It happened 400 miles away on the Monday after Christmas, but the daring assassination of a mob prince in Montreal is the hot topic of conversation among New York wiseguys, and has already sparked hot debate among the already feuding factions of the beleaguered Bonanno crime family.
Ever since Nicholas Rizzuto - the son of imprisoned family capo Vito Rizzuto - was shot to death by a lone gunman, members of the Bonanno family's old guard have been meeting all over town with its growing Sicilian faction to discuss the goings on in Montreal as well as the family's current leadership crisis.
Rizzuto, 42, was shot numerous times during a lunchtime assault near the construction company offices of a close associate whose company was raided earlier last year in an investigation into extortion and bid rigging in the building industry. The suspect, according to Montreal police spokeswoman Anie Lemieux, was described by witnesses as a black man wearing a dark hooded jacket. There have been no arrests, and no other information about the slaying is available, Lemieux told Gang Land.
There is no doubt that the Rizzuto clan - led by Vito's 85-year-old father Nicholas - will seek and extract vengeance on their home turf when they determine who was responsible. But law enforcement officials - as well as usually reliable underworld sources - both tell Gang Land that the killing could lead to bloodshed in the New York area as well.
"You never know about this kind of thing when the Zips are involved," said one source. For those without a mob glossary, "Zips" is street slang for the faction that includes about 25 Sicilian-born Bonanno mobsters, their relatives, and crew members - some of whom are American-born. It's a funny word. "Zips" began as a derogative term. Some say it derives from the difficulty American mobsters have grasping the chatter of fast-speaking immigrants as it "zips" by; others say it's a slang plural of zeros. But today, many so-called "Zips" wear the term as a "badge of honor" to describe so-called "old-school" or traditional mob values, including omerta and the use of violence whenever necessary.
Gang Land has learned that the killing - about which law enforcement officials in New York and Canada seem to have very little insight - has brought to a head a years-long push by the Rizzuto clan and their New York-based Sicilian cohorts for more clout in the family and the cash that goes along with it.
Fueled by anger over the 1999 murder of capo Gerlando (George from Canada) Sciascia on orders of then-boss Joseph Massino, the elder Nicholas Rizzuto has been acting more and more independently in recent years. Last year, when the family's most recent street boss, Salvatore (Sal The Ironworker) Montagna, a Sicilian wiseguy with ties to onetime acting boss Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano was deported to Canada, sources say Rizzuto let it be known that he wasn't answering to Montagna.
"He sent back word that The Ironworker was a lightweight flunky" who had been aligned with a Massino-appointed crony "and wasn't his boss," said one knowledgeable Gang Land source.
In the two weeks since the murder, sources tell Gang Land that emissaries of the family's current rulers who aren't behind bars - Nicholas (Nicky Mouth) Santora, 67, and Anthony (Fat Anthony) Rabito, 75, - have met several times with Sicilian faction members to discuss a profitable and peaceful solution for all sides. Sources say Santora and Rabito, who were both released from prison last year and are still unable to meet freely with their fellow wiseguys, are supporting capo Vincent Asaro, 74, for the family's top spot.
Asaro, a longtime Queens-based gangster is a certified old-school gangster who speaks Italian fluently and is well-respected by the Zips, sources say.
He often uses Sicilian phrases and idioms to explain his reasons for his actions. One of his favorites is "Cu mangia sulu, s'affuca sulu." ("He who eats alone, chokes alone.") In addition to having a nice ring to it, the saying drives home the key Mafia lessons of loyalty and paying tribute to your bosses, whose help you will probably need sooner than later.
Asaro, whose mobster son Jerome is due out of prison later this year, also has close ties to Queens-based mobsters from the Luchese, Gambino and Genovese families who have voiced their support for him, sources say.
Many of the meetings among the Bonanno factions have taken place in several establishments and social clubs in Brooklyn, Queens, and on Long Island, where many wiseguys live.
A key player in the recent talks, sources say, is Vito Grimaldi, a 70-year-old Sicilian faction mobster whose daughter is married to Joseph (Joe Saunders Jr.) Cammarano, the wiseguy son of longtime capo Joe Saunders Sr., who is serving 15 years for a murder conspiracy rap.
Grimaldi, whose family has operated a bakery in Flushing, Queens for 100 years, is viewed as an adviser to the Zips. He recently ended a three year term of supervised release following a stretch for racketeering and has no restrictions on his activities. His son Joseph is also a Bonanno soldier and runs a lucrative baccarat game out of a social club in Ridgewood, Brooklyn, sources say.
Gang Land's sources say Asaro, who for many years has had dealings as both a mob supervisor and cohort of Sicilian wiseguys, may win Grimaldi's support. Another major player with key Sicilian backing is Vincent (Vinny TV) Badalamenti, whose Christmas Party was raided by DEA agents last month.
Who will ultimately lead the Bonannos is still up in the air, but both sides seem to agree that they won't be taking orders from the last wiseguy that Massino anointed as acting boss - Vinny Gorgeous Basciano, 50.
"Joe's word don't count any more," said one source, adding that even if his words still had clout, it made no sense. Basciano has already been convicted of racketeering, and faces another trial for additional racketeering and murder charges. As one citizen of Gang Land bluntly put it: "He ain't coming home no more."