Former Bonanno crime family boss Joseph “Big Joey” Massino — the first head of one of New York’s five mob families to ever turn rat — died earlier this month after battling a short illness, it was revealed Friday. He was 80.
Massino, who ran the Bonanno family with an iron fist from 1991 to 2003, died at a rehab facility in the New York City area on Sept. 14, sources close to his family told Newsday.
The ex-mob boss, who sent shockwaves through the organized crime world when he became a federal witness nearly two decades ago, had been battling a number of health conditions, including diabetes and obesity, in the lead-up to his death, the sources said.
Massino broke the sacred vow of silence and began talking with the feds immediately after he was convicted in 2004 for orchestrating a quarter-century’s worth of murder, racketeering and a slew of other crimes as he rose through the ranks of the vicious family.
He had been handed a life sentence over the bloodshed, which included the slayings of three rival mob captains and the execution of a mobster who had vouched for FBI undercover agent Joseph D. Pistone, who used the name Donnie Brasco, in the 1980s.
Brasco’s infiltration became the subject of the hit 1997 film “Donnie Brasco,” starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.
Massino had to forfeit his mountain of bloody loot in the wake of his conviction — including $7 million in cash and the more than 250 bars of solid gold that he stashed in the Howard Beach, Queens, home where he lived with his wife and three daughters.
The canary ended up spending 12 years in a cage before a Brooklyn federal judge ruled in 2013 that he could be released from jail as a reward for cooperating with authorities and testifying against fellow gangsters — including his Bonanno successor, Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano.
“Quite simply, Mr. Massino may be the most important cooperator in the modern history of law enforcement to prosecute the American Mafia,” Judge Nicholas Garaufis said before springing him loose.
Already ill by the time he was released, Massino was subsequently given a new identity in the witness protection program. He had been living in Ohio for some time prior to his death, sources told Newsday.
After arguing for his early release, his lawyer at the time, Edward McDonald, told the judge that Massino had reflected on his mob life during his time in jail and wished he could turn back the clock.
“If he had to make the decision again, if he was 18 or 19, years old, he wouldn’t go into the Mafia,” McDonald said at the time.
Massino, who was born and raised in Queens, entered the organized crime world in the 1970s when he became associated with mobster Philip Rastelli, who eventually became the boss of the Bonanno family.
He was inducted into the mob in 1977 and became a captain two years later.
In 1981, he helped facilitate the slayings of three rival captains — Philip Giaccone, Alphonse Indelicato and Dominick Trinchera — who were suspected of trying to overtake the Bonanno family.
Massino ended up serving time in a federal lock-up in the ’80s.
He was named boss of the Bonanno family in 1991 after his predecessor, Rastelli, died.
While heading up the mob family, Massino simultaneously ran legitimate businesses across the Big Apple — including a Queens sandwich shop, catering companies and an Italian restaurant.
This article was originally posted here