Court asked to reduce mobster's sentence

Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, the head of the

Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, the head of the Bonanno crime family for 14 years, is seen in this undated file photo released by the U.S. Attorney's Office. (Credit: AP)

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An overweight and ailing Joseph Massino, the former Bonanno crime family boss who shocked the world of organized crime when he decided to become a government witness, is slated to be in a Brooklyn federal courtroom Wednesday in a bid to get out of prison because of his cooperation.

Massino, 70, who lived for years in a palatial home in Howard Beach, Queens, is serving two life sentences in a special federal witness-security program. He attempted to cooperate immediately with federal prosecutors after his conviction in July 2004 on federal racketeering charges, which included engineering seven mob murders.

Until Massino switched sides, there had not been a case in New York in which an official boss of one of the five La Cosa Nostra families had become a cooperator and testified in open court.

In one major aspect of Massino's cooperation, he secretly tape recorded Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, the acting crime family boss, while both were in a federal detention center in early 2005. The tapes subsequently played a key role in Basciano's 2011 racketeering murder conviction for which he is serving a life sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Taryn Merkl recently filed court papers asking that Judge Nicholas Garaufis reduce Massino's sentence, but didn't recommend a specific time period. However, legal observers said Massino, who has admitted in court at various times to taking part in 12 mob killings, could see his sentence reduced to time served and be set free to live in the witness-protection program.

In a letter filed with the court Monday, Massino's attorney, Edward McDonald of New York, said his client's health is so bad that his "prospects for living are poor." McDonald said that Massino could get the medical assistance he needed only outside of prison.

McDonald's letter was heavily redacted to remove information about Massino's health. But it is known from earlier court cases that Massino suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

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