Mafia Don Turns Public Snitch in Mob First

Mob boss Joseph Massino testified against successor.

ByABC News
April 13, 2011, 11:04 AM

April 13, 2011— -- For the first time in American organized crime history, a former Mafia don testified in open court against his successor, becoming the highest-ranking gangster to break the mob's sacred code of silence on the stand.

"Vinny told me that he had killed him," Joseph "Big Joey" Massino told a Brooklyn court Tuesday, referring to an alleged jailhouse confession by Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano. Basciano, the head of the secretive Bonanno family, is accused of ordering the murder of an associate that had fallen out of favor in 2004. He is already serving a life sentence from a previous conviction.

Massino said that in 2005 Basciano told him he killed gangster Randolph Pizzolo because Basciano said Pizzolo was "a scumbag, a rat, a troublemaker, a bad kid."

Though Massino continues his testimony today, one official familiar with the case told ABC News his colorful testimony has already been helpful to the prosecution.

In addition to fingering Basciano, the 68-year-old Massino candidly answered the prosecutor's questions about his time at the head of the family.

As a boss, Massino said he was responsible for spotting talent -- whether in killing or in racketeering -- in the mob ranks and promoting and demoting captains.

"Some people, they kill. Some people, they earn.... It takes all kinds of meat to make a good sauce," Massino said. He said that he was known as "The Ear" because his men would never say his name aloud, out of suspicion of FBI surveillance, and would instead touch their ear to refer to him.

Massino said he joined the family business in 1977. He is serving two life terms for after a 2004 conviction for multiple murders, including ordering the payback killing of the mobster who brought famed undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco into the mob in the 1980s.

Basciano's lawyer, George Goltzer, told the court in his opening statement Basciano did not order the killing for which he is accused, but falsely admitted doing so to protect a friend. Goltzer also warned against taking Massino and others slated to testify against Basciano at their word.

"The United States government needs to make deals with the devil," Goltzer said. "You don't have to accept what they say."