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June 16, 1930|
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, United States
|Died||August 17, 1981
|Religion||Roman Catholic|
Dominick Napolitano (June 16, 1930 – August 17, 1981), also known as Sonny Black, was an American Mafia caporegime in the Bonanno crime family. He is well known for unwittingly allowing Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Joseph D. Pistone to become an associate in his crew and nearly getting him made.
Napolitano's grandparents were immigrants from Naples, Italy. Napolitano was born with blond hair, but by his forties it had turned a gunmetal white-silver color. To hide the color, he dyed it black, earning him the nickname "Sonny Black". He was a close friend of future Bonanno crime family boss Joseph Massino; incarcerated boss Philip Rastelli knew Napolitano before he went to prison. He was close to Carmine Napolitano (May 30, 1943 - February 15, 1999), a cousin and fellow Bonanno mobster. Sons Peter Napolitano (November 17, 1957 – June 29, 1994), Aniello Napolitano and Rocco Napolitano were born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Napolitano was a sturdy 5'7" man who weighed about 170 pounds, with powerfully developed chest and arms. On his right forearm was a tattoo of a black panther. He was swarthy, with hair dyed jet black. His face was fleshy, with rings under his brown eyes that made him look (depending on the mood) either tired or menacing. He was not a heavy drinker and only indulged at times with fine French liquor. He had dead straight hair, a square jaw and a Roman nose. Napolitano controlled Williamsburg, Brooklyn and from 1979–80, he operated in Pasco County, Florida and out of Holiday, Florida after negotiating control of the territory with Santo Trafficante, Jr.. At that time, Napolitano set his sights on operating a major bookmaking operation in Orlando.
Napolitano was an avid homing pigeon enthusiast. He kept his pigeons on the rooftop of his apartment building and social club The Motion Lounge. The brilliantly colored pigeons had pedigree bloodlines that descended from prize pigeons in France, Germany and Russia. Napolitano would win as much as $3000 racing his pigeons. Pistone said that Napolitano loved going to his pigeon coop to think: "Sometimes when we were up on the roof with the pigeons, Sonny would lean on the railing and look out over the rooftops of the neighborhood where he had lived all his life. I wondered what he was thinking about."
Napolitano would say to Pistone, "The whole thing is how strong you are and how much power you got and how fucking mean you are—that's what makes you rise in the mob. Every day's a fucking struggle, because you don't know who's looking to knock you off, especially when you become a captain or boss. Every day, somebody's looking to dispose of you and take your position. You always got to be on your toes. Every fucking day is a scam day to keep your power and position." Napolitano would repeat this theme over and over again to Pistone in conversations up on the roof with his pigeons.
Napolitano rose to prominence in 1973 as a soldier for Michael Sabella and was promoted to capo, replacing his mentor after the gangland execution of the powerful rival capo Carmine "The Cigar" Galante. Sabella was demoted and Napolitano took over the crew. He became a trusted confidante of the imprisoned mobster Phillip "Rusty" Rastelli who took over leadership permanently again. But when Rastelli took over, it caused the Bonannos to split into two factions, one loyal to Rastelli, the other attempting to overthrow him in favor of the Sicilian faction, led by Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato.
Napolitano and Joseph Massino, who were loyal to Rastelli, were chiefly responsible for helping to end the struggle by killing three capos opposed to Rastelli: Alphonse Indelicato, Dominick Trinchera and Philip Giaccone. Napolitano owned the Wither's Italian-American War Veterans Club at 415 Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and also The Motion Lounge at 420 Graham Avenue. He later ran an illegal casino in Pasco County, Florida and owned a tennis club and night club called The King's Court Bottle Club in Holiday, Florida.
When in Holiday, Florida, Napolitano took up the sport of tennis with Joseph Pistone and was a doubles partner of Bonanno mobster John Cersani. Although he was a lousy tennis player, he enjoyed playing at King's Court. Pistone would later say, "On the court he would run around and yell, 'I'm going to kill you' between strokes". Napolitano would arm wrestle Pistone, but always lost. He was a weight lifter and constantly challenged Pistone, who was the only guy that Napolitano could not beat. Napolitano was once able to beat Pistone by spitting in his face to surprise him, showing his competitive nature.
Napolitano's headquarters were in the heart of Williamsburg's Italian neighborhood. His crew, involved in burglary, extortion, robbery, bank robbery, loansharking, hijacking, bookmaking, casino operations and drug trafficking, were one of the most successful crews in the Bonanno family. Napolitano's crew included Bonanno street soldiers Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero, Nicholas Santora, Louis Attanasio, John Cersani, Jerome Asaro, Sandro Asaro, John Faraci, Daniel Mangelli, Robert Lino, Frank Lino, Richard Riccardi, Joseph Grimaldi, Nicholas Accardi, Peter Rosa, Patrick DeFilippo, Michael Mancuso, Vito Grimaldi, Anthony Urso, James Tartaglione, Joseph Cammarano, John Zancocchio, Edward Barberra, Frankie Fish, Bobby Badheart, Bobby Smash and his previous capo Michael Sabella, Joseph Puma, Steven Maruca, Salvatore Farrugia, Anthony Pesiri, Antonio Tomasulo, Anthony Rabito, Raymond Wean, Frank DiStefano, Salvatore D'Ottavio, James Episcopa and Donnie Brasco.
Napolitano was unusually tough and savvy, even for a Mafia capo. Although he was a stone-cold gangster, he ran his crew in a laid-back style. Pistone would say, "Dominick was more observant and disciplined than his old capo Michael Sabella and had a watchful eye. In mob circles, he had an excellent reputation for personal loyalty to his sidewalk soldiers. He would kill you in a minute if you crossed him." Napolitano was a fine marksman with small-caliber pistols, which made him an efficient killer.
In restaurants or in public, he was a gentleman and never flamboyant or brazen. He always carried his own suitcases when traveling, which was not traditionally done by other capos. Pistone said that Napolitano was not a 24-hour gangster, meaning that you could talk to him about other things besides the Mafia, unlike other mobsters who only wanted to talk about illegal activities and Mafia business. When working, Napolitano was respected and feared, but when hanging out with Pistone, they would go out to dinner, have coffee and just "shoot the breeze" like two friends.
Operation Donnie Brasco
When Joseph Pistone infiltrated the Mafia, he became attached to Napolitano's crew and the two developed a close relationship. Pistone was one of the few people that Napolitano trusted and relied upon; Pistone even spent nights sleeping over at Napolitano's apartment. He regarded Pistone so highly that he planned to nominate him to be "made" (inducted into the Mafia). By becoming Napolitano's right-hand man, Pistone gained respect in the Bonanno family.
Pistone's undercover operation ended after six years, when Napolitano ordered Pistone to murder another mobster, Philip Giaccone, while he was in Miami. When the decision was made to kill Giaccone at the same time as Indelicato and Trinchera were to be killed, Pistone was instead given the task of killing Indelicato's son, Bruno. Two days later, FBI agents came to the Motion Lounge to inform Napolitano that his trusted friend and associate of six years was an agent. In the hours after the shocking disclosure of Donnie Brasco, Napolitano went to his pigeon coop to think. FBI surveillance photos showed a very worried-looking man.
Napolitano was ordered to be killed in retribution for Pistone's infiltration. On August 17, 1981, he was summoned to a meeting in the basement of Bonanno associate Ron Filocomo's home in Flatlands, Brooklyn. Knowing that he would be killed, Napolitano gave his jewelry to his favorite bartender, who worked below his apartment at the Motion Lounge, along with the keys to his apartment so that his pet pigeons could be cared for. Bonanno capo Frank Lino and Steven Cannone drove Napolitano to the house of Filocomo and Frank Coppa, who was also present. Napolitano was pushed down the staircase in Filocomo's basement and shot to death by Filocomo and Lino with .38 caliber revolvers. When the first shot misfired, Napolitano told them, "Hit me one more time and make it good".
Napolitano's girlfriend Judy later contacted Pistone and told him that, shortly before his death, Napolitano had told her that he bore no ill will towards Pistone, knowing that Pistone was only doing his job, and that if anyone was responsible for taking him down, he was glad it was Pistone. She said that Napolitano really loved Pistone and was broken up when he found out he was an agent. Napolitano could not believe that Pistone was an agent because of the "things we had done together, the conversations we'd had, the feelings we'd had."
In August, FBI surveillance noticed workmen dismantling Napolitano's pigeon coops atop the Motion Lounge. On August 12, 1982, a body was found at South Avenue and Bridge Street in Arlington, Staten Island, New York; the corpse's hands were severed and the face was so badly decomposed that dental records were required to verify the identity. The FBI announced that it had found the corpse of Dominick Napolitano. In 2000, however, they publicly revealed doubts about whether the corpse was correctly identified.
In 2003, Bonanno boss Joseph Massino was arrested and charged with a variety of crimes, with the case centering on the murder of Napolitano. At Massino's trial, prosecutors claimed that Napolitano was killed by his associates for allowing his crew to be compromised, and that his hands had been removed as a warning to other mobsters to follow the rule about proper introductions (the association of shaking hands when being introduced to someone). Massino was convicted in 2004.
In 2006, Frank Lino and Frank Coppa turned state's evidence, providing authorities with the details of Napolitano's murder. Although the FBI were reasonably sure that the body found in Staten Island was Napolitano, one discrepancy existed: Lino claimed that he and Filocomo shot Napolitano with .38 caliber revolvers and that he himself had fired more than once. But the corpse only had one bullet wound, apparently made by a .45 caliber pistol. Coppa later said that Napolitano "died like a man". Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens. Pistone expressed some regret over Napolitano's fate; "My intention in all of this was to put people in jail, not get them killed."
The 1997 film Donnie Brasco features "Sonny Black", played by Michael Madsen. Many of Sonny Black's character traits, and relationship with Pistone, were combined with other Bonanno mobsters like Anthony Mirra and Benjamin Ruggiero, who in the film is played by Al Pacino. A notable parallel occurs when Ruggiero is summoned to what he knows will be his execution for allowing Pistone into the Mafia (in reality, Ruggiero was arrested by the FBI). He leaves behind his personal effects, echoing Napolitano's final actions shortly before he was murdered. Ruggiero's sentiments of how if it was going to be anyone that sunk him, he was glad it was Pistone, is a direct paraphrase of Napolitano's last words.
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