More than 20 years ago Buscetta already was known as one of the Mafia's top executioners in his native Sicily. Then one day in 1963 he went too far. He set a car bomb to kill two rival gang members, but before the intended victims arrived suspicious policemen began to investigate the vehicle. The bomb exploded, killing seven Palermo policemen and two bystanders.
Dozens of mob executions go unpunished annually, but this mass murder wasn't ignored. Buscetta fled to the U.S., where he became affiliated with Carlo Gambino, then one of America's Cosa Nostra chieftains. He soon began illegally importing Sicilian hoodlums to bolster the ranks of the U.S. mob. Then Gambino helped Buscetta set up a multistate chain of pizza parlors that flourished for 14 years as fronts for the heroin trade, estimated at $1.6 billion during the last five years.
Buscetta worked out of an expensive home in Virginia Beach, where he installed his sons, Antonio, Domenico and Benedetto, as managers of the pizzerias he owned in Virginia. All the buildings were designed and constructed by complete teams—from architects to laborers—imported from New York through Gambino. Local authorities suspected the shops were built with secret rooms for the heroin business.
Buscetta's family life, meanwhile, was as complicated as his drug dealings. In 1969, without divorcing his Sicilian wife, and using the name Miguel Lopez, Buscetta married a Mexican woman. In Brazil he maintained a third wife, who reportedly was so beautiful that Buscetta had a face lift so that he would look younger for her. He has a total of seven children by the three women.
Buscetta's illicit world seemed threatened in 1972, when police found 132 pounds of heroin on his Brazilian farm. Extradited to Italy, he served time in several prisons around the country before escaping in 1980 and slipping back into Brazil.
Buscetta's undoing began with the bloody gang war that broke out in Sicily in 1980 and spread to the U.S. in 1983 with six mob murders in South Florida. One of the victims was his closest lieutenant, Giuseppe Tramontana, 42. Several of Buscetta's relatives also were slain. Investigations of the Florida killings led to Buscetta's Brazilian hideaway, where, shaken and disillusioned, he was arrested in October 1983. While in a Brazilian prison he tried to commit suicide by swallowing strychnine. He survived, but the medicine he now has prescribed for his Mafia colleagues may yet prove as hazardous to Buscetta as it is to them.
Whatever effect the recent arrests of scores of Mafia figures in Italy and the U.S. have on organized crime, they surely mark the end of the sordid career of Tomasso Buscetta, 56, the mob kingpin who broke the traditional code of silence to finger more than 300 of his fellow Mafiosi. And that alone is cause for celebration. Buscetta, a muscular figure in designer suits and silk ties, has been a key operator in the Mafia's massive worldwide drug syndicate for decades, traveling with four fake passports between Italy, Brazil and the U.S.