Title: Baldassare Amato: A Portrait
Description: Trial: GUILTY!
Laurentian - July 3, 2006 01:04 PM (GMT)
July 3, 2006
Mob Family's Undoing, a Turncoat at a Time
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM The New York Times
For Baldassare Amato, a Sicilian immigrant who came to this country more than 30 years ago, traditions seem to die hard. But they are dying nonetheless.
Over the last five weeks, Mr. Amato, a slender, hard-eyed 54-year-old, has listened intently in Federal District Court in Brooklyn as prosecutors and Mafia turncoats have told stories of gangland murder in rich detail, stories that could land Mr. Amato in prison for life.
But in the process, they have also told another story, about the decline of the Bonanno family, which in the last four years has seen its ranks decimated and its traditions crumble as a literal mob of defectors has rushed into the open arms of the government, not least among them the boss, Joseph Massino.
On the first day of the trial, the prosecutors surveyed the wreckage that is the crime family as Mr. Amato sat stoically. An assistant United States attorney spent more than an hour projecting individual mug shots and surveillance photographs of nearly four dozen Bonanno mobsters on a wall-size screen over the heads of Mr. Amato and his two co-defendants. The pictures were annotated for the jury by an expert witness, who, under questioning by a prosecutor, described their roles in the crime family.
It was a grim tally. Twelve are dead, 26 are in prison — half of them cooperating with the F.B.I. and prosecutors — with the rest on the street. Brooklyn prosecutors say that over all, in the last four years, they have won convictions against roughly 75 mobsters or associates in a crime clan with fewer than 150 made members.
Prosecutors say Mr. Amato has devoted most of his adult life to the crime family, and the scope of the government's assault did not seem lost on him.
A dour man who still speaks with a thick accent, he was 18 when he came to Brooklyn with his parents from Castellammare del Golfo, a fishing village on Sicily's rocky northern shore known for the mob giants it has sent to Brooklyn over the last century.
In 1979, when he was just 27, he was present — and some argue complicit — in one of the most infamous mob killings in New York history, the slaying of Carmine Galante, the Bonanno boss. Galante was gunned down on a humid July day after a late lunch in the rear garden of a Brooklyn restaurant. A famous photograph shows him dead amid the toppled tables and chairs with a cigar still clenched between his teeth.
Mr. Amato, who is known as Baldo, never rose above the rank of soldier, prosecutors say. But he has long been a respected — and feared — power in the family, particularly among its Sicilian-born members, who seem to hew more closely to mob tradition than those born here.
In fact, the fear that he instilled was apparent in the courtroom two weeks ago. When a cooperating witness took the stand and saw Mr. Amato sitting at the defense table, he balked, at first refusing to testify moments after he sworn in by the presiding judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis.
"You may be seated," Judge Garaufis told the witness, Francesco Fiordilino, a 36-year-old Bonanno associate who also came to Brooklyn from Castellammare del Golfo and knew Mr. Amato from childhood.
"Your Honor, I ain't testifying," Mr. Fiordilino suddenly volunteered.
"What's that?" the stunned judge asked.
"I ain't testifying," he repeated.
The defense and prosecution agreed to break for lunch. The lead prosecutor, John Buretta, said that during the recess, the government would speak to the witness, who had testified without reservations in 2004 against Mr. Massino, then the family's boss.
After the break, Mr. Buretta explained Mr. Fiordilino's reticence: "The witness is scared of Baldo Amato."
And before the jury returned, Judge Garaufis gave a warning to Mr. Amato's family members in the gallery: "If anyone in the audience is passing glances at the witness, the person will be excluded from the trial henceforth, and I don't mean maybe."
From the witness stand, Mr. Fiordilino gave the jury his own explanation for his earlier refusal.
"I was a bit nervous," he said. "I know the defendant, and his family knows my family a long time."
His reluctance probably did not help Mr. Amato, who is charged with racketeering conspiracy and the murders of two Bonanno associates in 1992.
Mr. Fiordilino was just one of a half-dozen Bonanno family defectors who testified in the trial, which is expected to wrap up with closing arguments this week. Another witness was Salvatore Vitale, the family's underboss when Mr. Amato went to prison in 1999 on federal robbery conspiracy charges. Mr. Amato has been in prison ever since and thus did not see firsthand as a virtual army of Bonanno figures became turncoats over the last four years.
During much of the testimony, Mr. Amato remained impassive, as he watched his former confederates detail the history and mores of the crime family.
Mr. Vitale's testimony was damning. He discussed a meeting he had at a diner in Queens with another Bonanno family figure whom he had previously asked to arrange for gunmen from Canada to kill a family associate. But the man, Gerlando Sciascia, known as George from Canada, arrived at the meeting instead with Mr. Amato, and suggested Mr. Amato be the gunman.
"Baldo turned around and says to me: 'Mr. Sal, I'll take care of it, don't worry about it, ' " Mr. Vitale testified, adding that Mr. Amato continued: "You bring the guy, and don't worry about it. I'll take care of it. I'll kill him."
Mr. Amato's lawyer, Diarmuid White, acknowledged in his opening statement that his client had "made a wrong turn" as a young man and he promised the jurors that he would not "present him to you as a man who has led an admirable life." But he also told the panel that the evidence they would hear linking his client to the murders was "thin" and the witnesses "not trustworthy."
Last week, he said that if Mr. Amato were acquitted, "he plans to spend the rest of his days on a island off the coast of Sicily, engaged in the trade of his ancestors, fishing."
Prosecutors, however, contend that the evidence is anything but thin. They have nonetheless turned to a bit of stagecraft to make sure that Mr. Amato never leaves prison, going so far as to wheel in a model of a full-size skeleton and stand it in front of the jury box to help with the testimony of a forensic pathologist during the fourth week of the trial.
The pathologist, Amy Mundorff, used the skeleton to explain the injuries to the body of the man prosecutors say Mr. Amato had volunteered to kill: Robert Perrino, who oversaw the newspaper delivery operation at The New York Post until he was shot to death in 1992.
Prosecutors have charged that Mr. Amato shot him several times in the head in a social club run by one of his co-defendants, Anthony Basile, 36. Mr. Basile, identified at the trial as a Bonanno associate, is charged with providing the location for the murder and being part of the clean-up crew that disposed of the body.
After the murder, Mr. Perrino's corpse was buried in a heavy equipment yard on Staten Island. But prosecutors said it was moved several years later when Mr. Basile was arrested on an unrelated case and some of his accomplices feared that he might lead the authorities to the grave.
The F.B.I. found the body nonetheless and dug it up on Dec. 12, 2003, Ms. Mundorff testified. She spent a grisly afternoon on the stand, taking the jury through photographs of Mr. Perrino's skeletal remains, which had been wrapped in a rug, explaining how flesh decomposes, where the bullets had entered and how to differentiate between bones broken before and after death. She placed small round red stickers on the right side of the back of the skeleton's skull to indicate the bullet entry wounds, and blue stickers on the front and sides to show where the bullets exited as the rapt jury looked on. She used a green sticker to indicate where a bullet fragment had remained inside the skull.
She also testified that there was a small hole consistent with a sharp object being jammed into the side of Mr. Perrino's skull.
That matched testimony later from another Bonanno turncoat, who said a member of the clean-up crew had noticed that Mr. Perrino was still alive as they prepared to dispose of the body and had jammed an ice pick into his head.
Under questioning by another prosecutor, Jeffrey Goldberg, that witness, Frank Lino, a former capo, said he complained to Mr. Vitale, who had directed him to oversee the killing and cleanup, saying that the gunman had done a shoddy job. "Next time you send somebody to get killed, make sure the guy is dead — when we walked up there, the guy was alive, he could have shot us," Mr. Lino said he had told Mr. Vitale.
Mr. Basile's defense in the case, put forward by his lawyer, Gail Laser, has presented a striking contrast to Mr. Amato's. The two men, sitting at opposite ends of the defense table, separated by the third defendant, Stephen Locurto, could almost be seen as representing the mob's old world and new.
The old-world Mr. Amato shows little emotion and speaks little to his lawyer, Mr. White. Mr. Basile, on the other hand, often shakes his head during testimony, sometimes rolling his eyes, scribbling on a notepad and whispering to Ms. Laser.
Mr. Locurto, 45, who prosecutors have said is a soldier in the family, also seemed to take a path that veered from the more traditional world of Mr. Amato. He testified in his own defense, an unusual violation of Mafia protocol, though it was unclear whether he had sought permission from the family hierarchy to do so.
But it was Mr. Basile's case that seemed to present the most stunning departure from the old-world Mafia mores. His lawyer, Ms. Laser, sought to portray him in her opening statement as a young man swept away by the romance of the gangsters he saw in his Bensonhurst neighborhood, men with money, cars, women and respect. As a result, she said, he made a mistake and associated with the wrong people.
Perhaps because she did not want the jury to confuse her client with a tough guy, let alone a killer, she painted a picture of him that must have rankled the traditional Mr. Amato.
"He is terrified," she told the jury, "that he finds himself in this enormous, intimidating courtroom with all of these lawyers, with these F.B.I. agents, with the court and, of course, all of you, judging him, as he sits here, fighting for his life, for what will be for him the rest of his life."
GangstersInc - July 11, 2006 03:57 PM (GMT)
Interesting to see that witness, Fiordilino, is more scared of Amato than of the boss Massino. Do you guys think this is because of Amato's connections or simply because Amato's and his family go back all the way to Sicily and he therefor fears retributio, since all the family members know each other? I guess it is both lol. Great article Laurentian, any update on this story?
GangstersInc - July 13, 2006 11:33 AM (GMT)
Guilty Verdict for 3 in Case Involving Bonanno Clan
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
Published: July 13, 2006
It is often the most emotionally charged period during a criminal trial: the brief interlude between the time the jurors notify the court that they have reached a verdict, and the moment when they deliver it.
But yesterday, in United States District Court in Brooklyn, Baldassare Amato, a longtime Bonanno soldier who is facing life in prison on racketeering conspiracy and murder charges, breezed through the tension with a relaxed smile. To a casual observer, he looked more like he was waiting for a friend than a verdict. His lawyer’s young intern, sitting beside him at the defense table, looked more nervous than he did.
Mr. Amato, 54, who is from the old school of the family, remained unmoved — even tranquil — when the jury foreman began reading through the verdict sheet. It was an avalanche of the word “proved” — 16 times — that ended with him guilty of a conspiracy that included two murders, along with gambling charges. Two co-defendants were also convicted of racketeering conspiracy charges, including murder.
The jury in the case deliberated for nearly two days after a six-week trial. The testimony detailed not just the killings and other crimes, but the decimation of the Bonanno clan over the last four years by the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors, with testimony from a half-dozen Mafia turncoats about the crimes and the crime family’s declining fortunes.
Prosecutors, in hailing the guilty verdicts, noted that more than 70 Bonanno organized crime family members and associates have been convicted since March 2002.
For Mr. Amato, who is known as Baldo and who came to the United States from Sicily when he was 18, the verdict and possible life sentence most likely mark the end of a long career as a powerful figure in the family’s murderous Sicilian wing. It was a career that came to prominence exactly 27 years ago yesterday, on a similarly humid July afternoon in Brooklyn.
On July 12, 1979, when he was 27, Mr. Amato was present — and some have said complicit — in one of the most notorious mob hits in New York history, the killing of Carmine Galante, then the Bonanno family boss, in the rear garden of a Bushwick restaurant.
The killing and the role of Mr. Amato was detailed at the 1987 Pizza Connection heroin trial, which sent him to prison for five years.
But it was two 1992 murders of Bonanno associates, a Queens restaurant owner and a delivery supervisor at the New York Post, that were at the heart of the case that resulted in his conviction yesterday.
Mr. Amato was convicted of ordering the killing of the restaurant owner, Sebastiano DiFalco, and of carrying out the second murder himself, firing several shots into the head of Robert Perrino, a delivery supervisor at The New York Post.
The prosecutors, John Buretta, Andrea Goldbarg and Jeffrey A. Goldberg, contended that Mr. Amato ordered the killing of Mr. DiFalco because the restaurant owner, an accountant who handled the books for Mr. Amato’s gambling operations, was stealing money.
Mr. Perrino was killed, they said, because Bonanno crime family figures believed that his office at The New York Post was bugged. The crime family figures feared that Mr. Perrino might cooperate with an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into the lucrative Bonanno rackets at the newspaper, the prosecutors said.
One of Mr. Amato’s co-defendants, Anthony Basile, 36, was also convicted of the Perrino murder. He was accused of helping pick out the site of the killing — a Bensonhurst social club — and helping clean up the bloody mess and dispose of the body.
After the verdict, Mr. Basile, who, unlike his two co-defendants, had been free on bail, was ordered detained by the judge presiding over the case, Nicholas G. Garaufis of United States District Court.
Mr. Amato’s other co-defendant, Stephen Locurto, 45, testified in his own defense against the advice of his lawyer, Harry Batchelder. Mr. Locurto was convicted of the 1986 murder of Joseph Platia in Manhattan, a crime for which he had been tried and acquitted in state court nearly a decade ago.
He was arrested shortly after the killing a block away with a warm .38-caliber pistol — the murder weapon — still in his pocket. He told the jury that he had heard the shots, and stumbled upon a bloodied Mr. Platia, who was slumped over in the car with a gun on the seat beside him. He said he took the gun and put it in his pocket for self-defense.
GangstersInc - July 13, 2006 11:34 AM (GMT)
Guilty verdict in mob murder case
By Anthony M. DeStefano
Newsday Staff Writer
July 12, 2006, 2:44 PM EDT
A legendary reputed Bonanno crime family soldier and two other men were convicted by a Brooklyn federal court jury Wednesday of racketeering and other charges.
The Sicilian-born Baldassare Amato, 54, and his co-defendants didn't flinch as the jury announced its guilty verdict, which found that he had been involved in the murder of Robert Perrino, a New York Post employee who investigators said was involved in the crime family's control of the newspaper's delivery system. Amato was also convicted of murder and conspiracy to murder Sebastiano DiFalco, a Queens restaurant owner.
Amato, who emigrated from Sicily in the 1970s from the Mafia stronghold of Castellammare del Golfo, became a bodyguard for Carmine Galante, the ruthless Bonanno captain and drug dealer who aspired to be the boss of the family.
Amato was present and escaped unharmed on July 12, 1979 when Galante was assassinated in a Brooklyn restaurant.
Also convicted was Stephen Locurto, 45, a Bonanno soldier. Locurto was convicted of racketeering and murder conspiracy for the 1986 killing of Joseph Platia, a potential witness in a homicide case.
In a move rare for a mob trial, Locurto testified in his defense. He said that he had innocently stumbled upon the Platia murder scene in Manhattan and was arrested with the murder weapon in the killing only because he found it between the seat of the car where Platia died.
"Defending Stevie was like attacking Mount Suribachi with a jackknife," said defense attorney Harry Batchelder, wrily refering to the bloody World War II battle of Iwo Jima.
Batchelder, who strongly opposed his client testifying, said Locurto fired him at the conclusion of the case.
Anthony Basile, 36, a reputed Bonanno associate, was also convicted of being part of the clean up crew at the Perrino homicide. Investigators said Perrino was murdered because it was feared he would become a witness in a probe by the Manhattan district attorney's office.
For years, Amato had lived something of a charmed life. He survived the Galante shooting unscathed. Investigators, suspicious about the way Amato escaped the Galante crime scene, later interviewed him and cohort Cesare Bonventre about the murder, but never brought charges.
Amato was made a soldier shortly after Galante's death. Bonventre, also elevated to soldier rank, was later shot dead and dismembered. Amato was convicted in the 1980s in the "Pizza Connection" heroin case -- in which the smuggled drug was sold in pizza parlors -- and sentenced to five years in prison.
All of the defendants were taken into custody Wednesday. Sentencing was set for Oct. 27.
Diarmuid White, who is defending Amato, said an appeal is expected to be filed.
GangstersInc - July 13, 2006 11:35 AM (GMT)
2 guilty in Post foreman mob slay
BY JOHN MARZULLI
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
A federal jury yesterday convicted a Bonanno crime-family soldier and an associate of killing a New York Post foreman to stop him from helping authorities investigate the Mafia's influence at the newspaper.
Baldassare (Baldo) Amato, 54, and Anthony Basile, 36, face life in prison for the rubout of Post delivery superintendent Robert Perrino in 1992.
The Sicilian-born Amato entered the courtroom with a big smile on his face, but after the verdicts were announced, he and Basile sat stone-faced. Basile's pregnant wife shook her head and fought back tears.
For Amato, it's the end of a storied Mafia career in which he first came to prominence as a bodyguard for slain Bonanno gangster Carmine Galante. Yesterday's verdict came on the 27th anniversary of the infamous hit in which Galante - cigar clenched in his teeth - was blasted in a Brooklyn restaurant as Amato looked on and did nothing.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Goldberg said Perrino was marked for death because leaders of the mob clan feared he "might cooperate with authorities and expose everything about the Bonanno crime family's control over the New York Post."
Perrino was missing and presumed dead for years. His skeletal remains were unearthed in Staten Island two years ago.
At the trial, Perrino's daughter Nicki Laronga testified that on the night he disappeared, they ate pizza at her home and he watched the movie "All Dogs Go to Heaven" on TV with his granddaughter.
"I asked him why he was in a hurry, and he said he had to meet somebody in Brooklyn," Laronga testified. "I asked him who he had to meet, and joking around, he said to me, 'What's the matter - you're writing a book?' and that's the last time I saw my father."
The government charged that Perrino was lured to Basile's social club in Brooklyn, where Amato shot him in the head. Then another thug finished him off with an ice pick in the ear.
Originally published on July 13, 2006
Laurentian - October 28, 2006 12:40 PM (GMT)
October 28, 2006 The New York Times
Mafia Figure Is Sentenced to Life Term in 2 Murders
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
Baldassare Amato, a powerful Bonanno crime family figure who represents the group's traditional Sicilian roots, stood silently with his arms crossed yesterday as a federal judge denounced him and meted out a life sentence for two 1992 Mafia murders.
As the judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis of United States District Court in Brooklyn, tore into him for "using murder as a business tactic," at several points Mr. Amato raised his right hand to his chin and then crossed his arms again in front of his chest.
"Mr. Amato," said the judge, making no effort to mask his disgust, "you're just a plain, wanton murderer and a Mafia assassin. The sentence I'm going to give you, as far as I'm concerned, is a gift."
Mr. Amato, 54, dressed in a gray prison sweatshirt and khaki trousers, appeared unmoved when the judge handed down the life sentence, almost as though it were a cost of doing business. He and his lawyer had both declined to address the court.
After pronouncing the sentence, Judge Garaufis asked the lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant United States Attorney John Buretta, how much of a fine he could levy.
Mr. Buretta said the maximum was $250,000, and the judge levied it.
Mr. Amato, who is known as Baldo and who immigrated to New York from the Sicilian fishing village of Castellammare del Golfo when he was 18, was convicted on July 12 of racketeering conspiracy charges, including the murders of two Bonanno associates.
The jury concluded that he ordered the murder of restaurant owner Sebastiano DiFalco and carried out a second killing himself, shooting Robert Perrino in the head several times.
Prosecutors had presented evidence that the Bonanno family was concerned that Mr. Perrino, a delivery supervisor for The New York Post, might help expose an infiltration of The Post's delivery operation by the crime family.
The judge said that Mr. DiFalco was killed "possibly because Mr. Amato and his Mafia colleagues wanted to take over the business and they might have had a disagreement over price or some other detail."
The six-week trial was a primer on the devastation that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have wrought on the Bonannos, cutting a swath through the family's ranks and upending its traditions with a growing cadre of informers.
Mr. Amato was also stoical when Judge Garaufis rejected a request by his lawyer, Diarmuid White, for a recommendation that he be sent to a prison in the New York area so his family could visit. "It's for them, your honor," Mr. White said of the family.
The judge was unmoved.
"I have compassion for the defendant's family, and I also have compassion for the members of the families of Sebastiano DiFalco and Robert Perrino," the judge said. "This defendant made it certain that they would never visit their family member, anywhere."
Mr. DiFalco's two nephews were in court yesterday and said they were gratified by the life sentence and the fine against Mr. Amato. "He's a cold and evil person," said one of them, Sal Montoro, 42. He said Mr. Amato had gone to their uncle's wake and vowed to help find the killer.
For Mr. Amato, after the sentence was handed down, it was a brisk, businesslike handshake and a small smile for his lawyer, and he walked out the courtroom's side door to the holding cells, accompanied by United States marshals.