FBI surveillance photo from September 3, 1977
June 8, 1927|
Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York, USA
February 18, 1982|
Anthony "Tony" Mirra (July 18, 1927 Lower East Side, Manhattan - February 18, 1982 Lower Manhattan) was an Italian-American mobster and soldier for the Bonanno crime family. He is well known for being the individual to introduce FBI Special Agent Joseph "Donnie Brasco" Pistone into the Bonanno family.
It is estimated that Mirra murdered 30-40 people, although he was never convicted of any. By age 50, Mirra had spent more than half of his life in and out of prisons. Mirra had a reputation of being a ruthless killer with unpredictable mood swings and was a feared man because of the ease with which he committed murder.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Early life[edit | edit source]
Mirra was born to Albert Mirra and Millie Embaratto; first generation immigrants from Mira, Italy in Lower East Side, Manhattan. He was the nephew of Bonanno family caporegime Alfred Embarrato and uncle to street soldier Joseph D'Amico. Mirra was a cousin of capo Richard Cantarella, capo Frank Cantarella, mob associate Joseph Padavano and Bonanno family capo Paul Cantarella.
Mirra was born in the poverty-stricken Lower East Side, Manhattan at Knickerbocker Village where he lived in the same apartment building as Embarrato, Richard Cantarella and D'Amico. Mirra was once a good friend of Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero; Mirra owned the Lunchbox Lunchonette in Little Italy, Manhattan not far from Ruggiero's bar. His relatives D'Amico, Embarrato and Cantarella became involved in major racketeering schemes at The New York Post distribution center behind their housing complex, but Mirra moved on to more successful and prosperous racketeering endeavours.
Criminal career[edit | edit source]
Mirra worked for Bonanno capo Michael Zaffarano, and was involved in extortion, gambling and drug trafficking. Mirra was the self-confessed assassin of Anthony Carfano and comedian Allan Drake's wife, Janice Hansen in 1959, and was made sometime in the 1970s. He stood at 6'3" and weighed 230 pounds; The New York Times correspondent, Ralph Blumenthal, described Mirra's appearance as "Zorba-like". Mirra never drank alcohol, only ginger ale.
As a child and into his adolescence, he had never shown any interest in friendship or romantic relationships, and was bullied throughout his childhood by peers, which ended in violent fights and usually with the other person getting stabbed. Mirra displayed regularly that he was a womanizer who enjoyed group sex. Women became attracted to him, even though he treated them poorly. Mirra never married but had many girlfriends who ranged from "bimbos to movie stars". When he wasn't "hustling" them, he abused them physically and berated them with insults.
Mirra remained a recluse from his fellow mobsters including his own relatives Richard Cantarella, Joseph Padavano and eventually even became estranged from his uncle Alfred. The only relative he was close to was his biological mother. Mirra would visit his mother regularly, every Sunday to drive her to mass, Mother's Day and her birthday. On the day of his visits to his mother, he would not commit any crimes the day before, the day of, or the day after. Mirra was the first initial contact FBI agent Joseph Pistone made in his undercover operation, which led to his infiltration of the Bonanno family. Pistone was working as an associate for the Colombo family at the time. He introduced Pistone to "Lefty" Ruggiero and offered him a job handling his slot-machine route. Pistone went under the name "Donnie Brasco" and posed as a jewel thief expert.
Not long after their friendship sparked up in 1975, Mirra fled New York after being indicted for drug trafficking. The FBI caught up with him three months later and he was sent to federal prison again for eight and a half years. When Mirra got out of jail, Brasco had since become close with Ruggiero and was working under him. Mirra argued that Brasco belonged to him, not Ruggiero. Mirra took the issue right to the top and had several sitdowns over the Donnie Brasco situation. In the end, Ruggiero won and Donnie Brasco belonged to him. At one of the sitdowns, Mirra accused Brasco of stealing $250,000 but Pistone was judged innocent.
After the sudden death of his capo Michael Zaffarano, Mirra took over the Bonanno family pornography empire and worked under the powerful Sicilian capo Cesare Bonventre. Mirra also muscled in on several Little Italy, Manhattan restaurants and bars. He was involved in a vending machine operation that dealt in slot machines, peanut vending machines, video arcade machines and pinball machines that were distributed all over New York City. He had them installed in stores, luncheonettes, social clubs and after-hours establishments.
The slot machines, since they were illegal, would be installed in the establishment's back room or basement. The coin collection route produced $2,000 a week, and he would open the machines with a key he carried and give the store owner his cut of the profits ($25 and up). Mirra was involved in "strong arm" schemes and extorted from several bars and restaurants. Each of the owners would pay him $5,000 a week in protection money and he would become angry if he did not receive the money.
Reputation[edit | edit source]
Joseph Pistone said that Mirra was the nastiest and most intimidating man he had met during his seven years undercover. Due to Mirra's irrational behavior, nobody could ever build a close relationship with him. He would never talk about anything that did not involve criminal activities. Pistone said that, "One day you might ask him, 'How's your mother, Tony?' He might say, 'Okay.' Another day you ask him, and he might answer, 'What the fuck you so nosy about?' "
He was known among fellow mobsters as a "knife man". It was a common practice for mobsters to carry knives, because they were routinely rousted by police officers and did not want to be caught with illegal firearms. Mirra carried a folding knife with a long blade. Unlike Mirra, it was uncommon for mobsters to ever use their blade, preferring the use of a firearm. Pistone was warned by fellow mobsters that, "If you ever get into an argument with him, make sure you stay an arm's length apart, because he will stab you."
Mirra was moody and unpredictable and you never knew what might set him off. When he got angry his hand would go into his pocket and he would get ready for a stabbing. At the time Pistone met him, he had no friends, as his obnoxious personality, violent mood swings, and penchant for unnecessary violence made him both unpleasant and a liability to have around. He was hated and feared and most people just tried to stay out of his way. Mirra was almost universally despised not only by law enforcement officials but by fellow mobsters.
Regarded as a "psychopath", Mirra was kept alive only for his ability to generate vast sums of money. Mirra was a hard worker who was out on the street every day, from 8am to 3pm, making around $5,000 a day for the family. He once bragged to Pistone that since he had been out of prison, he had made over $200,000. He had a reputation for either cheating people out of money or outright stealing, demanding that goods and services be provided to him "on the arm".
He was known to be violent with women, physically abusing his mistresses and threatening to murder one when she confessed that she was a lesbian. Ruggiero told Pistone that the problem with Mirra was that he was always abusing somebody. Mirra insulted everybody and was always in arguments. Mirra was so loathed by mobsters that when Donnie Brasco was revealed to be an undercover agent, he immediately went into hiding instead of attempting to negotiate for his own life, as he knew that countless mafiosi would be eager to take the opportunity to murder him.
Bonanno civil war[edit | edit source]
In 1979 following the takeover of Phillip Rastelli as leader of the Bonanno family, the family divided into two rival factions. The "Red" Team led by capos Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Dominick Trinchera and Phillip Giaccone and the "Black" Team led by Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano and Joseph Massino. The day before Giaccone, Trinchera and Indelicato were to be ambushed and executed, Mirra announced at the Toyland Social Club to Nicholas Marangello that he was joining the opposition.
On May 5, 1981, the day of the executions, Napolitano called Mirra's uncle, Albert Embarrato, and told him to come down to The Motion Lounge for a "sit down". At the sit down, Napolitano had two of his soldiers flank Embarrato on either side until Napolitano received confirmation that the executions were followed through. Napolitano would later tell Pistone, "When he (Albert) heard that, he turned ash white. He thought we were going to hit him too. But I just reamed at him about Tony, told him Tony was no good; and that he (Albert) better recognize that and act right himself." Embarrato agreed.
Operation Donnie Brasco and death[edit | edit source]
When Pistone was revealed as an FBI agent, "Sonny Black" Napolitano, "Lefty" Ruggiero, and Mirra were all on the firing line for initially allowing the infiltration. On February 18, 1982, his cousin Joseph D'Amico lured Mirra to a parking garage on North Moore Street and West Street in Lower Manhattan. Mirra, who had just recently been released from prison again, was keeping a low profile and was not meeting with anybody. D'Amico was the only person Mirra trusted.
As Richard Cantarella and his uncle Alfred Embarrato kept watch outside, D'Amico climbed into Mirra's burgundy Mercedes Benz and repeatedly shot him in the head at point blank range. Mirra was discovered hours later by a beat officer from the NYPD, who believed Mirra was a vagrant asleep in his car. Inspecting Mirra's right side revealed a stream of blood draining out of his head and into his jacket. So much blood had pooled inside of his clothing that when the coroner removed Mirra's clothes, his yellow boxer shorts at first appeared red.
Cantarella had been contracted to murder Mirra by Joseph Massino. The hit was in retaliation for the Donnie Brasco infiltration and rumors that he was an informant working for Brasco. After Massino had Napolitano murdered the year before, Mirra went into hiding, fearful he was next. Massino figured Mirra would trust members of his own family, which was why Massino gave Cantarella and Embarrato the assignment. "I was the only one who could get close to him", D'Amico later told investigators.
References[edit | edit source]
- Carpenter, Teresa, Mob Girl: The biography of Arlyne Weiss
- Crittle, Simon, The Last Godfather: The Rise and Fall of Joey Massino Berkley (March 7, 2006) ISBN 0-425-20939-3
- Dearborn, Mary V., Mailer: A Biography Mariner Books (December 10, 2001) ISBN 0-618-15460-4
- May, Allan, Colletti & Drake: Women In the Wrong Place At the Wrong Time
- Pistone, Joseph D. and Woodley, Richard, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia Random House 1990 ISBN 5-552-53129-9
- Pistone, Joseph D.; & Brandt, Charles (2007). Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business, Running Press. ISBN 0-7624-2707-8.
- DeStefano, Anthony. The Last Godfather: Joey Massino & the Fall of the Bonanno Crime Family. California: Citadel, 2006.
- Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: St. Martin Press, 2005. ISBN 0-312-30094-8