There was more than one shock wave in Gang Land last week after Attorney General Eric Holder issued his hard-nosed directive that the government will "continue to seek the death penalty" against Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano for the 2004 murder of mob associate Randolph Pizzolo.
First there was the surprisingly tough-guy attitude by the top fed: Basciano is already serving life behind bars, and even the judge in the case - Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis - had suggested that the government take things down a notch. More on that below.
The decision was also a bad sign for another top mobster: Colombo family mobster Joel (Joe Waverly) Cacace, who is awaiting trial for the 1997 execution murder of police officer Ralph Dols. Holder has yet to rule on whether the death penalty is on the table or off for Joe Waverly, who is currently serving 20 years for four slayings - including the murder of an Administrative Law Judge.
But the even bigger news is that Holder's decision means that we will hear the first-ever testimony by a turncoat New York Mafia boss in the person of Joseph Massino, who wore a wire during two jailhouse talks and tape recorded Basciano explaining why his underlings whacked Pizzolo.
Massino is going to have a lot to say on the matter:
"I gave the order," Basciano told Massino, according to a transcript obtained by Gang Land. "You wanna know why? Because he's a fucking dangerous kid that don't fucking listen. He talks stupid... He's just an annoying fucking kid."
The six-year-old case, which includes allegations that Basciano plotted to kill Judge Garaufis as well as a former top federal mob prosecutor, is scheduled to begin in February. In addition to setting up an intriguing courtroom confrontation between Massino and his former acting boss, Holder's decision gives Massino a chance to score some brownie points with the feds, and perhaps gain their support for a release from the life sentence he is now serving.
Garaufis, who presided over two prior Basciano trials, and sentenced him to life, wrote Holder in May. He noted that Vinny Gorgeous was slated to live out his life at the harshest prison in the U.S. and that in addition to the substantial cost of the prosecution, more than $3 million in taxpayer funds had already been spent for the gangster's defense. Citing "current circumstances," the Judge asked Holder to conduct a "candid reappraisal" of the government's decision "to seek the death penalty."
Basciano, who was first arrested for racketeering and detained without bail on November 19, 2004, allegedly ordered the murder of Pizzolo by dispatching messages from his federal lockup in Brooklyn to Bonanno family cohorts who shot Pizzolo to death 12 days later, on December 1.
The following month, based on Massino-obtained tape recordings, Basciano was charged not only with Pizzolo's murder, but also with soliciting his Mafia boss to kill assistant U.S. attorney Greg Andres, the lead prosecutor in several cases against Bonanno wiseguys, including both Massino and Basciano.
Since then, Basciano, now 50, was convicted twice on other racketeering and murder charges. Seven co-defendants in the Pizzolo indictment, including two mobsters involved in his murder, took plea deals, leaving Vinny Gorgeous as the sole defendant.
Early this year, he won a small victory when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals tossed several charges from the indictment, including the alleged plot to whack Andres, ruling that they were all part of the same racketeering charge for which he had been tried twice before, and they were precluded by the double jeopardy statutes.
The current indictment also charges Basciano with murder conspiracy for allegedly plotting to whack a co-defendant in one of his prior trials, Bronx-based capo Patrick DeFilippo.
Last week, Basciano's defense team filed papers indicating it would try to recuse Garaufis from presiding over the trial because if Basciano were ultimately found guilty, the defense would move to submit the Judge's letter to Holder as a mitigating factor in the death penalty phase of the trial and that Garaufis would have difficulty ruling on that issue.
Contacted by Gang Land, lead defense attorney George Goltzer said his client's three-lawyer defense team was "disappointed" by Holder's decision, adding: "We have already reacted, and will continue to react accordingly and defend him to the best of our ability."
Prosecutors declined to comment.
Massino's lawyer, former mob prosecutor Edward McDonald, rejected an assertion by Gang Land that the government's decision to seek the death penalty made his client the big winner, since it would be the only time he would get a chance to show his worth, and earn a get out of jail pass from his federal handlers.
"He has provided information that has led to countless convictions, whether people have gone to trial or not," said McDonald. "On the steps of the courthouse, lawyers have stated that their clients pleaded guilty after my client had agreed to testify against them. They saw no chance of winning their cases."