Salvatore "Toto" Catalano (born 1941) is a member of the Bonanno Family and was briefly regarded as it's acting boss in the early 1980's. He is largely known for being a key figure in the famous "Pizza Connection".
Salvatore Catalano was born in a province of Palermo, Sicily, in 1941. He was one of six children, the oldest of three boys. His mother died when he was a child, his father was a conductor that sold tickets on the Palermo-Argigento bus line. In 1966, with his two brothers Dominick and Vita and one of his sisters Vita, the twenty-five year old Catalano came to the U.S. settling in a $180-a-month apartment on Hemlock Street in Queens, near the Cypress Hills Cemetery. According to his lawyer, Catalano's first job was working as a machinist in a scientific corporation, a claim that the FBI Agent Charles Rooney commented, "What was he working on, F-14s?" Later Catalano managed his brother's gift shop on Knickerbocker Avenue and in 1977 he bought a Queens pizzeria with Guiseppe Ganci and Cesare Bonventre. By being involved in the Sicilian Mafia he came to notice by the Bonanno crime Family who decided to bring him over to New York. In 1966 25 year old Catalano entered America where he started to run business for the Bonanno's. He was part of the so called Zips, a name given to Sicilian born mobsters who were brought over to America by the Family bosses to maintain close relationships with their native country. Catalano settled down in Knickerbocker Avenue which was then under the command of Bonanno capo Pietro Licata. During these years the Bonanno's imported several men from Sicily to bring the ties between both countries closer, but especially to involve themselves more in the Sicilian heroin trafficking.
The Pizza Connection
Together with close friend and aide Giuseppe Ganci, Catalano opened a bakery in Queens which became one of the many fronts used to import narcotics. The Bonanno's and other families invested in several pizza places, Italian restaurants and other ventures in which numerous crates of "ingredients", containing heroin, were brought in. From there on it was spread amongst the many dealers who sold it on the streets. Since the mid 1970's, after the French Connection was rounded up, the Sicilian drug business grew in no time. In 1974 Carmine Galante got out of prison and took control of the Bonanno Family which also made him the overall druglord in America, mainly thanks to the "zips" who formed an important source towards Sicily.
During the 1970's the Zips were enforced by 2 men, who would become important for the future of the Bonanno crime family. These men were Cesare Bonventre and Baldo Amato, both hailing from Castellammare Del Golfo, the Sicilian town where the Bonanno Family had it's roots. During this period however other Bonanno members began to distrust the presence of the Zips because they seemed to be forming their own private gang inside the Bonanno family. Carmine Galante on the other hand didn't care and was mostly accompanied by his Sicilian crew. In 1976 Catalano became a capo inside the Family after Pietro Licata was murdered, in which he reputedly had a hand.
Carmine Galante murder
Carmine Galante in the meantime had fallen into disgrace with his fellow New York bosses who felt he had become greedy and was becoming a threat to them. Therefore the commission decided Galante had to go. On July 12, 1979, Galante was gunned down while eating at his cousins restaurant. Later the police discovered 5 types of bullets although there were only 3 gunmen. Therefore it is widely believed that his 2 bodyguards, Baldo Amato and Cesare Bonventre, were not there to protect him, but to make sure the killings succeeded.
Because of the importance of Catalano as Zip leader, he briefly became the acting boss of the Bonanno's after Galante's murder. However, official boss Phillip Rastelli had other plans and Catalano stepped down again one year later. There would be claims that Catalano stepped down because he barely spoke English and couldn't communicate with many American born Bonanno members. He however continued his course in the drug trade and by that time the New York drug rackets had expanded to New Jersey, Detroit and Chicago. He also started to work with Gaetano Badalamenti, the former Sicilian Commission head who lived in Brazil to escape the violent Mafia wars in his home country. In 1980 Catalano was spotted in Bagheria, Sicily, with other Sicilian leaders. Most possibly he was asked for a meeting to discuss the future of the Pizza Connection.
However, the murder of Galante had also made notice to the FBI that something was going on inside Mafia circles because a boss isn't just wiped out for no reason. After the FBI wired dozens of mobsters and surveillance hanged above the Families heads, it soon became clear to them what had been going on the past 10 years. In 1985 Catalano was arrested for his involvement in the drug trade and was sentenced to serve 45 years in a Kansas prison and fined $1.15 million. His cousin Onofrio was also convicted for his involvement in the drug business together with dozens of others. Although the Pizza Connection slowly vanished afterwards, the Bonannos and other families continued their drug affairs across America.
On November 16th 2009, after serving 24 years of his 45 year prison sentence, he was released from Jail.