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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggerio - The real story of the "wise guy"

benjamin "lefty" ruggerio
If you remember seeing the movie "Donnie Brasco", it was the "mostly" true story of FBI Special Agent Joe Pistone and his six amazing years of being undercover and infiltrating of the New York mob. Al Pacino played the character of "Lefty" Ruggerio and it was a good movie. But, after having read the detailed story in Joe Pistone's book of the same name, I was a little disappointed. Of course, you have to do some serious condensing to get a 400 page book into a 90 minute or so movie! The movie altered some of the real life events for "entertainment" reasons, but it was still a very well made and exciting movie.
Anyway, Lefty was a very real and interesting character. The book goes into much more detail about his history, the type of guy he was and his "chilling" ways. If you don't want to read a 400 page book, I found this interesting shorter version post recently at  A link to their site is provided below:

By David Amoruso Posted in 2001 by
Benjamin 'Lefty Guns' Ruggiero was one of the true Cosa Nostra Mafioso, a guy who was old school and knew how Mafia politics worked. Lefty was a Bonanno soldier who was feared and respected by his fellow Mafioso and in the end Lefty showed them all, when he just wouldn't break Omerta. Most of you probably know Lefty from the movie "Donnie Brasco" in which Lefty was played by Al Pacino, it's a great movie but the truth gets tempered with for viewing pleasure. The following is the true story of Benjamin 'Lefty Guns' Ruggiero.
Lefty grew up just a few blocks from Little Italy and he never left. When he got older he moved into the apartment complex called Knickerbocker Village on Monroe street a few blocks south of Little Italy. Lefty would soon be involved in criminal business and became connected to the Bonanno Crime Family. Lefty owned a social club at 43 Madison street where he would meet with other Mafioso and connected guys.

One of those Mafioso who would drop by was Tony Mirra (picture on the right) a Bonanno Family soldier who would introduce Lefty to his friend Donnie Brasco. To Mirra and Lefty, Donnie Brasco seemed an all right guy, something that would cause them and their Family a lot of trouble later on.
Lefty had not served time in prison, he had been arrested many times for extortion and theft but had always beaten the rap. Lefty's only real problem was that he was a degenerate gambler. He even had to pay off his gambling debts before he could become a made man, it was delayed until he had fully paid. But in the summer of 1977, when Lefty was in his early 50s, Lefty became a 'made' man in the Bonanno Crime Family. Lefty became a soldier under Capo Mike Sabella and would run the bookmaking operation for Bonanno Family Underboss Nicky Marangello. In his pre 'made' man years, Lefty Ruggiero had already made a reputation for himself being a stone killer, clipping between 25 and 30 people. Lefty was the epitome of the wiseguy. He was at it 24 hours a day, scheming, on the street in wiseguy situations he was sharp and tough and that's what earned him a lot of respect from the other wiseguy's.
Lefty soon became close with Donnie Brasco, Lefty was old school and schooled Donnie Brasco in the ways of La Cosa Nostra. This created a problem between him and Tony Mirra, because technically Donnie belonged to Mirra. Donnie himself preferred being under Lefty and so the two themselves decided that they would say that Lefty was the first to 'claim' Donnie so that Mirra had no right to put Donnie under his wing. Of Course Mirra wasn't having it and several sit downs took place over the 'Donnie Brasco' situation. In the end Lefty won and Donnie Brasco was under him. Lefty liked Donnie a lot, seeing a good earner and potential 'made' guy. In the following years they would become very close and Donnie would pass up a certain percentage of money from all his schemes to Lefty.
After some good years the Bonanno Crime Family was on it's way to a new Family war. On July 1979 then Bonanno Family Boss Carmine Galante was whacked, this shook up the entire Family and changed things drastically. When Galante got whacked, Rusty Rastelli was appointed new Boss, he would run the Family from prison. Lefty's Capo Mike Sabella was demoted to soldier and his crew was taken over by Capo Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano (picture on the right). Lefty was sent for by Sonny Black and got the choice if he wanted to be under Capo Sonny Black or Capo Joe Massino, Sonny Black said he would like to have Lefty under him and Lefty agreed and became a soldier in Sonny Black's crew. But all was not well. The hit on Galante had divided the Family in different factions, one faction supporting Rusty Rastelli as new boss the other opposing, a Family war was on it's way. Sonny Black's crew was supporting Rastelli along with Capo's: Joey Massino, Sally Farrugia and consigliere Steve Cannone. Opposing Rastelli as new boss were Capo's: Caesar Bonventre, Philip "Philip Lucky" Giaccone, Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera and Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato. Lefty was getting ready for the orders and do what he was supposed to do as a soldier: kill.
Several times Lefty was ready to whack out a Capo from the other faction when he got orders to abort, they had a plan to whack out all the Capo's of the other faction in one clean hit. The three Capo's of the opposing faction were summoned to a peace meeting to patch up differences at a catering establishment. Inside the restaurant the three Capo's were whacked by Lefty, Jimmy Legs, Nicky Santora and Bobby Capazzio. No bodies were found. One of the Capo's of the other faction did not attend that 'meeting' because he was in jail, but Capo Caesar Bonventre had decided to come over to the Rastelli faction anyway. Later on one of the bodies was found by the police, it was a mistake by Joey Massino who was supposed to take care of making the body 'disappear', the bodies were supposed to be chopped up and thrown away. But even though the body was found, there were no leads to whom might have killed him so the Rastelli faction did not worry.
All seemed well, finally, for Lefty and the Bonanno Family. The Family was at peace and business was back to normal. Until one day when Lefty and Sonny Black were just hanging out in the social club and some F.B.I. agents came in.

They brought pictures and a message: "Donnie Brasco (picture on the right) was an undercover F.B.I. agent". After a few moments the agents left leaving Lefty and Sonny Black stunned as they were trying to look for 'Candid Camera', at first they didn't believe it, they thought it was a trick to cause tension in a finally peaceful Family. But truth or not Sonny Black took measures and started making phone calls. Every top Mafioso was briefed about the situation and at one point pictures of Brasco were sent to other Crime Family's so they could be on the lookout. Being an old school Mafioso Lefty knew that this situation would end up getting him whacked, he had brought Donnie into the Family and he was close to him. Sonny Black also knew this would end in a negative way. And they were right.
Soon after Sonny Black was missing, the F.B.I. knew that dead wiseguy's weren't of much use during a trial and so on August 30 1981, they snatched Lefty from the street and arrested him while he was coming out of his apartment. There already was a contract out on Lefty's life. Lefty was offered to enter the Witness Protection program if he would testify, Lefty declined and was tried and later convicted to 20 years in prison. A big difference with the movie "Donnie Brasco" where we are left to assume that Lefty was 'sent for' and whacked, which in reality didn't happen. In 1992 after serving 13 years in prison because he would not break omerta, Lefty was freed and out on parole, living his life until he died of cancer on Thanksgiving Day, 1995. On his deathbed, according to one old friend, Lefty threatened to spit in the faces of movie people who offered him $1 million to interview him for the Donnie Brasco promos. A very different attitude if you compare it to someone like Salvatore 'Sammy The Bull' Gravano who not only snitched and joined the Witness Protection program but also wrote a best selling book about his life, while he was setting up his multi million ecstasy drug ring.
In his book about being undercover in the Mafia, Joseph D. Pistone a.k.a. Donnie Brasco quoted a conversation he and another undercover agent had with Lefty when they were undercover. In this conversation Lefty makes a great comment:
Undercover agent: "Lefty, I understand how we all like to make money. But what is the actual advantage of being a wiseguy?"
Lefty: "Are you kidding? What the....Donnie, don't you tell this guy nothing?
Tony, as a wiseguy you can lie, you can cheat, you can steal, you can kill people: LEGITIMATELY.
You can do any goddamn thing you want, and nobody can say anything about it. Who wouldn't want to be a wiseguy?".
And I think that's about it, Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero was one of the few Mafioso whose life was in danger and on it's way to prison who abided by the rules which he lived by most of his life, not breaking omerta and taking it like a 'made' man, someone who didn't look for excuses or an easy ride, he was Cosa Nostra and he didn't stop because he could get whacked or sent to prison, he knew that that was what being a Mafioso was all about.
In 1992, Benjamin Ruggiero was released from prison after serving 11 years and sick with lung and testicular cancer. On November 24, 1994, he died of lung cancer at age 68.

Quote from former undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone from his book "Donnie Brasco"
In 1978, New York undercover agent "Donnie Brasco" trying to introduce Milwaukee undercover agent "Tony Conte" to "Lefty Guns" Benjamin Ruggiero in New York. "Lefty Guns" was a made member of the Bonanno mafia crime family of New York. Brasco is telling "Lefty" that Conte is trying to start a vending machine business up in Milwaukee.
Lefty: "Where'd you say he was?" Brasco "Milwaukee". Lefty "Milwaukee! Is he connected?" Brasco "No, He don't know anything about the mob." Lefty "He's crazy. Doesn't the f***ing guy know you can't operate a vending business without connections? Especially, Milwaukee. They're crazy out there. It ain't like New York, where they may just throw you a beating to chase you out. Out there they're vicious. They answer to Chicago. They blow people up. If this guy's a friend of yours, you better tell him to get the hell out of that town. Tell him to move the business back to Baltimore. Baltimore is controlled by crews from Philly and Jersey. They're easier to deal with."

More of my related Mob story posts:
"Mr. Fancy Pants" Balistrieri - Tracking Milwaulee's most dangerous mobster
Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggerio-The real story of the "wise guy"
The Beef That Didn't Moo - Wisconsin Ties to the Mob
Tales of the Milwaukee Mob and Two Cigarette Men!
Married to the Daughter of a Milwaukee Mob Boss-Our Pediatrician!
The Milwaukee Queen Bee of Organized Crime
Tale of a Failed Milwaukee Mob Hit!
Lieutenant Uhura (of the Starship "Enterprise") - close encounters with the Chicago and Milwaukee Mob!
Part Two: The Milwaukee Mob and Lieutenant Uhura (Star Trek)
The New York Mob and Iowa Beef - Part 1
The New York Mob and Iowa Beef Processors - Part II
Sally Papia - A life lived on the edge
The Milwakee Mob Hit on Anthony Biernat
The Milwaukee Mob Hit on August Palimisano
New York's "Joe Bananas" meets Milwaukee's Frank "Mad Bomber" Balistrieri
The Life and Times of a Chicago Mafia Hit Man
From Balistrieri's Bag Man to Investigative Reporter


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