Like other New York crime families, the Bonanno Family was founded in the aftermath of the Castellamarese War of the late 1920s and early 1930s, which pitted Chicago’s Al Capone against members of the Castellamarese family (whose members hailed from the Castellamarese region of Sicily) for control of the bootleg liquor business. Castellamarese members had formed a faction in New York, led by Sal Maranzano, and were in a fierce battle with Capone supporter Joe Masseria. When Masseria was murdered — allegedly set up by his capo, Lucky Luciano, who had switched allegiance — the Castellamarese War ended, and Maranzano became the most powerful mobster in New York. He dubbed himself the capo di tutti capi — “boss of all bosses” — and helped to establish The Commission, a board of directors, composed of mob bosses, that arbitrated mafia family disputes. Maranzano’s reign was short-lived; in September 1931, he was assassinated by Luciano and others.Following Maranzano’s death, the New York Castellamarese family elected a new boss, 26-year-old Joseph Bonanno, who became the youngest boss of the “Five Families” that formed the national crime syndicate. The family — which soon became known as the Bonanno Family — prospered for the next 30 years under Bonanno, profiting from gambling, labor racketeering and drug trafficking. Bonanno spread his operation to California, Arizona, and Wisconsin, and expanded into Canada and Cuba. By the early 1960s, however, Bonanno’s power began to wane. In 1962, his ally, Joe Profaci — boss of what is now the Colombo Family — died of liver cancer. Bonanno attempted to regain his status and exert control over the family’s illegal operations by conspiring with Profaci underboss Joe Magliocco to take out rival New York bosses Carlo Gambino, Tommy Lucchese, and Stefano Magadino, as well as Los Angeles boss Frank DeSimmone. The two sent hitman Joe Colombo to do the deed, but Colombo turned on them and informed the bosses of the plot.
Bonanno and Magliocco were called before The Commission to explain themselves. Magliocco appeared and was allowed to retire because of his poor health. Bonanno, a no-show, was stripped of his title, and Gaspar DiGregorio was named leader of the Bonanno Family. Throughout the 1960s, Bonanno attempted unsuccessfullyto regain control for himself and for his son (and anointed successor) Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno, in what became known as the Bonanno War. In 1968, Joe Bonanno retired to Arizona.By 1975, the Bonanno Family had come under the control of Carmine Galante, former underboss to Bonanno. Galante began a battle with the Gambino Family over drug operations, angering The Commission. He was executed, under the orders of The Commission, in July 1979, leaving Philip “Rusty” Rastelli in charge. Rastelli expanded the family operations and formed a network of front businesses that trafficked narcotics, called the “Pizza Connection.” During his tenure, however, the family was infiltrated by undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone, or “Donnie Brasco,” whose eventual testimony led to the conviction of over 120 Bonanno Family members. In 1986, Rastelli was convicted of federal racketeering charges, and Joseph Massino, his capo — a ranking member in the mob family, who runs a group of “soldiers” — took over as leader of the family.
Massino, who was soon dubbed “The Last Don,” rebuilt the family, but was himself convicted in July 2004 of participating in eight murders — including the killing of Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, the capo who allowed Joe Pistone into his inner circle (and who, along with Massino, participated in the 1981 murders of Rastelli capos Philip “Philly Lucky” Giaccone, Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, and Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera). Massino was sentenced to life in prison. He avoided the death penalty by agreeing to turn government informant — the first mob boss to ever do so. Taped conversations he provided to the Feds led to the arrest of Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano, acting Bonanno boss, in November 2004.