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The Bonanno Family: Betrayal and Ambition

Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins brings you the best in mob history with his unique perception of the mafia. In this podcast episode, we delve into the intriguing life story of Joe Bonanno, a prominent figure in organized crime. Joe Bonanno’s life was intertwined with the Mafia’s tumultuous history from his early days migrating to the United States from Sicily. We witness his rise through the ranks of the New York City Mafia families, navigating through turbulent times marked by power struggles and alliances. Bonanno’s escapades take us through significant events such as the Castellammarese War and the infamous Appalachian Conference. His ambitious nature leads him to orchestrate intricate plots, including a scheme to eliminate rival mob bosses, ultimately resulting in a betrayal that shatters loyalties within the Mafia commission. As the podcast delves deeper, we witness Joe Bonanno’s retreat to Arizona, where retirement beckons after a series of family wars and power struggles. His legacy, marked by contradictions of honor and treachery, is explored in detail, shedding light on his involvement in the heroin trade and his untimely demise in 2002. Throughout the narrative, the complexities of Bonanno’s character and his role in shaping the New York City Mafia landscape are articulated with admiration and criticism. The episode concludes with reflections on the lasting impact of Joe Bopnanno’s actions, painting a picture of a man whose life danced on the edge between honor and treachery, leaving behind a legacy etched in the annals of crime history.
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Introduction to Mob Figure Biographies
[0:00]Well, hey, guys, back here in the studio, Gangland Wire. This is retired intelligence detective Gary Jenkins. I got another one of my short bios or biographies of famous mob people. I think I mentioned this before I’ve been doing these because, you know, we mention these names all the time, but everybody doesn’t know everything.
[0:20]And so I’ll get these out. I’ve been putting them out on my Facebook or my podcast Facebook page, just a short short bio of these really famous mob guys. And so this is another one of them. This is Joseph Charles Bonanno. Joe Bonanno is a really interesting guy. And matter of fact, his family, the Bonanno family, Bonanno family, I think it’s Bonanno. Bonanno family is still known as the Bonanno family today. Nobody’s ever taken it over. Rusty Restelli had it for a while. He died and And Joe Messino had it, and he went into witness protection and justified against everybody as the boss of the Bonanno family. So go figure. Now, so in the vast realm of organized crime, which especially in New York, it is vast because it extends all up to New York. I mean, Buffalo and into Montreal and way outside of New York City down into New Jersey is huge. And these guys all connected to each other and did a lot of business with each other. And Joe Bonanno was right in the middle of all that. There’s a man whose life was forged in that fiery crucible we know as Sicily, where a lot of these guys came from.
[1:34]And he was born Giuseppe Carlo Bonanno on a cold winter’s day, January 18th, 1905. And he was in the village of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, which that’s, I don’t know how many mob guys came from Castellammare del Golfo. And it’s like, it’s right on the ocean. I had to put a picture of it up once. It’s like a big bay. And then there was a little whitewashed with red tile roof apartments or homes go up the hillside. And it’s a fishing village, kind of like our friend Giuseppe Amato came from. He came from Serrini. A lot of Mafia history from Castellammare del Golfo. His destiny will be intertwined with his treacherous path through the ranks of the New York City Mafia families. At an early age, there were whispers about his future known to a lot of different people. And they knew him as Joe Bananas. And he’ll go on to become a symbol of authority and ruthlessness. At the tender age of three, fate guided him to the shores of the New World. So he and his family came across the ocean, sought refuge in the Lower East Side, the bustling streets of New York City, the Little Italy area. 20 years later, so 10 or 15, 20 years later, he will go back to Italy, to Sicily for a while, but he doesn’t stay long and destiny had other plans.
[2:59]In 1920, there was a fateful decision that altered the course of his life. He comes back to the United States, clandestine slips back in. You know, a lot of these guys back in those days, there wasn’t all kinds of hoops to jump through. He just came here and started working. And he did come through Cuba, which a lot of guys did. A lot of them went from Sicily to Cuba. And then there was a lot of illegal traffic going between the island of Cuba and the United United States and will be for a long time after that. He’s in the belly of a Cuban fishing boat. He arrives in Tampa, Florida. It’s a land of opportunity, but it’s also the land of danger. During this time, 1924, the winds of change are shifting in New York City. He comes back to New York. The Castellan-Mrize War is raging, raging. I mean, people are getting killed all over the place. The old mustache Pete’s are getting knocked off. And first they fight between themselves. Joe Morello and Salvatore Maranzano are fighting between themselves.
[4:02]Alliances are shifting all the time. Depends on who’s in power, who goes down. Maranzano falls victim to his own insatiable hunger for power. He wants to be the Capo di Tutti di Cappi and the boss of all bosses. And it’s during this time that Joe Bonanno sees the moment and he He started making his moves. He aligned himself with Salvatore Maranzano against this rival group, Joe Masseria and Giuseppe Morello. I mentioned Morello before, but Masseria was maybe, he was a little more important in this war. He’s part of a secret group of young mafioso from both sides known as the Young Turks, which Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese and Tommy Lucchese and all these more modern guys, you know about in more modern times and Joe Bonanno were part of these young Turks. They were dissatisfied with the old world mentality of just going around and doing black hand letters on other Italian immigrants and that kind of thing. The prohibition has shown them that you need to organize, you need to modernize, you need to make a lot of money, and there’s a lot of money to be made. Secret Agreement with Maranzano, Luciano orchestrates the assassination of Joe the Boss Masaria in 1931.
[5:20]Lucky Luciano becomes Maranzano’s second-in-command off Tolstoy. He becomes disillusioned with Maranzano’s greed and his rigid kind of leadership. And Luciano will arrange for the murder of Maranzano in September 1931. And Luciano then is the boss of bosses in a way, but he knows better than to just say, hey, you know, I’m the boss of bosses. That’s when he starts organizing. As a fallout for Maranzano’s death, he becomes the boss of the old Maranzano family.
[5:50]At the age of 26, he becomes the youngest ever boss of a crime family. He must have really had it business-wise and organizational-wise, and he must have been a natural leader among men. I don’t really know if he had much to do with Maranzano’s death. Giovinano will claim that he was unaware of Luciano’s plans to kill Maranzano,
Family Life and Leadership Transition
[6:12]but it doesn’t really matter what it was. Two months after Maranzano’s assassination, Joe Bonanno marries Faye Labruzzo, had three kids together over the next 20 years or so, Salvatore Bill Bonanno, who will become the consigliere of the Bonanno family, brings his son in. There’s Catherine and Joseph Charles Jr. In the shadows of the mafia’s power, the penumbra, as we say, the shadow of that.
[6:39]His name echoes with whispers of intrigue and treachery. He was a treacherous dude.
Secret Meeting in Palermo
[6:44]Wait till I tell you about some of these next stories coming up. The year was 1957, and rumors are spreading like wildfire about a clandestine gathering at the opulent Grand Hotel in De Palma, Palermo. It was said that Joe Bonanno, who’s a key player in the New York City mob world, was among those who attended and he helped secretly shape the destiny of the Cosa Nostra over the next 20, 30 years. Among other actions, these mafia bosses combined with Sicilian bosses established a regular heroin trade route from Turkey to Sicily and to Cuba and from Cuba up through the United States. Carmine Galante, I believe, was there. And he’ll go on and remain a member of the Bonanno family and even try to take it over for a short period of time. That’s a whole other story. I need to do a whole story on Carmine Galante. He is a story in himself. Just a month later, after this meeting…
Appalachian Conference Chaos
[7:44]November, that was, it must’ve been in September, October, November of 1957, the most famous meeting of all at the Appalachian conference, this New York state trooper named Edgar Creswell noticed all these black limos parking at this estate out in the country in the Appalachian area is really, you know, almost a Canada. And he got some other troopers and they started trying to find out who was there. And as these guys saw these troopers walking up and taking license plate number, they scattered like a cubby of quail running through the woods and jumping in their cars, trying to take out, get away from the cops, trying to not get caught there because they knew all of my bosses from the entire United States were here at one place in one time. And they knew the secrecy was going to be gone. Once law enforcement figures this out, they really do meet together. And there really are in their individual areas and cities, bosses, big time mafiosos or big time criminals, you know, the kind of the jig is up. Joe Bonanno was there. But in this desperate scramble for these to get out, these guys with these alligator shoes and fedora hats and suits running out through the upstate New York woods or getting in cars claiming that they were just out visiting a sick friend. Men are trying to get away, Joe Bonanno gets away.
[9:07]And he claimed later on that he wasn’t ever there. That was a pretty bold lie. One of his underlings, a guy named Gaspar DiGregorio, who was a capo, was caught. And in his hands, his trembling hands, as the cop said, what are you holding there? I’ve been there, you know, what do you got in your hand there? Let me see that. He tried to snatch it away. way, it was Joe Bonanno’s driver’s license. You know, he was there. The official police report kind of showed a different picture of Bonanno’s fabricated tale that he was never there. They claimed that he was caught up there, and in a desperate act of fleeing on foot, he was one of those guys running through the woods in their alligator shoes.
[9:48]Consequences, of course, were some fines, and I gave him some prison sentences, but they got overturned pretty quick on appeal. It really didn’t have, you know, what are you going to charge him with? The stunning turn of events, of course, these convictions were overturned in 1960, and Lady Lady Luck bestows her favor once again on Joe Bonanno, and he still has never actually gone to prison, never had a conviction by this point in time. But fate, of course, is not messing around with the intricate tapestry of his life. As the years unfold, there’s whispers about an audacious plot circulating among certain circles in the mob. 1963, Joe Bonanno’s ambitions take a sinister turn. I mean, a really sinister turn.
[10:34]He allegedly, I like that word allegedly, they use that in the newspapers all the time. He allegedly conspired to eliminate some of his rivals on the Mafia convention.
Betrayal and Exposed Conspiracy
[10:45]He’s on the commission by this time. Some of his rivals are Tommy Three Fingers Brown Lucchese, Carlo Gambino, who we’ve talked about before, from upstate New York, Stefano Magadino, and Frank DeSimone was another boss of one of the five families for a period of time. He sought support of a man in the Profaci crime family named Joseph Magliocco. Magliocco was nursing a snub. He was nursing a grievance for quite some time over some kind of a snub. And so he readily agreed to Giobannano’s scheme. And this was a pretty perilous scheme. This was a pretty perilous scheme that they had going. It was a heck of a conspiracy. embarrassing. Stage set hit men were unleashed like savage wolves on an unsuspecting prey, but within their ranks, they had a man named Joe Columbo, who was a calculating opportunist.
[11:43]And he saw an opportunity for himself. You know, in these mob plots like this, you may start moving one way, but you got somebody inside there that’ll then go rat you out and they’ll get what they want. In a stunning, I say stunning, act of betrayal, Joe Colombo reveals this plot
Commission Summons and Collapse
[11:59]to its intended targets and exposes this dark underbelly of the New York City mob families. These echoes of treachery will reach the ears of all the other bosses and and her suspicions everybody’s looking at joe bonanno his close ties to mcleoco were hard to deny it was clear to them the other bosses that joe bonanno was a puppeteer pulling the strings and the mastermind behind a bloody plot to kill these other bosses commission summons joe bonanno in and his facade crumbles pretty quick. He realized there’s a noose tightening around his neck. He makes a daring escape, shall we say. He flees to Montreal. Of course, if you remember that meeting over in Sicily with Carmine Galante, they set up these lines of dope coming out of Turkey. And some of it was going to Cuba, but then it kind of started going to Montreal. That kind of did start going to Montreal.
[12:59]And they had, Carmine Galante had gone to Montreal and really lined up what will become the Vito Rizzuto family. And they always maintain, they’re almost like another crew under the Bonanno family. So he runs to Montreal. He’s got people there to protect him. He’s a broken man. He’s getting older. He leaves behind a subordinate, Magliocco, who’s confronted with the evidence that the other bosses have gathered, and he confesses his role in this twisted plot. The commission is unforgiving, but their power is absolute. They spared Magliocco’s life, put him on the shelf, as they say, stripped him of his position. They made him pay a hefty fine. Isn’t that something? He’s got to pay a fine. Like, what the hell? It’s like city court, $500 for speeding ticket. And anyhow, he had to pay a hefty fine. I don’t know what it was.
[13:54]There’s a reward awaiting the cunning Joe Colombo. He now will be given control of the Profaci family as his spoils for his betrayal. Joe Bonanno’s troubles are far from over. No, he’s forced to navigate through this labyrinth of deceit that he has concocted. He’s lost his family in some ways. He’s up in Montreal. He’s still pulling strings down. He’s got false declarations on his immigration documents. And in the end, he’s going to be deported back to the United States. He did serve 90 days. That’s a little bit of time he’s ever served. He did serve 90 days in Canada for using false documents. But then he’s deported back. October 1964, he’s facing a grand jury summons down in America, in New York. Some other criminal charges. charges, and he’s walking down the streets in Manhattan.
Mysterious Abduction
[14:52]This will forever be discussed and argued about. Several men snatch him off the street, which looks like a kidnapping.
[15:01]Whispers of this abduction spread throughout the mob families like wildfire. And everybody is pointing fingers. And one of the most popular person that fingers are pointing at is the upstate New York Stefano Magadino boss over again. And one of the most popular targets of these fingers are Stefano Magadino from upstate New York and men that work for him. The recordings of FBI wiretaps during this time, there’s a lot of speculation that he’s just hiding out. He just faked his kidnapping. And his soldiers feel abandoned. They feel betrayed. They believe he’s just hiding out. They don’t really believe that he was kidnapped and killed. They know he’s out there. And I think probably by the way his son, Bill Bonanno, acted, that they didn’t really believe he was dead. He probably set this up himself. Well, there’s a storm brewing in Manhattan now of Joe Bonanno. These unbreakable bonds of loyalty were shattered and a lot of anger and resentment in the Bonanno family.
[16:05]And they’re like, come on, this son of a bitch took off and left us here alone. You know, what are we supposed to do? I guess these mob families need a boss. I don’t know. They don’t really. They have structure down in them. But I guess the capos, they wanted a boss. Gasper DiGregorio seizes the opportunity. Opportunity i mentioned him before he was up there at appalachian he claims power and he gets it takes advantage of the discontent within the family and the mafia commission will now appoint de gregorio as the boss of the banana family so this will set the stage for a tumultuous four years the next four years they’ll be the infamous banana war brother against brother loyalty shattered like fragile glass, families torn asunder, divided into factions loyal to Bill Bonanno and those pledging allegiance to DeGregorio.
Attempt at Reconciliation
[17:01]There’s a lot of people killed. Everybody’s going to the mattresses during this time. Early 1966, DeGregorio extends an olive branch. He proposes a meeting with Joe’s son, Bill.
[17:16]Bill, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen, There’s a movie called Honor Thy Father, I believe, based on this book by a guy named Gay Talese. He is depicted as a guy that’s not really a hardcore mobster, and he wants peace.
[17:32]He agrees. He goes to an uncle’s house in Brooklyn, and the people loyal to Bonanno say, approach the house and they hear gunfire. But something happened in the house. We don’t know what, but they run off. I mean, Joe Bonanno reemerges May 1966, New York City, and the wounds have run deep and the scars of the Bonanno War were not going to go away.
Continuing Violent Turmoil
[18:01]Tries to come in, tries to make peace. But 1968, another wave of violence strikes the Bonanno family. De Gregorio, who was the usurper of power, went down in a hail of machine gun fires. His body was riddled with bullets. I haven’t had that since the 30s in Chicago, I don’t think. Doesn’t kill him. He has a heart attack. He’s like done. His health is gone. The commission is tired of all this, and they cast him aside, and they shift to a new guy and back a guy named Paul Siaka. They hope that Paul Siaka can bring things together. Joe Bonanno agrees to step down from being the boss.
[18:49]As family warfare, I mean, rivers of blood, and people anger with each other, and they’d split old people. People had been friends and done stuff together, split apart, taken sides. they got to end it.
Retirement and Succession
[19:02]Retirement beckons, and he moves to the dry desert winds of Arizona. Son Bill resigns as the consigliere. He leaves behind New York, the cold, dirty, dreary streets of New York, and goes out to the beautiful desert in Arizona. Hossiaka will not hold this position as head of the Bonanno family very long. Another guy, Natal Joe Diamond’s Evola, who was a banana loyalist from the old days, will then be the next boss in 1971.
[19:36]And he dies in 1973 from natural causes. And that’s when modern times, Philip Rusty Rustelli will be promoted to boss of the Bonanno family and establish some long-term continuity.
[19:49]This happened in February 23rd, 1974. I’m not sure how anybody knows this, but there’s a meeting at the Americana Hotel in Manhattan. And the commission named Rustelli as the boss of the Bonanno family. Joe Bonanno’s living out here in Arizona, embracing retirement, supposedly. I know he did a few little things out here, but not really very much. He decides to write a book, Horror of Horrors. He writes a book about his life in the mafia. Nobody had ever done that before, or they had. Lucky Luciano did, but it was more fiction than fact, I think. Joe Falaci had cooperated to write a book, but here’s a book by a mafia boss
Controversial Autobiography
[20:31]right out of the words of his mouth. It’s called A Man of Honor, the Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno. He pierced the veil of secrecy, and he revealed all the different mob secrets at the time, and he talked about the commission. Most importantly, he talked about the commission. Now, the New York United States attorney in, I think, the Southern District or the Western District, I can’t remember, one of those, Rudy Giuliani, who we all know, He read A Man of Honor, and he used that as part of his famous commission case, because in that book, Joe Bonanno talks about the Mafia Commission.
Legacy and Final Days
[21:06]You’re not supposed to say that stuff out loud, let alone write it in a book. Joe Bonanno didn’t live to really find out about how his book was used. May 11th, 2002.
[21:17]Final chapter of Joseph Bonanno’s life came to a close. Out in Tucson, Arizona, he died. Died a natural death, left behind a legacy, a legacy etched in the annals of crime history. He was a man of contradictions, and he was a man that believed in this mafia honor, but he also, he was really ambitious. He was treacherous, and he was ambitious. malicious and it’s not like the the narcotics they kind of agreed there in 57 you know we need to stay out of this dirty narcotics business and and he never did get out of it he or just before the apalachian convention he had already set up what became known as you know the the pipeline the heroin pipeline from turkey to sicily to maybe france to sardinia maybe somewhere down there in the Mediterranean, get it processed in the labs there, and then get it to New York, either through Cuba or Montreal or later on right direct to New York City. He just will always be identified with heroin in New York City. He can’t shake that, and that dirties up the rest of the guys.
[22:33]But he had an indomitable spirit, and he danced on that rager’s edge between honor and treachery his whole life and died of natural causes down in Arizona, in retirement in Arizona. So go figure. So that’s the story of Joe Bonanno. It’s a pretty interesting story, I think. There is a movie out there, and I’ve watched it. The production values are a little low. But not bad. And I think it’s titled Honor Thy Father. He was an interesting dude. He was, you know, he set up the heroin pipeline that’ll last to modern times, ends up in the pizza connection.
[23:08]All the Sicilians coming over, you know, that was all under the Bonanno family, Carmine Galante. Bonanno family is the one that was so embarrassed by lefty Ruggiero bringing in and Sonny Black Napolitano bringing in Joe Pistone, the undercover FBI agent. Embarrassed them so bad that they really kicked them out of the commission there late in life. But that was about the end of the mob in New York City, the way that was once known anyhow. So Joe Bonanno, he was quite a guy, quite a character. Thanks a lot, guys. Don’t forget, I like to ride motorcycles. So if you’re out there on the streets driving around, watch your motorcycles. If you have a problem with PTSD and you’ve been in the service, be sure and go to the VA website and get that hotline number. Remember, drugs and alcohol and addiction, problems with that, go hand in hand with PTSD. And if you’ve been in the service or not, you can go to our friend, former Gambino soldier, Anthony Ruggiano. Tell him I sent you. And let me know if you go down there and do that. That would be interesting. He’s a good guy. I had him on the show one time. Don’t forget to like and subscribe. Don’t forget that we like somebody to give us a review every once in a while on the audio podcast. Make comments. let me know if you like it you don’t like it got any ideas for new shows let me know if you don’t have any contacts with people who want to tell their story let me know you know we just have fun here telling these mob stories and i really appreciate y’all keep coming back as they say thanks guys.

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