Joe Bonanno may have died just in time.
If he were still alive, he might have to suffer through a fate worse than death: Living next door to one of a growing number of Bonanno crime family mobsters who began flipping in 2002 - the same year the family patriarch passed away and was laid to rest in Tucson, Arizona.
We don't know where they are now, but reliable sources tell Gang Land that, for a time, a father and son mobster-team who defected have lived in Arizona, where Bonanno's author son Bill also lived until his death in 2008.
Not many details are available, but over the past few years, sources say the feds have secretly rewarded the first inducted member of the Bonanno crime family to defect, as well as three other wiseguys who were quick to follow his lead. Together, the defectors helped the government bring down boss Joseph Massino and decimate the family he had led for a decade.
It's unclear exactly when their exodus began, but sources say that Frank Coppa Sr., who turned shortly after he was indicted eight years ago last week, was spotted more than a year ago in south Florida, where he was allowed to keep a home and property that was valued at $1.7 million when he took the witness stand against Massino in 2004.
Coppa, who said Massino discussed his role in the 1981 murders of three capos in Brooklyn while they vacationed in Monte Carlo - and who brought along a photo of the two rotund gangsters standing alongside a tiny red Fiat on a Monte Carlo street - told the jury that he flipped because he "didn't want to do no more time."
Now 69, Coppa had to spend some additional time behind bars. But wherever he is, he won't be hobnobbing with his mobster son Frank Jr., who spurned his father's efforts to get him to join Team America, and is allegedly carrying on where his old man left off.
Mobster Richard (Shellackhead) Cantarella, who was the family's acting underboss when he followed his onetime crew member Coppa into the government's den, had better luck with his own mobster son, Paul, than his gangster friend of more than 50 years did with Coppa Jr.
And the decision by the younger Cantarella to cooperate - his mom, who had been indicted along with her hubby and son, and his wife, also fled their Staten Island digs - ended up being a big help for his father when he sought his freedom in January of last year, according to court records obtained by Gang Land.
To ensure his father's release on bail, Paul Cantarella and his wife put up a house and a condominium they own free and clear in the Phoenix area - they are worth more than $700,000, according to real estate records - not far from their own home in the Grand Canyon State.
Along with Coppa, the Canterellas - Richard, 66, Lauretta, 63, and Paul, 39 - are all awaiting sentencing by Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis, whose chambers declined to provide any details about their cases, including the dates they were released on bail, or when they are due to be sentenced.
Once released on bail, cooperating witnesses rarely are returned to prison, unless they screw up royally and get arrested for one crime or another while free on bail. Mostly, they are sentenced to time served, or a short stretch of home confinement.
Coppa, who has admitted taking part in two murders, still owed 28 months behind bars on a 2000 extortion rap when he was indicted in September, 2002 on three additional extortion charges carrying a maximum of 20 years.
The elder Canterella, who "worked" as a truck driver's helper for the New York Post from 1985 until 1992, admits taking part in four mob rubouts, including the 1992 murder of a mob-connected Post delivery executive whose remains were unearthed from a makeshift Staten Island grave in 2004. His wife is charged with laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars for him. Among other things, Paul Cantarella, who has never testified, is charged with kidnappings and home invasions.
Last but not least among the released Bonanno turncoats is Joseph (Joey Mook) D'Amico, a cousin of the elder Cantarella who also "worked" at the Post, and committed a couple of murders with Shellackhead, and their late mobster uncle, Al (Al Walker) Embarrato, who also "worked" at the Post.
Before the feds could use his cousin's info to nail him, D'Amico, now about 55, called up the then-head of the FBI's Bonanno squad in January, 2003, and offered to go directly to jail and team up with his Uncle Sam, saving the government the time and money to obtain an indictment.
Sources say a fashionably dressed, nicely-tanned Joey Mook, who hails from Knickerbocker Village in the shadow of the old Post building on South Street, was seen at a Manhattan hospital three years ago, and that more recently, he had relocated to the Jersey shore, where he opened up a hamburger joint.
Gang Land hasn't been able to confirm that, and while there's no question that D'Amico fancies himself a connoisseur of sorts when it comes to fine dining, it was an aversion to red meat he was served one Sunday night in Queens that had him groveling for forgiveness from Massino.
It happened a couple days after D'Amico had caused a stir at Massino's pride and joy, his CasaBlanca restaurant in Maspeth when he ceremoniously stabbed a steak he was served after he ordered a veal chop. He left the knife standing, and covered up the bloody steak with a napkin.
When D'Amico learned his boss was furious, he drove to Queens to apologize. Massino accepted his apology, adding wryly that Joey Mook's actions the prior Sunday had been fine, "right up until you stabbed the steak."
A spokesman for Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch declined to discuss any proceedings that her prosecutors, or those under her two predecessors have had with any of the four Bonanno turncoats who have been released from prison in recent years.
They're out there, somewhere in the sunshine. But at least Joe Bonanno won't have to look at them.
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