Antonio Rocco Caponigro (June 22, 1912 - April 18, 1980), also known as "Tony Bananas", was the consigliere of Angelo Bruno in the Philadelphia crime family. He is known for ending the peaceful Bruno regime by allegedly ordering his murder.
Caponigro was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 22, 1912. He operated out of the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. As a made member of the Philadelphia crime family in the 1950s and 1960s he became a recognized crime figure after being identified by mob turncoat Joseph Valachi in 1963. During that time he served under capo Riccardo Biondi. He was the son of a banana merchant who owned and managed a stand at the Italian Market, otherwise known as the South 9th Street Curb Market; this is why he earned the nickname "Tony Bananas".
His police record dated back to 1927, and included arrests for auto theft, burglary, robbery, bootlegging and suspicion of murder. Caponigro went on to lead a branch of the Philadelphia crime family in Newark, New Jersey. He was said to be a self-made man who became a billionaire, he had a whopping net worth of $1.6 billion before his death. He owned a several hotels, motels, bars, night clubs, strip clubs, five-star restaurants, stores, oil companies, construction companies, electrical companies, carpentry companies, trucking companies, waste management companies, and vending machine companies. He also ran a very lucrative bookmaking operation. He lived in a Jersey neighborhood and lived in a simple ranch style house. Caponigro married a Scot/Irish woman named Kathleen Cox and had one son and 3 daughters.
His wife Kathleen died in 1991. He also had a half sister by the name of Susan who had a daughter out of wedlock by the name of Teresa. Susan Caponigro married Alfred Salerno. Susan died in St. Barnabas Hospital in 1966 of brain tumor complications.
In 1976 Caponigro was sentenced to 2 years for a crime he committed in 1974 to avoid a subpoena. Agents rushed his car and smashed Tony's driver side car, as they are trained to do. As they had not identified themselves Tony pulled away with agents giving chase.
Rise to power
After his release from prison, he rose in rank to become the family Consigliere. Caponigro foresaw the end of the peaceful Angelo Bruno regime and decided to put the task upon himself to hasten it. Indictments for racketeering were being brought against the ailing Angelo, and there was no leadership for the industries that control the casinos or other rackets. Caponigro knew that he could count on the support of several key members of Bruno's administration after the don died.
Accordingly, Caponigro traveled to New York City to consult Funzi Tieri, from the Genovese crime family. Caponigro controlled a lucrative numbers operation in Newark, a holdover from the 1960s when New York had ceded parts of North Jersey to the Philadelphia crime family. Tieri also had activities in the area, and he had challenged Caponigro's incursion. Caponigro appealed the territorial dispute to the National Crime Syndicate, which, acting on Bruno's recommendation, ruled in favor of Caponigro. Caponigro approached Tieri with a plan to murder Bruno and take over the Philadelphia family. Tieri assured Caponigro that he would support him before the Commission. He returned to Philadelphia believing that his planned coup was now officially sanctioned. He recruited the support of his brother-in-law Alfred Salerno (no relation to mob turncoat Joseph Salerno or mob boss Anthony Salerno) and Bruno regime capos John Simone and Frank Sindone, and ordered the assassination.
Angelo Bruno was killed by a shotgun blast behind the head while parked outside his Philadelphia home on March 21, 1980. At the time of his death John Stanfa was acting as his driver and fled from the scene. When the Commission learned of Bruno's murder, Caponigro was summoned at once. He was told that the murder had not been sanctioned by the Commission, nor even considered by them. He turned helplessly to Frank Tieri, who sat in on the meeting. When he identified Tieri as the man who had authorized the murder, Tieri categorically denied it. The commission ruled that Caponigro had murdered a Commission member without authorization, and they sentenced him to death.
Caponigro was allegedly murdered by Joseph "Mad Dog" Sullivan, a well-known mob enforcer in the Bronx, New York City. Sullivan admitted that he shot and killed Tony Bananas in an on-camera interview in 2010 on the Biography network television program "Mobsters". Others believe it was Vincent "The Chin" Gigante's crew that was given the contract to murder Caponigro. On April 18, 1980, Tony's body was located in the trunk of a car in the South Bronx with 14 bullet wounds and knife wounds. His orifices had been stuffed with money as a sign that he had been killed because he was too greedy. Turncoat Tieri was later given Caponigro's lucrative numbers operations in Newark.
The death of Angelo Bruno, his consigliere, and two capos threw the Philadelphia crime family wide open. With New York's blessing, Angelo Bruno's surviving underboss Philip Testa, was appointed the new boss. After Antonio murdered Bruno, Scarfo could return from his appointed exile in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Testa, now free of regulations broke the honored tradition and appointed narcotics trafficker Peter Casella as underboss and Nicodemo Scarfo as consigliere.