Actor-turned-convict Lillo Brancato Jr. was released from prison this past December, after spending eight years behind bars for his role in a 2005 burglary in which an off-duty police officer was killed. Just last month, Brancato began speaking to the media about the addictions that led to the tragic night.
Lillo Brancato Jr.
Finding stardom early
In July 1992, Lillo Brancato Jr. was just another teenager on New York’s Jones Beach. A talent scout for an upcoming film happened to be at the beach the same day, handing out audition cards. After showing the scout his Robert De Niro impersonation, Brancato was encouraged to come to the Bronx to try out for a role in the movie. He did, and his stroke of luck continued thereafter, when he landed the role of Calogero “C” Anello in A Bronx Tale, starring none other than Robert De Niro himself.
After debuting in A Bronx Tale, life was looking bright for the young Brancato. He earned parts in Renaissance Man and Crimson Tide among others, and had a six-episode role on TV’s beloved The Sopranos.
From actor to addict
In a 2013 20/20 interview (from prison), Brancato recounted how a taste of the party life quickly spiraled into addiction.
“Instead of having two drinks [I’d] have four. And then from the four drinks… snort a line of cocaine. Then from that line of cocaine, to come down, [I’d] do some heroin. Then, it doesn’t end,” he said. “The drugs always win.”
In the same interview, his brother Vinny talked about the days leading up to the night of the burglary. When asked if he thought things might end badly for his troubled brother, he simply said, “I thought he was going to die.”
A tragic, drug-fueled night
On December 10, 2005, Brancato was partying with Genovese crime family associate Steve Armento. The two left the club to score some more drugs and decided to head to the home of an old friend who had helped them get drugs in the past.
When they arrived, inebriated and desperate, they decided to break into the friend’s basement in hopes of getting their hands on Valium. Lillo kicked through a window and woke up a neighbor to the sound of the breaking glass.
The neighbor was off-duty detective, Daniel Enchautegui. Enchautegui called for backup and tried to intervene in the burglary. He drew his weapon and shortly thereafter a gunfight broke out. Armento and Enchautegui both fired, and all three men were shot.
While Armento and Brancato survived their wounds, Enchautegui did not.
The realest consequences of addiction
Lillo Brancato Jr. served eight years in prison for his role in the burglary and Enchautegui’s death, and Steve Armento was sentenced to life without parole.
Brancato might not have pulled the trigger, but his quest to score drugs was undoubtedly responsible for the death of another man – a good man who paid with his life for doing the right thing.
Lillo Brancato Jr. today
In a recent interview with WNYM-AM, Brancato said he hopes to inspire young people, and that his story will prevent them from committing the same mistakes he did. “I definitely had to learn the hard way,” he said. “But I am no longer that person who was present that night.”
Getting help sooner rather than later
It took a man dying and eight years of prison for Lillo Brancato Jr. to understand the full ramifications of his substance abuse problem.
If you are struggling to get clean, or are seeking help for a loved one battling alcoholism or substance abuse, don’t wait to get to help. The Watershed is available 24/7 to take your call: 1-800-861-1768.