New York Daily News - Home - Daily News Exclusive: The baby godfather

Feds say L.I. dad, 35, to head clan decimated by jailings

BY JOHN MARZULLI
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

The Bonanno crime family has tapped a man of steel to rebuild its crumbling empire, the Daily News has learned.

He's Salvatore (Sal the Ironworker) Montagna, the newly minted boss of the Mafia family, according to law enforcement sources - and he's practically a bambino at only 35 years of age.

The Sicilian-born Montagna and his wife, Francesca, own a small ironworks company in Brooklyn, but they show no signs of living the high-life of a Mafia don.

The couple and their three daughters live in a modest ranch house in working-class Elmont, L.I., not far from the Queens border.

"Putting someone that young and relatively unknown in charge indicates that they're desperately seeking to salvage the remnants of the family from the recent prosecutions and convictions," said Mark Feldman, former chief of organized crime for the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office.

Feldman said the move clearly "signals desperation" on the part of a mob family that has seen three bosses and acting dons bite the dust in three years.

Most noteworthy was the conviction of longtime family boss Joseph Massino, who is now serving life in prison.

Last night, a teenage girl answered the door of Montagna's vinyl-sided home on Oakley Ave. and said the reputed crime kingpin was not at home.

Two little sisters stood at her side. Outside, a small construction crew was wrapping up its day working on Montagna's brick driveway.

A short time later, Francesca Montagna drove up in a late-model Lexus SUV and turned angry when asked if her husband was the new head of the Bonanno family.

"I don't know what you're talking about," said the dark- haired woman, dressed in a sweatsuit. "I have kids in here. It's not appropriate for you to be here."

Until now, Montagna has rarely appeared on the radar of the NYPD and the feds, and neighbors said they knew nothing about any reputed mob ties. Still, the Mafia talk didn't worry them.

"Am I scared?" said one local. "Absolutely not. I come from Brooklyn. Believe me, when you live next to one of these people, there's nothing to be afraid of."

Another neighbor found the suggestion "ridiculous," but quickly added, "We'd be shocked and scared at the same time if that is true. Wow!"

The Montagnas run the family-owned Matrix Steel Co. on Bogart St. in Brooklyn. According to Dun & Bradstreet, the firm supplies structural material for builders and reported a modest $1.5 million in sales last year.

In 2003, Montagna pleaded guilty to criminal contempt charges and was sentenced to probation for refusing to answer questions before a Manhattan grand jury.

He had been indicted a year earlier after a probe by the Manhattan district attorney's office as one of 20 wiseguys charged in a takedown of a Mafia crew allegedly involved in gambling, loansharking and weapons possession.

Whether the new Bonanno boss has any other arrests was unclear yesterday.

"He's well-liked by the rank and file," said an underworld source, adding that Montagna is also known as Sal the Zip, a reference to the name bestowed on members of the crime family's Sicilian wing.

Sources said Montagna was close to legendary Bonanno gangster Baldassare (Baldo) Amato, another immigrant from near Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily, and served in the crew of capo Patrick (Patty from the Bronx) DeFilippo.

Those guys are largely history now, with Amato recently sentenced to life in prison and DeFilippo facing a retrial on murder charges.

Led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres, the feds have indicted and convicted more than 70 Bonanno gangsters since 2002, leaving behind about 75 shell-shocked members on the street. Sources said Montagna's promotion couldn't have happened without the blessing of Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano, who once operated Hello Gorgeous, a hair salon in the Bronx, and became the official boss of the crime family after Massino turned rat.

Thomas Reppetto, author of the just-published "Bringing Down The Mob: A War Against the American Mafia (Henry Holt)," said the new breed of boss pales in comparison to past godfathers like the late John Gotti or Vincent Gigante.

"There may no longer be a boss in the sense that we understood the term, an all-powerful figure at the top, because naming an official boss provides the FBI with a clear target," Reppetto said.

With John Lauinger


Originally published on November 15, 2006