The Castellammarese War between Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano was the catalyst for the creation of the Five Families. Having variously played both sides to further his own aims, Charles "Lucky" Luciano had both men killed within six months of each other in order to restructure the mob, remove the position of the "Boss of Bosses" so coveted by Maranzano and establish The Commission to regulate the affairs of the families. One of the five branches established was headed up by Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, formed from part of the Maranzano Family.
Bonanno was at the time the youngest of the bosses of the Five Families at 26 years old. He directed the family into the popular organized crime dealings, involving gambling, loan-sharking, and racketeering. The Bonanno Family was considered the closest knit of the Five Families due to the fact that it was made up of mostly Sicilians from the seaside town where Bonanno was born – Castellamare del Golfo, Sicily. Bonanno strongly believed blood relations and a strict Sicilian upbringing could be the only way to hold the traditional values of La Cosa Nostra together.
Bonanno's powerbase was augmented by his close relations with Joseph Profaci, head of one of the other families. Among these connections was the 1956 marriage of Bonanno's son Salvatore ("Bill") to Profaci's niece Rosalie. If members of the other three families exercised thoughts of muscling in on Bonanno enterprises, the close ties to the Profaci family (which later became the Colombo family) made them think twice, but the death of Joe Profaci in 1962 threatened to undermine Bonanno's position.
The skirmishes that then took place between DiGregorio supporters and Bonanno loyalists, led by Frank Labruzzo and Bonanno's son Bill, became known as the Bonanno War. Matters came to a head in a house in Brooklyn where a peace summit was due to be held between the two sides - DiGregorio's men arrived intending to wipe out the opposition and a large gun battle ensued, though no one was killed.
Further peace offers from both sides were spurned and the family's troubles continued. The Commission grew tired of the affair and replaced DiGregorio with Paul Sciacca, but the fighting carried on regardless with both sides losing a number of men.
The war was finally brought to a close with Bonanno, still in hiding, suffering a heart attack and announcing his permanent retirement in 1968 (he went on to live to the age of 97, dying in Tucson, Arizona in 2002).
Both factions came together under Sciacca's leadership, but he was jailed on narcotics charges in 1971 and was replaced by Natale "Joe Diamonds" Evola as boss of the Bonanno family. His leadership was short lived - his death (from natural causes) in 1973 brought Phillip "Rusty" Rastelli to the throne.
Due to the infighting of the Bonanno family, they were stripped of their seat on the Commission, and Rastelli took charge of a seemingly hapless, doomed organization. Rastelli's former friend Carmine Galante became a powerful and dangerous renegade.
Having previously acted as a focal point for the importation of heroin to the USA via Montreal, Galante set about refining the family's drug trafficking operations. The incredibly lucrative deals he was able to make, made the family a fortune, but with the other four families being kept out of the arrangements, Galante was making a rod for his own back.
When eight members of the Genovese family were murdered on Galante's orders for trying to muscle in on his drug operation, the other families decided he had outlived his usefulness at the head of the Bonanno family. On July 12, 1979, Galante was shot dead by three men, one of them Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski, at a restaurant in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn.
Rastelli took over once again, but the family's internal strife was far from over. Three renegade capos - Phillip Giaccone, Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato and Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera - began to openly question Rastelli's leadership and apparently to plot to overthrow him. With the blessing of the other families, Rastelli had the three men wiped out in a hit arranged by then-current Underboss Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano, as well as the future Boss Joseph "Big Joe" Massino.
The alleged “Boss” of the Mafia in Montreal Vito Rizzuto was extradited from Canada to the USA in August 2006 and will face charges in connection with the murder of three captains of the Bonanno family in 1981.
Two of the men involved in the murder of the three rogue Bonanno men were Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero and his capo Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano. He had become friendly with a man calling himself Donnie Brasco and had proposed him as a full member of the family, but unbeknownst to Napolitano, Brasco was in fact undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone. Numerous charges were aimed at members of the family following the evidence and testimony of Pistone and both Ruggiero and Rastelli received lengthy sentences, Lefty spent a total of 11 years in prison and died of lung cancer 3 years after he was released. Napolitano faced a worse fate - on August 17, 1981, he was shot in the basement of Ron Filocomo's house by Filocomo and Frank "Curly" Lino. The movie Donnie Brasco is based on these events.
Rastelli's death in 1991, following a period where he ruled the family from inside prison, saw the promotion of Massino to the top spot. Finally, the family had found a man who could reverse its fortunes. By promoting a far more secretive way of doing business, Massino not only concentrated on the narcotics trade as had become mandatory for a mob boss, but also in other areas less likely to draw the attention of the authorities than drugs, such as the Mafia's stock trades of racketeering, money laundering and loan sharking. A close friend of Massino's and boss of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti, also helped to get the Bonannos a seat on "The Commission" again.
As a result, while the other families were finding their bosses targeted by the police for drug offenses, Massino managed to keep his nose clean until the killing of Napolitano came back to haunt him. He and his underboss, Salvatore Vitale, were charged with the crime in 2003 following two of their capos turning themselves over as witnesses for the government. Vitale, who had until that point been utterly loyal to his boss, also faced a further murder charge and decided to switch sides himself, condemning Massino to life imprisonment. Capital punishment had been a possibility for Massino, but in 2004 he became the first serving boss to turn informant, sparing himself the ultimate penalty.
Massino is believed to be the man who pointed the FBI towards a spot in Ozone Park, Queens, called "The Hole", where the body of Alphonse Indelicato had been found in 1981. Told to dig a little deeper, authorities duly uncovered the remains of Dominick Trinchera and Philip Giaccone, as well as a body suspected to be that of John Favara, a neighbor of Gambino family boss John Gotti who had killed the mobster's son in a car/bicycle accident, and paid with his life.
Former Boss Joseph Massino is also believed to have provided the police with information on a number of high ranking Bonanno Family members and former acting boss Vincent Basciano, whose conversations with Massino were taped in late 2004 and early 2005 by the turncoat himself. Before Massino became an informant himself, his acting boss on the outside was Anthony "Tony Green" Urso, but his tenure was short-lived as he too was imprisoned on numerous charges, leading to Basciano taking control. Vincent Basciano's term as acting boss was hampered with his arrest in late 2004, but with Massino's eventual betrayal, authorities claim that Basciano assumed the top position in 2005, is allegedly the current Boss and leading the broken Bonanno family from his prison cell.
The authorities continue to plague the family, with the February 16, 2006 arrest of acting boss Michael Mancuso on murder charges, while alleged Boss Vincent Basciano was recently convicted on charges of conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, and illegal gambling and was sentenced to life imprisonment in late 2007. The main charge against him was that he conspired to murder both the judge and prosecutor in the case, as well as Patrick DeFilippo, a fellow Bonanno crime family captain.
Federal law enforcement authorities have recently claimed in a New York Daily News column that current Bonanno Family Boss Vincent Basciano has named Brooklyn business owner Salvatore "Sal the Ironworker" Montagna, age 35 of Elmont, Long Island as the new "acting boss" of the Bonanno Family. Sal Montagna was an unknown soldier in the Bronx crew of capo Patrick "Patty from the Bronx" DeFilippo and became acting capo of the crew upon DeFilippo's 2003 arrest on murder and racketeering charges. Law enforcement sources have stated that Salvatore Montagna was tabbed as "acting boss" with Vincent Basciano's consent to maintain the Bonanno Family's base of power within the Bronx faction of the Bonanno crime family. The Bonanno Family's base of power was traditionally held by the Brooklyn faction from the time of Family patriarch Joseph Bonanno until the eventual rise of Queens faction leader Philip "Rusty" Rastelli in the early 1970s. The ascension of the Bronx faction began with Basciano's promotion to acting boss, eventual ascension to the top position of Boss, continued through Michael Mancuso's short tenure and now remains with Sal Montagna acting on behalf of Basciano. The newly alleged acting boss is sometimes referred to as "Sal the Zip" being that he is from Joseph Bonanno's hometown of Castellammare del Golfo, is closely associated with the Family's Sicilian faction and fellow Castellammarese, Baldo Amato who is currently in prison and former Bonanno Capo Cesare Bonventre who was murdered in 1984."
In July 2004, The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn "say that over all, in the last four years, they have won convictions against roughly 75 mobsters or associates in a crime clan with fewer than 150 made members. Several top Bonanno family members including two former acting bosses and the current Boss Vincent Basciano have been indicted and convicted recently, reinforcing the government's claim of victory over the Bonanno family and New York's La Cosa Nostra. In February 2005, Bonanno family Capo Anthony "Tony Green" Urso pled guilty to racketeering murder, gambling, loan sharking and extortion charges, while Capo Joseph "Joe Saunders" Cammarano, along with soldier Louis Restivo pled guilty to murder racketeering charges. Twelve Bonanno family member and associates, seven over the age 70, including acting consigliere Anthony "Mr. Fish" Rabito and respected soldier Salvatore Scudiero were indicted and arrested on June 14, 2005 on charges of operating a $10 million a year gambling ring. The most recent blow to the Family came with the September 20, 2006 sentencing of capos Louis "Louie Ha Ha" Attanasio and Peter "Rabbit" Calabrese to 15 years in prison for the 1984 murder of capo Cesare Bonventre in Queens."
Under the rule of former Boss Joseph Massino, the Bonanno family climbed back to the top of New York's crime family hierarchy and once again became a top power in America's underworld, but high level defections and convictions have left the family a shell of its former self once more during its long criminal history.
The defection of former Bonanno family Bosses Joseph Massino and Salvatore Vitale, along with four high ranking former Capos, has caused the Bonanno family to lose power, influence and respect within the New York underworld not seen since the Donnie Brasco incident. With the upcoming trial of Capos Michael "Mikey Nose" Mancuso and Patrick "Patty from the Bronx" DeFilippo on murder, gambling and racketeering charges, the ability of the Bronx faction to stay in control of the crime family will be determined along with the Bonanno family's future position in North America's underworld. Basciano is still the alleged Boss of the Bonannos, with, from late 2006, Salvatore "Sal the Iron Worker" Montagna as acting boss, following orders from the imprisoned Basciano. With Nicholas "Nicky Mouth" Santora as acting underboss for the imprisoned Michael "Mikey Nose" Mancuso, and Anthony "Mr. Fish" Rabito as the alleged consigliere, Montagna is capable to run the day-to-day operations on behalf of Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano.