The Last Don

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U.S. DEPT. OF JUSTICE/AP

Survelliance photo of Sciascia, Rizzuto and Liggamari outside the Capri Motor Lodge

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Massino is a tough, successful businessman of the old school. "Joey is the last of the old-time gangsters," Pistone says with grudging respect. "He's got the old mind-set, the old traditions and values, if you want to say values." Massino has made a good living on the down low, running his crews on the cell system, each group independent and largely ignorant of the others — so if an underling decides to sing to the law, he'll know only one song, not the whole score. Like all the other bosses, he hews to the law of omerta (silence) established by the original Mafia in Italy and honored by the Bonanno clan, which has roots in the Castellammare del Golfo, a town in western Sicily. The Bonannos are one of only two U.S. Mob families (the other is New Jersey's DeCavalcantes) that still import highly disciplined, Mediterranean-grown recruits.

Mob lore has it that to foil concealed recording devices, Massino went so far as to order his men never to utter his name during a conversation and instead to touch one of their ears to indicate Big Joey. It was a bit of theater he borrowed from Gigante, whose cronies used to tap their chin to signify their boss. The Bonannos' Old-World code of discipline was such that until recently not a single "made guy" (ranking gang member) had ever cooperated with law enforcers. As the other bosses bunked down in prison, that helped the Bonannos become, in the words of one of the FBI's organized-crime agents, "the most powerful family" in New York — and ensured that Massino was as unknown to the public as his rival bosses were notorious. By the late '90s the Bonannos' street cred had quietly overtaken the Genoveses' and the Gambinos'. If caution is a prerequisite to wisdom, then Massino is the wisest guy. His power resides in the fact that you don't know who he is.

The feds do, though. They know Massino's influence is as big as his girth. For five years, they have painstakingly constructed a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) case against Massino. A windowless room in the FBI's lower-Manhattan office block is filled to the ceiling with dusty files. Here, agents from the Bonanno squad (known in the gumshoe world as C-10) pore over surveillance photos, audio recordings and bank records detailing Massino's alleged three-decade career in crime.

So how do you peel a Bonanno? Offer one a deal. That's how the government lured its top snitch: none other than Salvatore (Good-Looking Sal) Vitale, Massino's alleged underboss, closest friend — and brother-in-law. They grew up together. They worked together. J&S Cake, the social club that was headquarters for their rackets in the '70s and '80s, was named for them. What must Big Joey think of this fraternal betrayal? Perhaps his emotions echo those famous words from The Godfather: Part II: "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!"

At trial, the prosecution will detail the alleged adventures of men with names like "Nicky Glasses," "Louie HaHa," "Boobie" Cerasani, "Dirty Danny," "Shellackhead" Cantarella and "Big Willie." Vitale is expected to reveal or invent toxic secrets of the Bonanno brotherhood. And for some old-time drama, the prosecution might call on Pistone. It would be his first appearance on the witness stand in almost a decade. During the trial, prosecutor Greg Andres, 37, will try to nail the Don on a slew of racketeering charges, including complicity in the murders of seven mafiosi (and an eighth in a separate trial) over an 18-year span. Among his alleged victims:

The Three Captains. Alphonse (Sonny Red) Indelicato, Philip (Philly Lucky) Giaccone and Dominick (Big Trin) Trinchera — supporters of the losing side in one of the Bonannos' fatal family spats — were murdered in May '81. Massino was on the winning side, which supported the boss, Philip Rastelli, who later anointed Massino his successor. The feds say it was Massino's assignment to dispose of Indelicato's body, but he apparently did a lousy job. The corpse was found three weeks later by kids playing in a lot in Ozone Park, Queens.

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