Pizza Connection Episode 4 – the Investigation

The Bonanno Family and drug smuggling

In 1972, the Bonanno War is over, Joe and Bill Bonanno are out in Arizona. The Commission appoints Phil “Rusty”Rastelli the new boss of the Bonano crime family. Carmine Galante, the old¬† Bonanno Consigliore completes a long prison sentence and returns to New York. Carmine Galante was at the original 1957 meeting in Sicily with Joe Bonanno, Lucky Luciano and members of the Sicilian mafia, among who were Gaetano Badalamenti and Tomasso Buscetta. During the 1960s, the Bonanno family and the Gambinos, as well as the Lucchese family, worked with Sicilians to bring heroin into the US via what became known as the French Connection.

The French Connection becomes the Pizza Connection

After the French Connection heroin pipeline dried up, the Sicilians created clandestine labs in Sicily and imported the raw product from Afganistan, Pakistan and other places in the Middle East. Carmine Galante had graduated to be the Bonanno Family boss and he imported several Sicilians to work directly for him. The local mafia members derisively nicknamed them Zips. Carmine Galante used two of them, Cesare Bonaventre and Baldassare “Baldo” Amato as his bodyguards. More Sicilians or “Zips” emigrated to the United States and started pizzerias, restaurants, and bakeries in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and Illinois. In Brooklyn, Bonavatre and Amto started a high stakes baccarat game at the Caf√© Viale on Knickerbocker Street. Another Sicilian named Salvatore Catalano showed up and opened a bakery. He and these two men were often seen together in long conversations and often used a payphone in that area.

The plot to kill Carmine Galante

The Zips were part of a conspiracy to kill Carmine Galante. Galante’s bodyguards Bonaventre and Amato were noticeably absent when two other men entered Joe and Mary’s Italian Restaurant on Knickerbocker Ave in NYC and murdered him. A Zip named Salvatore Catalano was believed to have taken over the Bonanno Family for a short period of time until the Commission could appoint Joe Messino as the new acting boss because Phil “Rusty” Rastelli was still in prison.

Joe Pistone enters the picture

It was during this time that undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone infiltrated a Bonanno crew. He developed a relationship with a mobster named Lefty Ruggerio. Lefty once pointed out Catalano and claimed he was granted the concession for heroin for the entire United States. The FBI passed this along to New York City agent Carmine Russo who had already started working on Catalano and other Zips and he suspected narcotics activity.

The Pizza Connection task force takes down the entire operation

These three Sicilians would become the objects of the Pizza Connection investigation as the FBI watched them, put pen registers on their payphone, and eventually installed wiretaps. They hear lots of code talk that was obviously drug transactions. They could not put narcotics in the hands of Catalano, Bonaventre, or Amato until they got a call from a Philadelphia DEA agent. They learned he was dealing with a Sicilian pizza shop owner for multi-kilos of heroin and the pen registers tied this drug transaction back to the Zips in NYC. This investigation will take many twists and turns but eventually lead to taking down the largest heroin ring in the United States.



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