NEW YORK -- A former head of the Bonanno organized crime family testified at a murder trial Thursday that a crooked FBI agent tipped off the mob in the early 1980s that he and other gangsters were about to be rounded up.
Ex-Bonanno boss Joseph Massino – the highest-ranking New York City Mafia figure to ever violate the mob's code of silence and testify for the government – told jurors that the tip allowed him to stay ahead of the law and go into hiding for more than two years.
"The FBI agent never gave a bad tip," Massino said when asked why he took the information seriously. "Anytime he told us something, we could take it to the bank."
In three days on the witness stand in Brooklyn, the 68-year-old Massino has detailed a quarter-century's worth of murder, racketeering and other crimes he committed as he rose through the ranks of the Bonannos. On Thursday, he admitted extorting $5,000 a month from trucking firms at John F. Kennedy International Airport in exchange for keeping hostile union labor away.
The turncoat boss has testified that after becoming a cooperator in 2004, he agreed to wear a wire and testify against his successor, former acting boss Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, in hopes of getting a break on two consecutive life sentences for eight murders of his own.
Prosecutors say Massino secretly recorded Basciano in 2005 admitting he ordered a hit on an associate who broke the strict rules of the secretive Bonannos. In one jailhouse tape played for the jury, Massino is heard asking Basciano if he used two shooters to "clip" the victim.
"I'm not exactly sure what happened there, but I gave the order," Basciano says.
Lawyers for the defendant say Basciano actually knew nothing about the killing and was only playing along to prevent a close mob associate from being punished for it.
Prosecutors say Basciano, the one-time owner of the Hello Gorgeous beauty salon, rose to his leadership role after a series of Bonanno defections and successful prosecutions in the 2000s decimated its leadership.
The 50-year-old defendant, known for his explosive temper, could face the death penalty if convicted of racketeering, murder and other charges. He already is serving a life term for a conviction in a separate case in 2007.
Massino has told authorities that the Colombo organized crime family sometimes shared tips about law enforcement activity that the Colombos claimed came from an unidentified FBI agent. He testified Thursday that when word came of an impending indictment against the Bonannos in 1982, "I went on the lam."
Then a powerful captain in the family, Massino continued to do his Mafia business from a hideout in the Poconos and kept track while other gangsters were caught and prosecuted in his case, he said. He finally decided to surrender after a sit-down with a defense lawyer who was literally kept in the dark about his whereabouts.
Mob minions escorting the attorney "blindfolded him so he wouldn't know where I was at," he testified.
It's unclear whether authorities ever were able to confirm Massino's story about the crooked FBI agent. The FBI said Thursday that it would not comment on the testimony of a witness still on the stand at an ongoing trial.
Massino, who other turncoats say was involved in a payback killing in the infamous "Donnie Brasco" case, began testifying Tuesday, giving the anonymous jury a colorful tutorial on the Mafia. The story of Brasco, an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the mob, became a movie starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.