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Vitale's FBI mugshot
September 22, 1947|
Maspeth, Queens, New York
|Other names||Handsome Sal, Good Looking Sal|
|Education||Grover Cleveland High School|
|Occupation||Caterer, Former underboss of the Bonanno crime family|
Salvatore "Handsome Sal" Vitale (born September 22, 1947 in Maspeth, Queens) was a New York City caterer and former underboss of the Bonanno crime family of the American Mafia before becoming a government informant.
Salvatore Vitale was born on September 22, 1947 in Maspeth, Queens in New York City. He was the son of Giuseppe and Lilli Vitale, who had emigrated from the village of San Giuseppe Jato in Sicily after World War II; the couple had already had three daughters, but Salvatore was their only son to survive childbirth. Salvatore was described by his family as emotionally distant as a child.
Vitale first met Joseph Massino, future boss of the Bonanno family, as a child. Massino had begun dating Vitale's sister Josephine in 1956, and the couple married in 1960. Massino also befriended Salvatore Vitale, becoming a surrogate "big brother" to his future brother-in-law.
Unlike Massino, Vitale graduated from Grover Cleveland High School. He also attempted to have a legitimate career; Vitale entered the U.S. Military and had been trained as a paratrooper. Discharged in 1968, he went on to work briefly as a New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision corrections officer, working in Queens with drug offenders.
He and his wife Diana moved to Long Island, a safe distance from mob-entrenched Maspeth, Queens, to have a better life for themselves. Salvatore managed his own social club in Maspeth, Queens not far from Joseph Massino's CasaBlanca Restaurant and Catering Service where he would meet with his underlings. His son Anthony would later work for mob associate Robert Perrino at The New York Post after he dropped out of college.
Early criminal career
When he quit that job, Vitale approached Joseph Massino for criminal work. He soon became involved in burglaries and transport truck hijacking. He was given a no-show job as a food consultant for King Caterer's. Despite his close relationship with Massino, who had been operating head of the family for most of the 1980s, Vitale had to wait until 1984 to become a made man in his own right. Under normal circumstances, his one year as a corrections officer should have barred him from ever becoming a "friend of ours," but Massino claimed it was only a rumor.
He suffered from poor health, and had his first heart attack at the age of 38 and another in 2001. Vitale was one of the gunmen who killed three Bonanno captains; Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Dominick Trinchera and Philip Giaccone.
When Massino was sent to prison for truck hijacking in 1987, he promoted Vitale to capo. As Massino's brother-in-law, he qualified for Massino's visitors' list, making him a natural choice to serve as Massino's emissary. He frequently prefaced his orders to capos with the words, "This is how Joe wants it done." In 1991, Massino dropped Vitale from the visitors' list, fearing that rumors he was using Vitale to run the family from prison could jeopardize his chances at being released on probation. Vitale then arrogated to himself the right to act in the event of a crisis that threatened the family. Although he ordered three murders without Massino's knowledge, their closeness was such that no one questioned it.
Longtime boss Phillip "Rusty" Rastelli died in 1991. On one of Vitale's visits to Massino in prison, Massino told Vitale, "If Rastelli dies, make me boss." Vitale complied and arranged a meeting at which Massino was acclaimed as the new boss. Massino was released on two years' supervised release in 1992; during that time, he could not associate with convicted mafiosi. With this in mind, he named Vitale underboss, and formally designated him as his messenger. Although the FBI suspected Vitale was made, he had never actually been convicted of a Mafia-related crime. The FBI thus would have no reason to be suspicious of him associating with Massino, since they were brothers-in-law.
Later in the decade, however, Massino grew somewhat cooler toward Vitale. Reportedly, Massino thought Vitale was acting too much like Gambino boss John Gotti; although Massino and Gotti had been friends for years, Massino believed Gotti's high-profile had set the Mafia back several years. He was also displeased that Vitale didn't persuade any of his sons to join the family; Massino encouraged his soldiers and capos to enroll their sons as wiseguys in hopes of ensuring they would remain loyal. In response, Massino stripped Vitale of most of his authority, going so far as to forbid him from speaking to the capos under his leadership in the family. Massino did not assign any captains to work for Vitale and was not even given Christmas gifts from the family. It was thought by many of his fellow capos that he was power hungry and greedy and knew too much intimate criminal knowledge to be trusted by others. Some wished that he was dead and questioned Massino's judgment in appointing his brother-in-law as underboss.
Vitale was put under house arrest in 2001 after pleading guilty to his role in a massive extortion scheme on Long Island. He was allowed to go to work at his no-show job at King Caterers in Farmingdale, Long Island as a "food consultant" and owner, but had to be home by 6pm. He was allowed to take his wife out to dinner three times a week. The probation officer just required Vitale to fax over the name of the restaurant. He would later be involved directly in murdering four individuals with Gerlando Sciascia, loansharking, bookmaking, extortion and illegal gambling. By that time, the stress of home detention and his ensuing legal problems aggravated the already strained marriage.
He became a second father to his niece Joanna Massino, when her father became a wanted fugitive during her freshman year at high school. He arranged her 16th birthday party in the absence of Joseph and danced with his niece. His niece, Adeline, who would become a psychology major in college, did not trust Vitale, and thought he seemed full of himself. With Joseph he was disrespected and belittled as underboss of the Bonanno crime family, which caused Vitale to resent Massino for many years. He was a close friend and business associate of Bonanno crime family capo James Tartaglione. His vanity was a well-known subject of gossip. He relished the aura of being an underboss. His favorite cologne was Gray Flanel.
He was a successful business man and co-owner and manager of the successful J & S Catering Social Club and Casablanca Restaurant, both in Maspeth where he grew up.
In 2003, Vitale and Massino were arrested by the FBI and charged with racketeering and murder. Vitale was also indicted for another murder. He had not aged well; his face was puffy and his hair had gone mostly gray. A few days before Vitale and Massino's arrest, prosecutors learned that Massino wanted Vitale killed. Two former capos who had recently become informants, Frank Coppa and Richard Cantarella, told investigators that Massino believed Vitale's deal with prosecutors was overly generous, and the only plausible explanation was that Vitale had secretly become an informer. Coppa said that Massino had mulled killing Vitale not long after Vitale's initial plea, but decided to spare him out of respect for Josie. However, after the arrests of Coppa and Cantarella, Massino was no longer willing to spare Vitale. The FBI took that threat very seriously, and went as far as to house Massino and Vitale in separate prisons (Massino in Brooklyn, Vitale in Manhattan) and keep them apart when they weren't appearing in court.
Two weeks after the initial hearing, Vitale notified prosecutors that he wanted to turn informer. He'd actually decided to flip on the day of their arraignment, but felt he needed to keep up appearances until his defection could be safely arranged. In his book, Five Families, New York Times organized-crime writer Selwyn Raab wrote that Vitale had every intention of remaining loyal to Massino, even though their relationship had cooled in the past few years. The revelation that Massino wanted to "give him a receipt"—his term for a whacking—was the final straw for Vitale. In January 2004, a secret recording by capo James Tartaglione showed that Diana Vitale had been so frightened of Massino that Salvatore stayed away from him during the time leading up to his arrest.
The defection of Vitale significantly bolstered the government's case. Not only was he the fourth confessed underboss in the history of the American Mafia to turn informer (after the Philadelphia family's Phil Leonetti, the Gambinos' Sammy Gravano and the Luccheses' Anthony Casso), but he had spent most of his three decades in the Mafia as Massino's closest confidant. His testimony centered around a series of murders allegedly orchestrated by Massino and Gotti. Vitale told the FBI about both his and Massino's involvement in over 11 murders, including: Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera, Philip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone, Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano, Anthony "Tony" Mirra, Cesare "The Tall Guy" Bonventre, Gerlando Sciascia, Gabriel Infante, Joseph Pastore, John Favara and Vito Borelli. This information helped lead to Massino's conviction. The prospect of facing the death penalty for Sciascia's murder led Massino to himself become an informant.
As of 2010, Vitale's testimony had sent Massino and 50 other organized-crime figures to prison. On October 29, 2010, Vitale was sentenced by Judge Nicholos Garufis to time served for 11 murders and other crimes. After leaving the courtroom, he entered the federal Witness Protection Program. Vitale returned to the stand again in March 2012 to testify against Thomas Gioeli.
- The Mafia in New Jersey – La Cosa Nostra – State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation 1989 Report – The Bonanno/Rastelli/Vitale Family
- DeStefano, pp. 41-42
- Raab, p. 621
- DeStefano, p. 43
- Crittle, p. 50
- Raab, pp. 604-605
- DeStefano, p. 64
- "Betrayed by a Mafia Underboss". New York Times. October 28, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Rosenberg, Noah (2012-03-20). "Former Underboss Offers Primer on Mob Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- DeStefano, Anthony (2006). King of the Godfathers: "Big Joey" Massino and the Fall of the Bonanno Crime Family (2007 paperback ed.). New York: Pinncle Books. ISBN 978-0-7860-1893-2.
- Crittle, Simon, The Last Godfather: The Rise and Fall of Joey Massino Berkley (March 7, 2006) ISBN 0-425-20939-3
- Pistone, Joseph D.; & Woodley, Richard (1999) Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-66637-4.
- Pistone, Joseph D.; & Brandt, Charles (2007). Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business, Running Press. ISBN 0-7624-2707-8.
- Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: St. Martin Press, 2005. ISBN 0-312-30094-8
Joseph "Big Joey" Massino
| Bonanno crime family
Nicholas "Nicky Mouth" Santora