NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Nine reputed members of the Bonanno crime family were charged in an indictment unsealed Tuesday with what prosecutors called old-school mob activity: gambling, loan sharking, extortion and drugs.
A two-year investigation dismantled one crew of the family, including a captain, two capos, a soldier and several associates, two of whom were members of an International Brotherhood of Teamsters local union, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said.
“Many mistakenly believe that the mob has disappeared entirely except if you watch HBO,” he said, referring to “The Sopranos.” “But we know in fact this is not the case.”
As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, it may seem appropriate if the tactics do sound like they are straight out of the movies, because one of the defendants was portrayed in one. Nicholas “Nicky Mouth” Santora was played by Bruno Kirby in the 1982 classic “Donnie Brasco.”
Prosecutors said Santora and his cronies, including the former president of Local 917, were accused of using their union positions to solicit members as clients for their criminal enterprises, including online gambling. The two union members were also charged with perjury, prosecutors said.
“Times have changed since Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, but organized crime still exerts a corrupting influence on our city and in this case, in our labor unions,” Vance said.
According to the 158-page indictment, the crew made money by selling marijuana and Oxycodone and conspired to sell 300,000 tablets of Viagra and Cialis, prosecutors said. They were also accused of gun possession.
“The organized crime activity described in the indictment is as old as the Bonanno crime family and as relatively new as online betting and trafficking in highly addictive Oxycodone,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement. “Either way, it’s corrosive to society and lines the pockets of those who use or sanction violence to enrich themselves.”
Santora, the suspected captain, was sentenced in December to two years behind bars in a separate mob case in Brooklyn federal court. His lawyer in that case said Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of the new charges and had not been contacted by anyone for representation.
The other defendants were arraigned Tuesday afternoon. And an attorney for defendant Nicholas Bernhard said the DA got everything wrong.
“I think they were stock statements from the DA’s office. They bring an indictment like this, the press comes down, they have a press conference – they’re statements they have to make,” said attorney Elizabeth Macedonio. “Doesn’t mean they’re true.”
Gerard Marrone represents defendant Scott O’Neill.
“It’s a case that’s blown out of proportion, I think,” he said.
Marrone had a unique argument when he asked the judge to lower bail for his client.
“I told the judge that my client is Irish, so that should count for something, because usually, it’s the Italians that are in trouble,” Marone said. But Marone said he was joking in court, and pointed out that he himself is Italian-American.
The Bonanno crime family is one of the infamous Five Families that have dominated organized crime in New York City for nearly the past century. The family carries the name of Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno, who served along with Al Capone and other mob legends on The Commission that regulated mafia families’ affairs nationwide following the Castellammarese War of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The family became successful in a variety of illicit industries, including bookmaking, loan sharking and prostitution. Joseph Bonanno himself became a multimillionaire.
Joseph Bonanno was deposed as boss following the Bonanno War, known colloquially as the “Banana Split” in the early 1960s. He died in 2002 at the age of 97.
A later Bonanno family boss, Joseph Massino, became the highest-ranking member of the city’s five Italian organized crime families to ever take the witness stand for the government — betraying his onetime associate Vincent Basciano who was sentenced to two life terms.
Massino broke his family’s sacred vow of silence and began talking with investigators after his 2004 conviction for orchestrating a quarter-century’s worth of murder, racketeering and other crimes as he rose through the ranks of the Bonannos.
The bloodshed included the shotgun slayings of three rival captains and the execution of a mobster who vouched for FBI undercover agent Donnie Brasco in the 1980s. Brasco’s story became a movie starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.
All five New York mob families — Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese — have been decimated in the past several years by prosecutions aided by turncoats willing to give up mob secrets in exchange for leniency.
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