FBI finally gets the goods on the last don

A FABLED, 20-year-old FBI undercover operation resurfaced to shock the US underworld this week.

It led to the arrest of Joseph Massino, the reputed boss of the Bonanno crime family and, feds say, the last New York city boss left.

FBI agents arrested Massino, 60, early on Thursday morning at his home on 84th Street in Howard Beach, Queens, on racketeering conspiracy, murder and other charges.

Also nabbed were reputed underboss Salvatore Vitale, 55, and alleged crime family captain Daniel Mongelli, 36, of Staten Island.

"The last boss to have remained at liberty" was how Brooklyn US Attorney Roslynn R Mauskopf described Massino, referring to his status as the only major mob leader to have stayed out of prison throughout most of the 1990s, a time when other bosses were being picked off by prosecutions.

For years the feds years set up surveillance at wakes, funerals and social clubs. But it took the cooperation of some high-level turncoats to catch the big fish - who until this week was the only boss of the city's five major crime families not behind bars, prosecutors said.

Massino is accused of killing mobster Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano who unwittingly embraced FBI Agent Joseph Pistone.

Agent Pistone called himself "Donnie Brasco" in his famously successful five-year undercover operation to win trust and climb the ranks in the Bonanno family.

Napolitano, who headed the crew Pistone infiltrated, disappeared on August 17, 1981 - one month after the G-man ended his assignment.

The feds say Napolitano was killed in retribution for his ties to Pistone - and they have a "high-ranking" witness who has linked Massino and acting capo Frank Lino to the crime.

The new charges solve the famous murder that for 22 years tantalised mob aficionados. Massino, 60, is one of four reputed wiseguys charged in the newly unsealed indictment with three murders and a host of racketeering crimes.

"The indictment charges the sole boss of a major New York organised crime family who was still at liberty, demonstrating our commitment to eradicating the New York metropolitan area of the influence of organised crime," Ms Mauskopf said in announcing the charges that result from a four-year investigation by the FBI, the NYPD and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The wealthy and powerful alleged mob boss was picked up in his Howard Beach home. He wore a black velour sweat suit to Brooklyn federal court, where he pleaded not guilty to racketeering, murder, loan-sharking and gambling.

"Mr Massino is very confident of an acquittal. He states he's not guilty of any of the crimes charged in the indictment, some of which go back 20 years," said defence lawyer Matthew Mari.

Also arraigned by Magistrate Judge Joan Azrack were reputed underboss Salvatore Vitale and alleged capo Daniel Mongelli. Lino is already behind bars. The historic arrest couldn't have happened without the feds managing to flip four mobsters, including acting underboss Richard "Shellackhead" Cantarella and reputed capo Frank Coppa, sources say.

"The Bonanno family was an incredibly resilient family. There has never been a Bonanno soldier who has ever cooperated" before this, said James Walden, a former assistant US attorney. Lawyers who represented the four mobsters before their decision to work with the government have since received letters from the feds relieving them of their duties.

Larry Bronson, attorney for Coppa, said his client disappeared from Fort Dix prison on November 13. "A 400-pound capo doesn't vanish into thin air draw your own conclusions," Mr Bronson said.

The cooperators have fingered Vitale in the 1992 murder of New York Post employee Robert Perrino, a Bonanno associate who was at the heart of a no-show job scheme at its printing plant. The feds say the slaying was motivated by fears that Perrino was cooperating with the FBI.

And a high-ranking mob rat who witnessed the murder of Napolitano is poised to testify that he was shot in a house, while Massino and others waited outside as "back-ups," court papers filed by Assistant US Attorney Greg Andres show.

Napolitano's body was found in a swamp in Staten Island a year after the hit. For two decades following the Brasco fiasco, the Bonannos managed to avoid prosecution.

"Rocked by the Donnie Brasco infiltration, the Bonannos, already one of the most insular and secretive families circled the wagons, closed ranks and became obsessively discrete," said Kevin Donovan, FBI assistant director in charge.

"The Bonanno family became a tough nut to crack. It has taken over two decades to get the goods on Massino for the Sonny Black murder. But justice delayed is not only always justice denied."

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