Salvatore "Sal" Tessio is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and the film based on it. In the film, Tessio was portrayed by Abe Vigoda, and as a younger man in the sequel by John Aprea.
Tessio began with his friends Peter Clemenza and Vito Corleone as low-level hoodlums in New York City's Little Italy. As Corleone rose to prominence in the Mafia underworld, Tessio and Clemenza rose with him, each eventually settling into the caporegime roles. Tessio owned the Embassy Club in Brooklyn and made it his base of operations. From there, he managed his Mafia soldiers and was very well-connected throughout the borough. Most federal investigators considered Tessio the smarter, savvier and more ruthless of the two capos. However, according to the book, he had mellowed considerably over the decade of peace between New York's Mafia families.
His regime included soldiers Nick Geraci, Momo Barone, Eddie Paradise, and Tommy Neri. He was initially the more trusted of the two capos during the war with the Five Families and was issued the task of assassinating Bruno Tattaglia. According to the novel, he never really trusted Michael Corleone after he took over the family. He did, however, think more of the young don than did Clemenza and Tom Hagen. Ultimately, Tessio arranged for Michael's assassination at a peace summit set up by his enemies, Emilio Barzini and Philip Tattaglia. In return, Tessio would inherit the Corleone family upon Michael's death.
At Vito's funeral, Tessio told Michael that he's set up the peace summit, to be held on his territory in Brooklyn. However, Michael had anticipated the plot by way of a warning from his father, who intimated that the person who approached him about the peace summit would be the family traitor. Tessio's betrayal came as a surprise to Hagen, who thought Clemenza would be the turncoat. However, Michael wasn't surprised, saying "It's the smart move; Tessio was always smarter."
A few days later, Tessio was ready to head for Brooklyn with Hagen when Cicci tells him that Michael is going in a separate car. Tessio is frustrated, saying that it's messed up his "arrangements." At that point, Hagen tells Tessio he can't go either, and several button men surround Tessio. Realizing that Michael has found out about his betrayal, Tessio asked Hagen to tell Michael that his betrayal was not motivated by any personal animosity but simply business. Tessio was executed with a gunshot at point blank range by his enforcer Nick Geraci in the book The Godfather Returns. According to this book, Geraci succeeded him as capo, but in the original book, Al Neri took over the old Tessio regime.
In the video game adaptation, Tessio is escorted to the place where he was to betray Michael by the game's protagonist. He subsequently fled, but was hunted down and shot by the enforcer. In the game, the Tessio killing also takes place before the other dons are killed unlike in the film.