1992 Testimony of Gambino Underboss Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, Part 1

"Joe Piney was the consigliere, Frankie (Loc) was acting consigliere." — Sammy the Bull testimony 

The 1992 murder and racketeering trial of top Gambino wiseguys John Gotti and Frank Locascio in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York resulted in Gotti's and Locascio's convictions and subsequent lifetime prison sentences.

Salvatore Gravano
Sammy the Bull testified against John Gotti in 1992.

In 2002, Gotti died of head and neck cancer at the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, at 61, nearly 10 years after he was flown (on an airplane, not his preferred mode of travel) to Marion Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.

In 2020, Frankie Loc continues trying to wiggle out of this sentence (ironically, with Gravano's assistance), though the effort stalled last month when Brooklyn Federal Judge I. Leo Glasser squashed the compassionate release motion in a 12-page decision that targeted any notion that Frankie Loc was innocent of the murder of Gambino soldier Louis DiBono — or was anything other than a lifelong thug. 

Since his 2017 release from prison, Gravano has claimed that Locascio was  wrongfully convicted. This is despite the fact that Gravano never testified that Locascio was innocent, though Gravano has alleged that this was because no one had ever asked him about it. (Gravano also has worked to help other former cohorts with their legal troubles, including Danny Fama, John (Jackie Nose) D’Amico, and Louis Vallario.)

The centerpiece of the government’s 1992 Gotti-Locascio indictment was the assassination of Gambino boss Paul Castellano, who was slain with his driver/underboss/loyal pitbull Thomas Bilotti on Dec. 16, 1985, in front of the midtown Manhattan steakhouse Sparks. 

Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano had been arrested with Gotti, Locascio, and capo Thomas Gambino the same night in December 1990 -- and Gravano should have been seated with his former cohorts at the defense table. But in a move that completely blindsided goodfella and lawman alike, Gravano flipped about 10 weeks before the trial was slated to begin, becoming a witness for the Fed's. Gravano was considered the most important American Mafia defector since former mob soldier Joseph Valachi, who testified before the Senate in the early 1960s. (While Valachi was a longtime Luciano button man, Gravano was an official member of a five family hierarchy.)

As per his agreement, Gravano agreed to testify and plead guilty to a single count of racketeering, and debrief the Feds about every crime he ever committed. The federal government in return dropped the litany of mob murder charges against Gravano, who would end up describing a role in 19 homicides over the course of his mob career, which included a stint with the Colombo family.

In complete deadpan, Gravano delivered his testimony over nine days. His inquisitors included John Gleeson, the assistant United States attorney, who elicited direct testimony, and from the other side, Albert Krieger, representing Gotti, and Anthony Cardinale and John Mitchell, representing Locascio.

Gravano talked and walked from the Gambino family, winning a mere five-year prison sentence as per his plea agreement. In 1994, while in the federal witness protection program, he moved himself and his family to Arizona. In 1995, he exited the program and started giving television and magazine interviews. In 1997, he wrote Underboss with Peter Maas and got his hands in the restaurant business and a swimming pool installation outfit in the Phoenix area. In 2000 Gravano was arrested (with his wife, daughter and son) for running an Ecstasy trafficking ring that supposedly brought in a half-million a week. Gravano pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in 2001 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. After serving most of the sentence he was released in 2017.

Quick Digression On Russel Bufalino

Gravano earlier this year discussed the Netflix flick The Irishman: He wasn't a fan. Gravano also told Vulture that the film's portrayal of Russell Bufalino was "exaggerated," an assertion that we agree with, as we touched on in Was Russell Bufalino Ever Interim Boss of the Genovese Crime Family? 

Gravano doesn't even seem to recognize that Bufalino was ever a factor in the landscape of organized crime in New York City....

“There’s times in the movie when they are talking about getting back to ‘the real boss,’ like it’s Bufalino,” the former underboss said of the film. “Angelo Bruno was the boss of the Philadelphia mob, not Russell Bufalino. So they got this whole f–king thing twisted and turned around. I don’t know who told them what.”

The Irishman did not do the shooting. He’s not the guy who killed Jimmy Hoffa,” he said. “From what I understood it was given to Tony Provenzano, who was a very powerful captain of the Genovese family, and his man, his guy Sally-something-or-other, whatever the f–k his name was — I can’t think of it... Yes, Sally Bugs (did it). From what I understood, he was the guy who actually killed Hoffa,” he said. “So the story was wrong. It was all done wrong!” 

The Gravano Testimony series will not be 100% comprehensive as our source material was edited for reasons of space. Four dots inside brackets highlight where material was excised. (We'd of course prefer to publish every single sigh and cough, but this is all we have.)


Salvatore Gravano, called as a witness, having been first duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows.

THE CLERK: Please give your name.

GRAVANO: Salvatore Gravano. 

GLEESON: May I begin, Your Honor? 

GLEESON: Do you have a nickname? 

GRAVANO: Excuse me? 

GLEESON: Do they call you Salvatore? 

GRAVANO: Sammy. 

GLEESON: Mr. Gravano, do what you can to keep your voice up, okay? That microphone is not on. Would you do that, please? 


GLEESON: How old are you? 

GRAVANO: Forty-six. 

GLEESON: Are you married? 


GLEESON: How long? 

GRAVANO: Twenty-one years.

GLEESON: Do you have children? 


GLEESON: How many? 


GLEESON: How old are they?

GRAVANO: Nineteen and a half and sixteen and a half. 

GLEESON: Where does your family live? 

GRAVANO: In Staten Island. 

GLEESON: Where were you born? 

GRAVANO: In Brooklyn.

 GLEESON: Where were you raised? 

GRAVANO: In Brooklyn. 

GLEESON: Do you have any brothers or sisters yourself? 

GRAVANO: Two sisters. 

GLEESON: Are they older than you or younger than you? 

GRAVANO: Older. 

GLEESON: How much education do you have? 

GRAVANO: Eighth grade. 

GLEESON: Did you drop out of school then? 


GLEESON: How old were you when you stopped going to school? 

GRAVANO: Sixteen. 

GLEESON: What year were you born? 

GRAVANO: 1945. 

GLEESON: You dropped out of school when you were sixteen, correct? 


GLEESON: That would be approximately 1961, fair to say? 


GLEESON: Were you ever in the military?


GLEESON: What branch? 

GRAVANO: The Army. 

GLEESON: Did you enlist or were you drafted? 

GRAVANO: I was drafted. 

GLEESON: When did you go in the Army? 

GRAVANO: 1964 to 1966.

 GLEESON: What type of discharge did you have from the Army? 

GRAVANO: Honorable discharge. 

GLEESON: Mr. Gravano, between 1961 and 1964, ’61 you left school, correct? 


GLEESON: ’64 you went in the Army? 


GLEESON: During that period, what did you do?

GRAVANO: I worked on and off, I hung out. 


GLEESON: Did you commit any crimes during that period? 


GLEESON: More than one? 


GLEESON: What types of crimes did you commit? 

GRAVANO: Armed robbery. Burglary. 

GLEESON: Okay. Armed robberies, you used a gun? 


GLEESON: You robbed people? 


GLEESON: Did you commit crimes with other people? 

GRAVANO: Yes, I did.

 GLEESON: After you were discharged from the military in 1966, where did you go? 

GRAVANO: Back to Brooklyn. 

GLEESON: What did you do then? 

GRAVANO: The same thing, on and off I did some work and I went back to the life of crime. 

GLEESON: Did you continue that life of crime? 


GLEESON: What neighborhood in Brooklyn did you grow up in? 

GRAVANO: Bensonhurst. 

GLEESON: As you were growing up, did you meet people who were involved in organized crime? 


GLEESON: Did you associate with them over the years? 

GRAVANO: Yes, I did. [. . . .] 

GLEESON: You said you were the underboss of the Gambino Family when you were arrested in December of 1990, correct? 


GLEESON: When you left the MCC [Metropolitan Correctional Center] in November of 1991, what position did you hold? 

GRAVANO: I was the underboss. 

GLEESON: Have you ever heard the term “administration”? 


GLEESON: To you what does that mean?

GRAVANO: There is the boss, the underboss, and the consigliere, it’s the higher up in the family. The administration.

GLEESON: Were you part of the administration of the Gambino Family in November of 1991? 


GLEESON: Who was the rest of the administration? 

GRAVANO: John was the boss, I was the underboss, and Frank—and Joe Piney was the consigliere, Frankie was acting consigliere. 

GLEESON: Fair to say when you you say “John,” you are referring to John Gotti?


GLEESON: And Frankie is Frank Locascio? 


GLEESON: And in November of 1991, where was Joe Piney?

GRAVANO: He was in jail. 

GLEESON: Did you know his last name? 

GRAVANO: Armone. 

GLEESON: What’s below the administration? 

GRAVANO: Captains. 

GLEESON: Were there captains in the Gambino Family in November of 1991? 


GLEESON: During your debriefings, have you had an opportunity to tell the people who have debriefed you who those captains were? 


GLEESON: Before coming into court today to testify, were you shown a chart depicting the names and photographs of the administration and those captains? 


GLEESON: Was it accurate? 


GLEESON: Mr. Gravano, together with the defendants and with the captains on that chart, did you help run the Gambino Family? 


GLEESON: Let’s go back in time, if we can. When you came home from the service in 1966, where did you go? 

GRAVANO: Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. 

GLEESON: You testified already that then you began basically a life of crime, correct? 


GLEESON: Did you have any jobs during that period beginning in 1966? 

GRAVANO: Did I have any jobs? 

GLEESON: Yes. Any jobs other than committing crimes? 

GRAVANO: Yes. I was in the construction field. 

GLEESON: Was there a particular person who got you involved in the construction field?

GRAVANO: I worked on and off with my brother-in-law Eddie. 

GLEESON: How is he your brother-in-law, Eddie? 

GRAVANO: Married to my sister. 

GLEESON: What’s his last name?

 GRAVANO: Garafolo.

GLEESON: Did there came a point in time when he became a made member of the Gambino Family? 


GLEESON: Have you ever heard the expression, Mr. Gravano, “to be with somebody”? 


GLEESON: What does that expression mean to you? 

GRAVANO: When you are with somebody, you are with a made person of an organized crime family and just with them, you’re under their umbrella, under their protection. 

GLEESON: Did there come a point when you became with somebody in an organized crime family? 


GLEESON: When was that? 

GRAVANO: In ’68. [. . . .] 

GLEESON: Okay. In that two-year period between when you got home from the Army and ’68 when you were with Shorty Spero, what did you do for a living? 

GRAVANO: The same thing. I worked on and off. I committed—committing crimes. 

GLEESON: Did you commit lots of crimes? 

GRAVANO: I guess so. 

GLEESON: Well, what is your recollection? 


GLEESON: Okay. Did you use guns? 


GLEESON: Did you commit armed robberies? 

GRAVANO: Yes, I did.

GLEESON: Were there people you committed crimes with regularly during that period? 


GLEESON: Mr. Gravano, were there people who you committed crimes with regularly for long periods of time? 


[. . . .] 

GLEESON: Can you tell us what types of crimes you committed to make money during that period? 

GRAVANO: The same thing, armed robberies, burglaries, shylocking. I had a club. I ran a game. 

GLEESON: What kind of game? 

GRAVANO: Card game. 

GLEESON: A gambling game? GRAVANO: Gambling. 

GLEESON: Okay. You mentioned armed robberies, correct? 


GLEESON: Did you commit those alone or with other people? 

GRAVANO: With other people.

 GLEESON: I think you mentioned shylocking? 


GLEESON: Is that criminal activity? 


GLEESON: Have you been engaged in that for a long period of time? 


GLEESON: Basically your whole adult life? 


GLEESON: Can you tell the jury what it is? 

GRAVANO: It is just lending somebody money out at a very high interest rate. 

GLEESON: And did you make those loans? 

GRAVANO: Yes, I did. 

GLEESON: Okay. In those circumstances, when you made those loans, Mr. Gravano, did the people you lent the money to, as far as you knew, were they under the impression that if they didn’t pay the money back they might have some physical problems? 

GRAVANO: Yes, I would imagine so. 

GLEESON: Did you deliberately create that impression on their part? 


[. . . .] 

GLEESON: You said you were with Shorty [Spero of the Colombo Family] for four years, correct? 


GLEESON: What happened at the end of those four years?

 GRAVANO: I had a dispute with Shorty’s brother and I had a meeting with Toddo from the Gambino Family, with Shorty and Alley Boy Persico, and I was released and put into the Gambino Family. 

GLEESON: You had a dispute with Shorty Spero’s brother?


GLEESON: You mentioned the name Toddo. Who is Toddo? 

GRAVANO: Toddo was captain in the—in the Gambino Family.

 [. . . .] 

GLEESON: You mentioned a term that you were “released.” Am I correct? 


GLEESON: What does that mean? 

GRAVANO: When I was on record with the Colombo Family, they had to do it formally, release me. There was a “beef” and there was an argument. They sat down. They formally released me to Toddo. Toddo intervened and talked for me. 

GLEESON: I’m sorry? Toddo what? 

GRAVANO: Intervened in the problem and talked for me. 

GLEESON: You used the term a minute ago, you were “on record” with the Colombo Family. What does that mean? 

GRAVANO: It means when you are with somebody, you are on record. It’s the same thing. 

GLEESON: Okay. Does that give you any advantage if you happen to be with somebody? 

GRAVANO: It gives you that umbrella, yes. 

GLEESON: Okay. Did you just give us—briefly, what does the umbrella mean? 

GRAVANO: If I had a card game or a disco or a club, no other Family or made member or anybody could move in on it. I had the protection of who you were with. 

GLEESON: And did you go from being with Shorty Spero to being with Toddo? 


GLEESON: After you switched to the Gambino Family in approximately 1972, did you continue to commit crimes?

 GRAVANO: Yes, I did

 GLEESON: What types of crimes? 

GRAVANO: Murder, shylocking, construction—I was in the construction industry. I moved with unions.

 GLEESON: Wide variety of crimes?


GLEESON: Did you commit them with other people in Toddo’s crew?


GLEESON: Did you commit them with people who were associated with other crews in the Gambino Family? 


GLEESON: Did you commit crimes with people who were associated with other crime Families? 


GLEESON: During that period, after you switched to Toddo’s crew, did you share the proceeds of your crimes with anyone? 


GLEESON: With whom? 

GRAVANO: With Toddo. 

[. . . .] 

GLEESON: Now, did there come a point when you became a made member of the Gambino Family? 


GLEESON: When was that?

 GRAVANO: ’76. In ’76. 

[. . . .]

 GLEESON: At that point, who was the boss of the Gambino Family? 

GRAVANO: Paul...

To be continued....