Fat Andy Ruggiano As Gambino Underboss? Pondering The What If

In November 1991, John Gotti was at MCC—the squalid, roach-infested hole he’d been calling home for about the past year—when he learned that his underboss, Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, had flipped. One of the then-Gambino boss’s first remarks reportedly was: "If Fat Andy had been out, I wouldn’t be in this mess.”

Fat Andy  Ruggiano relaxes at the Copa Lounge.

Ruggiano went away in 1984 and got out in 1997, serving 13 years of a 40-year sentence. (Fat Andy Ruggiano died about two years after getting out, in 1999)

For him, getting pinched when John Gotti was Gambino boss meant missing a golden opportunity. Had Fat Andy been out on the street during John Gotti’s reign, he likely would’ve changed the calculus — meaning Gambino family history would be different. A longtime power in East New York and a mentor to powerful wiseguys, Fat Andy could have played a significant role.

“My father had bad timing," Anthony Ruggiano Junior told us recently.

“My father definitely would’ve been on John’s side. Tony Lee (Anthony Guerrieri) was. Tony Pep (Anthony Trentacosta) was there in front of Sparks when Castellano was killed in 1985. My father would’ve been in on the whole thing."

"To kill Paul, John needed a link to the guys like Jimmy Brown (aka James Failla, carting industry power), Tommy Gambino, and Danny Marino — he needed a link to the wealthy Gambino capos in Brooklyn. Then, when (Gotti underboss) Frank DeCicco got blown up, he needed a guy who was friends with everyone — the guys in Brooklyn and Manhattan – that’s why he chose Sammy. My father definitely could have been in the mix.”

After spending 11 months alongside Gotti at MCC awaiting trial on murder and racketeering charges, Gravano, the gimlet-eyed Gambino underboss, then 46, who became part of John Gotti’s inner circle and blasted his way to the top, decided to spill his guts to the FBI. He told law enforcement officials he would “talk”— testify against the nation’s top Mafia boss — so long as he could “walk” afterward.

Gravano’s defection was likened to a nuclear strike against the nation’s largest crime family. It was an especially devastating blow against a Mafia chieftain who never seemed more invulnerable. A dazed public had been watching the John Gotti reality show for about five years by then — had cheered on as the mob boss from central casting — with majestic, blow-dried, blue-rinsed hair even — won three acquittals following trials that played out in lavish detail in the newspapers and on television.

But first there was that hit, shocking in its audacity..

Castellano wasn’t shot in a quiet downtown chophouse over a plate of spaghetti — he and his underboss were executed, gunned down in fussilades, and in Midtown East; not just during rush hour, during CHRISTMAS rush hour. It would’ve been difficult to turn the volume up more on that hit. ... Unless the hit team wore, say, togas instead of Russian hats and were armed with daggers and had to repeatedly plunge them into Castellano and Thomas Bilotti.

Sammy Bull, left, John Gotti in discussion.

That hit never could've happened today -- what with iPhones, Facebook and Twitter, law enforcement's hyper-vigilant all-seeing surveillance everywhere ....(We truly miss 1985....)

Word of Gravano flipping made its way through the Gambino family hierarchy, as well as among the soldiers and associates. Anthony Jr described how he learned.

"Me and Bobby the Jew (Robert Epifania, who was not Jewish but “looked like a Jew,” as investigators learned) were in reception. I was doing a state bid and was walking around in the yard. Then Bobby came running and said he had just gotten off the phone with Joe Butch. He said, ‘Sammy flipped.’”

In 1990 before the Gambino hierarchy arrests, the American public had no clue who “Sammy The Bull Gravano” was. The name was never or rarely if ever spoken — unless in whispers in select circles in low-profile places in Brooklyn. Until those Ravenite arrests, Gravano was just another extra in grainy news clips — an unknown supporting player, the tough-looking shortfella with the impossibly broad frame and hulking arms in checked sports-coat with side-parted hair and a grimace, who brushed the cameras away for the carefree boss strolling jauntily behind, winking, smiling, wiggling his fingers even...

FBI investigators knew lots, however, and some agents probing the Gambinos in the 1980s correctly predicted Gravano’s defection, wondering if he really was the tough guy he presented himself as. At FBI strategy sessions in the years before Sammy turned, supposedly some agents speculated that Gravano could be the weak link in the Gotti hierarchy of the Gambino family.

“One FBI agent had him pegged dead right,” recalled a law-enforcement official in late 1991. “He said that Gravano was soft, had never done any time in prison, and if we squeeze him, he’ll crack.” Gravano, when the No. 2 leader of the Gambino family, cracked.

Three murders nearly took Sammy down before Gotti’s rise.

In 1974, Gravano and four others were each indicted and arrested on two counts of murder for the January 1970 shootings of Arthur and Joseph Dunn, two brothers who owned the A&J Body and Fender Shop on Neptune Avenue in Coney Island.

Gravano had already made that “unusual” switch from the Colombo family under Ralph (Shorty) Spero to the Gambino family under capo Toddo Aurello when he was pinched for the Dunns. In Underboss, Gravano writes that he and Alexander Cuomo, who’d also been indicted, took off for Florida the moment they learned of the arrest warrants, but went back. Gravano, who like the others faced a mandatory 20-year no-parole prison sentence, claimed he didn’t even know the Dunn brothers, let alone kill them. Gravano also describes how an Assistant District Attorney to Eugene Gold made him an offer: If Gravano testified against Mimi, he’d get a “total walk.” Gravano says he told him: “fck off.”

Gravano was acquitted.

Then in 1985, Sammy was under strong suspicion for murdering Frank Fiala, the Brooklyn businessman fatally gunned down on the street outside the Plaza Suite Discotheque in Gravesend. Gravano had killed Fiala the same night he sold him the Plaza. Sammy and his wife’s brother, Edward Garafola, also a Gambino soldier, were charged with evading taxes on the $1 million sale of the Plaza Suite. While police liked Sammy for the hit, there wasn’t enough evidence. Both men were acquitted on the tax charges, and no charges were brought in the Fiala murder.

By the early 1980s, The Bull was a big earner who specialized in labor-racket extortions from his Stillwell Avenue headquarters in Coney Island. Gravano went on to control the Gambino family’s interests in the construction industry and kicked up a monthly $100,000 in tribute to Gotti.

Fat Andy and Tony Lee

Initially, when Gotti came to power, two-thirds of the Gambino hierarchy was wiped out. Joseph N. Gallo stayed on as consiglieri and Joseph Armone was made underboss. (Armone was elevated following the remote-controlled car bombing that killed Gotti’s first underboss, Frank DeCicco, in April 1986 —the handiwork of Genovese associate/drug dealer Herbert (Blue Eyes) Pate, a onetime U.S. Army munitions expert, who was set in motion by Luchese underboss Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso and Genovese boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante, according to Casso). Then in 1987, both Armone and Gallo were convicted for racketeering. 

After some initial dithering, Gotti elevated Gravano to underboss and named Frank (Frankie Loc) Locasio consiglieri.

Anthony Ruggiano Jr. got married in 1977 at La Mire on Ocean Parkway to the great niece of Harry (Happy) Maione, the New York mobster/contract killer with Murder, Inc., the mob’s enforcement arm in the 1930s. As we noted in our first Anthony Ruggiano Jr story, The Charley Wagons Days: Anthony Ruggiano Interview, Part One, Happy Maione’s brother was Albert M, who was friends with Carmine (Charley Wagons) Fatico, the Gambino capo who was John Gotti’s early mentor -- and who put Fat Andy to work for him, rather than kill him and Tony Lee for robbing those fcking card games...

One of Anthony Junior's wedding guests was Paul Castellano, then not a full year into his reign as boss of the Gambino family. Carlo Gambino, the most powerful man in New York, had died in the early morning hours of October 15, 1976, in his Massapequa, L. I., home of natural causes. He was 74 years old.

After the wedding, Anthony was in his basement with his father collecting cash from the envelopes, when he came across the card from Paul Castellano, which had $500 stuffed inside it. Seeing the boss’s signature on the card, Anthony held it up to show his father. Seeing Castellano’s scripted signature, Fat Andy, without hesitating, snatched the card, ripped it to pieces, and carefully disposed of the pieces. Nothing on paper, was second nature to Fat Andy.

Anthony Ruggiano Jr shared that anecdote when we asked about the relationship between his father and Paul Castellano — and how Fat Andy felt about Paul. Would he have supported Gotti’s coup against him and joined The Fist?

“My father had a big construction guy with him. Paul screwed him around a few times, too, including over unions.

His father didn't know about Gotti 's plan to hit Castellano but he was kept up to date by Tony Lee, Anthony Ruggiano Jr recalled.

“My father found out when Tony Lee and me visited him — Tony Lee laid it all out for my father. Me and him visited my father on a regular basis.

Photo of Copa Lounge from when Andy hung out there..

“My father was up to date on everything-- he knew all about those tapes they were fighting over. My father used to laugh - Tony Lee would be praising John Gotti for making all these smart moves and my father would quip: “This is the same John Gotti i knew when he was growing up?'"

"To us, John was always John. I remember once in his club, one Saturday, John tells me: 'I’m on a diet, would ya believe all these jerkoffs are also on diets?'"

John was referring to the various Gambino wiseguys and associates in the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club.

Then Gotti told Anthony: "If I picked up little shit balls and ate them, these guys would do that, too."