NEW YORK – Jurors deciding whether to give the death penalty to a tough-talking mobster convicted of murder heard from his boss on Wednesday — the former head of an organized crime family who aired dirty laundry about life in the mob — literally.
Testimony from ex-Bonanno head Joseph Massino ranged from a list of mob victims, claims that his underling Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano wanted to kill a federal prosecutor and talk of having to wash their own clothes in prison.
Massino also testified during the trial against Basciano, who served as acting boss after Massino was jailed. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Basciano, who was convicted May 16 in the death of Randy Pizzolo and is already serving a life sentence for a separate 2007 conviction on murder and racketeering charges.
Prosecutors sought to show the onetime owner of the Hello Gorgeous beauty salon had a hot temper and was eager to kill anyone who got in his way — including federal agents. Massino testified Wednesday that Basciano wanted to kill U.S. Attorney Greg Andres in an Upper East Side Italian restaurant as payback for decimating the family leadership.
"Let me kill this guy when he comes out of the restaurant," Basciano said, according to Massino. As head of the crime family, Massino had to give his OK before the hit could be carried out.
The two were talking at the time in the depths of a federal courthouse, awaiting separate appearances in their respective criminal cases, Massino said.
Andres "pretty much destroyed the Bonanno family," Massino said, and Basciano was also angry that the government was planning to subpoena his wife.
Massino said Basciano requested permission to kill at least nine others in a two-year span — but the requests weren't granted because he didn't think the people merited killing.
Neither Massino nor any other convicted Bonanno associates are facing the death penalty, though most were convicted of more murders than Basciano.
Defense lawyer George Goltzer portrayed to jurors a picture of Massino and much of the Mafia as a bunch of back-stabbing liars.
He argued that Massino overplayed the initial, unrecorded conversation about the federal prosecutor, and then hammered the issue while he wore a wire in order to secure a better a deal for himself.
"I was a cooperator already; it was just more that I could tell them," Massino testified.
Massino is the highest-ranking member of the city's five Italian organized crime families to break a sacred vow of silence and testify against one of their own.
The 68-year-old 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 killings 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.
Massino, serving two consecutive life terms for eight murders, agreed to wear a wire and betray Basciano while the two were imprisoned together in 2005. He testified his cooperation spared his wife from prosecution, allowed her to keep their home and gave him a shot at a reduced sentence.
The recordings detailed the struggle to keeping the family together and possible hits, but also captured the more mundane aspects of prison life.
"Yesterday I had too much to do. I got a visit, I had to wash my clothes, two lawyer visits," Massino says.
"Washing your clothes is a f------ trip, right?" Basciano asks.
"I can't wear the briefs, I got about four pairs of boxers," Massino replied.
"I don't know how you do it in that shower," he says.
Basciano is known for his meticulously groomed hair and sharp suits. Before trial, he won approval to have access to five different suits to wear to court — one for each day of the week.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis asked the Justice Department to reconsider bringing a death penalty case — which at the time had already cost taxpayers more than $3 million. But prosecutors decided to press ahead anyway. A series of successful prosecutions had already decimated the Bonanno leadership in the past decade.
"We was OK until I got pinched," Massino said to Basciano in prison. "We was on top of the world."