Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Mafia kingpin Joseph Massino (search), known as "the last don." He would be the first mob chief put to death at the hands of the government in decades.
Federal prosecutors told Massino's lawyers Thursday they intend to ask for the death penalty in the 1999 killing of Gerlando Sciascia (search), a captain in Massino's crime family.
Massino attorney David Breitbart said the decision was a "parting gift" from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (search), who announced his resignation Tuesday. "It seems absolutely absurd," Breitbart said.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf in Brooklyn declined to comment.
Massino was convicted in July of orchestrating a quarter-century of murder, racketeering, arson, extortion and other crimes and is awaiting sentencing.
Sciascia's slaying occurred after the 1988 reintroduction of the federal death penalty, prompting prosecutors to seek a separate trial. Mob boss Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, the leader of Murder Inc., a group of hit men, was executed in 1944.
Massino, 61, had been the only accused head of one of New York's five Mafia families not in prison or awaiting sentencing, leading some to call him "the last don."
Since his 1992 release on a racketeering rap, Massino dodged prosecution while overseeing the comeback of the Bonanno crime family. The family nearly collapsed after FBI agent Joe Pistone, posing as jewel thief Donnie Brasco, was embraced by the Bonanno hierarchy from 1976 to 1981.
The Brasco saga later became the subject of a movie starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.