When DiB Got Whacked: Testimony Of Gambino Underboss Salvatore (Sammy The Bull) Gravano Part 9

Gambino wiseguy Robert (DiB) DiBernardo—the Gambino family's czar of pornography, including, disturbingly, child pornography, who was made to disappear on Gambino boss John Gotti’s orders—played a role in the 1984 presidential election.

Robert DiBernardo, known as DiB, disappeared in 1986.

As per an intelligence report by the New York State Organized Crime Task Force, in 1985 John A. Zaccaro—the husband of Geraldine A. Ferraro, who served in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1985, and was the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee in 1984—was observed chatting with DiBernardo. At the time, DiBernardo was running Star Distributing Company, which law enforcement officials identified as one of the largest pornography operations in the US. DiB ran the porn business out of a building co-owned by Zaccaro and managed by his real estate brokerage, P. Zaccaro Inc., in lower Manhattan. (Ferraro, herself an officer in the real-estate business, said she and her husband were unaware of the tenant's business until news reports brought it to light during her 1984 Vice Presidential campaign. She promised to evict Star, but the company remained at that same location for three more years despite Ferraro's efforts to oust it.)

DiBernardo was identified in 1970s news reports as a porn dealer and a member of the DeCavalcante crime family. His roots in porn went back to the 1960s. Already by 1972 he was "a prominent dealer in pornography,” according to a Wall Street Journal article.

As per FBI documents, he became a top lieutenant to then Gambino boss Paul Castellano. DiB and South Florida Gambino capo Ettore Zappi together ran the crime family's porn empire, as per the FBI, which further noted that Zappi had sponsored DiBernardo for membership in the Gambino family.

DiBernardo was unique among wiseguys. He wasn’t part of a crew, meaning he had no capo over him to report to (and pay tribute to): DiB enjoyed special status due to his ability to bring in tons of cash. DiBernardo was “directly with" Castellano, as Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano explained in testimony. 

DiBernardo had been tied to child pornography in a July 28, 1981 FBI document that noted DiBernardo was "a well known pornography distributor also dealing in child pornography." The FBI's New York field office had been monitoring DiBernardo's role in the smut trade since 1968 when he was arrested by the NYPD on his first obscenity charge for distributing a porno mag entitled Young Stuff. As "a result of the Postal Inspectors seizures [a Federal prosecutor] is attempting to indict DiBernardo on child pornography violations" according to an FBI memo dated May 20, 1986.
In 1986 Federal postal inspectors probing smut shops in Times Square and Greenwich Village discovered cartons of magazines that depicted underage boys "engaged in sexually explicit conduct.” The underage smut allegedly was distributed by DiBernardo.

During a subsequent March 1986 raid on DiBernardo's office, the Feds seized "child pornography and financial records."

By June 1986, a Federal probe into child pornography had DiBernardo in the crosshairs. But before the Feds could pluck him off the street, he vanished. DiB was last seen on June 5, 1986, and was never seen again.

In the mid-1970s, most major hardcore pornographic newspapers and magazines in the United States were distributed by companies controlled by organized crime members, according to law enforcement officials and media reports. The largest of these publications was Screw, the weekly tabloid‐sized newspaper that had a circulation of 85,000 in the 1970s. The total circulation of the dozen leading pornographic papers and magazines, all of which were distributed by the same two companies, was about 300,000. 

The two chief distributors were Star Distributors and Astro News. (Obviously this was before free internet porn arrived and put most of the porn publications out of business, and even changed the dynamic of the adult video business.) Both Star and Astro had Mafia ties, with the Gambinos controlling Star and the Colombo family—specifically the Gallo brothers—controlling  Astro. According to a Colombo defector, the Genovese crime family--specifically, Vincent (Chin) Gigante—backed the Gallo brothers in the porn business.

A State crime commission report noted that DB's arrival at Star coincided with the company suddenly finding itself on a much better financial footing.

“Star originally was operated by Theodore Rothstein,” according to the report. “Its operations, according to one witness, were severely hampered by its need for cash. Shipments to Star were on a basis of cash payments, whereas most firms at that time received materials on a consignment” basis.”

"However, Star's financial position and credit rating suddenly improved and it began receiving merchandise on consignment,” the report said. “Along with this financial change came a new corporate officer, Robert DiBernardo. It was also clear, according to one witness, that in all subsequent business transactions, DiBernardo had the ‘last word’ in Star.”

DiBernardo also had ties to pornographer-Bonanno capo Michael Zaffarano, who had a heart attack and died in 1980 when he heard he was being indicted on obscenity charges in MIPORN, the same early 1980s anti-porn campaign that ensnared both DiBernardo and Rothstein. 

Al Goldstein, former publisher of Screw magazine who died in 2013, amazingly enough, talked openly about the mob's role in the porn business, telling the New York Times that he did not feel threatened by anyone at Astro or Star Distributors. 

“As long as I produce money for them, I feel my life is safe,” he said.

“We have no options as to who we deal with,” Goldstein added. “No legitimate distributor will touch us. I'd deal with Hitler if I had to. I'll deal with anyone I can do business with.”

Goldstein described two “disturbing” encounters. 

Once, four men approached him and urged him to end his relationship with Astro News and deal with them instead. 

“But I told Ricky (DiMatteo) about it and never heard from them again.” (DiMatteo was the front man for the Gallo brothers at Astro.)

The second incident, Goldstein said, involved two men who walked into his office, held a gun to his head, and relieved him of $2,000.

“I was never so frightened in my life,” he recalled. “I realized then what a real coward I am. Later, I asked the people I deal with if the men were Mafia, and they told me no, they were punks out to make a quick score.”

Goldstein highlighted what he termed distinct benefits to doing business with the Mafia. For one thing, he got his money faster than he would have received it from other distributors.

“Astro pays me within two months and Star within six weeks,” he said, noting that most legit distributors would pay several months after the date of publication.

In a 1999 New York Press report, Goldstein spoke glowingly about DiB, praising him for his sense of style, but also noting that DiB once saved his life.

“I loved DiB, because he was classy. DiB dressed well. He had a style about him. And then when he was going to John Gotti’s club all the time, it was even more exciting.”

“The one time in my life there was a contract on me, DiB rescinded it,” Goldstein recalled. “It had to do with a girl I was dating who was the ex-wife of a hitman. And I didn’t realize – I met her through a dating service. Basically, the guy was a typical Italian; he lived with a blonde bimbo in a high-rent building, but he didn’t want anyone to date his ex-wife. And I called DiB  when I heard about it and I said, ‘DiB, there are reasons to kill me, but this isn’t one of them.’ And DiB had to sit down with Gotti and it was rescinded.”

The Apr. 7, 1999, New York Press report that quoted Goldstein, profiled one of DB's longtime business partners, Richard Basciano, a wealthy real estate investor who retained his grasp on the longtime 42nd Street porn palace Show World until his death in 2017 at age 91. (Show World occupied four floors with 22,000-square-feet of retail space and in the 1970s, hawked X-rated films, adult books, live sex acts, and in-store appearances by porn stars. Inside, on the second floor, nearly 100 women worked in peep shows. Show World closed its doors in 2018. Last we read, Show World was draped in iron scaffolding while awaiting its $80 million rebirth as an office and retail complex.)

Richard Basciano
Richard Basciano, left, one of DiB's partners. Basciano died in 2017 at age 91.

In the early 1970s, Basciano, Samuel Rappaport, a Philadelphia land speculator, and DiBernardo held pornography interests together in Philadelphia and New York, according to the Press report.

By the mid-1980s, when DiBernardo was living with his family at 1101 Harbor Road, Hewlett Harbor, on Long Island, he seemed to continue to thrive after the management transition from Paul Castellano to John Gotti. DiB would almost seem to be well positioned even, having been one of Gotti's early initial supporters against Castellano. But in the end, it wasn’t enough to spare him.

On June 5, 1986, DiB left his offices at 418 Broome Street in Lower Manhattan at about 2:00 pm., when he climbed into his gray 1986 Mercedes Benz and drove off. 

Ted Rothstein, who was still a partner of DiB's, was the last person to see him. 

Around a quarter to three, DiB called his family via his car telephone and discussed a dinner date for that evening. And the family never heard from him again.

''According to the family,'' one law enforcement source said shortly into the investigation of his disappearance, ''(DiB) was a routine person who leaves work at the same time each day and comes home at the same time. He always keeps in touch.''

Angelo (Quack Quack) Ruggiero was the intermediary who told Sammy the Bull about Gotti's order to hit DiB. Gravano arranged the murder while he was serving as Gotti's acting boss because Gotti was being held without bail awaiting trial on RICO charges in the Diane Giacalone case. 

DiB was murdered over Sammy’s strenuous objections after Ruggiero told Gotti that DiB had made “subversive” comments behind his back. At the time, Angelo owed DiB money and considered him a rival.

Angelo (Quack Quack) Ruggiero
Angelo (Quack Quack) Ruggiero 

Sammy testified that he tried to save DiBernardo’s life.

"I asked Angelo to reach John and see if we couldn’t hold up on it, and when he came out, we would discuss it. DiB was just talking a lot and not meaning anything. He wasn’t dangerous. It was something we could hold up on."

But they couldn't hold up on it, Sammy was told. Gotti urgently wanted DiB whacked, as Ruggiero relayed to Gravano.

The hit took place in Sammy's office. 

As Gravano tersely explained in testimony at Gotti’s murder and racketeering trial,  "DiB came in. He came downstairs. He said hello. He sat down. Then old man Paruta got up and I told him to get DiB a cup of coffee. He got up. In the cabinet there was a .380 with a silencer. He took the gun out, walked over to DiB, and shot him twice in the back of the head."

In the apartment above the Ravenite social club, Gotti later sought to put a different spin on the hit while in discussion with Frank LoCascio. (Gotti’s revision of the history of the DiB hit was among the many highly damning discussions caught on wiretap by the FBI.)

“Did he ever talk subversive to you?” “Never.” “Never talked it to Angelo, and he never talked it to [Joseph Armone] either. I took Sammy’s word that he talked about me behind my back … I was in jail when I whacked him. I knew why it was being done. I done it anyway. I allowed it to be done anyway.”

In the same recorded conversation, Gotti next turned to Liborio Milito and Louis DiBono. Milito had been killed because he had questioned Gotti's judgment. DiBono failed to answer a Gotti summons.

But on the tape Gotti asserted that both had been killed only because Sammy had asked permission to get rid of his business partners. 

“Every time we got a partner that don’t agree with us, we kill him. … [the] boss kills him. He kills him. He okays it. Says it’s all right, good.”

In one moment, Gotti pinned three murders solely on Sammy. 

In November 1991, Gravano sent the Government a signal that he was willing to talk.


GLEESON: Mr. Gravano, was Robert DiBernardo present that night when Paul Castellano and Tommy Bilotti were murdered? 


GLEESON: Do you know where he was? 

GRAVANO: I think he was in Florida. 

GLEESON: You testified earlier that he was a soldier in the Family at that point, correct? 


GLEESON: Prior to the murder, what responsibility, if any, did DiBernardo have within the Family?

GRAVANO: He was directly with the boss. He handled unions, construction, certain businesses. [. . . .] 

GLEESON: Did you see Di B regularly? 


GLEESON: In what circumstances would you see Di B? 

GRAVANO: I would see Di B three, four times a week. We handled the construction, the unions. 

GLEESON: Did you ever hear him express views on who should replace [Frank] DeCicco as underboss? 

GRAVANO: Yes, he did.

GLEESON: What were his views? 

GRAVANO: His view is that I should be underboss.

 GLEESON: Did you express any views on the issue, at that point? 


GLEESON: Now, you testified that you spoke regularly with Angelo and “Joe Piney,” right, after John went to jail, correct? 


GLEESON: By the way, does there come a point later on when one of those two went to jail? 

GRAVANO: Yes. Angelo went to jail. 

GLEESON: Before that happened, you spoke regularly with Angelo and “Joe Piney,” correct?


GLEESON: During that conversation, did Di B’s opinion about who should be underboss come up? 

GRAVANO: Yes, it did. 

GLEESON: Can you tell us how? 

GRAVANO: It came up at a meeting with “Joe Piney,” myself, and Angelo. Angelo said that Di B expressed an opinion that I should be the underboss. He was telling “Joe Piney,” and then he asked me if it was so. 

GLEESON: Who asked you if it was so? 

GRAVANO: Angelo. 

GLEESON: What did you say? 


GLEESON: At the time, did you think much of it? 


GLEESON: While John was in jail, did you speak to anybody about killing Di B? 

GRAVANO: I spoke to Angelo. 

GLEESON: How did that conversation come about? 

GRAVANO: Angelo came to me and told me that John sent out an order to kill Angelo—Di B. 

GLEESON: Did Angelo say why? 

GRAVANO: He said that he was talking behind his back, and there was other reasons. 

GLEESON: Approximately how long after John Gotti went to jail did this happen? 


GLEESON: Did you respond to Angelo when he told you this? 

GRAVANO: Yes. I asked Angelo to reach John and see if we couldn’t hold up on it, and when he came out, we would discuss it. Di B was just talking a lot and not meaning anything. He wasn’t dangerous. It was something we could hold up on. 

GLEESON: You said this to Angelo? 


GLEESON: Did he respond to you? 

GRAVANO: He immediately responded to me that this had to be done, that John was steaming. We already had a location to kill him, which was in Tony Lee’s mother’s basement, and I was just gonna sit in this meeting and my role was actually going to be when Di B came to me, I was gonna explain to him there’s a meeting, something to do with the Family, some construction, if Di B checked with me. 

GLEESON: Before we get to the proposed meeting, you said to Angelo, Di B is not dangerous. Is that what you just testified to? 

GRAVANO: Right. 

GLEESON: What did you mean by that? 

GRAVANO: Well, Di B was just a talker. He had no crew. He wasn’t a shooter. He was no threat.

GLEESON: You mentioned that Angelo had said that there was already a plan? 


GLEESON: And could you tell us again what the plan was that Angelo mentioned to you? 

GRAVANO: Angelo told me that there was gonna be an appointment at Tony Lee’s mother’s house in the basement. I would be sitting there with a few other people, and when Di B came down, whoever was behind him, would shoot him in the head. If Di B came to me and questioned me if there was a meeting, I would tell him yes, there was a meeting, it was about construction and about Family policy.

GLEESON: By the way, who’s Tony Lee? 

GRAVANO: He’s a soldier in our Family. 

GLEESON: Do you know his last name? 


GLEESON: By the way, Mr. Gravano, did you refer to each other by your last names? 


GLEESON: Are there a lot of people in the Family whose last names you just don’t know? 


GLEESON: Was the plan, the plan you mentioned about Tony Lee’s mother’s house, was that ever carried out? 


GLEESON: Did you have a conversation with Angelo about a different plan? 

GRAVANO: Angelo came back to me, soon after the first conversation, and told me that John was hot, we couldn’t get the house. We had to get it done right away, if I could take care of it myself. 

GLEESON: Did you agree?


GLEESON: Did you formulate a plan as to how you would take care of it?

GRAVANO: Yes. I told him that if it had to be done right away, Di B sees me a couple of times a week, that I would kill him right in my office.

 GLEESON: Who did you discuss this with? 

GRAVANO: Angelo. 

GLEESON: And was he going to have any role in this plan? 

GRAVANO: He was gonna get rid of the body and call Di B and assure him that there was a meeting with me, which I told him wasn’t necessary anyway. 

GLEESON: Why wasn’t it necessary? 

GRAVANO: Because Di B saw me three, four times a week. 

GLEESON: Did there come a point when you carried out the plan?


GLEESON: Could you tell us what you did? 

GRAVANO: Di B came down in the morning to meet me as usual and told me he couldn’t spend too much time, that he had an appointment in New York. I told him I had an appointment. I told him if we could meet five-thirty, six o’clock, by my office. We’ll have a cup of coffee and discuss a few things that came up. He told me fine, and then he left. I got my crew together and we set the hit up in my office. 

GLEESON: When you say you got your crew together, who did you get together for this hit? 

GRAVANO: I got in touch with Angelo and told him that I spoke to Di B already, that it was on for five-thirty, six o’clock. I had my brother-in-law Eddie, old man Paruta, who’s around me, and a guy name Huck. 

GLEESON: Do you know—is Huck a friend of yours? 


GLEESON: What’s his real name? 

GRAVANO: Thomas Carbonaro. 

GLEESON: Was he also in business with you? 


GLEESON: Was Angelo in your crew? 


GLEESON: Did the plan include Angelo being at your office when the murder took place? 

GRAVANO: No. He would be at a Burger King in Coney Island at six o’clock on and, if I succeeded, I would go to the Burger King and see him over there. 

GLEESON: Did Di B come back to your office later that day? 

GRAVANO: He came about five, five-thirty.

GLEESON: Did he come alone or with others? 

GRAVANO: He came alone. 

GLEESON: When he came, where were you? 

GRAVANO: I was downstairs. 

GLEESON: Is this the same location where you had the meeting to plan the murder of Paul Castellano? 


GLEESON: Were you with anybody else downstairs? 

GRAVANO: I was with my brother-in-law and old man Paruta. 

GLEESON: Your brother-in-law being? 

GRAVANO: Eddie Garafolo. 

GLEESON: Was anyone upstairs when Di B came? 

GRAVANO: Huck was upstairs. 

GLEESON: What happened when Di B came? 

GRAVANO: He told Di B that we were downstairs. Di B came in. He came downstairs. He said hello. He sat down. Then old man Paruta got up and I told him to get Di B a cup of coffee. He got up. In the cabinet there was a .380 with a silencer. He took the gun out, walked over to Di B, and shot him twice in the back of the head.