1992 Testimony of Salvatore (Sammy The Bull) Gravano Part 4: Plotting To Kill A Boss

When asked why Gambino wiseguys were unhappy with Paul Castellano, Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano said, "There was a number of reasons that Paul was eventually having a lot of problems with a lot of different people." 

Tommy Bilotti and Paul Castellano
THE TARGETS: Tommy Bilotti, left, and Paul Castellano.

One of the lesser-known reasons had to do with Castellano's decision to allow the Genovese family to murder Connecticut-based Gambino capo Frank (The Attorney) Piccolo (aka Frankie Lanza), who was once considered one of the top wiseguys in Connecticut. Specifically, in the 1950s, as per state and local law enforcement, Piccolo was one of the two reigning mob powers in the state. The other was Genovese wiseguy Ralph (Whitey) Tropiano.

Then, in September 1981, when Piccolo was 58 and awaiting trial for plotting to extort high-profile Las Vegas entertainers Wayne Newton and Lola Falana, his reign reached an abrupt end after he was gunned down outside a Bridgeport telephone booth. 

Piccolo had been killed because Castellano had allowed it when Genovese boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante complained about Piccolo. Castellano's decision to let Chin, one of Paul's major construction business partners, end the life of the powerful Gambino capo proved consequential. 

Gravano later said, after hearing what happened to Piccolo, he lost respect for Castellano and gained admiration for Gigante. 

“The Chin would never do (what Castellano had done),” Gravano said. “Nobody fucked with (Chin). He ran a tight ship.” 

Gravano wasn't the only one who had a tough time swallowing the Piccolo hit.

"Everyone in the Gambino family was disturbed" about Castellano's decision to sacrifice a made member to appease Chin, Sammy the Bull told the FBI. 

The Gambino family's interests in Connecticut were mentioned in one of the counts in the indictment against Gotti and Frank Locascio, accusing them of controlling illegal gambling in Stamford, Greenwich, and Bridgeport (and parts of Westchester County, N.Y.), beginning in 1985.

See previous installments in this series:
1992 Testimony of Gambino Underboss Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, Part 1

The following continues with Sammy the Bull still under direct questioning by John Gleeson, the then Assistant United States Attorney.

GLEESON: You already testified that you participated in the murder of Paul Castellano, correct? 


GLEESON: Did you know Tommy Bilotti? 


GLEESON: Who was he? 

GRAVANO: He was a captain in the Gambino Family. 

GLEESON: Was there anybody with whom he was particularly close to when he was a captain? 

GRAVANO: He was very close with Paul Castellano. 

GLEESON: Was anybody murdered along with him? 

GRAVANO: Tommy and Paul were murdered together. 

GLEESON: Did there come a point before Tommy and Paul were murdered, that you became unhappy with Paul Castellano? 


GLEESON: Did you hear others express their unhappiness as well? 


GLEESON: Was there one reason for that or more than one reason? 

GRAVANO: There’s quite a few reasons. 

GLEESON: Are there any reasons that you would describe as germane reasons why people were unhappy with Paul Castellano as boss? 

GRAVANO: He was selling out the Family for his own basic businesses. He had a captain who was in our Family, Piccolo, killed and he used another Family to do it. He used certain unions and certain companies that belong to our Family, he made other Families service them and take care of them.… There was a number of reasons that Paul was eventually having a lot of problems with a lot of different people. 

[. . . .] 

GLEESON: Another problem you mentioned was Paul had had a captain killed. You mentioned the name Piccolo? 


GLEESON: How long before Paul was murdered did this happen?

GRAVANO: Quite a while. I don’t remember the exact dates. 

GLEESON: Did Piccolo have a particular responsibility within the Gambino Family? 

GRAVANO: He was a captain in Connecticut, controlled our interests in Connecticut. 

GLEESON: What was it about the handling of the Piccolo situation that made people unhappy with Paul? 

GRAVANO: You just don’t let another Family kill a captain within your own Family. That’s against our rules, and nobody was happy with that. 

GLEESON: You mentioned a problem relating to Angelo. Which Angelo were you referring to? 

GRAVANO: Angelo Ruggiero. 

GLEESON: What was the nature of that problem? 

GRAVANO: Angelo Ruggiero had gotten caught with some tapes. Paul wanted the tapes, and there was a beef or a problem with the tapes. Angelo didn’t want to give it to him, and he wanted the tapes. 

GLEESON: Was anybody taking Angelo’s part, as far as you were aware, in that period of time. Do you understand my question? 

GRAVANO: Yes, I do. I believe John was taking his part and I believe Neil was taking his part. 

GLEESON: At that point, what was Neil’s position? 

GRAVANO: In the beginning, it was that they were arguing with Paul. Paul was trying to get the tapes from Angelo. When he refused, he was trying to get them off from Neil. 

GLEESON: What was his position in the Gambino Family? 



GRAVANO: Underboss. 

GLEESON: Was there anything about the tapes that made this a big problem other than it might otherwise have been? 

GRAVANO: There was a lot of conversations about drugs. 

GLEESON: Was this problem discussed within the Family? 


GLEESON: Who did you discuss it with before Paul’s murder? 

GRAVANO: Frankie DeCicco and other people. 

GLEESON: Did you learn who Paul had spoken to in order to get the tapes? 

GRAVANO: I believe he spoke with his lawyer to get the tapes. 

GLEESON: Did you learn whether he had spoken to anyone within the Family? 

GRAVANO: No, I don’t know. 

GLEESON: Did you learn why he wanted the tapes? 

GRAVANO: I think he wanted to prove to Neil that Angelo was in the drug business. 

GLEESON: Did he finally get the tapes? 

GRAVANO: I believe so. 

GLEESON: Did you hear that, at that period of time? 


GLEESON: Did there come a point, Mr. Gravano, when you participated in discussions about murdering Paul Castellano? 


GLEESON: Was there one such discussion or more than one? 

GRAVANO: There was a lot of different discussions. 

GLEESON: Approximately how long before Paul Castellano and Tommy Bilotti were murdered was the first discussion about murdering him? 

GRAVANO: About eight, ten months before. 

GLEESON: Can you describe the circumstances of the first conversation you had along that line? 

GRAVANO: Di B came to me and told me Angelo Ruggiero wants to talk to me in Queens about Paul, and I went down to talk to Angelo about it. 

GLEESON: Where did you go in Queens? 

GRAVANO: On 101st Avenue. 

GLEESON: What was there? 

GRAVANO: There’s a club there. 

GLEESON: Whose club was it? 

GRAVANO: John’s. 

GLEESON: When you went there, did you speak to Angelo alone, or were there other people present? 

GRAVANO: Alone. 

GLEESON: Where were you, inside or outside? 

GRAVANO: Outside. 

GLEESON: Could you tell the jury what the conversation was? 

GRAVANO: Angelo had told me that it came time, he wanted to know if I was with him, as far as killing Paul Castellano. At that time, I asked him where John was. What his opinion was. I asked him where Frankie DeCicco was. We were just alone in the meeting. It didn’t just strike me right. 

GLEESON: What was his response when you said that about John and Frank? 

GRAVANO: “John is with us,” he said, “you can go talk to Frankie.” And I told him I would get back to him. 

GLEESON: Did you go talk to Frankie? 


GLEESON: Where did you speak to him? 

GRAVANO: I believe I spoke to him on Bath Avenue. 

GLEESON: What was there? 

GRAVANO: A club. 

GLEESON: When you spoke to Frankie, what did he say? 

GRAVANO: Well, at this time there was a lot of different conversation about Paul, nobody was too happy, it didn’t come as any shock we were going into this direction. And he asked me what my feelings and my position was and we had a serious conversation and we sent messages back and forth through Di B to John and Angelo and we decided to back their play. 

GLEESON: You mentioned you sent messages through Di B? 


GLEESON: What was Di B’s position? 

GRAVANO: A soldier in the Family who answered directly to Paul in the administration, the high-level business end. 

GLEESON: Mr. Gravano, at that point in time were there factions within the Gambino Family? 


GLEESON: Did the discussions that you had, that you described in part, did they continue over a period of time? 


GLEESON: At any time did you discuss obtaining support of other people within the Family? 


GLEESON: What did you discuss in that regard?

GRAVANO: Once we discussed that we were going to go along with it, we discussed which captains would go along with it, which Family would go along with it, what problems we would have either from the commission, from his immediate family, what fraction would be against us, and which would be with us. We had a lot of different discussion about that. 

GLEESON: Were there any particular captains within the Family whose support you wanted? 

GRAVANO: Looking for old-timers’ support which we understand “Joe Piney” was with us. “Joe Piney” assured he would be able to reach Joe Gallo, who was consigliere, and do the right thing after it was over. 

GLEESON: Let me stop you there. Who assured you of that? 

GRAVANO: “Joe Piney” assured John and Angelo, and they told us— 

GLEESON: When you say they told us, who are you referring to? 

GRAVANO: Myself, Frankie DeCicco. 

GLEESON: Did you do anything to speak to “Joe Piney” about this directly, you and Frank DeCicco? 

GRAVANO: We had one meeting before we finally went forward; we sat in a house in Staten Island, Joe Watts’s house. 

GLEESON: Was Joe Watts present for the meeting? 

GRAVANO: He was excused. 

GLEESON: Who was present at that meeting? 

GRAVANO: Frankie, myself, “Joe Piney,” John, and Angelo. 

GLEESON: What was discussed? 

GRAVANO: Exactly what I just said—“Piney” would talk to the old-timers and it wouldn’t be a problem with them and they would be able to control Joe Gallo. And he had a relationship with the West Side people. 

GLEESON: When you say the West Side people, who do you mean? 

GRAVANO: The Genovese people. 

GLEESON: When you said “Piney” would be able to control Joe Gallo, control him how? 

GRAVANO: He would go along with what we were doing. 

GLEESON: Did “Piney” give you that assurance? 


GLEESON: Did there come a time later on, Mr. Gravano, when “Joe Piney” had a way of referring to the people who were involved, the fractions that were involved in this plan to murder Paul? 

GRAVANO: A couple of times, five different fractions that got involved. 

GLEESON: Who were the heads of those five fractions? 

GRAVANO: John was the head of his, I was the head of mine, Frank DeCicco the head of his, “Joe Piney” the head of his, and Di B was the head of his. 

GLEESON: At that time you were a soldier? 


GLEESON: Di B was a soldier? 


GLEESON: Did you tell any of the other people in your crew that you were involved in these discussions before the plan to murder Paul was carried out? 

GRAVANO: Only one. 

GLEESON: Who was that? 

GRAVANO: This guy, old man Paruta. 

GLEESON: Do you know his first name? 

GRAVANO: Joe Paruta. 

GLEESON: After this discussion with “Joe Piney” were ways discussed to kill Paul Castellano, ways that weren’t used? 


GLEESON: More than one? 

GRAVANO: Yes, a couple. 

GLEESON: Can you tell us the ones you remember? 

GRAVANO: One time looking into killing him near his house, either going out or coming home. At one point this is why old man Paruta was involved, he had a case and stopped by a diner at Seventh Avenue and 65th Street before they went to the lawyer, and they didn’t know the old man and he would be able to walk in the diner and shoot the two of them. The meeting came to us at Sparks that he was going to have. 

GLEESON: That meeting resulted in a plan that was used, is that correct? 


GLEESON: Go back to the ones that weren’t. You said that he had a case, who had a case? 


GLEESON: What kind of case? 

GRAVANO: A racketeering case. 

GLEESON: You mentioned that they stopped at a diner, when you say they, who are you referring? 

GRAVANO: Paul and Tommy.

Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano

GLEESON: Did you see Tommy Bilotti in Paul’s company? 


GLEESON: Often? 

GRAVANO: All the time.

GLEESON: The diner that you mentioned they stopped at that was on their way where? 

GRAVANO: To see their attorney, Jimmy La Rossa, in Manhattan. 

GLEESON: At the time he was eventually murdered was Paul Castellano on trial?


GLEESON: By the way, was there a particular reason that the idea of killing Paul near his home wasn’t used? 

GRAVANO: There was a couple of reasons. One, there was a lot of FBI surveillance by his house and if there was another option to kill we would use that option. 

GLEESON: Was Neil Dellacroce still alive while the plans were being considered to murder Paul? 


GLEESON: Was he still the underboss? 


GLEESON: Did he have a role in this plan? 

GRAVANO: No, not really; he was sick.

GLEESON: Did he eventually die? 

GRAVANO: Excuse me? 

GLEESON: Did he eventually die before— 


GLEESON: You mentioned one of the things discussed was other Families, is that correct? 


GLEESON: Was anything done to contact other Families about the plan to murder Paul? 


GLEESON: What was done? 

GRAVANO: We reached “Vic” and “Gas” with the Lucchese Family, and the boss and underboss was on trial. We weren’t concerned with them. Asked “Gas” to reach Christy Tick with the Lucchese Family. 

GLEESON: “Vic” and “Gas” were who? 

GRAVANO: One captain and one made member in the Lucchese Family. 

GLEESON: Christy Tick? 

GRAVANO: Consigliere in the Lucchese Family.

GLEESON: Did you have a close relationship with any of these people? 


GLEESON: With who? 

GRAVANO: “Vic” and “Gas.” 

GLEESON: Who contacted “Vic” and “Gas”? 

GRAVANO: Frankie DeCicco and myself. 

GLEESON: What was their response?

GRAVANO: They were behind it. 

GLEESON: Were any of the other Families contacted? 

GRAVANO: Colombo Family spoke with Angelo and sent a message with Angelo—What is John waiting for to kill Paul? We knew they were behind us and wouldn’t be a problem. 

GLEESON: Who were the people that were contacted in the Colombo Family?

GRAVANO: Gerry Lang was the underboss and Donny Shacks was the captain helping Gerry run the Family. Carmine Junior Persico was in jail at the time. 

GLEESON: Who contacted them? 

GRAVANO: Angelo spoke to them. 

GLEESON: Lucchese and Colombo Families, any other Families? 

GRAVANO: Bonanno, Joe Massino the underboss, and had a close relationship with John and they would be behind us without a problem. The only people we didn’t reach was the Genovese people. 

GLEESON: Any reason? 

GRAVANO: Paul was already partners back and forth; we didn’t trust them. 

GLEESON: You began to say a moment ago, I believe, you came up with a plan that was used. Is that correct?


GLEESON: What was that plan?

GRAVANO: The plan was to kill him out of Sparks Steak House. 

GLEESON: How long approximately before the murders took place did you come up with this plan? 

GRAVANO: About a week, ten days. 

GLEESON: Was Dellacroce dead or alive when you came up with the plan? 

GRAVANO: Dead already. 

GLEESON: Did Dellacroce’s death have anything to do with this plan to murder— 

GRAVANO: It may have heightened it. 


GRAVANO: One, that Paul showed disrespect and didn’t go to the funeral of his own underboss, and we were wondering if Paul, if and when, because he had the tapes already he might make a move. 

GLEESON: Paul might make a move? 


GLEESON: By that, what do you mean? 

GRAVANO: He might strike. 

GLEESON: What do you mean by “strike”? 

GRAVANO: He might have somebody whacked. 

GLEESON: Were there any particular people he might whack? 

GRAVANO: John and Angelo.

GLEESON: Did Neil Dellacroce have a crew? 

GRAVANO: John and them were basically his crew. Even though an underboss don’t have a crew. They were close associates. 

GLEESON: Did Castellano express any intentions to the people close to Neil after Neil died? 

GRAVANO: Excuse me? 

GLEESON: After Dellacroce died, did Castellano express any plan or intention to the people close to Dellacroce? 

GRAVANO: John’s crew—he was going to break it up.

GLEESON: You were aware of that before Castellano was murdered? 

GRAVANO: I believe so. 

GLEESON: Did you subsequently have a conversation with John Gotti about that? 


GLEESON: Was there a particular event that gave rise to the plan that was eventually used? 

GRAVANO: Found out he had an appointment with a few people in the restaurant, and we made arrangements to kill him outside the restaurant. 

GLEESON: How did you find out about the meeting? 

GRAVANO: Quite a few people knew he was meeting with Frankie DeCicco and already disclosed to us as one of the people to attend. 

GLEESON: He was part of the plan to kill him? 


GLEESON: Was there anybody else a part of the plan to kill him who was going to be at the meeting? 

GRAVANO: No, I don’t believe so. 

GLEESON: Who were the other people who were going to be at that meeting? 

GRAVANO: “Jimmy Brown,” John Gammarano, I believe Danny Marino, Frank DeCicco, Tommy Gambino, himself, Tommy Bilotti, and I don’t know who else. 

GLEESON: And of those, just Frankie DeCicco was involved in the plan to kill both? 


Next: Choosing the Hit Team