Murderous Mob Informant Spared a Life Sentence

View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Mobster Salvatore Vitale had a hand in at least 11 murders, including that of a fellow gangster in the fallout from the infamous Donnie Brasco case.

    Despite the carnage, he was spared a life term Friday. A judge instead sentenced the Mafia turncoat to time served after federal prosecutors praised his total betrayal of his own crime syndicate — and after he apologized to the families of his victims.

    "I committed some really horrible crimes I'll always be ashamed of, and I pray for forgiveness," Vitale said in federal court in Brooklyn.

    The evidence provided by the 63-year-old since his arrest in 2003 has helped decimate the once-fearsome Bonanno organized crime family, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres.

    "The Mafia today is weaker because of his cooperation," Andres said. "Mr. Vitale provided lead after lead. ... The results speak for themselves."

    The former underboss pleaded guilty in April 2003 to racketeering conspiracy and murder-in-aid of racketeering, and has served nearly eight years behind bars. He admitted involvement in 11 slayings between 1976 and 1999.

    According to a government memo, Vitale has identified more than 500 mobsters and their associates across the United States and elsewhere. His cooperation, including testimony at six trials, has led to convictions of four Bonanno bosses — one his former friend and brother-in-law — and dozens of lower-ranking family members.

    The memo says Vitale provided information on more than 30 gangland slayings. In three instances, the information helped investigators locate "the remains of at least three Mafia victims buried long ago."

    The son of a Brooklyn dishwasher and baker, Vitale began his life of crime in the late 1960s after a stint in the Army. Over the next three decades, he was involved in a full menu of mayhem: murder, arson, extortion and hijacking.

    He was rising through the Bonanno ranks when FBI agent Joe Pistone went undercover to infiltrate the group from 1976 to 1981, using the name "Donnie Brasco" — the basis of the Al Pacino-Johnny Depp movie. Once the family learned about the infiltration in 1981, Vitale and others were ordered to shoot and kill the family member who had sponsored the agent.

    Vitale observed the oath of omerta — silence — until the decision seven years ago that earned him leniency Friday, but also made him the target of death threats. He's now expected to enter the witness protection program.

    At sentencing, he recalled admiring neighborhood gangsters before one day becoming one himself.

    "I'll truly regret that day for the rest of my life," he said.