Who was Benjamin Ruggiero?
Benjamin Ruggiero was a mobster or ‘soldato’ hailing from the Bonnano crime family. The Bonnano crime family is one of the five families that dominate organized crime in the United States, particularly in New York City. Ruggiero served as a soldato, the first level in the hierarchy of the American as well as the Sicilian Mafia. He was also known by the names of ‘Lefty two Guns’ or ‘Lefty Guns’. The name ‘Lefty’ came from him using only his left hand to throw dice and the term ‘Two guns’ was used because he was known to always carry two guns with him. As a soldato for the Bonnano family, Ruggiero was prolific in crimes such as illegal bookmaking, extortion, and loan sharking. He is also alleged to have murdered around twenty-six people in his lifetime, though some estimate it was over thirty. In the late 1970s, Ruggiero rose to become a ‘made-man’, which is a term or title in the American Mafia to signify a fully initiated member of a particular crime family. Ruggiero took his oath of ‘Omerta,’ which is the mafia code of silence, and did not break it even after his arrest years later. The mobster was also known for his close friendship with and mentorship of FBI Agent Joseph Pistone who worked undercover as ‘Donnie Brasco’. Their exploits were portrayed in the 1997 film ‘Donnie Brasco’ staring Al Pacino as Ruggiero and Johnny Depp as Joseph Pistone aka Donnie Brasco.
Childhood & Early Life
Benjamin Ruggiero was born on April 19, 1926 in the Fourth Ward neighborhood of Little Italy, Manhattan, New York into the Bonanno crime family. His entry into the crime world came at an early age as he began serving as a street soldier under Michael Sabella.
In his early adulthood, Ruggiero was a lean-bodied man with a narrow face and intense eyes. He had a cigarette-raspy voice.
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After Benjamin Ruggiero became a member of the Bonnano Family, he became acquainted with mafia associate ‘Donnie Brasco’. Unbeknown to him, Brasco was actually an undercover FBI agent named Joseph Pistone. Brasco had posed as an expert jewel thief in order to gain entry into the mafia world. By posing as a thief, Brasco was successful in gaining the trust of the mafia members like Ruggiero and his associate Anthony Mirra.
Ruggiero and Brasco developed a close friendship and eventually the latter began to mentor him as well, promising safety as well as sponsorship of Brasco’s initiation into the Bonnano family. They grew closer over the years and Brasco served as best man in Ruggiero’s wedding to Louise in 1977.
There was a noteworthy incident that took place, in which Ruggiero had almost come to known of Brasco’s true identity in Miami, Florida. The two stumbled across a TIME magazine while they were at Miami Beach. There was an article that contained information and pictures of FBI Agents working undercover. The yacht shown in the article was the very same one that Brasco had provided a few months ago for a party. Brasco, however, managed to escape being caught by convincing Ruggiero that he had no idea that the boat’s owner might be involved with the FBI.
All this while Ruggiero continued to thrive as a mobster. In the year 1979, Ruggiero converted his social club into a candy store and gave it to one of his daughters to manage.
The Bonnano boss Carmine Galante was murdered around this time, causing a massive power vacuum in the family. Philip Rastelli, who was in prison at that time, soon took over as the boss and started running the organization from the prison itself. However, a faction led by Alphonse ‘Sonny Red’ Indelicato stirred a rebellion against his leadership. Ruggiero chose to stay loyal to Rastelli and joined the crew of Dominic ‘Sonny Black’ Napolitano who was also a strong supporter of Rastelli.
The rebellion against Rastelli was eventually crushed following an incident in 1981 when three rebel capos were somehow lured to a meeting and eventually killed. The reports by Joseph Pistone say that Ruggiero was not part of the group that actually committed the murders, as he the one on lookout while the killings were taking place.
In the 1970s, Ruggiero acquired a gambling dependency. He used to bet and often lose heavily on horse racing. He began borrowing money from the Bonnano family’s underboss Nicholas Marangello, and by 1977 he owed him up to $160,000. Though he repaid most of his debt prior to his initiation as a ‘made man’, he was always in constant debt to Marangello.
Arrest, Trial, & Death
In August 1981, the FBI finally made the decision to crack down Benjamin Ruggiero once and for all. First, they themselves informed Ruggiero of Brasco’s true identity. This disclosure led to the assassination of Tony Mirra and Sonny Black. On August 30th, while on the way to a meeting at Marangello’s social club, Ruggiero’s car was intercepted. FBI agents jumped out of their cars, drew out shotguns and arrested Ruggiero on multiple charges.
After his arrest, Ruggiero was kept in protective custody and the FBI tried to convince him to join the government’s Witness Protection Program. However, Ruggiero was serious about his oath of silence. He refused to cooperate and tried to bail himself out instead.
In 1982, Ruggiero was tried and convicted, both in New York as well as Florida, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Initially he could not even accept that Pistone was really a double agent, but after Pistone openly testified against Ruggiero’s crimes, he accepted the truth and is said to have sworn revenge against him as well.
In 1992, when Ruggiero was sick with lung and testicular cancer, he was released from prison. On November 24, 1994, Ruggiero passed away due to lung cancer at the age of 68.
Benjamin Ruggiero had an estranged brother who went on to change his surname to ‘Reggero’ as he didn’t want any association with the rest of the family.
Ruggiero’s marriage to his first wife gave him three daughters and a son. He left his wife in the late 1950s and moved in with a woman named Louise whom he eventually married in the year 1977 in a small ceremony at New York City Hall.