Published July 20, 2011
NEW YORK – A federal judge sentenced a notorious New York mobster who's already serving life behind bars to a second life term on Wednesday, saying he wanted to send a message that there's nothing "romantic or redeeming about organized crime."
A life sentence for Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano became mandatory last month after a jury decided to spare him death during the penalty phase of a trial in Brooklyn. The same jurors had found the former acting boss of the Bonanno crime family guilty of murder, racketeering, conspiracy and other charges alleging he ordered a gangland hit while taking control of the family.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis had asked the Department of Justice to reconsider bringing a death penalty case — which ended up costing taxpayers nearly $5 million — against a defendant who was already serving life without parole for a 2007 conviction. But prosecutors decided to press ahead and showcase the testimony of former Bonanno boss Joseph Massino, the highest-ranking member of the city's five Italian organized crime families to ever take the witness stand for the government.
Massino's testimony and other evidence against the colorful one-time owner of Hello Gorgeous hair salon showed that "there is nothing romantic or redeeming about organized crime," Garaufis said at sentencing.
"There is no glory in the mob's rules, no virtue in its morality of immorality, no love in its family, no solemnity in its oaths and no honor in the blood it spills," he said. "However La Cosa Nostra may be portrayed on the popular screen, Basciano stands here today, proof of its reality — a crumbling façade, beneath which lies a bleak, pathetic and ignorant life."
Massino, 68, 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.
While imprisoned together in 2005, the former Bonanno boss agreed to wear a wire and betray the 51-year-old Basciano by recording conversations about killings and other banter.
Jurors heard one recording of Basciano boasting, "I'm a hoodlum. I'm a tough guy. Whatever happens happens. Let's go." In another, a Massino mused about the demise of the family.
"We was OK until I got pinched," he said. "We was on top of the world."
Basciano had won Garaufis' approval to wear a wardrobe of five different suits — one for each day of the week — and always kept his full hair of gray hair carefully coiffed.
He appeared Wednesday in a blue prison uniform and made a rambling legal argument claiming he'd been denied a fair trial. He even asked the judge to appoint a new lawyer to represent him in a lawsuit against a jailhouse informant.
"I'm broke," he said "I have no money."
The judge ignored the request.