Mob Boss John Gotti Died This Weekend in 2002

John Gotti

John J. Gotti, who took control of the Gambino crime family in one of the most storied gangland coups in modern times, died on June 10, 2002, at age 61.

He's been described as one of the 20th century's most popular Cosa Nostra bosses, usually in the same breath as Al Capone of 1920s Chicago.

The closest the American Mafia has had to a "boss of bosses" since Carlo Gambino, Gotti breathed fire into New York wiseguys tired and nearly decimated by a stream of major RICO indictments, including the Commission Trial and Concrete and Windows cases.

A Gambino mobster once described John Gotti to me like this (I'd asked him what it was like to be in Gotti's personal presence"):

"Ever hear someone say, I don't give a fck! ?

"Well, when John Gotti said that, you knew he meant it, 100 percent. He knew the life, book, chapter and verse. And he lived it completely.

"A priest even came to visit him in the prison hospital to give him penance. John politely told him, thanks, but no thanks.

"John was hardcore to the end."

Gotti Wouldn't Give up Gus Farace
Gotti refused to break the mob's code of silence even when nearly every federal and local law enforcement agency (FBI, DEA, NYPD) joined together to rain holy hell on the New York Mafia after Costabile "Gus" Farace shot to death an undercover DEA agent Everett Hatcher.

He said anyone who helped law enforcement was a rat and would be dealt with.

The killing of Hatcher in 1989 brought down such intense heat on the five families, that others finally decided that Farace needed to be killed and his body found so law enforcement would know he'd been taken care of. (Gotti later would get his own revenge for this defiance.)

Gus was not alone on the night of his death; Joseph Sclafani was driving him. Sclafani himself was shot out of his shoes during the hit but survived. He was arrested in the hospital.

It is because of Sclafani that John Gotti had ordered the deaths of the entire Farace hit team; Sclafani was the son of a trusted Gotti capo and was himself connected to the Gambino family, as was his fiancee, former Mob Wife Ramona Rizzo (she broke off the engagement once Sclafani was sentenced to 10 years for drug dealing).

Since Louis Tuzzio, a Bonanno associate had been the key shooter in the Farace hit, the Bonannos and Lucheses apparently convinced Gotti to agree to the retribution killing of only Tuzzio versus the entire hit team.

After the Farace hit, Tuzzio likely believed he had earned his button, although he knew the trick: that he could be going to his own murder. "I'm either gonna get made or get whacked," he supposedly told an associate before going off to certain death.
In January 1990, Tuzzio was found dead in his car in Brooklyn with a bullet in the back of the head.

The Luchese family took in Mario Gallo and Jimmy "Froggy" Galione.

The book Mob Boss: The Life of Little Al D'Arco, the Man Who Brought Down the Mafia includes some details about the Farace story.
Eventually, Nick Tuzzio, Louis's brother and also part of the hit team, was arrested with Galione and Gallo by a team of DEA/NYPD detectives in October 1996. On September 17, 1997, Galione and Gallo admitted in court to murdering Farace. Tuzzio, his brother dead and having no one to back him, "turned," no doubt fearing for his life.

From the New York Times obituary:

John J. Gotti, who seized control of the Gambino crime family in a murderous coup, flaunted his power during a flamboyant reign as a Mafia boss, and then spent the last years of his life locked away in a maximum security penitentiary, his gang in shambles, died (June 10, 2002) at the federal prison hospital at Springfield, Mo. He was 61.

The cause was cancer. In 1998, Mr. Gotti was operated on for neck and head cancer. He had been re-admitted to the hospital several times since then for treatment.

Traditional Mafia leaders led publicity-shy lives. Not so Mr. Gotti, who reveled in media attention as the boss of the nation's largest and most influential organized crime group. He cut a colorful figure in New York City, wining and dining in elegant restaurants and nightspots surrounded by a coterie of bodyguards.

From late 1985, when Mr. Gotti engineered the assassination of his predecessor, Paul Castellano, to 1992, when he was sent to a federal prison for life, Mr. Gotti's swagger and seeming immunity from punishment earned him mythic gangster status.

In tabloid argot, he was the Teflon Don, evading successful prosecution, or the Dapper Don, for his smart appearance. At the peak of his power, his silvery hair was styled in a swept-back coiffure, and he favored $2,000 Brioni double-breasted suits accessorized by $400 handpainted floral silk ties.

Salvatore Gravano, the right-hand man to Mr. Gotti as the underboss of the Gambino crime family before he defected to become a government witness and helped bring down his boss, said Mr. Gotti viewed himself as Robin Hood, admired and respected by the world. Mr. Gravano, known as Sammy the Bull, once asked him if he disliked people staring at him. ''No, no,'' Mr. Gotti replied. ''This is my public, Sammy. They love me.''

''He was the first media don,'' said J. Bruce Mouw, a former F.B.I. agent who supervised the unit that uncovered the evidence that ultimately convicted Mr. Gotti. ''He never tried to hide the fact that he was a superboss.''

But when he was put on trial, Mr. Gotti never acknowledged that he was a Mafia leader. Outside the courtroom he responded to questions about being a mob kingpin by replying with a grin, ''I'm the boss of my family, my wife and kids.''

Mr. Gotti's penchant for public contradiction -- the image of the hard-working family man who nonetheless seemed to lead the life of a Hollywood celebrity -- was famously transparent. He claimed his income derived from a $100,000-a-year salary as a plumbing supply salesman and a job with a garment accessories firm.

Mob turncoats and investigators asserted that Mr. Gotti received $10 million to $12 million in cash every year as his share of the proceeds from the Gambino family's criminal activities. Mr. Gravano testified that he personally gave Mr. Gotti more than $1 million a year from shakedowns in the construction industry.

Mob defectors said that Mr. Gotti boasted that his role model was Albert Anastasia, the founder of Murder Incorporated, a group of killers used by the Mafia in the 1930's and 40's to carry out gangland executions. Mr. Gotti, according to Mr. Gravano, said that he had acquired his gift for guile and ruthlessness by reading Machiavelli's ''Prince.''

Ok guys, would you rather do 10 years or do -- err, marry -- Ramona Rizzo?

In contrast to the amiable personality Mr. Gotti displayed in public, secretly recorded tapes and testimony from former mobsters painted a picture of a narcissistic tyrant with a furious temper who betrayed allies and who ordered the slayings of Gambino loyalists he suspected of being informers or who he thought had not shown him proper respect.

Those who prosecuted him said Mr. Gotti's need for absolute authority and his lust for vast wealth led to a recklessness that contributed to his downfall and undermined the entire Gambino family. By insisting that his lieutenants meet frequently and directly with him, he provided prosecutors with evidence to obtain court-authorized bugs that helped to convict the entire Gambino hierarchy in the 1990's.

On the day of Mr. Gotti's conviction for murder and racketeering, James M. Fox, the head of the F.B.I. office in New York, proclaimed: ''The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro, and all the charges stuck.''

John Joseph Gotti was born in the South Bronx on Oct. 27, 1940, the fifth of 13 children raised by his father, John, and his mother, Fannie, both children of immigrants. Mr. Gotti's father, an often unemployed day laborer, led a hardscrabble life. The Gottis moved often before settling in the blue-collar East New York section of Brooklyn when John was 12.

East New York was then a battleground for rival youth gangs. Mr. Gotti, a strapping adolescent with fast fists, became the leader of a gang called the Fulton-Rockaway Boys. During his teenage years in the 1950's, storefronts in the neighborhood were hangouts for mobsters, and Mr. Gotti ran errands for members of an underworld club in the neighborhood headed by Carmine Fatico, a capo (captain) of a crew in the Gambino family. It was through club members that Mr. Gotti was introduced to Aniello Dellacroce, his future mentor in the Gambino family.

Trading School for Crime

A poor student with disciplinary problems, Mr. Gotti dropped out of Franklin K. Lane High School in Queens when he was 16. By 18, he was ranked by the Police Department as a low-level associate or ''wannabe'' in the Fatico crew.

In the next eight years, Mr. Gotti's arrest record described a path of petty crimes from street fighting to public intoxication to stealing cars. Several of his nine recorded arrests in that period were in the company of a boyhood friend, Angelo Ruggiero, a nephew of Mr. Dellacroce. None led to penalties of more than six months in a county jail.

Mr. Gotti's first major arrest came in 1968, when he, his brother Gene and Mr. Ruggiero were charged by the F.B.I. with committing three cargo thefts and truck hijackings near Kennedy International Airport. The three men pleaded guilty to reduced counts and John Gotti served a three-year sentence.

While Mr. Gotti was in prison, the Fatico gang moved from East New York to a storefront in Ozone Park, Queens. The new headquarters was incorporated -- perhaps sardonically -- as a nonprofit association, and named the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club. The name apparently was a misspelling of Bergen Street in East New York.

Soon after Mr. Gotti's release in 1972 on the hijacking conviction, his underworld career got some help. Mr. Fatico, facing a prison sentence for loan-sharking, decided on temporary retirement and designated Mr. Gotti to run the gang temporarily.

As an acting crew chief, Mr. Gotti met frequently with Mr. Dellacroce, the underboss of the Gambino crime family, who took a shine to him. In 1973, a nephew of Carlo Gambino, the family leader, was abducted and murdered. The family's intelligence network determined that a stick-up man, James McBratney, had been one of the kidnappers. According to investigators and informers, Mr. Gotti was handed the important assignment of exacting revenge.

Mr. McBratney was shot dead outside a Staten Island bar in an ambush by three men. But it was hardly a flawless crime; witnesses picked out two of the men, Mr. Gotti and Mr. Ruggiero, from rogues' gallery photographs. Mr. Gotti was arrested in 1974 after evading capture for a year.

Carlo Gambino hired Roy M. Cohn to represent Mr. Gotti and Mr. Ruggiero. Although both defendants had been indicted on murder charges and identified by witnesses, Mr. Cohn negotiated a remarkable deal with the Staten Island district attorney's office. In exchange for reduced charges of attempted manslaughter, Mr. Gotti and Mr. Ruggiero pleaded guilty, and each received a prison term of four years.

Mr. Gotti spent the term lifting weights and obtaining unusual perquisites. He was taken from prison in upstate New York for visits to his new home in Howard Beach, Queens, and to restaurants in New York City, where he met with criminal friends. State investigators later determined that prison authorities and guards had been bribed.

In 1976, while Mr. Gotti was still in prison, Carlo Gambino died. By normal rights of succession, the family's underboss, Mr. Dellacroce, should have been elevated. But Mr. Gambino had anointed his brother-in-law, Paul Castellano, as heir. As a consolation prize, Mr. Castellano allowed Mr. Dellacroce to remain as underboss and to control 10 of the gang's 23 crews. By creating two factions, Mr. Castellano planted the seeds of his own destruction.

Paroled in 1977, Mr. Gotti left prison a muscular, barrel-chested, broad-shouldered figure, 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds. Returning to the city, he was promoted by Mr. Dellacroce to full-fledged capo of the Bergin crew.

Mr. Gotti was a popular figure in Howard Beach, where he lived in a modest home with his wife, Victoria, and their two daughters and three sons. In March 1980, one of his children, 12-year-old Frank, steered his bicycle into the road and was killed by a car driven by a neighbor, John Favara. Frank's death was ruled accidental, but four months later, while Mr. Gotti and his wife were in Florida, witnesses saw Mr. Favara being clubbed over the head and then shoved into a van that sped away. Mr. Favara, not seen since, is presumed to have been murdered. Mr. Gotti denied any knowledge of Mr. Favara's disappearance.

Becoming a Target

By the early 1980's, Mr. Gotti's prominence in the Gambino family had turned him into a major target for federal and city prosecutors. The Queens district attorney's office installed a concealed microphone and a telephone tap in the Bergin club in 1981.

The eavesdropping revealed Mr. Gotti's ruthless control over a crew that included his younger brother, Gene, and Angelo Ruggiero.

In 1985, major federal indictments exploded against Mr. Gotti and his closest associates. He and Mr. Dellacroce were accused of racketeering charges that carried penalties of life sentences. Gene Gotti and Mr. Ruggiero, in a separate case, were indicted on heroin trafficking charges. The narcotics charge infuriated Mr. Castellano, who as the Gambino family boss prohibited drug deals under penalty of death. Mr. Castellano feared such deals would unleash government crackdowns and result in long prison sentences that might induce convicted traffickers to become informers. Under Mr. Castellano's rules, John Gotti was responsible for the misdeeds of his crew members.

Mr. Gotti asked Mr. Dellacroce to intervene with Mr. Castellano, but before any resolution was made, Mr. Dellacroce died of cancer in December 1985. Two weeks later, on the evening of Dec. 16, 1985, Mr. Castellano and his new underboss, Thomas Billotti, were gunned down by a team of assassins in front of Sparks Steak House on East 46th Street near Third Avenue in Manhattan.

Mr. Gravano later testified that he and Mr. Gotti had watched the shootings from a parked car. He said Mr. Gotti had arranged the killings as a pre-emptive strike to prevent Mr. Castellano from killing him and his allies.

As the new head of the Gambino family, Mr. Gotti immediately faced two trials from old criminal complaints. In 1984, a refrigerator repairman, Romual Piecyk, accused Mr. Gotti of slapping him and taking $325 in cash from him during a parking dispute in Queens. When he identified Mr. Gotti, Mr. Piecyk was unaware of his reputation as a mobster. On the witness stand, a tense Mr. Piecyk could no longer recognize Mr. Gotti, and a state judge dismissed the charges.

The second trial began in August 1986 in Brooklyn, with Mr. Gotti, his brother Gene and five others accused of federal charges that they had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by being members of a criminal enterprise. But the government's case was handled by a prosecutor who had never tried a complex Mafia case before. Mr. Gotti was defended by Bruce Cutler, a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn.

The jury acquitted Mr. Gotti and the other defendants on all counts of racketeering and conspiracy. Gene Gotti, however, was subsequently convicted of the charges that he had trafficked in heroin, the allegation that had so angered Mr. Castellano.

The verdict against John Gotti may have been tainted. The foreman of the jury was later convicted of accepting a $60,000 bribe arranged by Mr. Gravano to vote for acquittals and to prevent a unanimous verdict, as required for convictions.

Appearing Invincible

It was the most stinging courtroom defeat suffered by the Justice Department in its campaign against the Mafia. Law enforcement officials grudgingly conceded that Mr. Gotti's back-to-back legal victories had wrapped him in a cloak of invincibility.

Mr. Gotti became organized crime's most significant symbol of resistance to law enforcement since Al Capone in Chicago 60 years earlier. If he spotted detectives on stakeouts, he was known to taunt them by rubbing one index finger against another and mouthing the words: ''Naughty, naughty.''

Usually, he began his working day at noon at the Bergin club. He installed a barber's chair where he sat while his hair was cut, washed and blow-dried every day.

In late afternoon, he was driven to his main headquarters in Little Italy, the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street, which had been Mr. Dellacroce's base. The top members of the Gambino hierarchy were required to report to him four or five times a week. According to Mr. Gravano, these appointments allowed the F.B.I to videotape, identify and compile a who's who of the family's leaders.

Mr. Gotti assumed command of the family when it had 23 active crews, about 300 made (inducted) members and more than 2,000 associates (men who hoped to become made members and who cooperated in criminal enterprises). The Gambino organizational structure was similar to that of New York City's four other longstanding Mafia groups: the Bonanno, Colombo, Genovese and Luchese factions.

Mr. Gotti found himself at the center of a cornucopia of illegal profits, with all members and associates funneling shares of their loot to him.

Investigators estimated that the Gambino family in the mid-1980's grossed about $500 million a year, primarily from illegal activities in the New York area and Florida. Under the direction of Carlo Gambino and Paul Castellano, the family had expanded from a gang specializing in gambling, loan-sharking and stealing into more sophisticated operations, like extorting money from unions, garment manufacturers, garbage-carting companies and food suppliers; stealing gasoline excise taxes; and engaging in stock fraud. Unlike Mr. Gambino and Mr. Castellano, Mr. Gotti also met openly with known narcotics traffickers.

Law enforcement efforts persisted against him, and Mr. Gotti found himself in court again in 1990. He was tried in Manhattan on a New York State indictment charging that he had ordered the shooting of a carpenters' union president after a labor dispute. Again, he was acquitted despite evidence from tapes secretly recorded at the Bergin club in which he was heard discussing preparations for the shooting and despite testimony from a participant in the plot.

Later, a New York City police officer assigned to the investigation was arrested and convicted on charges that he was in the employ of the Gambino family and supplied the names and addresses of the jurors to the gang. But no charges of jury tampering in that case were brought.

In early 1990, while the state trial was proceeding in Manhattan, F.B.I. technicians in a separate investigation installed eavesdropping equipment in an apartment above the Ravenite Social Club. For several months, the bugs recorded conversations that implicated Mr. Gotti, Mr. Gravano and the family's consigliere, Frank Locascio, in crimes like murder, bribery, loan-sharking, gambling and obstruction of justice.

A Final Trial as Boss

Mr. Gotti and his co-defendants were arrested at the Ravenite Club in December 1990. This time the authorities had a trump card. Mr. Gravano had made a deal with the prosecution to testify.

On April 2, 1992, Mr. Gotti and Mr. Locascio were convicted by a jury in federal court; Mr. Gotti on all 13 counts against him, including a racketeering charge that cited him for five murders, and related charges of murder, conspiracy, gambling, obstruction of justice and tax fraud.

Arms folded and smirking, Mr. Gotti declined to say anything before he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Mr. Gravano received a five-year sentence.

The same day he was sentenced, Mr. Gotti was put aboard a plane and flown to the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Ill.

Soon after his conviction, Mr. Gotti, according to federal prosecutors, appointed his eldest son, John A. Gotti, known as Junior, the acting boss of the Gambino family. In 1999, his son pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges involving the Gambino family and was sentenced to six years and five months in prison.

Mr. Gotti is survived by his wife, the former Victoria DiGiorgio, his son John A., and his brothers, Gene, who is serving a 50-year sentence for heroin trafficking, and Peter. Mr. Gotti is also survived by another son, Peter, two daughters, Victoria, a successful author of mysteries, and Angel Gotti Forca; three other brothers, Richard, Vincent and Dominick; and 11 grandchildren.

In the last decade, the declining fortunes of the Gambino family have been reflected, in some measure, by a reduction in the power wielded by the city's other four traditional Mafia clans.

Beginning in the 1980's and gaining momentum in the 1990's with the defection of Mr. Gravano and other high-level mob figures, federal and state authorities focused on the mob's control of certain industries and corrupt unions. From garbage carting and construction to the garment center and the waterfront, the authorities improved their use of racketeering laws to loosen the mob's control.

After Mr. Gotti's imprisonment, investigators said they believed that he was trying to cling to power through his brother Peter. But by 1999, the authorities said, the family was down to about 11 crews and its influence was waning. Peter Gotti, his brother Richard, and seven others were indicted last week in Brooklyn on federal racketeering charges involving extortion and money-laundering on the New York waterfront.

From 1992 until 2000, Mr. Gotti was kept in virtual solitary confinement, restricted to his cell except for an hour of daily exercise.

''He was obsessed with his own importance,'' Mr. Mouw said of Mr. Gotti and his fall. ''He gave his own status a higher priority than Cosa Nostra. He was convinced that no jury would ever convict him because he was John Gotti, a caesar, an emperor.''


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