By Chris Perez
Bonanno capo-turned-canary James “Louie” Tartaglione shot down claims Tuesday that he murdered seven people during his time in the mob, saying he simply asked his bosses to “whack” the victims —and didn’t actually pull the trigger—as he testified against four mobsters on trial for loansharking, drug dealing and running illegal gambling operations.
The 78-year-old wise guy is the prosecution’s key witness in their trial against Vito Badamo, Ernest Aiello, Anthony “Skinny” Santoro and Nicholas “Nicky Mouth” Santora, who inspired the character played by the late Bruno Kirby in the 1997 film “Donnie Brasco.”
“Did you yourself ever commit the act of killing?” asked Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Gary Galperin, as he referred to the defense’s claims that Tartaglione was not a reliable witness and that he was responsible for the deaths of several “made men” in the Bonanno crime family, including Cesare Bonventre in 1984 and the infamous “Three Capos murders” in 1981.
“No,” replied Tartaglione. “I was there, that’s it.”
Describing one incident from the mid-90s, Tartaglione said he put the word in to have Charles “Crazy Charlie” Tervella murdered, but he later changed his mind.
“Sal, I think I’d like to whack him out,” he recalled asking Salvatore Vitale, an underboss in the Bonnano crime family.
But Tartaglione claimed he didn’t send “Crazy Charlie” to sleep with the fishes after discovering he was stealing money from a Joker Poker slot machine they were running together in Queens— and instead called off the hit.
“After awhile, the anger goes away,” he said.
After shooting down the defense’s murder claims, Tartaglione described how he knew Santora and Badamo from their time in the Bonanno family in the late 90s and early 2000s.
“Vito said his father was a made man,” he explained, describing their first meeting in 1998.
“He said he would like to get straightened out,” which according to Tartaglione, meant being inducted into the mob.
Describing how he knew Santora, and his involvement in the Bonanno crime family, Tartaglione said, “I was there when he was inducted. I was at the ceremony.”
He added, “Sal gave him things to be concerned about, and then we all held hands and said a prayer.”
In addition to describing his relationship with the Bonanno family, Tartaglione also opened up about the inner workings of the mafia—even going as far as giving meanings to terms heard in famous mob movies such as “Goodfellas” and “Casino.”
“A ‘walk and talk’ is when you walk around and talk business,” he said, adding that there is “no discussing things in the house or club.”
A “wise guy,” “button man” or “Goodfella” is a soldier; a “friend of ours” is considered to be any other made member of the crime family; and a “friend of mine” is known as any associate or friend of a member, Tartaglione said.
He also explained how he ultimately chose to become a federal informant after Vitale was arrested in 2003, saying he was “worried he would tell all my mortal sins.”
“I’m considered to be on the shelf,” Tartaglione said of his current status with the Bonanno family.
He added that anyone who is made a “soldier” keeps that title for life.
“Do you take responsibility for what you did?” Galperin later asked.
“Yes,” replied Tartaglione.
“Are you proud?” asked Galperin.
“No,” Tartaglione said solemnly. “Of course not.”
The former capo is expected to be back on the witness stand on Wednesday for the defense’s cross-examination.