September 30, 1985 | Pizza Connection Trial Begins

 Courtroom Scene from the Pizza Connection Trial, CC BY Image courtesy of The Courtroom Sketches of Ida Libby Dengrove, University of Virginia Law Library

“He had no idea what was happening. Here was Sal Catalano, shocked, in his pajamas, being told he’s under arrest by the FBI.”

—Carmine Russo, FBI Special Agent

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, several locally owned pizza parlors in major East Coast and Midwest cities were fronts for an international heroin organization. Led by a Sicilian baker named Salvatore Catalano, the network served the Bonanno family, the most powerful mob crime family in New York City at the time. The heroin often arrived to the US in food cans, smuggled from Sicily by conspirators in Italy and Spain. The money was then laundered through Swiss banks before being deposited into Italian accounts. The media later dubbed this “The Pizza Connection."

In 1982, the FBI and the DEA began a joint investigation of The Pizza Connection, working with the NYPD and the US Customs and Border Control. The agencies shared surveillance, informants, and wiretapping intelligence during the two year investigation. Additionally, the nature of the investigation required the FBI to establish unprecedented working relationships with Italian, Spanish, and Swiss law enforcement authorities. All international agencies agreed to share sensitive information, allow FBI special agents to work internationally, and coordinated same day arrests in all four countries.

On April 9, 1984, many of the men indicted for involvement in The Pizza Connection were arrested in the United States, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.  In the United States, 24 of the 32 men who were eventually brought to trial were arrested that day. The trial of all 32 men began on September 30, 1985, and lasted 17 months. It was one of the longest in US history. All but one defendant were convicted.