A former Mafia boss gave some truly incredible testimony in court on Tuesday, the first in what promises to be a revelatory few days on the witness stand. Joseph "Big Joey" Massino recounted his years arranging murders, evading the law and helping to organize the legendary Bonannos crime family of New York.
Massino is the first-ever New York don to testify against his cronies in federal court, and his cooperation is helping prosecutors take down his successor, Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano. Massino has been convicted of eight murders, and agreed to testify to avoid the death penalty. Basciano, who was Massino's protege, has been charged with murder by the feds, who are using Massino's testimony as key evidence against him.
This is some pretty groundbreaking crime-fighting on the part of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office. They got Massino to wear a wire and to turn on an organization that positions itself, literally, as a criminal's family. It's weird, then, that much of the coverage of it seems resentful of Massino. Headlines such as the New York Post's "Boss Rat!" spread across newsstands and the Web after the testimony on Tuesday, suggesting that Massino had done something wrong in helping convict a murderer.
The Post, true to form, has been one of the most vocal in decrying Massino's "betrayal" of his "mentor," but it's by far not the only one. The New York Daily News labeled him a "turncoat" in its headline. Even the normally staid New York Times paints Massino as a traitor who is selfishly throwing his confederate under the bus: "He is serving two consecutive life terms and hopes that ratting out his former associate will bring a reduced sentence."
This testimony will likely help convict Basciano, and will definitely lead to a better understanding of how the world of the Mafia works. As any number of frazzled district attorneys can tell you, witness testimony is one of law enforcement's best tools in solving murders. But it's also elusive if those witnesses feel they're going to endanger themselves.