The Bonanno crime family is featured in a new docuseries on Netflix called Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia, which “sheds light on how the mafia’s control of unions, high-rise construction, and other industries netted billions for organized crime” in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. It includes previously unheard surveillance recordings, news footage, and archival material alongside new interviews and reenactments.
Here’s what you need to know about the Bonanno crime family.
1. It Started as the Castellammarese Clan
The Bonanno family can be traced back to Castellammare del Golfo, a town in Sicily, where the clan was founded by Giuseppe Bonanno and his older brother, Stefano. Their younger brother, Salvatore, married Catherine Bonventre and they had Joseph Bonanno, who would go on to head up the family for over three decades.
In 1930, a war broke out between the Castellammarese clan, led by Salvatore Maranzano, and the Masseria family, led by Giuseppe Masseria. When a group of younger members known as the “Young Turks” decided the war needed to end, they brokered a secret deal with Maranzano to kill Masseria. The Young Turks included Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, Tommy Lucchese, Albert Anastasia, and Joe Adonis.
Once Masseria was dead, Maranzano outlined a peace plan for 24 organized crime families all across the U.S. which would come to be known as The Commission. Maranzano headed up the commission until Luciano had him murdered and took over running The Commission. Luciano gave Maranzano’s leadership role within the Castellammarese clan to Joseph Bonanno and that’s how the family became known as the Bonanno family.
2. Bonanno Was Just 26 When He Took Over the Family
According to Bonanno’s New York Times obituary, he was just 26 years old when he took over running the Maranzano crime family — which would become known as the Bonanno crime family. The New York Times reported that Bonanno acknowledged the other Mafia families in the Commission, but always said that the Five Families in New York were its most important members.
He ran the Bonanno family until his voluntary retirement in 1968. In that time, he was the subject of a federal grand jury investigation in the 1950s and was eventually indicted on the charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice. But he had a heart attack and by the time he recovered, the convictions were overturned and the indictment dismissed.
In 1964, he disappeared the day before he was supposed to testify to another grand jury, claiming that he was kidnapped by armed men working for his cousin, Stefano Magaddino. Bonanno was missing for a year and a half before showing up unannounced at the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan in 1966.
Following his retirement in 1968, he led a fairly quiet life for about a decade, but in 1980, he was convicted on a federal charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice and served one year in prison. He was imprisoned again in 1985 for 14 months for refusing to testify in a federal racketeering case.
3. Bonanno’s Absence Led to the Banana War
In the year and a half that Bonanno was MIA, control of the Bonanno family was up for grabs. Gaspar DeGregorio, a Bonanno soldier, took seized control despite Joseph’s son, Bill Bonanno’s claim to the leadership. It eventually led to a split in the family between those who were loyal to Bill and those who were loyal to DiGregorio.
The Commission supported DiGregorio until 1968 when they had become dissatisfied with his efforts to unite the family and they chose to back Paul Sciacca to take over the family. Joseph Bonanno brokered a peace deal wherein he retired, his son Bill left New York, and Sciacca took over.
But Sciacca would mark the first in a string of short-lived heads of the Bonanno family. Between 1968 and 1979, Sciacca, Natale Evola, Philip Rastelli, and Carmine Galante were all head of the family at one point. Part of the unrest was due to Donnie Brasco’s undercover operation that ran from 1976 to 1981 and led to over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of various Mafia members.
4. Joseph Massino Took Over in 1991
After the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, which saw many Mafia members end up dead or in prison, Massino took over and started running things very differently. He closed down the Bonanno family social clubs and started doing business much more secretively.
He also changed the family’s name to the Massino family. By 1998, he was the only New York mafia boss who wasn’t in prison, and the FBI considered him the most powerful mob boss in the country.
But an early 2000s sting operation eventually snared Massino on racketeering charges after one of his men, Frank Coppa, turned informant rather than go to prison for life. Before the trial began, other Bonanno members came forward to cooperate and by the time Massino actually stood trial, he faced 11 RICO charges for murders, arson, extortion, loansharking, illegal gambling, and money laundering. He eventually turned state’s evidence against acting Bonanno boss Vincent Basciano in 2011, getting his sentenced reduced to time served, though he will be on supervised release for the remainder of his life.
5. 2017 and 2018 Saw More Bonanno Family Arrests
In 2017, the FBI arrested several members of the Bonanno family for narcotics trafficking. Then just a few months later, in January 2018, eight more members were arrested on racketeering and extortion charges.
Michael Mancuso has been the head of the family since 2013. He was in prison at the time, serving a sentence for the murder of associate Randolph Pizzolo. Mancuso was released in March 2019.
Joseph Bonanno Sr. died in Tucson, Arizona, in 2002 at the age of 97. His son Bill died in 2008 at the age of 75. In Joseph’s memoir, he wrote, “As the father of a family I was like the head of state. I too had to maintain internal order. I too had to conduct foreign affairs with other families. … In other cities with only one family, fathers, with rare exceptions, enjoyed long careers and died of natural causes. In New York City, however, where strife was almost routine, fathers led precarious lives.”
Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia is out now on Netflix.