Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero – A True Account of Al Pacino’s “Lefty” in Donnie Brasco

Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero also known as “Lefty Guns, and “Lefty two Guns” was born in the Fourth Ward neighborhood of Little Italy, Manhattan on April 19, 1926. Ruggiero joined the Bonanno crime family at a young age serving as a street soldier under Michael Sabella. Ruggiero lived in an apartment complex called Knickerbocker Village located on Monroe Street. He had a fascination with fish and had several fish tanks with both salt and fresh water inside his apartment. A close friend of Ruggiero name Tony Mira also lived in the complex and is the person responsible for introducing Ruggiero to undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone who was known by his alias on the streets as Donny “Don the Jeweler” Brasco, an unconnected jeweler who peddled in stolen jewelry. Of course it was all a ruse conducted by Pistone and the FBI to infiltrate the mob.

           As a Bonanno soldier Ruggiero was prolific in bookmaking, extortion, and loansharking. He was also deeply involved as a Bonanno enforcer.  Being a mobster was Ruggiero’s life. In response to Brasco’s question on why he liked being a gangster Ruggiero said “Donnie, as a wiseguy you can lie, you can cheat, you can steal, you can kill people – legitimately. You can do any goddamn thing you want and nobody can say anything about it. Who wouldn’t want to be a wiseguy?” It was this type of mindset and that earned Ruggiero the reputation of being a feared Mafioso and killer. He earned the nickname “Lefty” from throwing dice using his left hand. He earned “Two Guns” because he always brought two guns to a hit. Often times the guns the mob used for hits were old and abused; usually something they picked up off the street that had little value. Because of this, the guns would misfire often and Ruggiero knew that. During his time in the mob, Ruggiero claimed to have clipped nearly 30 people. He had also acquired massive debt due to a gambling dependency. He lost much more than he won and by 1977 he owed more than $160,000 to another Bonanno soldier Nicholas Marangello who he borrowed money from after losing bets. Before Ruggiero could be fully admitted as a “made man” to the Bonanno’s he was required to pay back his debt. Over a small period of time he did, and became a made man in late 1977.

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino as Donnie Brasco and Left Ruggiero in the 1997 hit movie Donnie Brasco

Mira introduced Ruggiero to Donnie Brasco in 1977. In a short amount of time Brasco and Ruggiero became close. Ruggiero introduced Brasco to the life of a mafia associate and introduced him to several made members. In exchange Brasco started working for Ruggiero, placing bets and helping him make collections for the bookmaking operation in Ruggiero’s social club.

             In 1979 the Bonanno crime family began to implode. In July, Bonanno boss Carmine “Cigar” Galante, who was thought to be untouchable, was murdered. This immediately created a vacuum at the top leadership of the family. Imprisoned Rusty Rastelli was appointed the new boss of the Bonanno’s. However, realizing his reign would not last, several caporegimes started maneuvering for the top spot. Strife within the family built quickly with crews taking sides behind the top capo’s. One such person was Ruggiero capo Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano who was played by Michael Madsen in the 1997 hit movie Donnie Brasco. Sonny Black stood behind Rastelli and led a war against Bonanno capo’s Caesar Bonventre, Philip “Philip Lucky” Giaccone, Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera and Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato. Behind Sonny Black was his main crew including Brasco and Ruggiero. Ruggerio knew Sonny black would give him the contract to whack out the three capo’s so he stayed close and was available to Sonny Black 24 hours a day.

            On May 5, 1981 the three capo’s were called to a meeting to work out a truce with Sonny Black standing in for Bonanno boss Rastelli. They were never seen alive again.  According to Pistone, the murderers were Sonny Black, Joe Massino, Sal Vitale, Joseph DeSimone, Nicholas Santora, Vito Rizzuto, Louis Giongetti, Santo Giordano and Gerlando Sciascia. Ruggiero and John Cersani were lookouts, and were sent in after to clean up the massacre and dispose of the bodies along with Napolitano, James Episcopia and Robert Capazzio.

            After hearing of the murders from Pistone, the FBI decided to end the operation. FBI agents visited Ruggiero and Napolitano and informed them of Pistone’s true identity. After the FBI left, surveillance tapes caught the men talking about the hit show ‘candid camera’ and how the FBI plays games with them to start problems within the family. However safe they felt, Napolitano was obligated to look into the FBI claims that Pistone was an agent. On August 17, 1981 Napolitano was summoned to house for a meeting about Pistone. When he arrived he was thrown down the stairs to the basement and murdered for allowing the FBI to infiltrate their family. (In the movie Donnie Brasco, It’s Ruggiero who is killed, but it wasn’t true.)

            Shortly after the murder of Sony Black Napoliano the FBI than picked up chatter that a contract was put out on Ruggiero. Knowing Sonny Black was gone; the FBI couldn’t afford to lose another top man. . On August 30, 1981, the FBI picked up Ruggiero on his way to a meeting at Marangello’s social club where he was expected to have been murdered. The FBI quickly offered Ruggiero a safety net with witness protection in exchange for his testimony against the Bonanno family. Citing Omerta, as he did many times before to law enforcement, Ruggiero refused to testify.

             In 1982, Ruggiero was charged with violations of the RICO act. He was charged with conspiring to murder the three capos in New York, distributing methaqualone, committing extortion, planning a bank robbery, and illegal gambling. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Upon hearing of his refusal to testify the Bonanno’s and Mafia Commission canceled the contract on his life and gave him a “pass”.

Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero in 1994 shortly before his death

While in prison Ruggiero was rumored to have been offered up to one million dollars for his story from writers and movie producers. He declined every interview and all the money. He was true to his oath and would not divulge anything about the mafia to anyone. In 1992 he was released from prison. Officially retired from the mob he lived for a short time and died on November 24, 1994 from lung and testicular cancer. The cancer was largely attributed to chain smoking English Oval cigarettes for most of his life. He was 68 years old.

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Comments

  1. James Tarry says:

    I think the FBI should have given Ruggiero a break, due to them making a scapegoat out of him, (they used him to get Joe Pistone closer to his friends, and caused Joe Pistone permanent mental anquish) that should have been taken into consideration! In essence the FBI< is doing doing the same thing, the mob is doing. Making people do things that would make them look better, thats just not right!

  2. Sarah McElroy says:

    I understand what youre saying, but if the fbi would not have arrested lefty, he would of ended up dead, by being killed, and looked on upon badly. So it ended out better for him, he stayed loyal. Now his name will carry thru out like he would enjoy.

  3. junitobx says:

    Why would the fbi put let the mafia know brasco was undercover? Seems that the federal gov doesnt care abiut the agents life

  4. I think they do that to see if any of the other Mafioso will flip before going to jail for the rest of their lives.
    It didn’t work in Brasco’s case.

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