On July 10, 2013, the Hon. Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York ruled that former Bonnano Crime Family boss Joseph Massino was to be released from federal prison after serving only 12 years of a life sentence. He will be monitored regularly for the remainder of his life. The ruling was based on Massino’s prior cooperation as a government witness. To date, he remains the only mafia boss to have become a testifying witness for the U.S. Government. This is the story of his rise to fame and his downfall in a life of organized crime in the five boroughs of the City of New York.
Similar to other books on the legendary crime figures, the story begins in New York City in 1943 when Massino is born into an Italian-American family. Raised in Maspeth, Queens, his life of crime began in his teen years paving the road for future endeavors. However it is time as a member of the Bonnano Crime Family that would later be the focus of an unrelenting number of criminal investigations. Crittle does a masterful job of putting together the details of the infamous murders that occurred, including the murders of the three capos (Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, Dominick “Big Trin” Trincera and Philip Giaccone) as portrayed in the hit film ‘Donnie Brasco’, starring Al Pacino and Johnnie Depp. As the tension in the book builds, we learn about several more murders including those of Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, Cesare Bonventre and Gerlando Sciascia, whose murder earned Massino a possible sentence of death if convicted. The reader may recall Napolitano as the mafia captain who was taken to task over the infiltration of the organization by F.B.I. agent Joseph Pistone. He is portrayed in ‘Donnie Brasco’ by actor Michael Madsen. The film was fairly accurate but several liberties had been taken by the filmmakers, most notably the insinuation that Lefty is called to this death. In reality, Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero survived the Pistone episode and died of cancer on November 24, 1994.
Crittle appropriately named the book for Massino is considered to the be the last of the old-school mafia bosses. However his decision to cooperate with the government was an act unfathomable in the minds of mafia figures and law enforcement personnel. The author follows Massino’s trial and the sequence of events that lead to the aging gangster switching sides. The story takes on a life of its own as we witness a level of devastation within the ranks of the mafia never before seen. The last don’s fall from power and grace is yet another example of the precariousness of life in organized crime. Many of the characters in the book are either deceased or incarcerated and today they represent an era long gone in American history. There was a time when the Italian-American mafia controlled nearly all parts of New York and was feared and glorified throughout the country. Massino’s conviction and defection pushed the organization past the point of no return.
Fans of true crime novels will readily welcome this addition to their libraries. Crittle takes us back into time in an era where the streets of New York City were filled with mafia figures larger than life such as John Gotti, Paul Castellano, Carmine Galante and Aniello Dellacroce among others. The younger generation of today are largely indifferent to the mafia. The mafia rarely makes headlines but remains firmly implanted in the memories of mature readers who lived during the times explored in the book. For some of them, Joey Massino truly is the last godfather.