The Pizza Connection – How Tomato Tins Helped Ship Drugs

The Pizza Connection Trial

The Pizza Connection Trial began on September 30, 1985 and ended with convictions of 21 defendants in March 1987. The FBI had been investigating into a drug smuggling tie between the Sicilian Mafia and the Bonanno Crime Family since 1980, with the first arrests being made in 1984.

What Was The Pizza Connection?

Put simply, it was a massive drugs and cash laundering operation that would see $1.6 billion in heroin and cocaine moved into the United States over a period of 9 years. The successful smuggling operation used mob controlled pizza restaurants in the US as fronts for the sale and collection of drugs. The drugs were smuggled into the country by the Sicilian Mafia using tins of San Marzano tomatoes. The racket lasted from 1975 to 1984, when at the time Gaetano Badalamenti, who was the boss of the Sicilian Mafia and a key influencer in the distribution of heroin and cocaine to the US counterparts was arrested.

Drugs were smuggled in using tins of tomato's

Drugs were smuggled in using tins of tomato’s

Sicilian Mafia Informant Tommaso Buscetta testified at the trial against his former mob bosses; he had not been part of the Pizza Connection scheme himself, but he helped explain the rules and control of the Mafia, and established the Sicilians’ dominance over the U.S. Buscetta also helped judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in the successful Maxi Trial in 1986.

Gaetano Badalamenti

Gaetano Badalamenti

FBI Special Agent Joseph Pistone, better known by his undercover alias “Donnie Brasco” was the initial source for information regarding the “Pizza Connection” (leaked to him in casual conversations by Bonanno family members Anthony Mirra and Benjamin Ruggiero).

How Did The Sicilian and U.S Mafia Connection Form?

Carmine Galante, who was acting boss of the Bonanno Crime Family during the mid to late 1970’s came up with the idea of starting a large scale drug smuggling ring. Unfortunately for Galante he was killed in 1979, so the next acting boss Salvatore “Toto” Catalano, took the idea and ran with it. Catalano’s status as a “zip” helped to connect him to Gaetano Badalamenti. And thus, the Bonanno Crime Family were now connected to the Sicilian Mafia.

Salvatore Catalano

Salvatore Catalano

Badalamenti and Catalano were both handed 45 years each in a federal penitentiary. Badalamenti died in prison in 2004, and Catalano was released in 2009, after serving 29 years of his term.

Carmine Galante’s two bodyguards who were in on his death in 1979, also took part in the Pizza Connection, both being indicted. Baldassare Amato who was a capo received just a 5 year sentence but was later tried for murder and is now serving life. Cesare Bonventre, who controlled the Sicilians in the Bonanno Crime Family was a threat to Joe Massino (the new boss) and was murdered prior to indictment in April 1984.

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