The Bonanno Family is one of the “Five Families” that controls the east coast with the hub of activity in New York and New Jersey. They are part of the nationwide criminal syndicate known as the Mafia or Cosa Nostra.
The Bonanno’s originated in the 1880’s in the town of Castellammare del Golfo in Trapani, Sicily. In the early 1900’s several top members of the family and other families relocated to New York to continue their criminal enterprises. Here they formed the Castellammarese gang in a community rich with Italian immigrants and in particular Castellammarese immigrants in Brooklyn.
In 1927 the Castellammarese gang hijacked truckloads of illegal liquor from a competing gang led by Joe the Boss Masseria. The hijacking touched off a full out war known as the Castellammarese War. The Castellammarese, led by Salvatore Maranzano wanted to take over all the illegal action in New York. He led the gang in a fearless attack against the less organized Masseria family by uniting with other top mobsters in the city. Soon he had Joseph Bonanno, Carmine Galante, and Joseph Profaci in his corner and recruited a Masseria ally, Gaetano Reina to join them. Together, they were unstoppable and after Reina’s murder in February 1930, several members of the Masseria family switched sides to Maranzano. By 1931, other top mobsters Lucky Luciano, Tommy Gagliano, and Tommy Lucchese all joined Maranzano. On April 15, 1931 Luciano men murdered Masseria and ended the Castellammarese War.
After Masseria’s death, Maranzano wasted little time declaring himself Boss of Bosses and outlined a peace plan to all the Sicilian and Italian Mafia leaders throughout the United States. His reorganization created the “Five Families” of New York: the Profaci family under Joseph Profaci, Gagliano family under Tommy Gagliano, Mangano family under Vincent Mangano, Luciano family under Lucky Luciano, and the Maranzano family led by Maranzano.
Maranzano and Luciano’s mutual respect for each other was short lived. Maranzano grew uncomfortable with Luciano’s ambitions and his partnership with Jewish gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. Maranzano plotted with the other leaders of the five families to have Luciano murdered but Lucchese alerted Luciano to the threat. On September 10, 1931 Jewish gangsters murdered Maranzano giving Luciano control of the Cosa Nostra. He quickly replaced the “Boss of Bosses” role with “The Commission” that would regulate the families’ affairs and keep the peace. He appointed Joseph Bonanno as boss of the Maranzano family making him the youngest leader in the nation. Luciano was appointed chairman of The Commission and in all actuality controlled the mafia in the United States.
As boss, part of the responsibility is to grow the family. Bonanno directed his family into several lucrative rackets and expanded the family west to California, and Arizona. He also led his family using the old school traditions set in Sicily, Italy such as “honor” “tradition”, and “respect”.
Although the five families sat on the Commission, it didn’t mean they didn’t compete against each other. Through the years, the Bonanno family grew in strength and with the help of powerful ally Joseph Profaci, boss of the Profaci family, the other families didn’t pressure the young boss. But after Profaci’s death in 1962, Bonanno faced formidable opponents in Tommy Lucchese and Carlo Gambino who were looking to expand into Bonanno’s territory. Bonanno also had growing discontent in his own family.
Rastelli took over as boss during a rough time in Bonanno history. The Commission had become tired of the infighting with the Bonanno’s and stripped the family of their Commission seat, and internal struggles came to a boiling point when three renegade capos, Phillip Giaccone, Alphonse ”Sonny Red” Indelicato, and Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera plotted to overthrow Rastelli. The three men gained the blessing of the other families, but before they could act then Bonanno street boss, Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, as well as the future Boss Joseph “Big Joe” Massino had the three murdered. One of the men involved in the murder of the three was Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero. Ruggiero had an associate named Donnie Brasco whom he proposed for full family membership. In reality, Brasco was undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone who had been working organized crime for many years. Ruggiero vouched for Brasco, which meant he trusted Brasco to be a stand up guy. Therefore, it was Ruggiero’s job to show Brasco the ropes and should Brasco do something to hurt the family, it would be taken out on Ruggiero and his capo Dominick “Sonny Black” Napoliano. July 26, 1981, after six years of undercover work the FBI pulled the plug on operation Donnie Brasco. Both Ruggiero and Rastelli received lengthy prison sentences and Napolitano was killed for allowing an agent to infiltrate the Bonanno family. Although in prison, Rastelli continued to rule the Bonanno family until his death in 1991. Joseph “Big Joe” Massino who had been promoted during Rastelli’s imprisonment was appointed boss of the family.
Massino was an intelligent man. While he worked his way up the ladder he paid special attention to the mistakes other leaders before him had made. With that in mind, Massino ordered several new rules for the family. The first was a spin off of Vincent “The Chin” Giacante’s rule never to speak his name in public but to point to the chin. Massino ordered his men to point to their ears. He also shut down the social clubs because it was too easy for the FBI to plant bugs and listen in to their business.
As his new rules took hold, Massino turned his attention to the narcotics trade, racketeering, money laundering, and loan sharking. He was a hands on Boss. One of Massino’s closest friends was John Gotti boss of the Gaminbo family, the most powerful family in New York. With Gotti’s help, Massino earned a seat at the Commission for the Bonanno family.
The Bonanno family continued its success through the 1990’s and was rapidly becoming one of the most powerful families in New York. In the beginning of 2003, their luck would change. After several of the Bonanno soldiers were indicted on financial fraud, Massino, and his acting Underboss Frank Coppa were indicted on separate charges. Massino was indicted for the murder of Napolitano, and the 1992 murder of New York Post delivery superintendent Robert Perrino. Over the course of a few months, three Bonanno capo’s turned government informant and Massino who had been charged with an additional six murders and faced the death penalty. Without hope, he became the first Mafia boss to turn informant.
Massino helped the FBI charge over 90 Bonanno associates with several crimes including murder, racketeering, forgery, and fraud. He is also believed to have told the FBI where they can find the bodies of the three capo’s murdered in the 1980’s and also John Favara, a neighbor of John Gotti who accidentally killed the mobster’s son in a car/bicycle accident.
Today there are approximately 150 made members in the Bonanno family. Although they are a shell of their former selves, the family is still strong. After Massino turned informant and the appointed boss Vincent Basciano was sent to prison himself, the family installed a ruling panel to handle day-today activities.