‘The Pizza Connection’

After nine years of trying, Pizza, one of Italy’s national dishes helps the FBI secure convictions on some slippery Mafia members.

‘The Pizza Connection’ case leads to the conviction of 18 people from various gangs. They were running an estimated $1.6 Billion drug smuggling operation. A large amount of cash was seized along with weapons and important documents. It was this information that broke the Mafia’s ‘code of silence’ and for the first time allowed them to see into that secretive world.

Fbi documents detailed how surveilling “real-life Mafia godfather” Gaetano Badalamenti was the ticket to their success. Formally the top boss in the Sicilian Mafia he was in exile after a hostile takeover from a rival faction in 1978.

Despite his many enemies in the mobster underworld, Badalamenti was still at the top of “one of the world’s most prolific drug cartels” from the US.

Eventually, Spanish authorities caught up with Badalamenti in Madrid, Spain where he was arrested. On the very same day, 30 Mafia members and associates of Badalamenti were rounded up by the FBI.

Included in this huge bust was Salvatore ‘Toto’ Catalano, owner of a bakery in Queens, New York. He was Badalamenti’s connection to the American Mafia.

Salvatore Catalano

Salvatore Catalano

In the trial that followed, it was disclosed that the two men were participating in a “vast, long-running drug conspiracy that touched four continents”.

Their scheme included purchasing a drug manufacturing base from Turkey, bring it into Italy through Sicily and then smuggling it into the US. They also imported drugs directly from South America.

Their drug trade stretched nearly 1,000 miles from New York to Illinois and Wisconsin with the drugs being sold through Mafia-run businesses – mainly Pizza shops.

The amount of money that was made from smuggling and selling these drugs is an astounding $3.9 billion. This money was then laundered through banks and brokers in the US and all around the world.

Known to the mob as ‘Donnie Brasco’, his colleagues knew him as undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone. His 6 years’ worth of undercover work was vital and allowed the FBI a better understanding of the sheer complexity and amount of work behind the pizza parlors that served as a front for drug dealing.

Joe Pistone undercover as Donnie Brasco

Joe Pistone undercover as Donnie Brasco

Agent Pistone was in-charge of surveillance in Little Italy, New York where ‘the five families’ lived – Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Colombo, and Lucchese.

His undercover work was invaluable in allowing the authorities to reach ‘the untouchables’ and breakthrough that code of silence. They learned about the inner workings of the entire organization and specifically how the Bonanno family operated.