Ex-crime boss who aided prosecutors to be freed

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. Photo Credit: AP

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Joseph Massino, the former mob boss who admitted killing 12 men in his rise to the top of the Bonanno crime family, was given his freedom from two life sentences by a federal judge Wednesday because of his cooperation with prosecutors.

Brooklyn federal judge Nicholas Garaufis suspended his order for 60 days so the FBI and federal marshals could make arrangements for Massino's new life in the witness protection program.

Massino, 70, made history in 2005 when he became the first official boss of a New York mob family to become a cooperating witness. In 2011, he testified against his former acting boss Vincent Basciano who was convicted of racketeering murder and given a life sentence.

Once the feared boss of the Bonanno family, which he ruled from about 1991 to 2004, it was a different Massino who stood before Garaufis and expressed remorse for his bloody career.

"I pray every night for forgiveness for all the people I hurt, including the victims' families," Massino said to Garaufis.

After Brooklyn federal prosecutors last month submitted a request to Garaufis that Massino's sentences be reduced, defense attorney Edward McDonald wrote to the court and told how his client's health problems gave him little prospect for a long life after prison.

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An obese man who walks with a shuffling gait, Massino was known as "Big Joey" and "The Ear." He has diabetes and high blood pressure. Outside the courtroom, his attorney said Massino once told him "he has everything but cancer."

"Mr. Massino's cooperation provided significant and extensive assistance in the investigation and prosecution of many members and associates of the American Mafia," noted Garaufis in a lengthy statement before he cut Massino's two life sentences to "time served," amounting to about 12 years.

Massino, formerly of Howard Beach, actually became a cooperating witness within minutes of his own July 2004 federal racketeering conviction for seven murders, although his deal wasn't formalized until 2005. He made secret jail house recordings that were instrumental in getting Basciano convicted.

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Garaufis noted that Massino gave evidence against not only Basciano but also other Bonanno leaders such as Michael Mancuso, the late Salvatore Montagna and Vincent Badalamenti.

Massino's wife, Josephine, who lives in Howard Beach, sounded pleasantly surprised by news of her husband's freedom but declined to comment further.

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