Getaway From Sparks Steakhouse: 1992 Testimony of Former Underboss Sammy The Bull Gravano Part 7

In testimony at the 1992 trial, Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano details how he and John Gotti sat in a car and from a block away watched as Paul Castellano and Tommy Bilotti were shot to death in front of Sparks Steakhouse. 

From left: Jackie D'Amico, Joe "The German" Watts, John Gotti, and Sammy the Bull.
From left: Jackie D'Amico, Joe "The German" Watts, John Gotti, and Sammy the Bull.

Gravano said that, on the evening of December 16, 1985, he and Gotti drove to East 46th Street and parked within sight of Spark's Steakhouse after deploying an eight-man hit team (four primary shooters and four backup shooters).

Castellano and driver Thomas Bilotti actually pulled up next to Gotti's car at a light, but did not notice Gotti and Gravano. Bilotti then parked in front of the restaurant.

And the gunmen ran over to the Lincoln.

When it was done (at around 5:26 p.m.), the gunmen disappeared into the crowd, and Gotti and Gravano slowly drove past the scene.

"I looked at Tommy on the floor," Gravano said. "I told Johnny they were gone."

(While Gravano was spilling before the jury, “Gotti maintained a fixed smile as he stared at his former friend and trusted aide," the New York Times reported at the time.)

The fact that John Gotti and Sammy the Bull were actually on the scene when the shots were fired was big news back in the day. Gotti, through his lawyer Albert Krieger, took issue with the claim, arguing that Gravano had fabricated the information. (To this day, allies of John Gotti have insisted--including to yours truly--that Gravano was dissembling when he said he was with Gotti in front of Sparks on the day of the hits.)

The testimony about that part of the story was partly told in the previous installment in this series. The following, part 7, mostly centers on the immediate aftermath of the Castellano/Bilotti hits.

Gravano discusses a meeting that took place two days after Paul was killed at Caesar’s East restaurant. 

Gotti, Gravano, and other top members of the Gambino family met there to discuss what for the love of Pete was happening to the Gambinos..... 

Also in attendance was Gambino consigliere Joe Gallo, who was a key player in John Gotti's plot to take over. Gotti couldn't take a more proactive hands-on role himself, not yet anyway. After all, according to Gotti's own subterfuge, he had to still be what he was, a mere acting captain. (He was an  acting capo on the day Castellano breathed his last, and two days later, he was still an acting captain.) Consiglieri Gallo, however, had power. He became acting boss for the brief period between the Castellano slaying and when Gotti was formally voted boss by the captains. 

At the meeting at Caesar's, Gotti and the co-conspirators (including members of the so-called Fist) had to keep up the charade for the rest of the crime family. As such, Gallo told the capos gathered at the restaurant that "we didn’t know who killed Paul, we were investigating it. He was in charge of the Family at that point. He told all the captains not to discuss this out of the Family, not to have any of the members carry guns or overreact to anything, to anything that they would hear they would come back to—to Joe Gallo through either John or Frankie, and report everything back in place."

Gravano also details a few housekeeping-type items, just some of the basic things a new boss has to do after he whacks the old boss upon assuming command of a crime family. "John made his underboss, which was Frankie DeCicco. He kept Joe Gallo as his consigliere. He replaced Frankie DeCicco with his uncle Georgie DeCicco. And John was replaced by Angelo Ruggiero."

Toward the end of this installment, John Gleeson, Assistant United States Attorney, begins asking questions about the Ravenite bugging operation. As noted in a previous blog post, Gotti, Gravano, and Locascio talked about the horror of having to listen to surveillance recordings of themselves. The irony, of course, was that they were being recorded while they talked about being recorded.....

"I tell you what a fckin’ heartbreak," Gotti lamented. "You know you feel like you’re being raped with these fckin’ tapes."

"I know. I hate it," Gravano replied. "I, I listened to a couple a tapes of mine. I was sick."

GLEESON: What did you and John Gotti do after the shootings occurred? 

GRAVANO: We pulled straight up the block. 

GLEESON: By that, do you mean straight across Third Avenue and into that block? 

GRAVANO: Right. 

GLEESON: Did you see where the shooters went after the murders took place? 

GRAVANO: They went straight up the block toward Second Avenue. 

GLEESON: You mentioned that you and John Gotti drove through that intersection and into the block on which Sparks is located, correct? 


GLEESON: Did you drive fast or slow? 


GLEESON: As you drove past the restaurant, what did you do? 

GRAVANO: I noticed, I looked down at Tommy Bilotti. I said he was gone. We drove a little faster to go to Second Avenue. We made a right. We went back to my office in Brooklyn.

GLEESON: As you drove past Tommy Bilotti, could you see Castellano? 


GLEESON: As you drove down 46th Street—by the way, when you went down 46th Street, did you make a turnoff off 46th Street? 

GRAVANO: When we hit Second Avenue, we made a turn. 

GLEESON: Okay. What kind of a turn? 

GRAVANO: Right turn on Second Avenue. 

GLEESON: Then you testified you drove back to your office on Stillwell Avenue?

GRAVANO: Yes, in Brooklyn.

GLEESON: On the way down 46th Street to Second Avenue, did you see any of the shooters? 


GLEESON: Did you see them at all after you saw them head down toward Second Avenue after the shooting? 


[. . . .] 

GLEESON: Now, after these murders, were there any meetings of the captains in the Family? 

GRAVANO: A couple of days later. 

GLEESON: Where? 

GRAVANO: Down in New York, at Caesar’s East Restaurant. 

GLEESON: Where is that? 

GRAVANO: On 58th Street and Third Avenue. 

GLEESON: Okay. Whose restaurant was that? 

GRAVANO: It was mine, my brother-in-law Eddie’s, and this guy named Caesar. 

GLEESON: Sorry? 

GRAVANO: And a guy named Caesar. 

GLEESON: Who came to the meeting? 

GRAVANO: Joe Gallo, all the captains in the Family. Myself, Angelo, and most of the captains had somebody drive them down to the restaurant. 

[. . . .] 

GLEESON: Was anyone else present besides Joe Gallo and the captains for that meeting? 

GRAVANO: Just myself and Angelo. 

GLEESON: You weren’t captains at that point in time? 


GLEESON: Were you armed? 

GRAVANO: Excuse me? 

GLEESON: Did you have guns, you and Angelo? 

GRAVANO: I believe so. 

GLEESON: What was the purpose of your being there, you and Angelo? 

GRAVANO: Probably for some intimidation purposes. 

GLEESON: Is that what you understood your reason for being there was?


GLEESON: Who presided at this meeting in the downstairs at Caesar’s East?

GRAVANO: Joe Gallo did. 

GLEESON: What did he say? 

GRAVANO: He told all the captains that we didn’t know who killed Paul, we were investigating it. He was in charge of the Family at that point. He told all the captains not to discuss this out of the Family, not to have any of the members carry guns or overreact to anything, to anything that they would hear they would come back to—to Joe Gallo through either John or Frankie, and report everything back in place. 

[. . . .] 

GLEESON: You testified that Joe Gallo said that we don’t know who did it? 

GRAVANO: Yes. [. . . .] 

GLEESON: They [the captains at the meeting] weren’t told who did it, correct? 


GLEESON: You testified earlier that Joe Gallo had been approached by “Joe Piney” before the murder? 


GLEESON: Was there a reason that the other captains weren’t told who killed Paul and Tommy? 

GRAVANO: Because there is a commission rule about killing a boss. And we broke that rule. And we weren’t ever going to admit it. 

GLEESON: What’s the penalty for killing your boss? 

GRAVANO: Death penalty. 

GLEESON: At that point, there was no boss of the Family, correct? 


GLEESON: Was a new boss elected at that meeting? 


GLEESON: At the time, the time of that meeting, were you familiar with the procedures for appointing a new boss? 

GRAVANO: Some of them.

GLEESON: After the Caesar’s East meeting, were there any meetings to discuss that procedure?

GRAVANO: Yes. We had a meeting with Joe Gallo in a hotel, a small little coffee shop. 

GLEESON: Where was the hotel? 

GRAVANO: Uptown someplace, in Manhattan. 

GLEESON: You say “we had a meeting with Joe Gallo.” Who is the “we”? 

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

GLEESON: What was discussed at that meeting? 

GRAVANO: We discussed some of the positions of the other Families, how we were going to make the new boss, and what some of the rules and regulations were. Joe Gallo informed us that we could never tell the truth as far as killing Paul. We’d have to come up with a story sooner or later. We’d have to make up some sort of a story on what happened. And basically that was it. 

GLEESON: Okay. Did you discuss how you would go about electing a new boss or appointing a new boss? 


GLEESON: What did you discuss in that regard? 

GRAVANO: That the captains vote, they—they have an election. They take a vote and we vote a boss in. 

GLEESON: Mr. Gravano, you testified just now that Joe Gallo said you could never talk about or admit the murders, correct? 

GRAVANO: Right. 

GLEESON: Yesterday afternoon you testified that before the murders, three of the other four Families in New York were contacted? 


GLEESON: Why were they contacted? 

GRAVANO: Just to see, it was an off-the-record contact, just to see where and what direction they were going to go, what position they were going to take off the record. We weren’t asking for permission on the record. We couldn’t do that. It would take a formal meeting and all the Families would be involved. It would be a commission meeting to take a boss down. 

GLEESON: After the murder, were there any on-the-record contacts with the other Families?


GLEESON: Can you describe those? 

GRAVANO: After that, we sent out people to talk to other Families. We told them that we didn’t know what happened to Paul, but our Family was intact. We weren’t in a position that a war was going to break out. We had no internal trouble. And we didn’t want anybody to get involved in our problems. 

GLEESON: Were those messages off the record or on the record?

GRAVANO: Those were official messages. 

GLEESON: Were those messages sent to the same Families that had been spoken to unofficially before the murder? GRAVANO: Yes. 

GLEESON: To the same people within those Families? 


GLEESON: Was there a meeting to appoint a new boss? 

GRAVANO: Yes, later on Wednesday a meeting. 

GLEESON: Approximately how long after the murders did that take place? 

GRAVANO: A couple of weeks. 

GLEESON: Do you recall where? 

GRAVANO: It was in Manhattan, lower Manhattan someplace, in a building in a basement. 

GLEESON: Do you recall what kind of building it was? 

GRAVANO: It was a big complex. It was a recreation basement for an entire building. Somebody knew somebody in the building and we had access to this area. 

GLEESON: Who came to that meeting? 

GRAVANO: All the captains. 

GLEESON: Anyone else besides all the captains? 

GRAVANO: A few other people. Angelo, myself, John’s brother Genie, Georgie DeCicco, a few other people. 

[. . . .] 

GLEESON: Who presided at that meeting? 

GRAVANO: Joe Gallo. 

GLEESON: At that point his role was what?

GRAVANO: He was the consigliere of the Family and he was in control of the Family. 

GLEESON: What happened at the meeting? 

GRAVANO: They talked a bit. They talked about electing a new boss. I believe Frankie DeCicco got up and nominated John. They went right around the table. Everybody nominated John. John was the boss. 

GLEESON: Before the murder of Paul and Tommy, did you have any discussions with Frankie DeCicco as to who would be boss if Paul was killed? 

GRAVANO: Yes, there were conversations about it. 

GLEESON: Can you tell the jury the substance of those conversations that you had with DeCicco? 

GRAVANO: In the beginning, we were thinking about Frankie DeCicco becoming the boss.

GLEESON: Did he speak to you about that? 


GLEESON: What did he say? 

GRAVANO: He said he would be able to be John’s underboss, John would not be able to be his underboss, and leave it alone like that. 

GLEESON: Did he say—did he tell you anything about what would happen if John was his underboss? 

GRAVANO: John wouldn’t be able to live with it. His ego would bother him and they would clash. 

GLEESON: At that time, the time of that meeting when John was appointed boss, what was his position before he was appointed boss? 

GRAVANO: He was acting captain. 

GLEESON: What was Frankie DeCicco’s position before he was appointed underboss? 

GRAVANO: He was a captain. 

GLEESON: Was anything done to replace the two of them, once they were elected to boss and underboss? 

GRAVANO: Yes. Once it was done, John made his underboss, which was Frankie DeCicco. He kept Joe Gallo as his consigliere. He replaced Frankie DeCicco with his uncle Georgie DeCicco. And John was replaced by Angelo Ruggiero. 

GLEESON: Was that done at the meeting? 

GRAVANO: That was done at the meeting. 

GLEESON: Did there come a point shortly after the meeting when additional captains were made?

GRAVANO: About a week after that, I became a captain and Sonny Ciccone became a captain.

GLEESON: Who did you replace? 

GRAVANO: The old man Toddo. 

GLEESON: During the years leading up to your becoming captain, what you just described, could you describe the old man Toddo’s activity? Do you understand my question? 


GLEESON: He was in charge of a crew? 


GLEESON: When you replaced him as captain, was that against his wishes? 

GRAVANO: No, not really. 


GRAVANO: He was old. He was tired. He was looking to retire anyway. We had a close relationship. When he was asked to step down, he stepped down gracefully. 

GLEESON: Who did Sonny Ciccone replace? 

GRAVANO: Scotto. 

GLEESON: What was Scotto’s first name? 

GRAVANO: Anthony Scotto. 

GLEESON: After John Gotti was voted boss by the captains, was there anything else to be done? 

GRAVANO: We sent out committees again to other Families and notified them that we had elected a new boss, who our new boss was, who our new administration was, and we wanted their approval, for one thing, that we had no sanctions against our Family and we would be able to have no restrictions against our commission seat. 

GLEESON: Was there anything you were concerned about in terms of not wanting to have sanctions against the Family?

GRAVANO: I don’t understand that. 

GLEESON: What sanctions might have been imposed as a result of what? 

GRAVANO: Restrictions, that we couldn’t sit and have a vote on the commission. 

GLEESON: Were you concerned about why a sanction might be imposed? 

GRAVANO: Because a boss was killed and there was no explanation of it as yet and we thought there could be a possibility of somebody putting sanctions on us. 

GLEESON: Was the approval to have John Gotti on the commission without sanctions sought? 



GRAVANO: We went to each Family and we notified them that we have a boss, we have an administration. We have no problems within our Family. Every captain is in total agreement. We were still investigating the Paul situation, and we didn’t want any restrictions on our Family. 

GLEESON: Was a response received back? By the way, what other Families were contacted in this regard? 

GRAVANO: All four Families were contacted. 

GLEESON: All four in New York? 


GLEESON: Was a response received from those four Families?


GLEESON: What was the response? 

GRAVANO: It was a positive response. Every Family sent their blessings and they accepted it. Except for the Genovese Family. They accepted it but they told “Joe Piney” that to the exception, there was a rule broken, someday somebody would have to answer for that if and when the commission ever got together again.

GLEESON: And by that, what did you understand them to be referring to? 

GRAVANO: The rule with a boss being killed. 

GLEESON: Did there ever come a point when the administration of the Gambino Family had to answer for breaking that rule? 


GLEESON: After John became the boss, Mr. Gravano, as far as you knew, did the rest of the Gambino Family, did the captains, know who had killed Paul and Tommy? 

GRAVANO: We never told them. 

GLEESON: That wasn’t my question. You became part of the administration, correct? 


GLEESON: As part of the administration, did you have regular contact with other people in the Family?


GLEESON: Did the other people include the captains? 


GLEESON: Did you speak to them from time to time about the prior administration? 


GLEESON: Did you speak about Paul Castellano? 

GRAVANO: Yes, we did. 

GLEESON: You mentioned that there was unhappiness within the Family before the murder of Paul?


GLEESON: Was that unhappiness discussed from time to time? 

GRAVANO: Occasionally. 

GLEESON: After the murder, did you ever admit directly to anybody else in the Family that you had been involved in the murder of Paul Castellano? 


GLEESON: Why not?

GRAVANO: Because of that rule, we would never talk about it or admit. 

[. . . .] 


GLEESON: From time to time over the years, did you have occasion to discuss the events leading up to Paul Castellano’s and Tommy Bilotti’s murders with other people? 

GRAVANO: Again, I’m losing you. 

GLEESON: Okay. Did you learn that you were caught on tape at the Ravenite Social Club? 


GLEESON: Did you learn that after you got indicted? 

GRAVANO: Yes. .....

End of Part 7