Before he got arrested in January 2003, mob boss Joseph Massino relished his life as a family man in Howard Beach. Massino, a big man who at times weighed nearly 300 pounds, regaled his grandchildren with belly flops in his pool and delighted in cooking up a pasta sauce he thought was the best around.
"Until we eat again!" was how Massino would sign notes to his grandkids.
But, on the street Massino was a deadly boss of the Bonanno crime family, a Machiavell-like leader who successfully navigated the treacherous world of mob politics.
Monday, Massino' blunt, forceful persona will again be on display in Brooklyn federal court as he testifies for the fourth day in a murder case against one of his most loyal confederates, crime captain Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, 50. After his conviction in July 2004, Massino, 68, quickly switched sides and became a cooperating witness. He hopes to get his life sentence reduced by cooperating.
Massino was found guilty of playing a role in seven murders, pleaded guilty to an eighth and testified about two other killings he had a hand in. Murder was something he got involved in whenever necessary. When Bonanno captain Gerlando Sciascia admitted killing the son of another mobster, Massino had an answer. "I knew when he did that I was going to kill him," testified Massino. Sciascia was shot dead on Massino's orders on a Bronx street in 1999.
Massino, who once faced the death penalty for the Sciascia hit, said fear of capital punishment wasn't his motivation to become a turncoat. Rather, it was concern for "my wife and daughters and my mother."
To save some real estate holdings so his wife, Josephine, could have an income, Massino said he forfeited $12 million to prosecutors, including $7 million in cash he kept in his attic and gold bars in his basement on 84th Street in Howard Beach.
Massino's testimony has been an unemotional, sometimes coarse, description of a four-decade life of crime. Always surveillance-conscious, Massino preferred meeting mobsters by "the weed," some wetlands near his home. He also decreed that crime family members never mention his name, just tug on their earlobe, in case an FBI bug was nearby.
As owner of CasaBlanca Restaurant in Queens, food was a constant in Massino's life. "It takes all kind of meat to make a good sauce," Massino testified recently about having good killers and money makers in the mob.
Massino turned Basciano's loyalty against him, secretly taping him in jail. "I'm your boss, but I'm not your boss, I'm your friend," Massino is heard saying on the tape. "I love you pal," Basciano replied.