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Joseph Bonanno, known as Joe Bananas, led one of the top New York crime families in the New York from the 1930s to the 1960s.
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The clash between these two forces was known as the Banana War in the press, and Bill Bonanno himself survived an assassination attempt in January of 1966. That May, Joseph Bonanno emerged from hiding and surrendered to authorities to face obstruction of justice charges for failing to appear in front a 1964 federal grand jury investigating organized crime. (This charge was postponed indefinitely in 1971.)
In February of 1968, Bonanno had his third heart attack. He soon reportedly retired to Tucson, Arizona, making him of the few family leaders to leave the criminal underground alive. Paul Sciacca took control of the Bonanno family operations in New York.
Bonanno’s reported retirement proved to be anything but quiet. His home was damaged by a bomb later that year, which was one of a series of attacks said to have been orchestrated by an FBI agent to stir up tension among mobsters in the area. Two years later, Bonanno was tried in Arizona on charges related to trying to extort false testimony to obtain a new trial for imprisoned mobster Charlie Battaglia. He was acquitted that March.
Prosecutors were finally successful in their efforts to secure a conviction against Bonanno in 1980. He was arrested on obstruction of justice-related charges the previous year, stemming from an investigation into a money laundering scheme allegedly run by his sons. He was found guilty of conspiracy to interfere with a federal grand jury. After several delays because of his ill health, Bonanno was eventually sentenced to five years in prison, which was later reduced. He served eight months for his first felony conviction beginning in December of 1983.
Earlier that same year, Bonanno’s autobiography, A Man of Honor, was released. He had co-written the tome with Sergio Lalli, which played up his commitment to Sicilian tradition and his career as a businessman, calling himself “a venture capitalist.” Acknowledging some involvement in the traditional rackets of bootlegging, bookmaking, and loan-sharking, Bonanno denied that his organization engaged in prostitution and narcotics trafficking because it was against the “code.” Authorities have disputed this claim.
Drawing national interest, the book also caught the attention of then-U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Rudy Giuliani. He and fellow prosecutor Michael Chertoff wanted him to testify about the Commission in an organized crime case they were working on. A federal judge in 1985 ordered Bonanno to testify, but Bonanno’s lawyers argued that ill health prevented him from complying with the order.
His refusal led to a fourteen-month stint in a federal medical facility for prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. In November of 1986, Bonanno was released from the facility and returned to his home in Tucson.
Bonanno returned to the spotlight in 1995 with his ninetieth birthday celebration. Approximately 300 friends and family members gathered to honor the retired mob figure, including actor Alex Rocco and author Gay Talese.
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Bootleggers, smugglers, drug dealers, hit men—all these occupations are the provenance of mobsters, who operate in ethnic, family and business networks. Mobsters' real life crimes, and Hollywood's fascination with them, has earned them a special place in the American imagination. From Al Capone's Chicago crime ring to Bugsy Siegel's Las Vegas racket, these mobsters have made their names notorious from coast to coast.
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