On 12 July 1979 Mafia boss Carmine Galante was gunned down in a Brooklyn restaurant. At first, it seemed like just another gangland killing but when the police and the FBI began to investigate, they realised that they had stumbled upon something far bigger.
The Sicilian Mafia were smuggling vast amounts of heroin into New York, much of it hidden inside Italian foodstuffs, distributed via Sicilian-owned restaurants in Brooklyn. Small wonder the press dubbed it the ‘Pizza Connection’. Galante had earned a reputation as a gangster of unusual recklessness, greed and ferocity – a “real knuckle-dragger”, as one commentator dubbed him.
Galante had been released from prison in 1974 and quickly installed himself as boss of the Bonanno family. He had a secret weapon – an army of Sicilian killers, recruited via the strong links he maintained with his ancestral home; assassins that operated under the radar of law enforcement. They also operated without the say-so of the Mafia’s ruling body, The Commission.
In fact, Galante openly sneered at the other mob bosses and refused to share enough of his heroin-dealing proceeds with them. The Commission decided: Galante had to go. They persuaded his Sicilian comrades, also annoyed that he was keeping all the money, to help. At the same time the Bonanno family was under threat from another direction by probably the most famous FBI agent of all time.
Joe Pistone had infiltrated the family under the pseudonym of Donnie Brasco, a small-time jewel thief. He was so successful that he was within days of becoming a made man – a full member of the Mafia – when the Bureau pulled him out. Pistone’s information plus the investigation into Galante’s murder revealed the extent to which the Sicilian mafia was operating in the US. No longer did they just control illegal gambling, prostitution and the like. Now, with heroin, the Mafia had gone global.
THE MAFIA, Sunday 28th October at 8.30pm on PRIME