Scars on Paul Castellano's Reign: Former Gambino Capo Discusses John Gotti's Predecessor

For Bucky
Cosa Nostra News Exclusive

The most infamous gangland hit of the 20th century was the December 1985 execution of Gambino boss Paul Castellano, who was shot six times, and his driver/underboss Thomas Bilotti, shot four times, outside Sparks Steak House in midtown Manhattan.

Consantino Paul Castellano
Paul Castellano, formerly Gambino boss, died December 1985.

Castellano was the precursor to John Gotti, the man who Gotti had to kill to rise to the top. The story of why Paul Castellano was killed has been the topic of books, films, magazine articles, newspaper stories and television documentaries, the details of the hit have been recounted again and again

Owing to heavy mainstream interest in his high-profile successor, Castellano has been given short shrift; he's been mocked, derided and trivialized, cast as a deliberate foil to John Gotti, the polished, well-groomed "gangster from central casting." Castellano wasn't a tough guy; he thought he was a Fortune 500 CEO. He deliberately isolated himself from the street, shunning his own capos, soldiers and associates to meet with his top guys at his stately suburban mansion.
Gene and longtime Gotti friend Angelo "Quack Quack" Ruggiero were busted on drug charges based on wiretap recordings of Ruggiero. A voluble man -- perhaps psychotic -- Ruggiero paved the path for the Gottis to join the Gambino crime family. (The conventional wisdom held that Castellano would've killed Gotti, along with Angelo and Gene, if the transcripts weren't handed over. Castellano, at the very least, was reportedly planning to break Gotti down and split up his crew, which likely would've been a fate worse than death for Gotti.)

Former Gambino capo Michael (Mikie Scars) DiLeonardo, in several interviews (yes, I have been driving him crazy), discussed at length some of the inaccuracies and mischaracterizations in an attempt to clarify the record.

Brief Castellano bio

Costantino Paul Castellano, born June 26, 1915, in Brooklyn, was nicknamed Big Paul due to his height, 6 feet 2 inches, but additionally to distinguish him from the other two Paul Castellanos who lived in Brooklyn. Ironically, both his relatives with the same name were short in stature, hence they were called Little Paul and Small Paul.

Paul attended PS 163, as did DiLeonardo's father (born in 1912). Apparently, they were close at a young age because Michael said his father got deliberately held back to attend school with Paul.

The now-defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), formerly an agency of the United States Treasury Department, focused on organized crime in the decades when the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover denied it even existed. The FBN's infamous Mafia dossier, which Robert Kennedy used as a reference for his own Mafia investigations when he was named Attorney General in 1961, included an entry for Castellano. It listed Carmine Galante as among Castellano's criminal associates. Big Paul's modus operandi was that of a "strong-arm" in the Gambino crime family.

Except for living in an ostentatious mansion built in neo-Federal architectural style on Todt Hill, immortally dubbed ''the white house,'' Castellano kept "so low a profile that local and Federal law-enforcement agencies differed for a time about even his age." (New York Times)

He was among the youngest attendees at 1957's summit meeting in Apalachin, N.Y.

He was jailed for refusing to testify about the meeting. His only previous arrest was in 1934 when he served a one-year bid on a robbery charge in Hartford, Conn.

The Todt Hill "white house" is no longer in the Castellano family.

Perhaps the largest misconception is that Castellano was somehow less lethal than John Gotti.

"Paul was deadly!" DiLeonardo replied, adding that "people shook with Paul" when they earned his animosity.

Castellano, on trial for the car-theft ring, faced 25 murder charges alone; Gotti was convicted of five murders (Castellano and Bilotti, Robert DiBernardo, Liborio Milito and Louis Dibono), plus conspiracy to murder Gaetano "Corky" Vastola.

Paul was quite lethal, and it took little to trigger his fury.

The Crime Family Castellano "Forgot" Was Behind Him

One New Year's Eve party at Castellano's house, Gambino mobster "Charlie Boy" (who seemingly fell into the "young Turk" category, which was one of the demographics of the crime family from which Castellano reportedly had grown aloof) learned the hard way that it didn't take much to anger the boss.

Charlie Boy, whose father was a captain known as Little Toto, arrived and noticed that "Paul was deep in serious conversation," DiLeonardo related. Charlie Boy decided he'd better not disturb him.

He started to say hello to others, thinking he'd greet the boss once he was finished with whatever important matters were under discussion.

Big, big mistake. Charlie Boy had committed an egregious breach of Mafia etiquette.

"You go see the boss first," Michael explained. "You go up to him first, then you go down the pecking order. It doesn't matter what Paul was doing at the time."

Eventually, Charlie Boy noticed that Paul was free so he went over to say hello -- and got his ass handed to him.

"Glad you could find the fucking time to finally fucking say hello to me," Castellano said.

Paul proceeded to read him the full riot act and Charlie Boy was literally shaking as if Paul were poised to order his execution in the backyard of the Todt Hill estate.

Asked to draw a comparison between Castellano and John Gotti based on personal experience, Michael said, "you had to walk on eggshells when you were around both of them."

Neil Dellacroce, see photo above, may have been given part of the family's crews to oversee as part of a deal when Big Paul was elevated, but Castellano still had his own thing going with every single Gambino capo (no matter what color his collar was).

According to DiLeonardo, every Gambino capo was given $100,000 from Paul to put on the street. Castellano charged them a half-point vig, good terms to run a loanshark operation with.

Now for some of the guys having trouble earning, this came in handy. It gave them a way to earn quickly while paying a generous (for them) vig.

But the deal was mandatory. Even wealthier guys who maybe didn't need the hassle of operating another book had to accept the $100,000 from Paul and put it to work.

This ensured Paul had a personal and financial connection to every Gambino capo. I find it difficult to believe, then, Paul was isolated or "forgot" he had the Gambino crime family behind him. He seems quite aware of them.

Castellano faced two sweeping federal racketeering indictments, one of which was the Commission Case. So for the first time in his life, he found himself getting serious media attention that only ratcheted up when the other trial started. The media waited at the courthouse for him on a daily basis. (Hence, all that footage of him and Bilotti, his loyal pit bull, walking in and out of federal court.)

The New York Times published regular reports regarding Castellano's trial, which started in October of 1985 when he and nine other defendants were charged with operating a car-theft ring and conspiring to commit murders and other crimes. The deceased Roy DeMeo (and his Murder Machine) had been the driving force behind the operation, from which Castellano profited but was not directly involved.

"Castellano was said to have been personally repelled by excessive brutality," the Times noted in a story two days after his death. The article was referring to Dominick Montiglio's testimony that "Castellano had expressed qualms because members of a car-theft ring, in killing a suspected police informant, had also murdered the man's 19-year-old girlfriend."

''Mr. Castellano wanted to know why the girl was killed, this girl Cherie,'' said Montiglio, whose uncle was Nino Gaggi, a Gambino capo and Castellano co-defendant in the case. (Castellano, once close to Gaggi, had busted him to soldier).

The same report, however, notes that Castellano had no worries about ordering the murder of Frank Amato, his own son-in-law, supposedly for having beaten Castellano's daughter Connie.

There was also an earlier boyfriend, Vito Borelli, who Paul had taken care of because he had committed the death penalty offense of muttering something about Paul's schnoz (that "Roman nose" of his). Borelli said that Big Paul resembled chicken man Frank Purdue.

"Vito was also killed for making fun of her father's nose," DiLeonardo said.

Ever hear the term Nasabeak used to describe Paul Castellano? Know how it originated?

"I gave Paul that name," said Scars. (It doesn't mean anything in Italian...)

Bruce Mouw.

The public views a mobster's reputation generally through the FBI's lense.

The Feds had serious concerns about Gotti based on his ability to appear before the public at large as a folk hero of some kind. J. Bruce Mouw, the former FBI agent who supervised the Gambino squad that gathered the evidence that convicted Gotti, has talked about Gotti in the media at length in an attempt to dissuade people of that notion.

Mouw said: "John Gotti is a stone-cold killer responsible for the deaths of several individuals. He was a vicious and ruthless boss."

Gotti's ruthless nature was perhaps most clearly revealed during transcripts of a recorded conversation released by the FBI. On Dec. 12, 1989, in an apartment above the Ravenite social club, with soft music playing in the background, Gotti and Frank Locascio, Gotti's consigliere and close confidant, engaged in a long, intimate conversation during which Gotti complained of greed, specifically Salvatore Gravano's greed.

Gotti references murders, but coldly, calculatingly also references an as-yet uncommitted murder. (FBI agents apparently misunderstood who Gotti was talking about, thinking he was referring to a Gambino mobster who'd already disappeared.)

"Louie DiBono. You know why he's dying? He's gonna die because he refused to come in when I called. He didn't do nothing else wrong."

Carlo Gambino preferred a Sicilian run his crime family.

Boss of Bosses

Carlo Gambino died at home of natural causes on Oct. 6, 1976. He appointed his brother-in-law, Paul Castellano, to succeed him.

Nearly every mob boss seeks to establish a "monarchy," DiLeonardo said of Gambino's actions in naming Castellano as his successor.

Gambino and Castellano were cousins, as well as in-laws; Gambino had married Paul's sister.

Castellano's knowledge of white-collar racketeering, which Gambino viewed as the future of organized crime, also is considered a reason for the appointment.

But DiLeonardo said that another decisive factor was Castellano was of Sicilian descent (Dellacroce was not).

"The Gambino family has always been most successful when it's under Sicilians," he said, noting that Albert Anastasia, killed in 1957 on Gambino's orders, and Gotti, who had Castellano killed on his own orders, were not Sicilian. (Vincent Mangano, the boss who Anastasia made "disappear" was Sicilian as well. In 1931, Lucky Luciano himself had named Mangano chief of one of the original Five Families. In time two other New York families also changed names: Luciano's crime family became the Genovese crime family, and later, the Profaci crime family was renamed the Colombo crime family.)

Castellano had nearly a nine-year stretch running the Gambino crime family.

When he assumed power the family's territory stretched from western Massachusetts to Philadelphia and its operations were extensive, including gambling, loansharking, hijacking and labor racketeering, where Gambino's influence was particularly extensive.

John Joseph Gotti, who assumed formal control in January 1986, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1992. (He died of throat cancer on June 10, 2002.) He ruled the family from prison for a number of years, mainly through viceroys including Peter Gotti and his son, John "Junior" Gotti.

As for the Gambino crime family Gotti left behind, membership was down to between 160 and 180 made men. (It allegedly reached its height in the early 1980s. (Part one and two  (PDFs) -- these links are to a subcommittee report that includes a comprehensive list of members of all of New York's Five Crime Families, including addresses, birthdates and case numbers), when Castellano was chief.

The reduction in size and power of the Gambino crime family was due largely to the major RICO cases of the 1980s, including the Commission case, but also due to the "devastating 'Gotti IV' case in 1992," which must be placed on John Gotti's doorstep. (Or should it be Sammy Gravano? Okay, you pick.) Following "Sammy (the Bull) Gravano’s deadly testimony, which doomed the former Teflon Don... the Gambinos were left without effective leadership. Despite government protestations to the contrary, their empire shrank enormously." (Source: New York magazine article.)

One of the largest mysteries about the Castellano hit is whether Gotti really had to pull it off.

John Joseph Gotti Jr.

Did Paul Have to Die?

"Paul was going to take a heavy fall and that shows the irony of it," DiLeonardo said.

"I never would've killed him if I was John. John already had most of the capos behind him."

Castellano had been indicted twice and was deeply into one trial when he and his new underboss/driver Bilotti were shot and killed in the street in front of Sparks Steak House.

There is a belief among law enforcement officials that Castellano was going to win the Murder Machine trial, though DiLeonardo doesn't seem to agree with that.

Still, Castellano was going away in any event. Had he not been killed he most certainly would've been sent to prison for 100 years for the Commission Case.

But Paul had to be killed because of the threat he posed to Gene Gotti and Angelo Ruggiero over that drug pinch.

The tapes, right? The tapes, the tapes, such a big deal has been made out of the tapes... I can still hear Bill Kurtis's dramatic intonations about the tapes: "But Ruggiero would not give up the tapes...." (See video, at bottom, below the clip from JFK.)

Gotti's rise and fall are both stories of tapes, we've been told. Well, that's partially correct.

Angelo Ruggiero, aka Quack Quack....

Among the reasons given for Gotti's takeover, the most immediate cause supposedly was a set of government surveillance tape recordings of Ruggiero discussing drugs (on his daughter's telephone, which he thought wasn't tapped, as well as in his kitchen nook, where he spoke with cohorts over coffee, which he also thought was clean because he had a "sweeper" come in). Ruggiero and Gene Gotti were in the heroin trafficking business to take care of loose ends for Ruggiero's brother after he died in a plane crash.

The tapes became something of a McGuffin in the story.

Castellano demanded copies of the tapes; Ruggiero, having run to Dellacroce for cover, wouldn't give them up, activating what seemed to be a factional standoff between Castellano's "white collar" mobsters and Dellacroce's blue-collar wing.

Castellano apparently was testing Dellacroce; the Gambino crime family boss was in possession of the transcripts all along. (This was revealed in Gravano's testimony.)

Michael DiLeonardo didn't even know that Castellano had had the transcripts when I told him last year.

That Paul was testing Neil was Michael's speculation of the conundrum.

Gravano discusses "the tapes" in Underboss:

"I don't think John (Gotti) gave a fuck about Angelo or the tapes. I think he was looking to create a situation to capitalize on our other grievances about Paul. There was tension between Aniello Dellacroce and his followers and Paul Castellano, and Frank DeCicco enjoyed their mutual respect. But when Ruggiero tried to convince DeCicco that Dellacroce had real disputes against Castellano, he did not believe him. To Ruggiero's unhappiness, DeCicco said that as far as he was concerned, his uncle was a faithful underboss to Paul Castellano. Angelo would also listen to his uncle's protege and childhood friend, John Gotti insult Dellacroce about his "La Cosa Nostra bullshit."

Reading over his testimony, Gravano comes close to acknowledging that there was never really a clear threat that Castellano was going to kill John Gotti, though, according to DiLeonardo, if Castellano had not been killed, Ruggiero would've been dead.

As for John Gotti: "No one ever got the order to kill John," Michael said.

Who would Castellano have sent to kill John Gotti?

DiLeonardo noted how, well into the John Gotti reign, at around 5:30 am after spending hours at Regine's nightclub, he, Gotti and others were sitting in a diner when "John started talking about that."

"He said, 'who was Paul gonna send to kill me? Me?"

Both The Westies and the Cherry Hill Gambinos have been highlighted on some websites as Gambino work crews or "muscle" -- meaning killers within the Gambino crime family.

The Westies killed a lot of people -- but mostly in Manhattan's west side bars where they hung out. They were junkies more than anything else, DiLeonardo said.

Jimmy Coonan, left, was close to John Gotti; right, Mickey Featherstone. Coonan, with Featherstone, ran The Westies, which made a deal with Castellano.

Westies chief Jimmy Coonan was tight with John Gotti. Coonan drove to meet John to play cards.

The Cherry Hill Gambinos definitely could have struck back for Paul if they wanted to, DiLeonardo said, noting that they could've sent for a contingent of Sicilian shooters to take care of John Gotti and anyone else.

"No one would've known who'd done it, and that would've been the end," Michael said. "But as history shows, they didn't bother to make any move whatsoever."

The tape recordings provided Castellano with leverage as long as Gotti and Dellacroce, who died on  Dec. 2, 1985, thought he didn't have them.

In this sense, Castellano was alone (with Bilotti).

Had he decided to move against Gotti, Castellano most likely would've gone to Frank "Frankie Cheech" DeCicco, who was already in on the conspiracy against Paul. The moment Paul passed an order, Gotti would have been alerted, DiLeonardo said.

Why did "Castellano loyalist" Frank DeCicco join Gotti?

"His father was close to Neil," Michael said. Also, DeCicco had done prison time with John Gotti and the two had grown close.

And again there's the Sicilian part. Frank DeCicco wasn't Sicilian, and he knew that, under Castellano, the next Gambino boss likely would've had Gambino as a surname.

As for all the vivid details about Paul Castellano being too remote, too isolated from the crime family -- all nonsense, DiLeonardo said.

"Bosses don't have to go out in the street," he said. "He was a businessman but he was a hoodlum too."

Frank DeCicco

Paul Castellano opened the Veterans and Friends social club. Castellano went there "every Thursday and Sunday and every other Monday. He was at that club."

Paul only stopped frequenting the club when he was indicted, Michael said. The arrest, in March of 1984, changed everything. Castellano stayed in his house and didn't venture out. He didn't attend Dellacroce's wake and funeral. He was under such a media spotlight, he didn't feel the need to deliberately step into it. (Perhaps Paul was showing his anger at Dellacroce for never getting him the tapes.)

Drug Ban Selectively Enforced

The Mafia's zero tolerance drug ban was strongly enforced under both Gambino and Castellano. Both bosses killed their own for dealing drugs. (Perhaps this explains the string of unexplained gangland hits previously reported about here?) But there were always exceptions, drug dealing that was approved "off the record." In the case of the Gambino crime family, it was largely longtime family members well established in the drug trade who were given a free pass. Men like Pasquale (Patsy) Conte and Paul Gambino, Carlo's own brother, were well-known narcotics traffickers for decades.
The mob's longstanding hypocrisy is a topic still difficult for DiLeonardo to discuss today.

His brother, in the Colombo crime family, was slain by Gregory Scarpa for alleged involvement in drug trafficking (though you'd never know it based on wiretap recording transcripts and other documents. The spinning starts when a wiseguy opens his mouth).

The edict against dealing was strongly dealt with under Paul Castellano.

Gambino member Angelo Meli, a Staten Island native who dealt drugs in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant area, was sent away for drug dealing. (He's described in Nicholas Pileggi's 1973 New York magazine article as one of the Untouchables, aka, New York City's largest drug dealers.)

Castellano had Meli slated for death after he returned from serving his prison sentence.

Paul Zaccaria (who with Jerry D'Aquila were Mikie Scars' mentors) told DiLeonardo this directly: "We got guys we gotta kill as soon as they come home."

"Hearing Zac tell me (Meli) was going to die bothered me because my brother died for the same lie. I was against dealing, but this was wrong," DiLeonardo said.

Angelo's brother Phil and DiLeonardo often went out to dinner and together attended family events including parties and wakes.

"I would look at him and think, 'we have to to kill this guy's brother as soon as he comes home.' Bullshit. His father was a made guy, his grandfather probably was a made guy. The truth is, if you were not on the right side of the boss's ear in the life, you were expendable."

Angelo Meli, "untouchable" drug dealer, was
slated for death by Castellano after he served his time.

Angelo, he added, assuming he's still alive today, probably doesn't even know this -- but John Gotti saved his life.

"I never met him," Michael said of Angelo Meli.

"But he should know he owes the Gotti-DeCicco faction -- without them, he would've been killed way back -- right after he came home from prison."

To this day, Michael is incredulous about Castellano's hypocrisy over the drug business. 

He related what happened one night at Tommaso’s, a Bath Beach, Brooklyn, Italian restaurant Castellano regularly frequented (along with a veritable who's who of the Mafia). Castellano often sat in the bar area with Gambino crime family members. They'd talk over drinks and appetizers.

Now Castellano loved cars, and often they talked about cars. One night Castellano pontificated that "anyone who drives a Mercedes-Benz, they're in the junk business."

As if on cue, one week later, Conte, the longtime Gambino drug dealer, gave Castellano a Mercedes-Benz as a gift.

Castellano accepted Conte's benefaction, drove it, and acted as if he hadn't made the comment in front of maybe a dozen or more guys only a week prior.

Gotti's rise to the pinnacle "wiped the slate clean" for the drug-dealing family members who faced the ultimate punishment for breaking Castellano's edict.

Due to a rare confluence of events -- the weakened state of a twice-indicted Paul Castellano; Neil Dellacroce, the sole mitigating force, dying; and the right capos falling in line with Gotti -- the Daring Don from Queens was able to take out a boss nearly certain that no one from within the family likely would mount a challenge.

The well-known betting gangster had played the odds with his own life.

Michael DiLeonardo, former Gambino capo
As for other crime families, Gotti's greatest fan, Ruggiero, had sent out feelers to factions considered open to a Gotti rise in the hierarchy. Then there is the hypocritical Luchese message, "What are you waiting for?"

Gotti likely believed he had tacit approval from enough of the other families to move, though he probably expected there would be some anger from the West Side.

Which may have something to do with why he chose to kill Castellano outside Sparks, in midtown Manhattan during rush hour traffic, when streets and sidewalks are gridlocked.

Gotti may have wanted to send a message loud and clear to Gigante and any other potential challengers.

"This is who I am.... Come and fucking get me...."

Read Michael DiLeonardo On the Gotti Reign
Shrewd Sicilian Helms Gambino Crime Family, Says Mikie Scars


  1. Scars didnt make up any name. Name was Nosambeak rhyming with Mozambique. 'Nasabeak' isnt clever or make any sense. Nice try. LOL.

  2. Charlie boys father was Toddo not Toto right?? Ed cmon take out the part where you state Luciano appointed Mangano boss thats crap.


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