Pizza Connection Trial
The Pizza Connection Trial stands as the longest criminal jury trial in the federal courts in U.S. history. The trial began on September 30, 1985 and ended with convictions of all but one of the 22 defendants on March 2, 1987.
Scope of the trial
The trial centered around a Mafia-run enterprise that distributed vast quantities of heroin and cocaine in the United States, and then laundered the cash before sending it back to the suppliers in Sicily. The U.S. defendants utilized a number of independently owned pizza parlors as fronts for narcotics sales and collections – hence the name “Pizza Connection”. Evidence at the trial proved that the enterprise shipped no less than $1.6 billion of heroin to the U.S. between 1975 and April 1984. Arrests of scores of conspirators were coordinated in the U.S., Italy, Switzerland and Spain on April 9, 1984, following the capture of Gaetano Badalamenti and several family members the previous day in Madrid, Spain. Badalamenti was the former boss of the Sicilian La Cosa Nostra, and a key supplier of heroin and cocaine to the U.S. Mafia distributors.
The arrests were carried out by U.S. authorities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Customs Service and the New York City Police Department, who worked in extremely close cooperation with the Italian National Police and prosecutors, as well as the Swiss authorities. The arrests followed a two-year investigation carried out by U.S. and Italian authorities who shared highly sensitive information and agreed to coordinate their efforts to strike the U.S./Italian mafia-narcotics business.
38 mafia members and associates were originally indicted in the case, and 35 were named in the charges presented to the jury. Of those 35, 4 were convicted in Italy, 4 in Switzerland and 4 were fugitives. Approximately 27 of the defendants were residing in the U.S. at the time of the arrests. Out of those, only 22 defendants ‒ believed to be just a fraction of the number of Mafiosi involved in the scheme ‒ eventually stood trial. Prior to the start of the trial, one defendant was murdered, one died of natural causes and another was murdered during the trial. All were Sicilian born, and many could not speak English. Each defendant had his own attorney for the historic trial, which made the courtroom especially crowded.
Sicilian Mafia cooperator Tommaso Buscetta testified at the trial against his former criminal associates; he had not been part of the Pizza Connection scheme himself, but he helped explain the rules and control of the Mafia, and established the Sicilians’ dominance over the U.S. drug trade in the early 1970s. Buscetta had fled from Italy in the early ‘80s when the faction of the mafia with which he was associated lost the battle for control of heroin trafficking, and many of his family members were killed. A close associate of many of the defendants, Buscetta was captured in Brazil shortly after the April 1984 arrests, and then ordered extradited to Italy. On the trip to Italy following his extradition, Buscetta attempted to commit suicide in an effort to protect his family from more killings. The Italian authorities saved him, and Buscetta decided to cooperate. Italian and U.S. authorities coordinated Buscetta’s debriefing and protection, and he was transferred to the U.S., placed in the Witness Protection Program and granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony at the Pizza Connection trial.
Buscetta later appeared as a pivotal witness in the “Maxi-Trial” in Palermo, Sicily, after the Italian court recognized and applied the U.S. grant of immunity for his testimony there. Italian prosecutor Giovanni Falcone and Italian National Police leader Gianni De Gennaro presented Buscetta and other witnesses at the trial, which led to the conviction of more than 300 Sicilian Mafia members. Falcone and De Gennaro worked closely with Assistant United States Attorney Richard A. Martin to arrange for Buscetta’s protection and testimony. Martin was one of the lead prosecutors of the Pizza Connection trial, and later became the Special Representative of the U.S. Attorney General in Rome, Italy.
Another key witness was Salvatore Contorno, a Sicilian mafioso who became a state witness following the example of Buscetta. He agreed to testify in return for entry in the United States’ Witness Protection Program after having been the target of an attempted murder by the Corleonesi and losing family members in the battle for control of the Sicilian mafia. He gave evidence that directly linked the defendants to heroin trafficking. On the witness stand, he told how in the spring of 1980 he was present at a meeting in a farmhouse in Bagheria, Sicily, in the territory of the Mafia boss Leonardo Greco. Among those present were five of the defendants at the trial: Salvatore Greco, Giuseppe Ganci, Gaetano Mazzara, Salvatore Catalano, and Francesco Castronovo. Contorno watched as the men "took out two plastic garbage bags and extracted packages of white powder in clear plastic envelopes, each bearing different tiny scissor cuts or pen or pencil marks to identify the individual owner. They poured samples of the powder into a bottle heating on a hot plate." These same marked samples were intercepted by the Drug Enforcement Administration is a seizure of 40 kilograms of 85 percent pure heroin two weeks later in Milan, Italy. The heroin was worth "$8 million at Mafia importer’s prices and at least $80 million worth at street prices." Until the heroin was removed from storage in 1984 after Contorno cooperated, no one had noticed the small cuts in the tops of the plastic bags, which were described by Contorno.
FBI Special Agent Joseph Pistone, better known by his undercover alias "Donnie Brasco" was the initial source for information regarding the "Pizza Connection" (leaked to him in casual conversations by Bonanno family mafiosi Anthony Mirra and Benjamin Ruggiero). Pistone testified at trial as to the command and control structure of the U.S. Mafia, establishing that the U.S. bosses were criminally liable for the actions of their underlings.
The trial also included the presentation of hundreds of wiretap conversations, combined with surveillance evidence, undercover heroin purchases and painstakingly detailed records of money laundering and transfers of multi-millions of dollars to Switzerland. Swiss bank records and testimony taken in that country established that the enterprise purchased two metric tons of morphine base from Turkish suppliers at $6,000/kilo, which was refined into pure heroin in clandestine labs in Sicily and sold in the U.S. for between $165,000-185,000 wholesale, and up to $1,000,000 at street level, generating more than $1.6 billion for the enterprise.
Another unusual aspect of the trial was the fact that several defendants elected to testify in their own defense, most prominent among them being Gaetano Badalamenti. Badalamenti did not deny being a member of the Sicilian La Cosa Nostra but did claim that his wiretapped conversations with other defendants and his business dealings with them were not related to narcotics. He would not say what those conversations and transactions were about and refused to answer questions he said could incriminate him in Italy. His testimony was widely regarded as enormously harmful to him and the defense.
Although the case established a record as the longest federal jury trial in a criminal action, the trial judge and the appellate court found that the jury was not confused or overwhelmed by the evidence, but instead conscientiously performed a close examination of the proof. That conclusion was best evidenced when the jury sent a note during deliberations requesting to have evidence relating to one of more than a hundred “acts of racketeering” identified for them. After a review of the evidence, the prosecution and defense acknowledged that no evidence had been presented on that act. Also, the jury was permitted to take into the jury room the transcripts of the wiretapped conversations and charts prepared by the prosecution (which had been subject to objections and review by the court.)
After trial, all but one of the defendants were convicted, and, except for one low-level defendant, those verdicts were affirmed on appeal. During the course of the investigation and trial, the U.S. and Italy entered into new Treaties on Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance that enabled law-enforcement authorities from both countries to actively cooperate and share information. Those treaties and the “Pizza” case became models that the U.S. has since used to attack organized crime and narcotics trafficking on a global basis.
The case was meant to strike a definitive blow to the drug trade in the U.S. and for this reason the costs and the sheer scale of the trial were allowed to escalate. The case ended up costing $50 million. The prosecution case alone took a year to present.
Consequences and aftermath
The prosecution in the United States was led by Louis J. Freeh and Richard A. Martin. Mr. Freeh, who later became a federal judge and Director of the FBI, was named the lead investigator during the two-year investigation that led to the arrests. At trial, Mr. Martin, who later became Special Representative of the U.S. Attorney General based in Rome, Italy, was designated lead counsel. He and Mr. Freeh shared responsibilities for the prosecution and were assisted by Robert C. Stewart of the Department of Justice, Robert B. Bucknam and Andrew C. McCarthy, both Assistant United States Attorneys in the Southern District of New York. For their efforts, each member of the prosecution team received the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service.
Rudy Giuliani, who later became Mayor of New York City, was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York during the investigation and trial of the case, and provided critical support and assistance to the prosecution.
Giovanni Falcone was a Sicilian-born Italian prosecutor who uncovered the Italian side of the Pizza Connection. Falcone’s tireless efforts to pursue the Sicilian mafia included the use of Sicilian mafia cooperators T. Buscetta and S. Contorno and others which culminated in the conviction of more than 350 mafia members in the historic “Maxi-Trial”. After those convictions were affirmed by Italy’s highest court, Falcone was murdered on May 23, 1992 when a sophisticated mafia plan succeeded in blowing up a section of highway where Falcone and his wife were driving. Falcone’s efforts are recounted in the book Excellent Cadavers, by Alexander Stille.
Paolo Borsellino, also Sicilian-born and a colleague of Giovanni Falcone, pursued the Maxi-Trial with him. After Falcone’s murder in May of 1992, Borsellino immediately began to investigate the killing, but was also murdered by mafia members on July 19, 1992, when a bomb was detonated as he approached his mother’s apartment in Palermo.
Gianni De Gennaro, a leading investigator for the Italian National Police, De Gennaro worked closely with Falcone and Borsellino to secure evidence of heroin trafficking by the Sicilian mafia, and coordinated the cooperation of T. Buscetta, S. Contorno and many Sicilian mafia members who testified in the Maxi-Processo. It was De Gennaro who brought Buscetta back from Brazil, saved him from his suicide attempt and persuaded him to testify against his former mafia partners. De Gennaro later became Chief of the Italian National Police and is currently Undersecretary of State for National Security.
Carla Del Ponte and Paolo Bernasconi were prosecutors in the Ticino region of Switzerland, where members of the Pizza Connection used bank accounts to launder narcotics proceeds. Relying on the U.S./Swiss Treaty for Mutual Legal Assistance, Del Ponte and her colleague Paolo Bernasconi authorized the delivery of those bank records to the U.S. authorities, and later supervised the prosecution of the 4 defendants arrested in Switzerland. Paolo Bernasconi was promoted to the position of Attorney General of Switzerland, and Ms. Del Ponte succeeded him in that position when he returned to the private practice of law. In 1999 Ms. Del Ponte joined the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”) where she served as the chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”). She has been Switzerland's Ambassador to Argentina since January 2008.
The United States of America vs Badalamenti et al.
- Pietro Alfano ("Peter" or "The Nephew"), Oregon, Illinois, was Gaetano Badalamenti's nephew and principal lieutenant in the U.S. Arrested in Madrid, Spain in 1984, while meeting with his uncle and cousin. Shot and crippled, while shopping in Greenwich Village, New York City on February 11, 1987 a month prior to the trial verdicts being announced. Eventually he was sentenced to 15 years. He served seven years.
- Baldassare Amato ("Baldo"), Brooklyn, New York City. Sicilian mafioso and Bonanno crime family caporegime. Not sentenced until May 3, 1988 - a 14 month delay made possible by his counsel's efforts - Amato received a sentence of five years, and was given three-month conditional bail to put his affairs in order. He was eventually freed, but he has since been convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence.
- Gaetano Badalamenti, a former Mafia boss from Palermo, Sicily, was also convicted. He was given a 45-year sentence. He would eventually die of heart failure at the age of 80 at the Devens Federal Medical center located in Ayer, Massachusetts on April 29, 2004.
- Vito Badalamenti, Gaetano Badalamenti's son, was the only defendant acquitted. Before his arrest with his father in Spain, he had not been directly implicated in the conspiracy.
- Cesare Bonventre, a partner with Baldassare Amato, a long-time associate of S. Catalano, and a member of the Bonanno crime family. Bonventre was murdered prior to indictment.
- Giovanni Cangialosi ("Johnny"), Baldwin, Long Island, was a Sicilian mafioso, and was sentenced to 12 years.
- Filippo Casamento - aka "Tizio", Brooklyn, New York City. Casamento was a Sicilian mafioso and Bonanno crime family associate. He was sentenced to 30 years for his second heroin distribution conviction. Casamento was eventually released, but in early 2008 he was once again indicted for criminal activities in Operation Old Bridge, that targeted mobsters in Sicily and America.
- Frank Castronovo ("Ciccio l'Americano"), Parlin, New Jersey, Sicilian mafioso and brother-in-law of Tommy Mazzara. He was sentenced to 25 years.
- Onofrio Catalano ("Oliviero"), Sicilian mafioso and cousin of Salvatore. He remains a fugitive.
- Salvatore Catalano ("Toto" or "The Baker"), Sicilian mafioso and Bonanno crime family caporegime. Sentenced to 45 years, released from prison on November 16, 2009. Catalano was the "boss" of the U.S. part of the Pizza Connection.
- Samuel Evola ("Salvatore" or "Sam"), Temperance, Michigan. Another nephew of Gaetano Badalamenti and a key U.S. associate. Evola was a known member of the Detroit Partnership. After being found guilty, but before sentencing, Evola decided to plead guilty and received 15 years, cutting 5–10 years off his possible sentence.
- Giuseppe Ganci ("Pino" or "Bufalone"), was a Sicilian mafioso, and a close associate of S. Catalano. Ganci was severed from the trial due to illness and died of cancer on February 11, 1986.
- Salvatore Greco, Oakhurst, New Jersey. Greco was a Sicilian mafioso and brother of Bagheria capo-mafia (boss) Leonardo Greco. He was sentenced to 20 years.
- Giuseppe Lamberti ("The Brother-in-Law"), Sicilian mafioso, brother-in-law of Mazzurco and cousin of Salvatore. He was sentenced to 30 years.
- Salvatore Lamberti ("Toto"), Sicilian mafioso and cousin of Giuseppe Lamberti. He was sentenced to 20 years for narcotics conspiracy.
- Giovanni Ligammari ("Johnny"), Saddle River, New Jersey. Sicilian mafioso, sentenced to 15 years. Upon his release in 1995 after serving 8 years he returned to his Bergen County home in suburban N.J. where he lived until he and his son Pietro were found hanging in the basement of the home on May 21, 1999. The case was ruled a double suicide.
- Gaetano Mazzara ("Tommy"), Sayreville, New Jersey. Mazzara was a Sicilian mafioso, and a key heroin distributor, whose palm print was found on wrapping of a kilo of heroin purchased by an undercover agent. He was murdered on December 1, 1985 during the trial.
- Salvatore Mazzurco ("The Little One" or "The Cousin"). A Sicilian mafioso, Mazzurco was sentenced to 20 years for narcotics conspiracy and 15 years on his RICO conviction with the sentences to run concurrently. Mazzurco's palm print, like Mazzara's, was found on the wrapping of a kilogram package of heroin purchased by an undercover agent.
- Emmanuele Palazzolo ("Manny" or "The Brother-in-Law"), Milton, Wisconsin. Another relative of Gaetano Badalamenti and brother-in-law to Peter Alfano, Palazzolo was an important part of Badalamenti's U.S. operations. He was sentenced to 12 years on narcotics conspiracy.
- Francesco Polizzi ("Frank" or "Ciccio"), Belleville, New Jersey. A DeCavalcante crime family caporegime and Sicilian mafia associate, Polizzi was sentenced to 20 years. He is deceased.
- Vincenzo Randazzo ("Enzo"), Milan, Italy. Gaetano Badalamenti's nephew, Randazzo was extradited from Zürich, Switzerland to New York for the trial. He was one of two defendants who pled to a lesser charge during the trial.
- Salvatore Salamone ("Sal"), Freeland, Pennsylvania. A Sicilian mafioso, Salamone was one of two defendants to be acquitted on the drug-related charges. However, he was convicted on currency violations that carried up to five years in prison. Salamone was later tried, convicted and sentenced to 18 years on weapons charges.
- Giuseppe Trupiano ("Joe"), Olney, Illinois. Another nephew of Gaetano Badalamenti, Trupiano was sentenced to one year for narcotics conspiracy. His conviction was reversed on appeal.
- Giuseppe Vitale ("Joe"), Paris, Illinois. Another relative of Gaetano Badalamenti who couriered narcotics for the group, Vitale was sentenced to five years.
The trial began on September 30, 1985. The jury reached their verdicts on March 2, 1987. Sentences were handed down on by judge Pierre Leval on June 22, 1987.
Other defendants sought during trial
(America, Italy, Switzerland and South Africa)
- Franco Della Torre - convicted in Switzerland.
- Leonardo Greco - capo of the Bagheria cosca (crime family), brother of Salvatore, convicted in Italy.
- Faro Lupo - Sicilian mafioso, nephew of Randazzo who lived with Alfano until 1984 when he returned to Europe, was arrested in Switzerland.
- Salvatore Miniati - convicted in Italy.
- Vito Roberto Palazzolo - convicted in Italy.
- Filippo Salamone - Sicilian mafioso, related to Salvatore, convicted in Italy.
- Giuseppe Soresi - A Sicilian mafioso from Borghetto, Palermo, Soresi was convicted in Italy.
- Oliviero Tognoli - Sicilian mafia money launderer based in Italy. A financial adviser and investor for Leonardo Greco and other Cosa Nostra leaders for whom he held numerous Swiss bank accounts, Tognoli remains a fugitive.
- Benny Zito - Philadelphia pizzeria owner and associate of Joe Ganci who led authorities directly into the heart of the Pizza Connection heroin network and to Sicilian mafia members who oversaw the drug and money laundering operations. A fugitive, Zito was suspected of fleeing prior to the indictments being handed down.
- Blumenthal, Ralph (July 28, 1998). "Acquitted in 'Pizza Connection' Trial, Man Remains in Prison". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
- The Pizza Connection: Lawyers, Drugs and The Mafia by Shana Alexander.
- Excellent Cadavers by Alexander Stille
- Last Days of the Sicilians by Ralph Blumenthal, Crown Publishing 1988, ISBN 0-8129-1594-1
- Decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, U.S. v. Casamento, 887 F. 2d 1141 (2d Cir. 1989)
- Gaetano Badalamenti And The Pizza Connection, article at americanmafia.com