The Last Gangster Details Story Of Sammy The Bull's Rise And Fall 30 Years Later

Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster retells the story of the rise and fall of former Gambino underboss Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano from 30 years later and includes focus on his podcast platform as well as the drug trafficking crimes he committed in Arizona post-Gambino crime family.

If Gravano hadn't been arrested for dealing Ecstasy in Arizona, he probably would've been killed by Huck Carbonaro and Fat Sal Mangiavillano, the Gambino soldier and associate who were ordered to Arizona to kill the former underboss, as we've recently covered.

Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster, a two-hour program, features footage from Gravano's 1997 Diane Sawyer interview and new interviews with Gravano as well as former Gambino acting boss John (Junior) Gotti, former Colombo associate Larry Mazza, onetime Colombo capo Michael Franzese, Gambino associate Anthony Ruggiano Jr., and we also heard onetime Gambino associate John Alite.

The show also features investigators; journalists; mob family members including Gravano's son Gerard and daughter Karen and Ruggiano's daughter Toni Lee; and longtime New York mob critic/Gotti gadfly Curtis Sliwa, who years back was nearly killed by two Gambino associates who were a bit too aggressive in carrying out what was supposed to be a beating requiring inpatient hospital care.

Family members of some of the 19 people Gravano copped to killing during his years on the street also are featured. 

Unfortunately, some of those murders have been all but ignored in the long, ongoing story of Sammy the Bull.

Gravano's direct testimony at John Gotti's 1992 trial, which is published on this blog, was mostly limited to the murders that allegedly involved Gambino boss John Gotti and/or acting consiglieri Frank Locascio. Seven of the 19 murders were mostly left out.

Lawyers for the defense were limited in how they could reference those killings when cross-examining Gravano before the jury. So while they could ask about Nick Scibetta, one of the seven, Brooklyn Federal Judge I. Leo Glasser told them to stick to the facts and not the "gruesome details."

The 1978 murder of Scibetta, Gravano's wife's 22-year-old younger brother, is one of the most horrific murders Gravano was involved in. Scibetta was alleged to have a serious cocaine addiction and was using Sammy’s name to borrow money from loan sharks. He earned the wrath of Gambino higher-ups by committing several mob infractions, including fighting in a Gambino associate's nightclub and fighting with the son of another associate and calling the cops on him. Scibetta also allegedly insulted a female relative of highly respected Gambino wiseguy Frank DeCicco, who in 1986 would serve as John Gotti's underboss until a car bomb killed him outside James (Jimmy Brown) Failla's Veterans and Friends Social Club.

Tommy Karate Pitera
Tommy Karate Pitera

When Gambino boss Paul Castellano told DeCicco to get rid of Scibetta, he also told him to avoid mentioning anything about the hit to Gravano. But DeCicco, thinking it would be wrong to not tell Sammy, told him anyway.

Gravano eventually went along with Castellano's decision but claims he initially reacted furiously, saying he'd kill Castellano for having the temerity to order the death of his wife's brother.

He only came around after DeCicco sat him down and reminded him, "You go to war with Paul and you're a dead man, guaranteed."

The shocking details of Scibetta's murder in Bensonhurst came to light during the Gotti trial (but out of the jury's earshot) courtesy of Anthony Cardinale, a lawyer for Locascio, who disclosed that Gravano had killed and dismembered his brother-in-law, then attended a funeral for the man's hand, the one body part that had been found. Gravano's wife, Debra, knew nothing about Sammy’s involvement in her brother's grizzly murder until the 1992 trial.

Cardinale also claimed that part of the motive for the murder was that Scibetta was gay.

The judge also wouldn't let Gotti lawyer Albert Krieger ask about a jailhouse conversation Gravano had with Thomas Pitera, a Bonanno mobster later convicted of committing multiple murders, most of which involved dismemberment.

Pitera allegedly told Gravano that the government offered him a plea bargain deal if he testified against Gotti. 

Pitera rejected the offer.

Gerard Pappa
Chin ordered the murder of Genovese soldier Pappa Bear.

Before he became an inducted Mafia member, Gravano and an associate were both nearly shot to death after stealing a car. Gerard Pappa, aka Pappa Bear, who was affiliated with the Genovese crime family, saved both their lives. In return, Sammy the Bull named his son after Pappa.

Gravano mentions this fascinating but apparently forgotten incident in Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia.

The young to-be Gambino underboss and the criminal cohort were both members of the Rampers street gang, as was Pappa. Based in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, the Rampers churned out street-hardened tough guy recruits for the Five New York Mafia Families.

One night, Gravano, packing a .45 and a ski mask, and Joe V. hotwired a car that was to be used on a subsequent armed robbery and drove off when another car pulled up alongside:

We were about four or five blocks from where we took (the car). We stopped at a light and another car comes right up to us. There’s a guy driving and another guy half-hanging out the window with, like, a rifle and he’s yelling, ‘Pull over, you cocksucker, or I’ll fucking kill you!’

“Right away, I say, ‘Whoa, take it easy. Relax. What’s the problem?’ and he’s screaming, ‘You stole my fucking car!’

“’All right, all right, now take it easy,’ I said again. ‘Don’t do anything crazy.’

As I’m putting up a hand saying this, I reached down for the .45. I see this bum turn towards the driver for a second, telling him something. I bring up the .45 and pull the trigger. I pulled it three times. Click, click, click. Nothing. Believe me, beads of sweat start coming down my forehead. He hears the clicks and he swings his rifle back towards us.

“Joe’s sitting next to me and he’s screaming, ‘Hit it. Hit it.’ And I’m hitting it. I’ve got this thing floored. They’re right behind us. We hear shots.

“Then I hear Joe groan, ‘Ooh.’ He’s clutching his stomach. A bullet has gone through the rear of the car, through the backseat, then the front seat, hits him in his back, comes out of his stomach, hits his knee and winds up hitting the dashboard. I’m turning and wheeling, driving like a bastard, and all of a sudden, bang! Another one blasts through the window and hits me in the back of my head. It blows out a whole section of my head on the right side. Joe is bent over, holding himself. There’s blood all over his lap. There’s blood all over me. I make a turn. I’m starting to get dizzy. I’m doing maybe seventy miles an hour and I hit like six or seven parked cars. I’m ramming into them, bouncing off them. The car I’m driving spins around and now this car is headed right for us. Forget it. It’s over. But now I hear the police sirens. And this oth oooer guy jams on his brakes. I see him backing up. Whoever they are, they don’t want nothing to do with the cops...

After a desperate attempt to hail a cab fails, the seriously wounded Gravano drives to Pappa's house for help:

Pap helps get a bandage on Joe to stop the bleeding. I tell Pap, ‘We need a doctor, or something, right away. We can’t go to a hospital. We’ll be pinched. Maybe Dutchie could help.’
(Anthony [Dutchie] Tuzzo was a Genovese wiseguy whom Pappa was around at the time.)

“’All right, Sammy,’ Pap says. ‘I’ll drive.’ Finally, he locates Dutchie. Me and Joe are laying in the backseat. By this time we’re just about out of it. I remember opening my eyes and seeing Dutchie staring at us and I hear him say, ‘Pap, they’re dead. What the fuck can I do? Look at them.’

“Pap gets back in the car and says, ‘What I’m gonna do, I’m drivin’ you to Coney Island Hospital and you jump out and try and walk in.’ Joe was moaning real bad now. But I said, ‘Fuck the hospital. I ain’t going.’

“He says, ‘Joe’ll die.’

“’Well, take Joe there then.’ And that’s what happened. We pull up to the emergency entrance and open the door and push Joe out. He just flops there. That was all we could do.”

Pappa told Sammy that he could end up bleeding to death himself.

But Sammy said, “You know, I think I’ll be all right. I feel dizzy and weak, but I’m still conscious. The bleeding is stopping.”

That same night Pappa drove Sammy some distance to a doctor in upstate New York who could be relied on for his discretion. According to the doctor, the bullet, instead of plunging into his brain, had taken off a small piece of his skull behind and slightly above his ear.

In the hospital, Joe V also miraculously survived. “They took out his spleen and I don’t know what else,” Sammy said. He knew the police had been alerted by the hospital about joe’s gunshot wound and he stayed out of sight until his own wound healed. “There are all sorts of rumors in the neighborhood about me and Joe, and what did or didn’t happen. I hear the cops are looking for me, so I go in. They tell me that they know I shot Joe. “What the fuck are you talking about, I shot him?’ I said. “He’s my friend.’

Later, according to Underboss, then-inpatient Joe V. explains his gunshot wound by telling police that he had been "walking down the street and this bullet hit him in the back, just like that. He didn’t know who did it or why. He didn’t know how he got to the hospital, who brought him. He was out of it." 

Pappa, who was shot to death in 1980 on the orders of Genovese boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante, was "tough as rusted barbed wire" and "one of the baddest badasses Brooklyn had ever produced," wrote Philip Carlo in Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss, which also notes that Pappa, by the end of his short, violent life, would personally murder 37 people, some of which were even "authorized" on-the-record hits.

Pappa—whose son John became a Colombo associate who tried to follow in his father's footsteps and is today serving a life sentence—earned his stripes with the Genovese family in 1978 and was in Tuzzo's crew. Among other things, Pappa prospered from the drug business. He was a client of Luchese family dynamo Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso, who for years fronted Pappa all the grass, heroin, and cocaine he needed.

The same year Pappa was straightened out, he partnered up with Pete (Black Pete) Savino, a Genovese associate who was an old pal. Pappa taught him the drug trafficking business, and they both earned fortunes from a cigarette smuggling operation.

Savino operated window-manufacturing and installation companies  and was the originator of a long-running, multimillion-dollar scheme that leveraged a new Federally financed program into a jackpot opportunity that involved rigging bids around the installation of windows in New York City Housing Authority projects. The racket, which involved four of the New York families (and sent the Luchese boss and underboss on the lam), became known as "the Windows Case."