updated 2/28/2006 2:49:22 AM ET 2006-02-28T07:49:22

To those who say the former beauty salon owner known as Vinny Gorgeous is nothing more than a vain mobster, his attorney offers a terse response.

"So what?" the lawyer, Barry Levin, told jurors in federal court in Brooklyn. "It's not a crime to be a member of the Bonanno crime family."

Levin took the unusual step of admitting the reputed acting boss of the Bonannos was a member of the Mafia during opening statements Monday at his murder trial in federal court in Brooklyn.

Vincent Basciano, 46, appeared in court sporting a neatly combed pompadour and an olive green suit, and looking fit despite months behind bars. His lawyer conceded that his client may look and act like a debonair don, but claimed he never did any dirty work.

"Look at him," Levin said. "He's well-dressed. His hair's groomed. He's a handsome guy. He plays the role. He plays it to the hilt. ... Does that mean Vinny committed the crimes in the indictment? Absolutely not."

Basciano allegedly killed low-level mobster
An indictment charges Basciano, and a reputed Bonanno captain, Patrick DeFilippo, 67, with murder, attempted murder, racketeering, gambling and other crimes.

Prosecutors allege Basciano used a 12-gauge shotgun to kill a low-level mobster from another crime family, Frank Santoro, in February 2001 because he believed Santoro wanted to kidnap one of his sons. His co-defendant was charged in the 1999 hit on Gerlando Sciascia, a Bonanno captain who had spoken ill of a friend of then-boss Joseph Massino.

"When problems arise in the Bonanno family, they kill, and they do so without hesitation," prosecutor Amy Busa said in her opening statement.

Authorities say the one-time owner of the Hello Gorgeous beauty salon in the Bronx became acting head of the Bonanno family following the arrest of Massino.

Massino was sentenced to life in prison last year for murder, racketeering, arson, extortion and other crimes. He dodged a possible death sentence by agreeing to cooperate with the government and possibly testify against Basciano during the three-month trial.

Levin warned jurors against trusting the testimony of Massino -- "a manipulative, sociopathic, homicidal maniac" -- and other turncoat mobsters.

"The government made a deal with the devil, and the devil is Joseph Massino," he said.

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