420 Graham Avenue seems like many other wood frame houses in our area. Today, it is an architect’s office, but in the 1970’s it was the Motion Lounge, the clubhouse of the infamous local Mafioso “Sonny Black” Napolitano. The Motion Lounge also witnessed the most successful F.B.I. undercover operation against the mafia in its history when agent Joe Pistone posed as a jewel thief called Donnie Brasco and over time won the confidence of Napolitano to such a degree that Napolitano sponsored Brasco’s entry into the mafia as a “Made Man.”
Napolitano, a powerfully built, intimidating local enforcer was born locally in 1930 and as a teenager began a life of crime. He was a lower level Bonnano crime family Mafioso until his participation in the 1979 murder of Mafioso Carmine Galante raised his status in the mafia. After the killing of Galante, Napolitano was made head of his own local mafia crew, shaking down businesses and engaging in a host of criminal activities. Napolitano also owned the Wither’s Italian-American War Veterans Club at 415 Graham Avenue, which he also used as a front for mafia business.
In September 1976, Agent Pistone was given an assignment that would last six years of infiltrating the Bonnano crime family, which is portrayed in the 1997 film starring Johnny Depp, Donnie Brasco. Many of the scenes in the film were shot in Greenpoint.
In July of 1981 it became too dangerous for Pistone to continue in his undercover role when Pistone was asked to carry out a mafia murder. F.B.I. agents met Napolitano and informed him that Brasco was really an F.B.I agent. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the news, Pistone retired to his roof where he kept his beloved collection of racing pigeons.
Napolitano knew that he did not have long to live because he had to die for allowing Pistone to mole so deep into the mafia.
Shortly thereafter, Napolitano entered the Motion Lounge, took off his Rolex and his gold rings, giving them to his favorite bartender, telling the bartender that he had been summoned to a meeting from which he would not return. A few weeks later Sonny Black’s body was found with his hands cut off. Pistone’s undercover work led to over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of Mafia members as well as a half million-dollar price on Pistone’s head.