The Banana Bunch Goes to Jail


During the “Bonanno War” years and directly thereafter, from 1966 to 1971, many active members and associates from New York City’s five boroughs and outer environs — Long Island, Westchester, and NJ – who were subpoenaed to testify before both the Nassau and Kings County grand juries probing the Family’s operations, gangland murders, politics, and structure found themselves buried under so-called “contempt of court”, “criminal contempt”, or even “civil contempt” charges.

Frustrated law enforcement authorities, hampered in their efforts to probe the Family and stop the wanton gangland violence, had started to subpoena the Family’s membership and various associates from the other four Families in an attempt to curtail their activities, stop the war, and the resultant killings.

First among equals in this effort, was Nassau County top prosecutor, D.A. William Cahn.

He was a man with political aspirations who would become a famed “mob-buster” during these years, building his reputation by harassing and cracking down on the mob.

Close behind Cahn was the Brooklyn D.A. Aaron E. Koota — who “jumped on the bandwagon” — wanting some of the positive publicity that the Nassau D.A. was garnering.

Cracking down on the so-called Mafia was very en vogue in this era, as it would be in the coming years under prosecutors Denis Dillon, Tom Puccio, and Rudy Giuliani.

But this is where it started in earnest for the NYC area, under the local D.A’s in Nassau, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Although the various “contempt” charges carried only a measly 30-day sentence and a paltry $250. fine, a little used provision in the law books was “dusted off” which allowed prosecutors to recall witnesses before the same grand jury over and over, asking the same exact questions, and rechargeing those same witnesses with another fresh contempt arrest.

The subsequent result was that mob figures — and others — were repeatedly hauled before these grand juries and jailed with back-to-back 30 days.

This resulted in some mobsters serving what amounted to draconian sentences of one, two, and three years in prison.

An extreme example was in New Jersey when Genovese acting boss Jerry Catena served approximately five years in a NJ jail – all for “refusing to answer questions”!

It became a catch-22 situation. If you talked — besides violating “Omerta” and possible mob retribution — mob guys often faced “perjury” counts because prosecutors did their very best to “trap” witnesses in any discrepancies in testimony.

And if you didn’t talk you were automatically jailed for contempt! A “no win” situation for sure!

Most guys chose contempt over perjury because although the 30-day “bits” could add up if a prosecutor chose to go that route, perjury automatically carried a 5-year term.-

The prosecutors had a field day “breaking balls”!

In short order, the jails were overflowing with “wiseguys” and their associates.

A perfect example of this was the Nassau County Correctional Facility in East Meadow, Long Island.

At any given time, there could be upwards of 60 to 70 mob figures or more, all housed together doing contempt bits. It was like “old home week” for the underworld.

Besides the Bonanno contingent, you had many Colombo mobsters who at the time dominated the Long Island gangland world.

You also had a healthy share of Lucchese guys, with Paul Vario and even Carmine Tramunti leading the pack.

Cahn tortured Vario with many back-to-back contempt citations. Altogether, Vario served several years just on contempt convictions.

Literally hundreds of mob guys disappeared from their homes and usual haunts in an often futile attempt to avoid testifying.

Others “went on the lam” for extended periods of time after seeing their brethren repeatedly jailed.-

Side Note: Wiseguys will be wiseguys…. as a result of their extended “stay” courtesy of the government, several mob guys did their best to make good of a very bad situation.

Bonanno soldier Rosario Morale and Lucchese captain Paul Vario were the leading mob “point men” who befriended and bribed many prison guards to smuggle in Italian food provisions, liquor, drugs, and even prostitutes to make their stay a bit more enjoyable.

Eventually both were indicted along with over 24 jail guards on corruption charges.

What follows here is a short list of some of the more well-publicized contempt jailings of Bonanno figures.

From bosses to associates, with little discretion, they were all repeatedly jailed during the Bonanno War “conflict”!

After the famed “Troutman Street” shootout in 1966 between rival Bonanno factions. Again after the triple homicide of the D’Angelo brothers and Frank Telleri. And finally the 1969 disappearance and presumed double murder of Frank Mari and Mike Adamo,

Grand juries were empaneled and their “life” repeatedly extended for six months intervals and a major mob crackdown was sustained in earnest…….hundreds were subpoenaed!

Many fought contempt sentences as “double jeopardy” and unconstitutional to no avail.

Despite the Constitution, the government was not about to give up their “ace in the hole”!

As time passed, applications were made before Congress to increase the penalties for contempt. Eventually contempt became punishable by up to four years imprisonment which was left to the judge’s discretion….. thereby bolstering the weapons in law enforcement’s arsenal against the mob.

Sciacca Loyalists

Paul Sciacca • Gaspare Di Gregorio • Nicholas Marangello

Sereno Tartamella • James Genna • Pietro Crociata

Frank Mari • Giacomo Musumeci • Michael Adamo

Antonio Adamo • Joseph Mastracola • Matteo Valvo

Benjamin Valvo • Thomas D’Angelo • Frank Telleri

Anthony Leone • Steven Cannone • Philip Rastelli • Rocco Matra

Peter Monteleone • Anthony Lisi • Jerry Chilli • Joseph Chilli

Peter Pomaro • Michael Casale • Vito Licata

Nichols DeStefano • Michael Sabella

Thomas Zummo • Joseph Zummo • Joseph Tegano

Pasquale Gigante • Carmine Castellano

George Guarino • Anthony Crisci • Nicolino Alfano • Anthony Cosenza

Bonanno Loyalists

Bill Bonanno • Frank Bonomo • Peter Notaro

Philip Notaro • Steven Menna • Vincent Morsellino

Joseph Morsellino • Samuel Perrone • Vincent Pedone

Angelo Presinzano • Frank Presinzano • Michael Bonfondeo

Natale Evola • John Fiordilino • Camillo Sardegna

Frank D’Ambrosia • Bruno Capio • Guy Musillo

Joseph Messina • Pietro Magaddino • Michael Consolo

Vito DeFilippo • Patrick DeFilippo • Carlo Simari

Armando Pollastrino • Rosario Morale

John Morale • Angelo Lapi • Murad Nersissian

Dominick Colavita • Joseph Di Maria • Walter Falcetta

Julius Sirowitz • Michael Comparetti • William Gonzalez

Sitting on the Fence

John Petrone • Patrick Colarusso • Vincent Curatola

Ernest Montevecchi • Michael Nido

There were many others subpoenaed and subsequently jailed, but not all the jailings made the newspapers.

The 77 mobsters listed above is only of those so publicly named.

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