Conclusion Of Testimony Of Salvatore (Sammy The Bull) Gravano: When The Bull Was The Shooter

The final installment touches on how James (Jimmy Brown) Failla (pronounced FYE-yal-lah) provided the first inkling that John Gotti and the rest of the Gambino family administration were seriously screwed after the Gambino capo told them how, when he went before a grand jury, he was asked if he had ever visited an apartment above the Ravenite.

From left: Joe Butch, John Gotti, Jimmy Brown in June 1984.
From left: Joe Butch, John Gotti, Jimmy Brown (in June 1984).

Jimmy Brown, who died in 1999, was a senior statesman in the Gambino crime family, a powerful capo who for more than 30 years helmed the Association of Trade Waste Removers of Greater New York, the largest private garbage-haulers' trade group in New York City. Law enforcement first noticed the Brooklyn born Failla when he became driver and bodyguard for Carlo Gambino after Gambino took over the crime family following his orchestration of the 1957 murder of his predecessor, Albert Anastasia. Gambino put Failla in charge of the Gambino family's garbage-industry interests, and Failla mostly remained in that position for the rest of his life. 

After Gambino's death in 1976, Jimmy Brown briefly served as acting boss. When Paul Castellano became official boss, he let Failla keep his post within the garbage-hauling industry. After Castellano's slaying in December 1985, Jimmy Brown and Gambino capo Daniel Marino, who also was a Castellano loyalist, both joined in a plot set in motion by Genovese boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante to avenge Castellano's killing by assassinating Gotti. Then, Marino and Failla were to take over the Gambino family. The plot never reached fruition.

After Jimmy Brown mentioned the grand jury questioning him about the apartment above the Ravenite, the top Gambino wiseguys eventually changed course, but only (unbelievably) after using the same apartment for one or two more meetings, according to Gravano's testimony. 

As the Gambinos eventually learned, an FBI surveillance team, over Thanksgiving weekend 1989, had secreted bugs throughout the apartment two floors above the Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry Street. The Gambinos had been using the apartment, which was owned by Nettie Cirelli, the widow of Gambino wiseguy Michael Cirelli (Nettie was away on vacation that Thanksgiving holiday), for years. In fact, Gambino underboss Aniello (Neil) Dellacroce also had used that apartment for secret meetings.

Gravano also is asked whether the Gambino bosses ever considered going outside to discuss topics like murder in order to avoid possible bugs.

"We had most of (those discussions) outdoors," but it was "impossible to have them all outdoors." This was because, as he said, sometimes the weather didn't permit it and sometimes they were too tired.

Gravano—who faced three murder charges initially, then flipped and told the Feds about an additional 16—also notes that, over the course of his many years on the street, he had played many different roles in the 19 hits he participated in.

"Sometimes I was a shooter. Sometimes I was a backup guy. Sometimes I set the guy up. Sometimes I just talked about it."

Gravano is asked how many times he was the actual shooter.

"Once," he testifies.

He testifies that he never killed anyone by himself.

When asked if it mattered to him whether he was the actual shooter on a particular hit, Gravano says, "No. Because when you go on a piece of work, it doesn’t matter what position you’re in. You’re all out there. You’re all liable to get charged the same. It doesn’t make any difference though."

Gravano's direct testimony—elicited by John Gleeson, the then Assistant United States Attorney—also focuses on the timeline for the 19 murders. This was to establish which murders had been committed prior to Gravano's "unusual" transition from the Colombo crime family (during which he was an associate in the crew of Thomas [Shorty] Spero) to the Gambino crime family.

Gleeson wanted to highlight for the jury which of the 19 murders had nothing to do with the charges against Gotti and co-defendant Frank Locascio.

"Between 1977 and 1982, there are seven murders on that list.... Did the defendants in this case have any involvement at all in any of those seven murders?"

No, Gravano replies.


GLEESON: Did you ever discuss the possibility that that apartment was bugged?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: When?

GRAVANO: When Jimmy Brown went to a grand jury and he was asked questions about an apartment, if he was ever in an apartment.

GLEESON: Did you continue to use the apartment after you learned that Jimmy Brown had gone in to the grand jury and been asked about it?

GRAVANO: Maybe once or twice.

GLEESON: Whose apartment was it?

GRAVANO: It was a guy who had died, he was a made member in our Family, and that was his wife’s apartment.

GLEESON: Mr. Gravano, did you ever consider having all of your conversations outdoors?

GRAVANO: We had most of them outdoors. It was impossible to have them all outdoors.

GLEESON: Why?

GRAVANO: Sometimes the weather didn’t permit it. Sometimes we were tired.

GLEESON: When you were arrested in this case, there was an indictment, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: That indictment later got superseded?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: How many murders were you charged with?

GRAVANO: Three.

GLEESON: When you decided to cooperate, you told the government about sixteen others, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Was your involvement the same in each of the murders?

GRAVANO: No.

GLEESON: Did the type of involvement you had vary?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Can you describe the different roles you had?

GRAVANO: Sometimes I was a shooter. Sometimes I was a backup guy. Sometimes I set the guy up. Sometimes I just talked about it.

GLEESON: When you set the guy up, would you arrange for other people to murder him?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Did you have the ability to make those arrangements?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Did you make arrangements to dispose of bodies?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Did you, for example, did you have the ability to get body bags?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: How many times were you actually the shooter?

GRAVANO: Once.

GLEESON: Did it matter to you, Mr. Gravano, whether you were the shooter or not?

GRAVANO: No.

GLEESON: Why not?

GRAVANO: Because when you go on a piece of work it doesn’t matter what position you’re in. You’re all out there. You’re all liable to get charged the same. It doesn’t make any difference though.

GLEESON: Did you ever commit any murders alone?

GRAVANO: No.

GLEESON: Did you commit any murders other than with other members or associates of the crime family that you happened to be with when they were committed?

GRAVANO: No.

GLEESON: Did the superseding charge you pled guilty to list all of the murders?

GRAVANO: Yes, it did.

GLEESON: Let me show you what’s been marked for identification as Government Exhibit 905 and particularly page six. (Handed to the witness.) First, is that document the superseding charge to which you pled guilty?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: And does it list the murders to which you pled guilty?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: You testified on Monday that the first murder you committed was Joe Colucci, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Who were you with when that murder was committed?

GRAVANO: The Colombo Family.

GLEESON: Did you commit it with other associates of Shorty Spero’s crew in the Colombo Family?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: That’s at the bottom of the list, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes. 

GLEESON: With the date 1970, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Between 1977 and 1982, there are seven murders on that list. Is that right, Mr. Gravano?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Did the defendants in this case have any involvement at all in any of those seven murders?

GRAVANO: No.

GLEESON: Are the names of the people, the victims of those murders, set forth on the list?

GRAVANO: Excuse me?

GLEESON: Are the names of the victims of those seven murders set forth on the list?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: One of them is an unidentified male, in 1977, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Did all seven of them involve other members and associates of the Gambino Family?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: One of those names is your brother-in-law, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Nick Scibetta, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: After 1982, the next one up the list is January 7, 1986, Nicky Mormando. By what name did you know him?

GRAVANO: “Nicky Cowboy.”

GLEESON: “Nicky Cowboy”?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Did that murder take place before or after the murders of Paul Castellano and Tommy Bilotti?

GRAVANO: It took place after.

GLEESON: Approximately three weeks after, correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Who was “Nicky Cowboy”?

GRAVANO: He was a guy with the Gambino Family, with my crew.

GLEESON: He was in your crew?

GRAVANO: In Brooklyn.

GLEESON: Why was he murdered?

GRAVANO: He was starting his own crew and wound up with a very serious drug problem.

GLEESON: Who was he starting his own crew with?

GRAVANO: Michael DeBatt, other people he was talking with who had drug problems.

GLEESON: Did the problem with “Nicky Cowboy” develop over a period of time?

GRAVANO: Yes, it did.

GLEESON: Was it in existence before Paul Castellano and Tommy Bilotti were murdered?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Did you discuss the problem with anyone?

GRAVANO: I discussed it with Frankie DeCicco.

GLEESON: Was the murder planned before the murders of Tommy and Paul?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: And who was it committed by?

GRAVANO: Me and my crew.

GLEESON: And the defendants had no involvement at all in that, correct, Mr. Gravano?

GRAVANO: Correct.

GLEESON: Now, the top ten names on the list span the period from December 16, 1985, Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti, to October of 1990, Louie DiBono. Correct?

GRAVANO: Yes.

GLEESON: Of those, how many involved John Gotti?

GRAVANO: All of them. 

[. . . .]

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