Eye on the Prize
The self declared ‘boss of bosses’ Carmine Galante was the head of the Bonanno crime family. While his aspiration was to rule over all New York mobs, his first autocratic dominion was over the Bonanno family’s throne.
This was in direct noncompliance with ‘The Commission’, the governing body of the mob, as they elected Phillip “Rusty” Rastelli as the boss of the Bonanno’s in 1974.
Galante had other plans as he was groomed by bosses Vito Genovese and Joe Bonanno, working his way up from Joe’s personal driver to his eventual underboss.
Under their tutelage Galante developed a devastating combination of sheer brutality paired with astute leadership skills; a perfect brew that gave him a false sense of indestructibility.
This hubris lead to Galante’s eventual murder by his own family and infiltration by the FBI in the now infamous Donnie Brasco lore, but it wasn’t without a fight.
Never seen without a cigar, Galante become known as ‘The Cigar’ and puffed on stogies down to his last breath.
Joe Bonanno, the boss of the Bonanno family, dispatched Galante to Canada to set up a racket in the late 1940’s. Using his guile and brute force, Galante and his soldiers quickly consolidated power in Canada along with the Cotroni brothers, Giuseppe (Pepe), Vincenzo (The Egg), and Frank.
The Cotroni’s had immigrated to Canada years earlier and established one of the most, if not the most, lucrative international drug trafficking business operating out of Montreal.
They were part of a larger consortium known as the Calabrian Mafia, known today as, N’drangheta. The Calabrian Mafia was a collection of smaller regimes conducting business on behalf of larger crime syndicates based in Calabria, Italy.
Galante seeing their potential and earning power, forged alliances with all of the regimes and installed the Cortoni’s as the defacto three headed dragon operating under Joe Bonanno’s flag in Canada. (source)
This stroke of genius not only strengthened the Bonanno family, but also forged Galante’s belief that he was capable of leading his own family.
Simultaneously he was now seen as a threat to the other New York crime families as his maneuverings in Canada gave the Bonanno family disproportionate control over the drug trafficking racket.
The Missing Piece
Galante was Bonanno’s most lethal henchman who helped Joe expand his power and solidified the Bonanno’s as the most ruthless of the five families.
Back in New York however, his absence was felt during Joe Bonanno’s failed attempt in 1963 to consolidate his power over the New York mob. Joe’s primary weapon Galante, preoccupied with operations in Canada, left Joe without one of his chief tacticians and enforcers.
Although Galante’s absence was a contributing factor to Joe’s failed consolidation of power, the death knell was rung by his then hitman, Joseph Colombo (future boss of the Profaci family as a direct result of this treachery), revealing details of his boss’s plot to assassinate fellow dons Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese.
The undressing of Joe’s plot, who was also conspiring with Joe ‘Evil Eye’ Magliocco, the head of the Profaci crime family at the time, prompted The Commission to summon both bosses to explain themselves.
Wanting no part of a mia culpa, Joe fled to Montreal in 1964 to hide, leaving Magliocco to face The Commission on his own. Magliocco was forced to retire and pay a fine, paving the way for The Commission to award Joseph Colombo his place as the boss of the Profaci family.
During Bonanno’s absence, a carousel of bosses were named to head the Bonanno family including Gaspar DiGregorio. Gaspar was challenged by Joe’s son, Salvatore ‘Bill’ Bonanno who felt he was the rightful heir to lead the family in his fathers absence.
Prior to Joe’s departure, Bill was appointed to the coveted role of the Bonanno family’s consigliere by his father, a role many felt he wasn’t qualified for.
Raised and college educated in Arizona, Bill had no real business being in The Business and certainly hadn’t earned the credit needed to ascend to the head of a crime family, his fathers or otherwise.
This division lead to an uncharacteristic period of chaos in Bonanno family, a period now known as the ‘Banana Wars’ that lasted four years. (source)
Neither Bill nor Gaspar were able to consolidate power in the Bonanno family and The Commission grew tired of Gaspar’s inability to deliver a solution.
Joe Bonnano returned to New York in 1966 and in 1968, Gaspar survived a machine gun attack, but later suffered a heart attack. This lead to The Commission appointing Paul Sciacca as the head of the Bonanno family.
Shortly after, Bonanno suffered his own heart attack and decided to end the warfare by announcing his retirement along with his son Bill, both moving to Arizona; a fortuitous ending for them.
This lead to Natale “Joe Diamonds” Evola being named head of the Bonanno family, but he died of natural causes in 1973, which elevated Philip “Rusty” Rastelli into the vacant role.
Rusty himself was facing federal charges and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 1976.
Don Carmine Galante
With Rusty in jail, leaving a power vacuum behind, Galante took over the reigns of the Bonanno mob despite The Commissions concern. The New York mob was not thrilled as Galante now had control over the Bonanno’s drug empire which all mob families relied on for a significant portion of their revenue.
In parallel to Galante’s ascension to power, FBI agent Joe ‘Donnie Brasco’ Pistone launched his undercover operation into the American Mafia. After a slow start, Pistone was able to infiltrate the Bonanno family by befriending Lefty Ruggiero, a soldier for the Bonanno’s.
Behind the scenes Frank ‘Funzi’ Tieri, who was the Genovese crime family’s boss, was conspiring to murder Galante for his unsanctioned coup. His efforts paid off as he received support from Rusty and Joseph Massino.
Joseph Massino would many years later take on the mantle of Bonanno family boss in 1991, but also holds the unceremonious title of being the first boss of the Five Families to become a rat.
In July of 1979, Galante was shot dead in Brooklyn at a restaurant.
“About 1 p.m. on July 12, 1979, Bonventre and Amato accompanied Galante to lunch at Galante’s cousin Joe Turano’s Joe & Mary’s Italian-American Restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Turano was a soldier in the Bonanno family, and he hosted a spread on the restaurant’s patio for Galante, the two handsome, trendily dressed Sicilians bodyguards he always had by his side and a Bonanno capo named Leonard Coppola, a longtime staunch Galante ally.
At 2:45, in the moments after they finished their meal and as Galante was lighting up his famous cigar, three masked gunmen burst in the restaurant and headed straight for the patio. When they reached the Godfather’s table, Turano stood up and exclaimed, “Get out of here. . . . What are you guys doing?”
The hit team answered him with bullets. With Bonventre and Amato moving out of the way, the table was sprayed with gunfire from shotguns and pistols. Galante, Turano and Coppola were killed instantly.”