1992 Testimony of Gambino Underboss Salvatore (Sammy The Bull) Gravano Part 6: The Hits

Why did John Gotti kill Paul Castellano?  

Because he could.

Specifically, Castellano was killed because he stood in John Gotti's way. 

The laundry list of grievances—Big Paul sold out the family, allowed Chin to whack a made Gambino member, had splintered the family with craven demands for transcripts he didn't need, possibly to test his underboss's loyalty, among other things—may have consisted of independent truths, but together they served largely as pretext.

Sammy the Bull lays it all out in Underboss. (Even if you don't want to believe Gravano, in this case, he earned no clear benefit making any of this up.)

"I don't think John gave a fuck about Angelo (Ruggiero) or the tapes," Gravano noted. "I think he was looking to create a situation to capitalize on our other grievances about Paul."

And while there were some very real simmering tensions between the Dellacroce and Castellano factions, Frank DeCicco, one of the only figures in this story to enjoy the mutual respect of Castellano the boss and Dellacroce the underboss (it also is why DeCicco won a very abrupt and violent death months after Castellano was hit) didn't bite when Angelo (Quack Quack) Ruggiero tried to convince him that Dellacroce had real problems with Castellano, Gravano says.

"To Ruggiero's unhappiness, DeCicco said that as far as he was concerned, his uncle (Neil) 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."

Did Castellano even have to die, is a question we've posed before. Former Gambino capo Michael (Mikie Scars) DiLeonardo told us, "Paul was going to take a heavy fall and that shows the irony of it. I never would've killed him if I was John. John already had most of the capos behind him."

The grievances served their purpose. The Gambino wiseguys who went along with Gotti could still look in the mirror and call themselves honorable men with a straight face. (Some went on to exceedingly wealthy futures for betraying Castellano. Frank DeCicco would be named underboss (his rein was quite short) and Joe (The German) Watts was given Tommy Bilotti's loanshark book, are two examples.)

Castellano, in the months before he was gunned down, probably had the fullest daily schedule of his life, having been twice indicted. He was attending the jury trial for one of the cases (the one tied to the massive car-theft operation once run by the deceased Roy DeMeo) when he was killed in midtown Manhattan in December 1985. If nothing else, death spared Castellano from spending whatever years he would've had left--had natural causes been allowed to take their course--in prison.  Even if he managed to beat the car theft case, Castellano, who had multiple preexisting health conditions, most certainly would've received a100-year prison sentence at the end of the Commission trial.

Boss of Bosses: The Fall of the Godfather- The FBI and Paul Castellano
Click image to shop book.

One figure in this story about whom too little has been written, is Tommy Bilotti, Paul's underboss who was killed alongside him in the street in front of Sparks.

Former FBI agents Joseph O'Brien and Andris Kurins give us their point of view on Bilotti in Boss of Bosses: The Fall of the Godfather, writing, “He was short – five feet seven. He was stubby – a rock-solid two-twenty. He wore a bad toupee. He had no tact, no charm, no sense of humor. He had a big mouth, and his piggish eyes were too close together. To the concept of self-control he was a stranger.”

“As long as he was waiting on Paul Castellano, Tommy Bilotti was deferential, subdued, watchful yet calm, like a dog on a rug. His self-esteem derived from adoration of the master, and he could afford to be well-behaved. Problems occurred, however, when Bilotti was sent on errands of his own. Out of sight of the Boss, he got rambunctious. He tried to play the big shot; he overdid things. He got creative in a sadistic sort of way, and embroidered gratuitous cruelty through what should have been straightforward business transactions.”

Bilotti "was basically a pit bull with shoes on. If he had a business ability beyond choreographing a shakedown or calculating the interest owed on shylock loans, it didn’t show. In a milieu not known for its conversational finesse, Bilotti distinguished himself by spluttering inarticulateness.... ” As an example, the writers include transcripts of Bilotti regaling fellow wiseguys with a story in which he notes, “It’s gonna be like throwing the baby out with the bathtub.”

“The bathwater,” Alfonso (Funzi) Mosca corrected him. “Not the bathtub.”

The authors note that Castellano's anointing of Bilotti as his underboss (he had also been Castellano's driver and protégé) belied the sophisticated CEO-type image that Big Paul worked for years to cultivate for himself.

Castellano wasn't of low intellect. Bilotti may not have had an abundance of plusses, but he wasn't a zero. He was a hard-worker, he seemed largely fearless, and he was loyal to the grave to Big Paul, the authors of Boss of Bosses tell us.

Bilotti had another side to him that was rarely on display when he was among wiseguys. Bilotti had watched his first wife, Catherine, die at the end of her battle with cancer. She was only in her mid thirties when her life ended. Even after he remarried, Bilotti continued to regularly visit her grave to place flowers. Bilotti also had an autistic child who he loved dearly.

One story included in Boss of Bosses that we will never forget involved something that happened at a Staten Island bar where Bilotti went one afternoon to collect a vig.

The bar owner had already been brutally beaten several weeks earlier and was still recovering while struggling to pay his medical bills. 

When Bilotti walked in, he held in his chunky hands a baseball bat.

Whatever customers were in the bar at the time scurried toward the rear exit.

“No one leaves,” said Bilotti.

Looking at the bartender who had now turned white, Bilotti ordered him out from behind the bar and to get down on his knees in front of him.

Bilotti glared at the customers and said, “Why do you a--holes drink at a place run by a scumbag who doesn’t pay his bills? A f---ing deadbeat. How can you do business with a f---ing piece of s--- like this? And he’s a faggot besides. You guys didn’t know that?”

Bilotti continued to make his point by pulling down his zipper and ordering the bartender to put his mouth on him.

“You see?” Bilotti told the customers. “He likes it.”

The following continues with Sammy the Bull still being questioned on direct by John Gleeson, the then-Assistant United States Attorney.

GLEESON: How long after you pulled into that spot did you see the Lincoln pull up to the right of you?

GRAVANO: A couple of minutes.

GLEESON: What did you see?

GRAVANO: The Lincoln pulled up with Paul and Tommy Bilotti in it.

GLEESON: They pulled up on where, what street were they on?

GRAVANO: Right on 42nd Street. They stopped for the light. They had their dome light on. They were talking.

GLEESON: Were they on the same street you were parked on?

GRAVANO: Right next to us.

GLEESON: You mentioned 42nd Street. You mean—

GRAVANO: 46th Street.

GLEESON: They were right next to you and John?


GLEESON: Did their car have tinted windows?


GLEESON: Could you see into their car?



GRAVANO: They had the light on. The dome light in the car.

GLEESON: Now, they were on 46th Street facing Third Avenue, correct?


GLEESON: Had they yet crossed Third Avenue?


GLEESON: Was the light red or green when they pulled up?

GRAVANO: It was red.

GLEESON: Where were you in relation—who was driving that car, by the way?


GLEESON: Where was Paul seated?

GRAVANO: In the passenger seat.

GLEESON: In the front passenger?


GLEESON: Where was Tommy in relation to you when they pulled up to the light?

GRAVANO: He was right next to me. In the next car.

GLEESON: Could you see whether they were doing anything in the car?

GRAVANO: They were just talking. I don’t know what they were doing.

GLEESON: Okay. So you remember the dome light was on?


GLEESON: Okay. Did you look over and see Tommy?


GLEESON: At that point did you do anything?

GRAVANO: I just turned and I told John they were right next to us. I got on the walkie-talkie and told them that they were stopped at the light, the first car, and they were coming through.

GLEESON: Who did you tell that?

GRAVANO: To the people on the other end who were waiting, the shooters and whoever had the walkie-talkie.

GLEESON: Did you know which of those people that were at the scene had the walkie-talkies?


GLEESON: What happened then?

GRAVANO: The light turned. They pulled up. There was a parking space in front of the restaurant. They pulled into the spot. The shooters, Tommy got out. The shooters ran over to them, started shooting them. They watched the surrounding people. We pulled up. I looked at—at Tommy on the floor. I told John he was gone. We went to Second Avenue, made a right, and went back to my office.

GLEESON: Let’s back up a little bit. After they go through the light, where specifically did they park?

GRAVANO: Right in front of the restaurant.

GLEESON: From that vantage point, could you see the shooters?


GLEESON: What were you watching as this was happening?

GRAVANO: The people, the people on the street. The surrounding people.


GRAVANO: Because I was a backup shooter. If anybody would interfere with them, I would come into play.

GLEESON: Did you see who shot who?


GLEESON: Did you see Paul get out of the car?


GLEESON: Did you see Tommy get out of the car?


GLEESON: Did you see which one was shot first?

GRAVANO: I believe Paul was shot first.


GRAVANO: Tommy squatted down to look through the window, kind of squatted down. And then somebody came up behind him and shot him. He was actually watching Paul get shot.

GLEESON: Did you watch the shooting the whole time it was occurring?


GLEESON: Did you see who shot who?


GLEESON: Later on, did you discuss who actually did the shooting of the four shooters who were on the scene?

GRAVANO: Just the four shooters.

GLEESON: Did all of them fire their guns? Did you discuss this later on?

GRAVANO: No. We discussed it later on. They didn’t all fire their guns. Supposedly, Eddie Lino had reported back that Vinnie Artuso’s gun jammed and that he didn’t shoot.

GLEESON: You say “supposedly.” Who told you this?

GRAVANO: John had told me that Eddie Lino reported it back in.

GLEESON: That Vinnie Artuso’s gun had jammed?

GRAVANO: That Vinnie’s gun jammed and he didn’t shoot. [. . . .]

GLEESON: Were Bilotti and Castellano shot basically as—right after they parked in front of Sparks Steak House?


GLEESON: Did it take a long period of time?


In the next installment, Gravano discusses the getaway from the Sparks hits.