|Palermo|  Tommaso Buscetta

Born:  July 13, 1928 - Palermo

Dead:  April 4, 2000 - New York

Tommaso Buscetta was a Sicilian mafioso. Although he was not the first pentito (informant) in the Italian witness protection program, he is widely recognized as the the first important one breaking omertà. Many mafiosi would follow his example. He was the youngest of 17 children raised in a poverty-stricken area of Palermo, which he escaped by getting involved with crime at a young age. He became a full-fledged member of the Mafia in 1946 at the age of 18 and worked as a hit man, and in trafficking cigarettes and heroin. He was a member of the Porta Nuova Mafia Family in Palermo and his boss was Giuseppe "Pippo" Calò.

After the Ciaculli Massacre in 1963, Buscetta fled to the United States where the Gambino crime family helped him to get started in the pizza business. In 1968, Buscetta was convicted of double murder, but the conviction was in absentia as he was not actually in custody (In Italy it is possible for fugitives to be prosecuted without them being present).

In 1970 Buscetta was arrested in New York. Because Italian authorities did not ask for his extradition he was released. Buscetta moved on to Brazil where he set up a drug trafficking network. In 1972 Buscetta was arrested and tortured by the Brazilian military regime, and subsequently extradited to Italy where he began a life sentence for the earlier double murder conviction. In 1980, while on a day-release from prison, he fled again to Brazil to escape the brewing Mafia War instigated by Totò Riina that subsequently led to the deaths of many of Buscetta's allies, including Stefano Bontade. Arrested once more in 1983, Buscetta was sent back to Italy. He attempted suicide, and when that failed he decided that he was utterly disillusioned with the Mafia. Buscetta asked to talk to Giovanni Falcone and began his life as an informant.


Tommaso Buscetta In Italy he helped the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino to achieve significant successes in the fight against organized crime (the two judges were later both killed by the Mafia). He was the star witness in the Maxi Trial that led to almost 350 Mafia members being sent to prison. Buscetta revealed the existence and workings of the Sicilian Mafia Commission. It enabled Falcone to argue that Cosa Nostra was a unified hierarchical structure ruled by a Commission, and that its leaders – who normally would not dirty their hands with criminal acts – could be held responsible for criminal activities that were committed to benefit the organization. This premise became known as the Buscetta theorem and would be recognised legally with the confirmation of the Maxi Trial sentence in January 1992.

His testimony in the New York Pizza Connection Trial trial in the mid-1980s allowed the conviction of hundreds of mobsters in Italy and the United States, including Gaetano Badalamenti. As a reward for his help, Buscetta was allowed to live in the USA under a new identity in the Witness Protection Program. He was reported to have undergone plastic surgery to conceal his identity. He sometimes gave interviews to journalists, although his face was pixelated when he appeared in documentaries. In an interview with the Italian journalist Enzo Biagi, Buscetta cheerfully bragged that he lost his virginity at the age of eight to a prostitute who charged him just a bottle of olive oil. Buscetta married three times and had six children, and at one point he was briefly suspended from the Mafia for walking out on his first wife, adultery evidently being a greater crime than murder in the eyes of his fellow mobsters.

Judges and policemen found Buscetta to be very polite and intelligent, albeit sometimes prone to vanity. Like any informant, Buscetta was occasionally somewhat economical with the truth. He once claimed he had never dealt in narcotics even though he once contradicted himself by saying that everyone in the Mafia was involved in drugs, without exempting himself from this statement. Originally he denied ever killing anyone but later admitted in a television interview that he was a murderer. Some of his lies had understandable motives. In the 1980s he said he had no knowledge of the links that various politicians like Salvo Lima and Giulio Andreotti had with the Mafia, but in the 1990s he admitted that he knew of such ties, claiming that he had feigned ignorance during the 1980s because the politicians in question were then in power, and he had feared for his life even within the security afforded by the Witness Protection Program.

Only after the murders on Antimafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992, did Buscetta decide to talk about the links between the Mafia and politicians. On November 16, 1992, Buscetta testified before the Antimafia Commission presided by Luciano Violante about the links between Cosa Nostra and Salvo Lima and Giulio Andreotti. He indicated Salvo Lima as the contact of the Mafia in Italian politics. "Salvo Lima was, in fact, the politician to whom Cosa Nostra turned most often to resolve problems for the organisation whose solution lay in Rome," Buscetta testified. Buscetta died of cancer in 2000, aged 71, having lived out his final years peacefully somewhere in the US. He was played by F. Murray Abraham in the 1999 movie Excellent Cadavers.

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