Mob boss testifies against underling in Brooklyn court

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2011 7:33 PM
Mob boss testifies against underling in Brooklyn court

By Bernd Debusmann Jr.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Bonanno crime family boss Joseph Massino testified in a Brooklyn courtroom on Tuesday how he secretly taped his successor discussing murder, the first time a boss has taken the witness stand against an underling, prosecutors said.

The accused is Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, charged in U.S. District Court with murdering Mafia associate Randolph Pizzolo in Brooklyn in 2004.

Massino testified he secretly recorded Basciano discussing the murder when both men were behind bars.

"He told me that he killed him (Pizzolo)" Massino said. "He said he was a scumbag, a rat, a troublemaker."

Massino has been in prison since 2004, convicted of a slew of charges including racketeering and murder.

Massino said he became boss of the crime family in 1991.

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Taryn Merkl what his responsibilities were, he said: "Murders, responsible for the family, make captains, break captains."

Massino became a government cooperator in 2004.

"I went to trial, I got convicted, and I cooperated," he said.

Prosecutors said Massino's appearance on the witness stand was the first time a mob boss has testified against a mobster who worked for him.

Massino was known by his associates as "The Ear."

"They were never to mention my name," Massino explained, indicating mobsters were to rub their ear with a finger when talking about him.

Basciano, who became acting Bonanno family boss in 2004 during Massino's racketeering trial, was previously tried for Pizzolo's murder.

That 2007 trial ended in a mistrial, but Basciano was convicted separately of racketeering charges.

Basciano faces the federal death penalty if convicted.

Massino, who said he was formally inducted into the Mafia in 1977, participated in the murder of Bonanno captain Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano for inviting FBI agent Joseph Pistone to become a mob associate.

Pistone -- better known as Donnie Brasco -- later had his story made into a Hollywood movie starring Johnny Depp.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)