Giuseppe (Don Peppino) Bonnano – aka “Joe Bananas” – was born in 1905 in Castellammare del Golfo, Trapani province, Sicily.
After emigrating to this country, he resided in the Williamsburg and Ridgewood sections of Brooklyn where he had an uncle and other relatives.
He later moved out to Hempstead on Long Island. And still later, by the 1940s, purchased extensive property and built a home in Arizona at 1840 East Elm Street in Tucson, traveling back and forth as business and his personal affairs required.
FBI #2534540, NYCPD #B-85172
Bonanno was one of the original Mafia bosses in the United States, and one of the most infamous, wealthiest, and most controversial to ever operate.
His activities included alcohol bootlegging, policy and the Italian lottery, bookmaking, shylocking, extortion, strong-arm and shakedowns, labor rackets, narcotics smuggling and distribution….. and by virtue of his position as boss, virtually all racket activities engaged in by his troops.
He always denied being involved in heroin trafficking.
However, by virtue of his close association with Carmine Galante, his one-time underboss, who was one of the most voracious heroin dealers this country had ever seen, and another key capo of his by the name of Vincenzo (Vic) Cotroni of Montreal, Canada, who was the pivotal figure and conduit in the smuggling of narcotics from Italy into the U.S. via Canadian smuggling routes, easily put the lie to his protestations.
In fact, it was Bonanno who arguably originally set up the premier drug smuggling routes that would be adhered to by the brotherhood for decades to come.
The infamous “Hotel de Palmes” meeting in Palermo, Sicily between Bonanno, Galante and their entourage, and key Sicilian Mafia bosses where the particulars would be ironed out, making way for what was later called “The French Connection”…. had indeed been the “Sicilian Connection” from day one.
With a family background of Mafia activity back in Sicily, his father and uncles having been mafiosi themselves, Joe Bonanno was welcomed with open arms upon emigrating to the United States as a young man.
He quickly aligned with his cousin Stefano Magaddino, uncle Giovanni Bonventre, and others from his hometown who had come over earlier and were already established in the New York rackets.
He would start his “career” as a bootlegger under the auspices of well-known Castellammrese mafioso Salvatore (Don Turiddo) Maranzano and rise to become his righthand.
During the Castellammrese War from 1930 to 1931, Joe would fight alongside Maranzano until their opponent, boss Joe (The Boss) Masseria was defeated after his set-up and execution at Scarpato’s Restaurant in Coney Island in 1931.
Within several months, Maranzano would also be set-up and killed making way for “The Young Turks” in the form of Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, and their contemporaries to take over the New York underworld.
It is believed that either Bonanno plotted with them, or acquiesced after the killing, befriending the plotters.
It was agreed that Bonanno would rise to the boss seat (having been Maranzano’s second in command).
It made him one of the youngest bosses in the country at 26 years old – a position he would occupy for the next 33 years.
A clannish bunch, the Bonanno borgata could arguably be called the most secretive of the Five Families.
More often than not, the Bonannos were running their own rackets among other Castellammarese, not trusting “outsiders” or even fellow mainland Italian mafiosi.
Bonanno built this borgata while accumulating a personal wealth that would rival any other boss, with the possible exception of Joseph Profaci.
He was a millionaire many, many times over.
He owned hundreds of acres of land in Arizona, a huge cotton farm, national and multinational cheese manufacturing firms, one named Grande Cheese Co., the premier mozzarella producer in the United States, based in Wisconsin.
Another was Saputo & Sons., based in Canada, also a premier cheese maker which exports their product into the States.
Bonanno also held interests in numerous dress factories, the Anello & Bonventre Funeral Home of Brooklyn, and many other businesses, either through direct ownership or through partnerships with associates.
He was a tremendously respected mafioso of the first order.
This was not only because of the power he wielded but it also stemmed from Don Peppino having been one of the original founding members of Cosa Nostra in this country.
Years earlier, mafiosi born in Castellammare del Golfo had spanned out across the country.
Many were the heads of their own borgata, or were top members in their respective Families.
Joe Bonanno maintained close relations with all these men, giving him an almost singular position of power.
Many looked to him and his cousin, Steve Magaddino, as the two most important Castellammarese “Fathers” of this insular society.
Detroit, Philadelphia, Buffalo, California, and other cities were, at one time, all run by Castellammarese at the helm…. collectively, they were a major force in Cosa Nostra.
By the early 1960s, Don Peppino was at the height of his power.
He headed one of the premier Families in America, and as a Commission rep, oversaw many more.
But, he was said to have been an overly ambitious man, too ambitious!
Whether what I will describe next was the truth or a fiction concocted in order to plot against him is forever lost to history and mob lore.
The plot was allegedly exposed by Joseph Colombo, a young capo of the Profaci Family who had been assigned the murder contracts. He instantly realized the suicidal nature of this request.
One thing is certain, when Bonanno was called before the Commission to explain his actions, he repeatedly refused, even faking his own kidnapping to frustrate not only his fellow Commission members, but law enforcement as well, who had subpoenaed him to testify before a federal grand jury investigating this and other matters.
All this intrigue is what led up to the “Banana War”, with the Commission expelling Bonanno and several minions from the brotherhood.
An insurrection began.
Bonanno loyalists were suddenly pitted against their brothers in what would become a protracted battle for control of the borgata.
The fires began smoldering in 1963, with an open conflict that started in 1966 and lasted through 1968.
The killing of key members would be suffered by both sides, with the Bonanno Family slowly imploding and weakening themselves as a whole to the delight of many in other Families who quickly “raided” Bonanno assets and associates who ran “for the hills” to escape the carnage.
By 1968, with Joe Bonanno, his son Bill, Johnny Morale, and several other loyalists having officially been either “shelved” or thrown out altogether from the brotherhood, he chose to officially retire realizing the futility of the gang war…. he threw in the towel, permanently relocating to his Arizona home.
He relinquished all his racket holdings. However, he was able to keep all his legal business entities and the vast wealth he had accumulated over a lifetime at the helm of a major borgata.
Giuseppe Bonanno would end up getting the last laugh on all his enemies by living to the ripe old age of 97 years old.
He outlived virtually every one of his contemporaries including Carlo Gambino who died at 74, Lucchese who passed at 67, and many, many more.
He lived a modest lifestyle in spite of his vast wealth, in the tradition of a true mafioso, never flaunting his millions.
His home in Tucson was a small nondescript ranch style. He dressed in a moderate low-key fashion. If you didn’t know it and met him, he would have looked like any other elderly Italian gentleman.
But he had been a powerhouse in his time.
He died quietly in 2002.
Suffice it to say, that Giuseppe (Joe Bananas) Bonanno was one of the most important members of “The Honored Society” to ever operate in America.
And although in tatters in the year 2019, the borgata he built still carries his name – The Bonanno Family!
End Note: In 1983, Bonanno would later write a book of his memoirs about his life, “A Man of Honor!”. It was a bestseller.
But his words would come back to bite him in the ass by a little-known prosecutor by the name of Rudolph Giuliani. Joe was subpoenaed to testify about “The Commission” which he’d written about in his book.
Realizing his folly, he refused to talk, honoring his old 1920s vow of Omerta – the code of silence. Giuliani immediately jailed him for contempt. The old man would spend upwards of a year in jail until his eventual release.
What is funny is that Bonanno ended up spending more time in prison for this stupid incident than he had during his entire lifetime in an underworld career that spanned over 60 years!
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