How Gambino Family's Plot To Kidnap Curtis Sliwa Went Sideways

 “He deserved it. He had it coming. He was slamming our family all over the place. Especially John the boss, (who) didn’t deserve that.” -- Gambino capo Mikie Scars

In October 2018, Curtis Sliwa, as leader of New York’s Reform Party, spent a Saturday on Long Island campaigning with his wife, an animal-rights activist then running for New York state attorney general.

Sliwa and Junior Gotti.
Sliwa and Junior Gotti.

The couple were at the Oyster Bay Oyster Festival when John Junior Gotti, former Gambino acting boss and son of the former official boss, approached the Guardian Angels founder and, between puffs on a cigar, told him, “You know, I’m a supporter of animal rights.”

“He wasn’t being a wiseguy. He was serious,” Sliwa later told the New York Post, which reported on how Gotti and Sliwa had spent a cordial five minutes chatting and then shaking hands.

What a sight that must have been to onlookers.

It wasn’t real.

“I had to put (the bad blood) aside that day for the good of our Reform Party mission,” Sliwa later said.

One year prior to that spontaneous encounter, Sliwa underwent seven hours of surgery to repair some remaining damage to his intestines. Bullets do that.

Sliwa still lives with the consequences of what happened in the dark of the early dawn of June 19, 1992, when John Junior Gotti sent two Gambino associates to kidnap and beat the longtime gadfly. But the plan went totally off the rails, turned into a clusterfuck, you could say, when Joseph (Joey) D’Angelo and Michael Yannotti shot Sliwa three times and nearly murdered him instead. D'Angelo had been an associate of Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano and at the time of the shooting, an associate of capo Lou Vallario. Yannotti had been an associate of Nicholas (Little Nicky) Corozzo.

Sliwa was shot only days before John Gotti Senior and co-defendant Frank Locascio were sent away for life on June 23.

Reports of the sentencing paint a vivid picture. John Gotti defiantly stood up and smiled, and said nothing when sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Meanwhile, outside the courthouse in Brooklyn "hundreds" of "chanting, flag-waving Gotti supporters protested (when) Judge I. Leo Glasser sentenced the convicted boss of the Gambino crime family in a courtroom so packed that James M. Fox, the head of the New York office of the F.B.I., was wedged next to Joseph DeCicco, a reputed Gambino associate."

Judge Glasser imposed life sentences with no possibility of parole on Gotti and Locascio for their racketeering-murder convictions during a court session that didn't last 10 minutes.

Gotti, then 51, wore a dark double-breasted suit, white shirt, and a bright yellow tie flecked with burnt orange.

Howard Stern, the New York City-based radio shock jock, was known to say outrageous things even back in the 1980s. Stern was outspoken, fearless and routinely carved up anyone and everyone during his morning rush hour show. He never hesitated to fleck his often hilarious bile even on the folks who signed his paychecks. Unlike the darkly somber Sliwa (the grimness he wears isn’t an act), Stern comes off as lighthearted, self deprecating, savvy, and practical, but also uncannily intelligent and realistic and not without a deep, abiding will to survive. There was one person about whom Howard Stern never said a single word: John Gotti. (If a guest suddenly blurted the Gotti name, Stern shut them down instantly.)

This touches on something that to our knowledge has never truly been addressed: the very real fear of the Mafia felt by citizens in New York City's boroughs and on Long Island in the 1970s and 1980s. The Mafia was not a word spoken lightly in those days.

Curtis Sliwa, who never subscribed to Howard Stern’s notions of survival, strenuously talked about John Gotti. Sliwa strenuously criticized John Gotti when the crime boss was awaiting sentencing on a slew of murders. Sliwa called Gotti “America’s No. 1 drug dealer.” Sliwa blamed Gotti for spreading the then-new drug of choice: crack cocaine. Crack was laying waste to parts of major cities across America back then. Crack was the “fentanyl” of its day. Sliwa also denounced the elder Gotti as ''public enemy No. 1'' on the radio.

In the spring of 1992, certain individuals in the Gambino family were very aware of Sliwa's ongoing dialog about John Gotti. These individuals thought of Sliwa as a "talk show host with an ax to grind for some reason against the Gottis. ... (Sliwa has a) real big mouth," as Michael (Mikie Scars) Dileonardo, former Gambino capo, said in testimony. (And for his testimony, we visited Thomas Hunt's American Mafia website where he has testimony from the United States of America v. John A. Gotti, Jr., (04 CR 00690 SAS-1) before District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin for the Southern District of New York as spoken on February 22, 2006.)

After Senior was convicted, Scars and Junior "discussed the bad press (that Sliwa continued to give the Gottis) throughout the whole thing. It wasn't just after the conviction, that Sliwa wouldn't stop. He was ranting and raving. We talked -- it bothered John a lot, so it would come up often."

John Junior told Scars that "he wanted to send some guys to give him a beating."

When the jury convicted John Gotti Senior, Sliwa "seemed like he was opening up champagne. He was very happy, celebrating, and he just wouldn't let it go."

Sliwa paid a price for his criticism of Gotti even before he was shot. 

On April 23, 1992, thugs armed with baseball bats attacked him near his apartment at Avenue A and St. Mark’s Place, opening the back of his head “like a melon,” he'd later say, and leaving him with 12 stitches in his head, a broken wrist and a fractured elbow.

Junior and Scars next spoke about Sliwa probably while in Florida with others where they were vacationing.

“John told me he had sent these kids (Michael McLaughlin, Steve Kaplan from Spratts II, and John Ruggiero) to give (Sliwa) a baseball bat beating.” Michael said that at the time he himself felt that Sliwa “deserved it. He had it coming. He was slamming our family all over the place. Especially John the boss (who) didn’t deserve that.”

The only problem was the attack didn’t silence Sliwa. Instead “it made him more angry. This guy was all over the radio worse than before.”

Months later Sliwa was shot at point-blank range three times while in the backseat of a taxicab. He’s likely only alive today because he leaped out of the moving vehicle through the front passenger’s partially opened window before his two would-be killers finished him off.

In the leadup to the shooting, Junior was increasingly angry with what Sliwa was blasting on his radio show.

Junior asked Scars to contact Lou Vallario and D'Angelo and bring them to Queens. Vallario wasn't around, so DiLeonardo and D'Angelo went without him to the Carousel Diner on Cross Bay Boulevard, which was located near the Bergin Hunt & Fish club.

Outside the diner, the duo met Junior, Gambino capo Little Nicky, Yannotti and others. They all sat at a round table.

"After some small talk, John says, "You guys are brought here to do a piece of work for the family," and upon hearing those words, Scars immediately thought they were there to plan murders.

Junior said that "he was fed up with" and really angry at Curtis Sliwa and wanted "this guy severely hurt, put in the hospital, severe hospital beating," and that he wanted Nicky Corozzo to handle it.

Junior specifically gave the order to Little Nicky, Yannotti, and D'Angelo, telling them that "Sliwa just wouldn't stop... lambasting the whole family, especially, like I said, the Gottis. John, Sr., the guy got convicted, leave him alone. I believe (Sliwa had also) started picking on Vicky, John's sister, and Gene Gotti with drugs, being called a drug dealer and all this other stuff. He just wouldn't let it go. (Gene) was already convicted."

A severe hospital beating in Cosa Nostra terms means "as bad a beating as you can give him without killing him," Scars testified. The target of such a job needs "to go to the hospital and stay there for a while."

Nicky was told to handle all the details of getting the work done. D'Angelo "was supposed to meet up with Nicky and Yannotti and follow Nicky's direction on what the plan would be and how it was carried out."

Sliwa has talked lots about the shooting, mainly on his weekday radio show. Sliwa also has admitted that in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, he fabricated “six accounts of either criminal attacks against him or other Angels or of street crimes in which he said the Angels had come to the victims’ rescue after the police failed to respond,” as per New York Times.

In August 2005, he discussed the incident at one of Junior's racketeering trials, recalling that around dawn on June 19, 1992, he felt he had “hit the lottery” when he was able to hail a cab near his apartment in the East Village. The driver (who was Joseph D’Angelo, who flipped and testified) seemed to recognize Sliwa, Sliwa testified, and knew where he was headed: the WABC radio studios near Madison Square Garden.

Then the second man, then-Gambino associate Michael Yannotti, who had crouched down low in the front passenger seat, suddenly popped up “like a jack-in-the-box,” pointing a silver-plated pistol at the talk show host’s belly.

"Take this, you son of a bitch,” Sliwa testified that Yannotti had said to him.

Sliwa heard three pops and felt hot blood spurt out under his shirt, and searing pain shot through his legs “like a knife through hot butter.”

Both rear windows were closed and the inside door handles were missing. But Sliwa felt a breeze on his face which he realized was reaching the backseat via an opening in the window next to the front passenger seat.

Using the back seat “like a trampoline,” he propelled himself over the shoulder of the startled gunman and halfway out the window. His head hung so close to the front tire that he could feel pebbles from the pavement hit his face, and realized that his choice was either to be shot again or “take my chance of becoming a human speed bump.”

Just then, his clothing snagged on the bumper of a parked car that had been clipped by the swerving taxi, and it yanked him out of the cab and deposited him onto the pavement, barely conscious but still alive.

In testimony, D’Angelo's story of the events of the day of the shooting differed. He testified that Sliwa had never hailed the cab but had just jumped in when he and Yannotti were about to drive off. He said Sliwa's actions jolted Yannotti and caused him to accidentally fire the gun.

Whatever the cause of the shooting, the fact that there even was a shooting unnerved a few Gambino wiseguys.

Michael learned what happened to Sliwa that June morning by watching the news and hearing all about Sliwa getting shot three times.

"I ran to find out, find D'Angelo and find out what happened" because Sliwa wasn't supposed to get shot. "There was no mention of killing this guy," as Scars testified.

Learning of the shooting, "I knew something went really wrong, and I was curious to find out what happened. This guy may die. I wanted to find out whether there was a murder on our hands."

He found D'Angelo on 18th Avenue and asked what happened.

"Joey was very upset with Yannotti, and started telling me the story how they picked (Sliwa) up in the morning. ...

"They found out where (Sliwa) lived, staked out his apartment, and when he would come out in the morning he would usually jump in a cab and go to work. (Joey) told me he had a cab, or some kind of car service, that they robbed a car, and waited outside for (Sliwa) to come out of the door, and pulled up and let him get in the cab. But they had the cab rigged, and he did -- in fact (Sliwa) comes out, jumped in the cab, and that Yannotti was hiding under the front seat in the dashboard, crouched down. And Joey said as soon as this guy jumped in the cab, Mike got up and started shooting him."

D'Angelo "said he would never do anything with (Mike), anything again, never ask him to do anything again with him." He told Scars how "as Yannotti was shooting (Sliwa), (Sliwa) jumped out one of the windows to get out of the cab."

A few days later in Queens, Michael spoke with Junior about the Sliwa shooting.

Scars asked Junior "what happened over here with this kid, Mikey." Junior described the whole situation as a "real clusterfuck,” and told Scars “it was a mess."

It "wasn't supposed to go that way. He wasn't supposed to be shot, to be killed. You shoot somebody, they're going to die. He was not shot in the leg, he was shot in the torso."

Sliwa spent the next 12 years recovering, undergoing surgeries, and continually hammering the Gambino crime family from his AM bully pulpit . He steadily voiced his theory that John Gotti had sent Mafia thugs to whack him.

Michael DiLeonardo
Michael DiLeonardo

In July 2004, the hammer fell.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan seemed to suddenly agree with Sliwa.

They initially alleged that John Senior, who died on June 10, 2002, had ordered his son to organize the hit on Sliwa.

As part of an 11-count racketeering indictment charging Junior and three others: Junior, D'Angelo, and Yannotti were charged with conspiracy, kidnapping and attempted murder in the Sliwa shooting; Gambino associate, Louis Mariani, was charged with loan-sharking and securities fraud, but not in the Sliwa shooting.

''Unknown to Sliwa at the time, the cab he had hailed was intended to serve as a hearse,'' said David N. Kelley, the United States attorney in Manhattan. The purpose of the attack was to ''snuff out the voice of Sliwa,'' he said.

Sliwa told of ''geriatric espresso-sipping psychotic killers'' and said he had always known who had ordered the assault.

''People discarded the Gotti-Gambino connection completely,'' he said, ''and spin doctors for them added to the doubt with the rumors that emerged. These rumors didn't come out of nowhere, they came out of 1 Police Plaza, and they came from some writers who, you know, I wouldn't say are sympathetic to the Gambinos, but didn't mind putting their spin out.''

Junior Gotti was serving a 77-month sentence on a separate racketeering charge when he was hit with this case.

Gotti was charged with ordering the Sliwa kidnapping as vengeance for criticism of his father, John J. Gotti, the late don. The kidnapping charge was part of a broader racketeering indictment that accused Gotti, then 41, of loan-sharking, extortion, securities fraud, and other crimes when he was the acting street boss after his father went to prison for life in 1992. The Feds would throw in the towel, and Junior would walk away free and clear.

D’Angelo turned on the mob before the first Gotti trial in 2005 and has been free on bail as far as we know since 2007. In Manhattan Federal Court he was sentenced to time served for racketeering offenses. He'd spent about four years in prison for two mob murders, the Sliwa attack, construction industry shakedowns, securities fraud, drug trafficking, and other crimes.

Gambino soldier Mike Yannotti is currently at Lexington FMC, with a release date of February 8, 2022.