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Tommaso Buscetta in an undated photograph
13 July 1928|
Palermo, Sicily, Italy
2 April 2000 (aged 71)|
New York, United States
|Criminal penalty||14 years, later paroled|
Tommaso Buscetta (Italian pronunciation: [tomˈmaːzo buʃˈʃetta]; 13 July 1928 – 2 April 2000) was an Italian gangster, a member of the Sicilian Mafia, who became the first Mafia boss to turn informant (pentito) and explain the inner workings of the organisation.
Buscetta participated in criminal activity in Italy, the United States and Brazil before being extradited to Italy, where he provided important testimony at the Maxi Trial, the largest anti-Mafia trial in history. After the murder of the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Buscetta gave further testimony to the Antimafia Commission linking Italian politicians to the Mafia. Buscetta entered the Witness Protection Program in the United States, where he remained until his death in 2000.
Tommaso Buscetta was born on 13 July 1928 in Palermo, Sicily, the youngest of 17 children. Buscetta was raised in a poverty-stricken area of Palermo, which he escaped by getting involved with crime at a young age. He first became involved with the Sicilian Mafia in 1945, and in the following years he became a full-fledged member of the Porta Nuova Family, where he worked mostly in cigarette smuggling.
Buscetta fled to the United States after the Ciaculli Massacre in 1963, part of an internal Mafia conflict known as the First Mafia War. In New York City, he was aided by the local Gambino crime family of the Italian-American Mafia, who helped him to get started in the pizza business. In 1968, Buscetta was convicted by an Italian court of double murder, but the conviction was in absentia as he was not actually in custody. In Italy, it is possible for fugitives to be prosecuted without them being present.
In 1970, Buscetta was arrested in New York City, but because Italian authorities did not ask for his extradition he was released. Buscetta moved on to Brazil where he set up a drug trafficking network, but in 1972, was arrested by the Brazilian military government, and subsequently extradited to Italy where he began a life sentence for the earlier double murder conviction. In 1980, while on a day-release from prison, he fled back to Brazil to escape the brewing Second Mafia War instigated by Toto Riina. The war subsequently led to the deaths of many of Buscetta's allies, including Stefano Bontade. Arrested once more in 1983, Buscetta was sent back to Italy, where he attempted suicide, and when that failed, he decided that he was utterly disillusioned with the Mafia. Buscetta asked to talk to the anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, and began his life as an informant, referred to as a pentito.
In Italy, Buscetta helped the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino to achieve significant successes in the fight against organized crime, becoming the star witness in the Maxi Trial, the largest anti-Mafia trial in history that led to almost 350 Mafia members being sent to prison.
Buscetta revealed the existence and workings of the Sicilian Mafia Commission, which enabled Falcone to argue that Cosa Nostra was a unified hierarchical structure ruled by a Commission and that its leaders, who normally would not dirty their hands with criminal acts, could be held responsible for criminal activities that were committed to benefit the organization. This premise became known as the "Buscetta theorem" and would be recognised legally with the confirmation of the Maxi Trial sentence in January 1992. His testimony in the Pizza Connection Trial in New York State in the mid-1980s allowed the conviction of hundreds of mobsters both in Italy and the United States, including Gaetano Badalamenti.
As a reward for his help, Buscetta was allowed to live in the United States under a new identity in the Witness Protection Program, as reported to have undergone plastic surgery to conceal his identity. He sometimes gave interviews to journalists, although his face was pixelated when he appeared in documentaries. Judges and policemen found Buscetta to be very polite and intelligent, albeit sometimes prone to vanity. Like most informants, Buscetta was occasionally somewhat economical with the truth, as he once claimed he had never dealt in narcotics even though he once contradicted himself by saying that everyone in the Mafia was involved in narcotics, without exempting himself from this statement. Originally, Buscetta denied ever killing anyone, but he later admitted in a television interview that he had killed someone. Some of his lies had understandable motives, as in the 1980s he said he had no knowledge of the links that various prominent Italian politicians like Salvo Lima and Giulio Andreotti had with the Mafia, but in the 1990s he admitted that he knew of such ties, claiming that he had feigned ignorance during the 1980s because the politicians in question were then in power, and he had feared for his life even within the security afforded by the Witness Protection Program.
Only in 1992 after the murders of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the anti-Mafia judges he had aided, did Buscetta decide to talk about the links between the Mafia and politicians. On 16 November 1992, Buscetta testified before the Antimafia Commission presided by Luciano Violante about the links between the Cosa Nostra and Salvo Lima and Giulio Andreotti. He identified Lima as the contact of the Mafia within Italian politics, stating: "Salvo Lima was, in fact, the politician to whom Cosa Nostra turned most often to resolve problems for the organisation whose solution lay in Rome," Buscetta testified. In court, Buscetta also elaborated in great detail the hidden exchanges that linked politicians and the Mafia. He stated:
It is not Cosa Nostra that contacts the politician; instead a member of the Cosa Nostra says, that president is mine (è cosa mia), and if you need a favor, you must go through me. In other words, the Cosa Nostra figure maintains a sort of monopoly on that politician. Every family head in the Mafia selects a man whose characteristics already make him look approachable. Forget the idea that some pact is reached first. On the contrary, one goes to that candidate and says, "Onorevole, I can do this and that for you now, and we hope that when you are elected you will remember us." The candidate wins and he has to pay something back. You tell him, "We need this, will you do it or not?" The politician understands immediately and acts always.
Buscetta married three times and had six children. At one point, he was suspended from the Mafia for leaving his first wife, as adultery was considered a serious offense. While imprisoned in the 70s, Buscetta learned that his boss wanted to expel him from the Mafia altogether due to his treatment of his wives. During a trial in 1993, the Mafia member Salvatore Cancemi confessed to Buscetta that he had strangled two of Buscetta's sons to death.
Buscetta died of cancer in 2000, aged 71, having lived out his final years in New York state.
In popular culture
- (in Italian) E' morto Tommaso Buscetta: Svelò i segreti di Cosa Nostra, La Repubblica, April 4, 2000
- The Mafia's Murderous Code, Time Magazine, November 11, 1985
- Mob Boss and Stoolie Share a Day in Rome Court, The New York Times, November 20, 1993
- (in Italian) Audizione del collaboratore della giustizia Tommaso Buscetta
- Donatella Della Porta, Alberto Vannucci, Corrupt Exchanges, Google Print, p. 221.
- Dickie, John (2004). Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia, London: Coronet, ISBN 0-340-82435-2
- Jamieson, Alison (2000). The Antimafia. Italy’s Fight Against Organized Crime, London: MacMillan Press ISBN 0-333-80158-X
- Stille, Alexander (1995). Excellent Cadavers. The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, New York: Vintage ISBN 0-09-959491-9