Bosko "The Yugo" Radonjich (Serbian: Бошко Радоњић, Boško Radonjić; 17 May 1943 – 31 March 2011) was a Serbian nationalist and later leader of the Westies, a predominantly Irish-American gang based in New York's Hell's Kitchen.
Radonjich was born in 1943 in Užice. Bosko's father Dragomir, a teacher, was captured and executed during World War II by the Josip Broz Tito's Partisans for his belonging to the Chetniks led by general Draža Mihailović. Stigmatized as a son of a royalist Chetnik soldier, Radonjich grew up in communist Yugoslavia under Tito.
In his late twenties, Radonjich fled the country and immigrated to the United States in 1970. Physically leaving Yugoslavia was no easy task for a person of his family background and he used a friendship with Red Star Belgrade footballer Milovan Đorić (also a son of a fallen Chetnik) to achieve this. Đorić snuck Radonjich onto the team bus headed for Graz, which allowed him to get across the border. After some time in Austria, Radonjich went to Italy before immigrating to the United States.
Once in America, Radonjich settled in Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan in New York City. He also joined the Serbian Homeland Liberation Movement (SOPO), an anti-communist and terrorist organization headed by Nikola Kavaja. Sharing royalist and anti-communist views, the two men became lifelong friends. Already known to Yugoslav state security UDBA, Radonjich's activities began to be monitored even more closely by its agents.
In 1975, Radonjich took part in a bombing at the Yugoslav mission to the United Nations in which no one was hurt. In 1978, he pled guilty to conspiracy charges in the 1975 bombing of a Yugoslavian consul's home and for plotting to bomb a Yugoslav social club, both in Chicago.
Upon his release in 1982, Radonjich moved back to New York's West Side and began working as a minor associate of Jimmy Coonan. Radonjich was able to seize control of the gang following the imprisonment of many of the Westies leadership during the late 1980s. Under his leadership, he was able to reestablish the Westies' former working relationship with the Gambino crime family under John Gotti, and was involved in the jury tampering during Gotti's original 1986 trial for racketeering.
He supervised Westie underling Brian Bentley's highly successful burglary ring using two Hispanic gang members until the arrest of Bentley and his group in the early 1990s. Later investigations under Michael G. Cherkasky, chief of the Investigations Division of the District Attorney's Office, would eventually force Radonjich to flee the United States for good in 1992 to avoid prosecution.
Back in Serbia
Since 1990 Radonjich had already spent a lot of time in Serbia, mostly dividing his time between Belgrade where he owned a night club named Lotos in Zmaj Jovina Street and Mount Zlatibor where he owned a casino named Palisade and where he also later built a casino named Club Boss located at Kraljeve Vode.
As the Bosnian War broke out, Radonjich became a close adviser to Radovan Karadžić, the Bosnian Serb leader charged with war crimes (on the run from 1996 until 2008), whom Radonjich described in a 1997 Esquire article penned by Daniel Voll as: "My angel, my saint." Due to Zlatibor's close proximity to the Bosnian border, Radonjich also helped the Serbian war effort by providing funds for weapons and equipment as well as by arranging for soldiers to rehabilitate and rest. Throughout this time Radonjich maintained links with Serbian state security service (renamed from UDBA to SDB after the dissolution of SFR Yugoslavia) and its chief Jovica Stanišić with whom he shared a friendship. During autumn 1995, Radonjich was involved in the release operation of two French pilots who were shot down over Bosnia by the Republika Srpska Army and held captive for more than a month.
1999 arrest in Miami
Though based in the Balkans, Radonjich frequently travelled abroad, especially to Caribbean and South American destinations. During one such trip in late December 1999 after almost a decade spent in the former Yugoslavia, Radonjich was arrested by U.S. custom officials in Miami, Florida. Actually, he was on a plane from Europe to Cuba to celebrate the New Year, but after learning that Radonjich was on the passenger list, the FBI got the plane re-routed to Miami where he was arrested in spectacular manner as the entire airport was shut down.
Held without bail, he was tried under a 1992 indictment for jury tampering in Gotti's racketeering trial. The charges against Radonjich were dropped shortly after because the key witness in his case, Gotti's former Underboss turned FBI-informant Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, was charged with drug related offenses while in the Witness Protection Program. Radonjich was freed in March 2001. He immediately left the United States and went back to former Yugoslavia. In subsequent interviews Radonjich claimed the FBI had ulterior motives for persecuting and harassing him:
|“||In the late 1980s I found out through my sources that FBI along with the Justice Department is preparing to arrest and put on trial the boss of bosses John Gotti. Unfortunately for me, only three people in America at that moment were allowed to have this piece of information - the federal prosecutor, the FBI director, and the US Attorney General. In order to protect this classified information, FBI decided to arrest me, so I had to leave America and seek refuge in Yugoslavia. Because of this they issued an arrest warrant for me based on which they organized my kidnapping on 31 December 1999 in Miami.||”|
During spring 2003 following the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić, Radonjich was arrested and questioned as part of Operation Sablja, a wide-sweeping police action initiated by the Serbian authorities under the state of emergency. After spending three days in prison, Radonjich was released. He died following a brief illness in Belgrade, Serbia on 31 March 2011.
In popular culture
- In the 1998 made-for-TV movie Witness to the Mob, a very loose depiction of the life of Sammy the Bull, Radonjich is played by Stephen Payne.
- Niko Bellic, the main character of Grand Theft Auto IV, may have been inspired by Radonjich - both are Serbian criminals with ties to Italian and Irish mafias.
- Srbin šef irske mafije;Glas javnosti, 19 January 2000
- Bio opasniji od Karlosa;Večernje novosti, 12 November 2008
- Lovac na Tita koji je pomirio irsku i italijansku mafiju;Blic, 2 April 2011
- Umro Boško Radonjić;MTS Mondo, 1 April 2011
- Dennis Hevesi (9 April 2011). "Bosko Radonjic, Gambino Family Ally, Dies at 67". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
- Davis, John H. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. ISBN 0-06-016357-7
- English, T.J. The Westies: Inside the Hell's Kitchen Irish Mob. St Martin's Paperbacks, 1991. ISBN 0-312-92429-1
- AmericanMafia.com - J. R.’s Mafia Year In Review – 2000 by James Ridgway de Szigethy
- Radovan Karadzic: A Deeply Misunderstood Mass Murderer by Daniel Voll
- Obituary in The New York Times