison. His leadership had been recognized
in 2000 at a meeting of the bosses of four of the five families.
Massino first met his future wife Josephine in
1956, and married her in 1960. He had a lunch wagon business and
served factory workers in Maspeth, Queens and sold Christmas trees
during the winter season. When his daughter Adelaide was born he had
to take loans from relatives to pay for the hospital. In 1966 he
bought his first home in Maspeth to be close to his parents. He was a
close friend of Carmine Rastelli and Martin Rastelli, brothers of
Phillip Rastelli who ran a depot for lunch wagon supplies.
Massino is the father of three daughters named
Joanne, Adeline and Linda. He stands at 5'10" with brown hair and
brown eyes and weighs 300 pounds. His grandchildren referred to him by
the pet name Poppy. As he grew older he enjoyed entertaining house
guests by bellyflopping and swimming with neighborhood children that
he would invite over into his backyard pool. He was a one time
neighbor of John Gotti, Gene Gotti, Peter Gotti and Alphonse
Massino owned and operated the CasaBlanca
Restaurant in Maspeth, Queens, an Italian restaurant and catering firm,
as well as Cafe Via Vento, also in Maspeth, and other New York and
Florida properties. He once convened a meeting of four of the Five
Families at CasaBlanca, and he allegedly ran his operations from the
restaurant, setting it as the family's main headquarters. At CasaBella,
Massino personally made the pasta sauces and ravioli and claimed that
CasaBlanca had the best pizza in the city.
Rise to power
Massino was a protege of Phillip Rastelli and his
brothers in the 1960s. Massino's mob association began with him
running a lunch wagon in Maspeth, New York, selling pastries and
coffee to dock workers, while giving a kickback to Rastelli to insure
he would have no competition.
He would later become involved in truck hijacking,
with the assistance of his brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale and
carjacker Duane Leisenheimer, while fencing the stolen goods and
running numbers using the lunch wagon as a front.
In 1975 Massino participated in the murder of Vito
Borelli, which he claimed was primarily executed by John Gotti, at the
behest of Paul Castellano of the Gambino crime family. The Borelli hit
put Massino close to becoming a made man in the Bonanno family.
Massino was arrested for conspiring with Raymond
Wean to receive 225 cartons of merchandise stolen from an interstate
shipment contained in the Hemingway truck. Both men made bail. On June
14, 1977, Massino was inducted into the Bonanno Family along with
Anthony Spero, Joseph Chilli Jr. and a group of other men in a
ceremony conducted by Carmine Galante.
He was placed in Philip Giaccone's crew. Massino
had yet to attract any serious attention from the FBI. In 1977,
Massino went on trial for truck hijacking but was acquitted.
On June 1, 1976, close to Massino's social club and
deli in Maspeth, the body of Joseph Pastore was found in a dumpster
with two shots in the head. Pastore was a truck hijacker who supplied
Massino with stolen goods to fence. Massino and Richard Dormer (Pastore's
half brother) were taken to the morgue to identify the body. Prior to
the murder, Massino had his brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale borrow
$9,000 from Pastore on behalf of Massino.
In 1979, Bonanno de facto boss Carmine Galante was
shot to death at his favorite restaurant; Massino was allegedly
present outside the restaurant. Rastelli took over the family and
Massino was promoted to caporegime three years after becoming a made
man. He was one of the most powerful caporegimes in the Bonanno family,
along with his friend Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano.
The three capos murder
In 1981, Massino got word from his informants that
Bonanno capos Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Dominick "Big Trin"
Trincera and Philip "Phil Lucky" Giaccone were stocking up on
automatic weapons. Their plan was to kill the Rastelli loyalists
within the Bonanno family and take complete control. Massino turned to
Colombo crime family boss Carmine "Junior" Persico and Gambino boss
Paul Castellano for advice; they told him to act immediately. Massino
and fellow capo Dominic Napolitano went to the Commission for approval
to kill the three plotters. The Commission gave Massino their blessing
and said they would accept Rastelli as the continuing Bonanno leader.
Massino and Napolitano lured the three renegades to
a sit-down regarding the future family leadership of the Bonanno
family. When the three capos arrived with Frank Lino; the assailants
Sal Vitale, Vito Rizzuto and Napolitano burst out of a closet holding
shotguns and pistols. Trinchera, Giaccone and Indelicato tried to
escape but were shot to death. Lino escaped unscathed by running out
the door. Indelicato's son Anthony "Bruno" Indelicato was meant to be
killed as well but missed the meeting when the capos decided to take
Frank Lino instead. Bruno fled New York, but when he re-surfaced,
Massino and Napolitano turned to soldier Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero and
associate Donnie Brasco and gave them the 'contract' so Brasco could
become a made man in the Bonanno family.
Operation Donnie Brasco
Massino later came into conflict with Napolitano
over Napolitano's proposal to admit mobster Donnie Brasco to the
family before Massino's loyal associate Salvatore Vitale. Vitale had
been a loyal soldier as well as a participant in several killings,
including the three capo slayings, while Brasco had only been known
for a few years and hadn't taken part in any sanctioned mob hits.
Although Brasco accepted the contract, he disappeared and the FBI soon
revealed that "Donnie Brasco" was really Joseph Pistone, an undercover
agent for the organized crime division in the FBI. In the book
Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business, Pistone wrote that years
earlier, he had actually arrested Massino as part of a truck hijacking
bust. However, when introduced to Massino as Donnie Brasco, Massino
did not recognize him.
In August 1981, the Bonanno family blamed
Napolitano for bringing an undercover agent into their midst, as well
as almost making him a member. In order to send a message, Massino was
ordered by Philip "Rusty" Rastelli behind bars to kill Napolitano.
Their former renegade Frank Lino and Steven Cannone drove Napolitano
to the house of Ronald Filocomo, a Bonanno family associate.
Napolitano was greeted by captain Frank Coppa. Knowing that he was
finished, Napolitano simply asked the men to kill him quickly. The two
hitmen threw Napolitano down the stairs and shot him to death in the
basement. Whilst Napolitano's body was prepared for disposal, Lino
went outside to a nearby van and told the occupants that Napolitano
was dead. One of the men in the car was Massino.
By now Massino was a close friend of Gambino crime
family capo and eventual boss, John Gotti, his neighbor in Howard
Beach, Queens. Massino owned a cut in the house of a high stakes dice
game operated by Gotti on Mott Street in Manhattan. Massino discovered
a wire tap in his social club, J&S Cake Social Club in Maspeth, Queens.
Massino handed over the wire to the FBI who came to pick it up.
Although a friend of Gotti, Massino later became
upset with Gotti's flamboyance and openness to media attention he also
later found out that Gotti was bad-mouthing him calling him "a punk"
and "a hungry whale swallowing anything he can get" and informants
testified he remarked, "John set this thing of ours back a hundred
Mirra and Bonventre murders
On November 23, 1981, six men were indicted on
racketeering charges. They were Napolitano, Benjamin Ruggiero,
Nicholas Santora, John Cersani, James Episcopia and Antonio Tomasulo.
At the time of the indictment, the government did not know that
Napolitano had been murdered in August.
On February 18, 1982, Anthony Mirra was shot in the
head by his nephew Joseph D'Amico. D'Amico had been sent to kill him
by Richard Cantarella, who got the order from Albert Embarrato after
consultation with Massino.
Mirra had recently been released from prison, but
had previously befriended Brasco and was responsible for initially
bringing him into the family. Like Napolitano, Mirra died for bringing
Brasco into the family. Soon after the Mirra murder, Massino went into
hiding with Duane "Goldie" Leisenheimer.
On March 5, 1982, Massino and other family members
were charged with conspiracy to murder Indelicato, Giaccone and
Trinchera. While in hiding, Massino was visited by many fellow
mobsters, including Gotti. Massino received cash from his associates
in New York City.
On August 12, 1982, Napolitano's body was
discovered with his hands cut off. This was supposedly to warn anyone
else from letting an undercover agent shake hands with a made man. In
1984, Rastelli was released from prison and Massino ordered the murder
of Bonanno soldier Cesare Bonventre. Still a fugitive, Massino
summoned Vitale, Louis Attanasio and James Tartaglione to his hideout.
Despite the fact that Rastelli was the family head, Massino was
considered by most mobsters to be the real power in the family.
Bonventre was called to a meeting with Rastelli in
Queens. He was picked up by Vitale and Attanasio and driven to a
garage. Once inside, Attanasio then shot Bonventre twice in the head.
After Bonventre staggered out of the car, Attanasio killed him with
two more shots. The task of disposing of Bonventre's corpse was handed
to Gabriel Infanti. Infanti promised Vitale that Bonventre's remains
would disappear forever. However, after a tipoff, the remains were
discovered on April 16, 1984, in a warehouse in Garfield, New Jersey,
stuffed into two 55-gallon glue drums. Bonventre was killed because he
was considered to be a threat to the family.
Massino soon decided to turn himself over to police
custody to face charges. In 1985, Massino was indicted for labor
racketeering along with Rastelli, Carmine Rastelli, Nicholas
Marangello and 13 other defendants. In October 1986, Massino was found
guilty of violations of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations
Act (one count), the Hobbs Act (one count) and the Taft-Hartley Act (nine
counts). In January 1987, he was sentenced to a ten-year prison term.
On April 18, 1987, Massino went on trial for truck
hijacking and conspiracy to commit the triple murder. Raymond Wean and
Joseph Pistone testified against Massino. Massino was acquitted of
conspiracy to commit triple homicide, the conspiracies to murder
Pistone and Anthony "Bruno" Indelicato and the hijacking charges.
During one of the courtroom breaks, Massino asked Pistone who was to
play him in the Donnie Brasco movie, to which Pistone replied that
they could not find anyone fat enough to play him.
The family regroups
The Bonanno family had fallen into disfavor after
the Donnie Brasco operation and the Five Families kicked the family
off the Mafia Commission. Until Massino's capos turned state's
evidence against him, no made member of the Bonannos had turned
informant, which gave the family an advantage over the other four of
the Five Families and helped them become, in the 1990s, the most
powerful crime family on the streets in New York. Massino is credited
with bringing the family back to power.
Massino ordered his men to touch their ears when
referring to him and never say his name out loud due to FBI
surveillance. Massino gained the nickname "The Ear" because of this.
Massino took a great number of precautions in regards to security and
the possibility of anything incriminating being picked up on a wiretap.
He closed the long-standing social clubs of the Bonanno family and
often conducted family meetings in foreign countries or remote
locations within the United States.
The infiltration of Donnie Brasco became somewhat
of a blessing in disguise for the Bonanno family. When the Mafia
Commission Trial indicted the New York crime families, the Bonnanos
escaped conviction due to the fact that the family had been kicked out
of the Mafia Commission. By dodging this bullet, the Bonnanos kept its
leadership intact and were able to consolidate its power once again.
Pistone called Massino "the last of the old-time gangsters."
Massino was later charged with ordering the murders
of Napolitano and Mirra. Massino was scheduled to go on trial for the
second time for a separate murder trial, which he was also expected to
lose. If convicted, he faced the death penalty.
Disillusioned by the turning of so many made men,
and concerned over a possible death penalty if found guilty of the
murder of Gerlando Sciascia in an upcoming trial, Massino made his
first offer to cooperate with the government on July 30, 2004.
In October 2004, the FBI began digging up bodies at
an infamous mob graveyard in Queens known as "The Hole". They were
looking for the bodies of the three capos killed in the Bonanno civil
war in the 1970s. They also hoped to find the body of John Favara, who
accidentally killed Gotti's son, the body of Tommy DeSimone, murdered
in 1979 for killing William Devino and Ronald Jerothe. The FBI said
only that this operation was based on "credible information" from an
On February 4, 2005, the FBI revealed that Massino
was the source for the graveyard. Hoping to save his life and his
assets, Massino had begun to cooperate sometime in late September 2004
by recording conversations with his acting boss, Vincent Basciano.
Massino had been so angered at family namesake Joe Bonanno's tell-all
book, A Man of Honor, with its numerous revelations of Mafia
secrets, that he suggested renaming the family the "Massino" family.
Bonanno members Sal Vitale, Frank Lino, Frank Coppa,
Richard Cantarella, Joseph D'Amico and Duane Leisenheimer testified
against Massino. On June 23, 2005, Massino was sentenced to life in
prison. Massino suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.
Crittle, Simon, The Last Godfather: The Rise
and Fall of Joey Massino Berkley (March 7, 2006) ISBN 0425209393
DeStefano, Anthony. King of the Godfathers:
Joseph Massino and the Fall of the Bonanno Crime Family. New
York: Pinnacle Books, 2006. ISBN 0-7860-1893-3
Pistone, Joseph D.; & Woodley, Richard (1999)
Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, Hodder &
Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-66637-4.
Pistone, Joseph D.; & Brandt, Charles (2007).
Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business, Running Press. ISBN