MIAMI — A contrite Mafia hit man Wednesday told the President's Commission on Organized Crime that Sicilian mobsters in the United States have long sold heroin, ignoring the "code of honor" of the old country.
"The real Mafia wouldn't deal with heroin," said Luigi Ronsisvalle, a 44-year-old convicted murderer, remembering the "honorable and just" life of crime he learned as a boy.
The old Mafia in Sicily opposed drugs, he said. But, when he came to America in 1966, he learned that organized crime here did things differently. Drugs, deceit and gang wars prevailed.
"The worst thing a man can do is rob a lady," the witness said somberly, admitting that he had once done exactly that in 1979. He rated that theft lower than his other wrongdoings--the delivery of large quantities of heroin to Los Angeles and Chicago or his murders of 13 men, including the killing for which he is now locked away in a New York prison.
Ronsisvalle's testimony, as well as statements from U.S. drug agents, were hailed by Judge Irving R. Kaufman, the commission chairman, as proof of the Mafia's longtime involvement in heroin trafficking.
"This lays to rest the myth that the Mafia doesn't deal in drugs," Kaufman, a federal appellate judge in New York, said before concluding the first session of the two-day hearing in Miami. Four hearings have been held in other cities.
Wednesday's session was intended to examine worldwide patterns of heroin distribution. But it produced much discomfiture and little new information.
Three Italian experts on organized crime were frustrated by an interpreter who chopped their analyses into repetitive and meaningless non sequiturs.
And two convicted heroin traffickers refused to testify despite grants of immunity and threats of a contempt charge.
"Fifth Amendment," Antonio Gambino repeated calmly and often, disclosing only his age, 31, and his birthplace, Palermo.
Paolo LaPorta refused to testify without his attorney, whose name he could not recall.
"Maybe Goldberg or something," he speculated.