- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — A sequel to the mob movie classic “Donnie Brasco” is about to unreel, with Johnny Depp and Al Pacino nowhere in sight.

The star of this real-life production, reputed Bonanno family head Joe Massino, steps uncomfortably into the spotlight in a courtroom this month on racketeering charges.

He is accused of seven murders — including hits on a pair of mobsters who had vouched for an FBI undercover agent posing as jewel broker Donnie Brasco two decades ago, and three more slayings during a Brasco-era family war.

Massino, suspected head of the Bonannos since 1991, is an unlikely leading man. The stocky ex-convict keeps a low profile, embraces a code of silence and avoids press scrutiny.

His lone nod to the stereotypical mob image: “Big Joey” loves food and owns an Italian restaurant and catering hall that reportedly doubles as his family’s headquarters.

“Joey’s the last of the real gangsters,” said ex-FBI agent Joe Pistone, who posed as mobster Brasco.

With lawyers’ questioning of potential jurors starting today, Massino faces a racketeering conviction that could land him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Massino also faces another federal trial, for a 1999 slaying, and could receive the death penalty in that case.

His immediate woes date to the era when Mr. Pistone infiltrated the Bonannos from 1976 to 1981. The agent’s testimony helped jail more than 120 mobsters, putting the Bonannos on the brink of extinction until Massino revived their fortunes.

Many of Mr. Pistone’s mob associates were stunned to see him on the witness stand.

Beyond the Bonannos, “Big Joey” — he once weighed nearly 400 pounds — was a friend and neighbor of late Gambino family boss John Gotti.

Unlike Gotti, who reveled in Manhattan night life and ruled from his Little Italy social club, Massino established his base of operations in the remote Maspeth section of Queens.

His CasaBlanca Restaurant, with its sign promising “Fine Italian Cuisine,” once played host to a sit-down of the mob’s ruling commission, authorities said.

Mr. Pistone, who met Massino during his time undercover, said Massino was known as a “tough guy, not to be messed with.”

Bonanno capo Dominick Napolitano reportedly discovered that the hard way. “Sonny Black” — his nickname derived from a devotion to hair dye — introduced Mr. Pistone to several high-ranking mob officials when he posed as Brasco.

Napolitano was quickly killed, reportedly on Massino’s orders, once Brasco’s identity was revealed.

Tony Mirra, another mobster who befriended Brasco, was fatally shot in 1982. Massino also was charged in that slaying.

Now, a generation later, Massino must revisit the Brasco years. Prospective jurors were asked whether they had seen the “Donnie Brasco” movie. Federal authorities even want to seize Massino’s beloved restaurant.

Massino has pleaded not guilty.

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