Tommaso Buscetta (Italian pronunciation: [tomˈmazo buʃˈʃetta]; 13 July 1928 – 2 April 2000) was a Sicilian mafioso. Although he was not the first informant, or pentito, in the Italian witness protection program, he is widely recognized as 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 first became involved with the Mafia in 1945 and in the following years he became a full-fledged member of the Porta Nuova Family. His first work was mostly smuggling cigarettes.
After the Ciaculli Massacre in 1963, Buscetta fled to the United States where the local 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.
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 (in sunglasses) is led into court at the Maxi Trial, circa 1986.
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 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 being a greater crime than murder in the eyes of his fellow mobsters. While in prison in the seventies, he learned that his boss wanted to expel him from the organisation altogether for the treatment of his wives.
Judges and policemen found Buscetta to be very polite and intelligent, albeit sometimes prone to vanity. Like most informants, 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 he 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.
In court, Buscetta also elaborated in great detail the hidden exchanges that linked politicians and the Mafia. He stated:
"It is not Cosa Nostra that contacts the politician; instead a member of the Cosa Nostra says, that president is mine (è cosa mia), and if you need a favor, you must go through me. In other words, the Cosa Nostra figure maintains a sort of monopoly on that politician. Every family head in the Mafia selects a man whose characteristics already make him look approachable. Forget the idea that some pact is reached first. On the contrary, one goes to that candidate and says, "Onorevole, I can do this and that for you now, and we hope that when you are elected you will remember us." The candidate wins and he has to pay something back. You tell him, "We need this, will you do it or not?" The politician understands immediately and acts always."
When fellow mafioso Salvatore Cancemi confessed to Buscetta at a trial in 1993 that he had strangled Buscetta's two sons, Buscetta forgave him saying that he knew that he could not have refused the order.
Buscetta died in New York of cancer in 2000, aged 71, having lived out his final years peacefully in the US.
In popular culture
He was played by F. Murray Abraham in the 1999 movie Excellent Cadavers and by Vincent Riotta in the 2007 mini-series Il Capo dei Capi.