When John Gotti Pulled The Trigger...

The mortality rate was decidedly low for two men once linked to Connie Castellano, daughter of Gambino boss Paul Castellano. But while one of the two, her husband, may have invited his horrifying fate, assuming he was guilty of what he had been accused of, the other man, a suitor with a sarcastic sense of humor, most certainly did not.

Sal Vitale, Joe Massino, Vinny Basciano, John Gotti
Top, Sal Vitale; bottom from left: Joe Massino, Vinny Basciano, John Gotti

Constantino Paul (Big Paul) Castellano was a model of the proverbial white-collar mobster, the kind who could capably run complex business enterprises like a garment-center trucking concern and a wholesale food company. His white-collar faction, which included the labor racketeers, etc., was supplemented and balanced by the blue-collar wiseguys under underboss Neil Dellacroce—the hijackers and head crackers, etc.—who provided the muscle, as some pundits viewed the Gambino family breakdown under Castellano. (We have problems with that dichotomy, though, such as in which column would you put Tommy Bilotti?) The blue-collar faction was exemplified by guys like  Fat Andy Ruggiano, John Gotti, and Angelo Ruggiero.

But while Castellano may have been passionate about the art of labor racketeering, etc., he didn’t shy away from killing people.

In March 1984, when  Castellano was indicted with 20 others over a massive stolen car ring, he faced charges related to 25 murders. The 25 included six members of the alleged racketeering enterprise who were not named as defendants—because they were dead. Roy DeMeo, who was in charge of the daily operations, and five others involved in the ring had been murdered. (That figure would rise to eight.) But not all the murders were of members of the operation. The indictment also accused Castellano of a 1980 conspiracy to murder his son-in-law, Frank Amato.

More than 70 witnesses testified at the 1985 trial (Castellano was killed in December before the jury reached a verdict). The three key witnesses were Dominick Montiglio, Vito Arena, and Frederick DiNome. Each had been an admitted member of the car-theft ring. 

DiNome—who would be found by noted prosecutor Walter Mack in a motel room in San Antonio, Texas, in 1986 hanging by the neck from the canopy of a water bed, evidently a victim of autoerotic asphyxiation—was the first to shed some light on Amato's fate, according to The Coffey Files: One Cop’s War Against the Mob. (DiNome was expected to figure in at least four trials of reputed Gambino family members when he was found dead.)

Frederick DiNome
 Freddy DiNome had been a wheelman for Roy DeMeo.

One evening DiNome and several other members of the DeMeo crew hid in the “house of horrors in Brooklyn,” meaning the apartment behind the Gemini Lounge, after the son in law had been told to go there to help with a murder. (Reminiscent of Sammy the Bull’s strategy to disarm Louis Milito  by telling him the falsehood that “we were going to kill Johnny Gammarano, that was basically our plan.”)  As soon as Amato walked inside, DeMeo stabbed him in the heart with an ice pick and dragged him to the bathtub, where the blood was drained from his body. The victim was then cut into pieces, which were stuffed into a green plastic garbage bag. The bag was taken to Coney Island and dumped into the Atlantic Ocean.

DiNome said Castellano himself had directly ordered the murder. Castellano had ordered Gambino capo Nino Gaggi, the DeMeo crew overseer, to kill Amato after Big Paul’s daughter miscarried. Big Paul blamed Amato, who was abusive and fooling around with other women, for the miscarriage. 

Castellano lived in a regal mansion in Staten Island’s exclusive Todt Hill section (Todt Hill is the highest natural point in the five boroughs and the highest elevation on the entire East Coast), which was referred to as the White House. Carlo Gambino—Castellano’s first cousin and brother-in-law who died in 1976 after naming Castellano his successor—who shunned flamboyance like a vampire opposes daylight—would not have given the White House a thumbs up. The house signified the gargantuan ego of Paul Castellano, who had such an inflated sense of self-importance, he thought himself like the President of the United States (or so he once told his Colombian house maid with whom he had had an affair and for whom he endured a surgical penile implant.)

Big Paul Castellano
Heavy was the head: Gambino boss Paul Castellano

Castellano was a humorless man who could not take a joke. Gambino wiseguys who maybe didn’t understand that side of Paul would learn about it after his daughter’s boyfriend cracked a joke at Big Paul”s expense—and vanished off the face of the earth.

Around the time of his mid-1970s rise, Paul—whose legitimate business interests extended into the meat and poultry industry—touted a thick, prominent nose. He somewhat resembled chicken man Frank Perdue, who at the time was starring in an aggressive television advertising campaign to promote his chicken. (The campaign is praised for creating the first consumer brand for chicken.) Debuting in 1971, the commercials featuring Perdue, the company CEO, included the tagline, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” spoken in Perdue’s distinct, high-pitched whiny voice.

Vito Borelli, who was dating Castellano’s daughter, Connie, noticed the similarity while watching one of the commercials and quipped of Big Paul:  “He looks like Frank Perdue.” 

The remark somehow found its way into Castellano’s ear. 

Castellano took offense and wanted Borelli killed for the slight. The Bonanno family even got involved in the act. Joe Massino, who later rose to become Bonanno boss, had been asked to participate and had enlisted his trusted brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale and associate Duane Leisenheimer to pitch in. 

In 2003, Massino's once beloved brother-in-law flipped, and the proverbial cat was let out of the bag. As per Vitale's 5K, which pleaded for a lesser sentence based on the "substantial assistance" provided by the defendant: “Vitale was likely the first cooperating witness to provide information relating to the Borelli murder, and while no defendant has been charged with this crime, Vitale did testify about the details of the Borelli murder as Rule 404(b) evidence in the Massino trial. Further, this information was also used as part of the successful pretrial detention motion filed against Bonanno family acting consigliere Anthony Rabito. "

Massino told Vitale to pick up a stolen van from Leisenheimer and bring it to a cookie storage facility in Manhattan. He was also told to leave the keys under the seat after he left the van outside the storage place.

The night of the killing, Massino called Vitale to complain that the van wouldn’t start. So Vitale drove his own car back into Manhattan to the storage location. Among the guys Sal saw outside the building with Massino: John Gotti, his pal Angelo Ruggiero, and Frank DeCicco. Vitale also noticed Dominick (Sonny Black) Napolitano.

Frank Perdue
Chicken man Frank Perdue.

Once outside the Manhattan location, Vitale was told to back up his vehicle and what appeared to be a body wrapped in a tan drop cloth was placed in the trunk. Then, Ruggiero and DeCicco got into Vitale’s car and told him to drive to a garage.

According to Anthony DeStefano's King of the Godfathers: Joseph Massino and the Fall of the Bonanno Crime Family: “When asked later about the incident by the FBI, Vitale couldn’t recall exactly where the garage was. He thought it might have been in Ozone Park. But what he did remember was that when the body was taken out of the trunk he saw it was Vito Borelli, with his head and body showing signs of repeated gunshot wounds. The corpse was clad only in its underwear. Vitale later recalled that he didn’t see what happened to the body. Whatever transpired with poor Vito Borelli’s remains was likely nothing sacred since Vitale would also remember seeing another Gambino associate, Roy Demeo, at the garage.”

Vitale dropped off Ruggiero and DeCicco at Gotti’s  Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Ozone Park.

Vitale was later told that the victim was indeed Borelli, who was whacked for insulting Paul Castellano by saying he looked like Frank Perdue.


Borelli’s body was never found.

There's a problem with the timing of the Borelli hit. While Vitale claimed it happened in the mid-1970s, the LCN Bios blogger persuasively argues with that date, noting that Vitale "frequently got dates wrong and, by his own admission, was only guessing at when Borelli was killed." He notes that, based on a later clarification offered by Massino, at the time of the Borelli hit, Massino was already a captain, John Gotti was an acting captain, and Salvatore (Toto) Catalano, one of the zips we've been writing about, was elevated to be Bonanno boss Philip (Rusty) Rastelli's acting boss while Rusty was still in prison.

"Comparing this with other sources matches a fall 1980 time frame. Catalano is first reported as acting boss in September 1980, and he was observed by the FBI meeting with Castellano the following month. By Spring 1981 he had been taken down from that position.”

LCN Bios also adds additional information, including that "prior to his affiliation with the Gambinos, Borelli had been on-record with Rastelli and had dated one of Rastelli's nieces."

Also noted: "At the time, the Bonannos were on the outs with a majority of the leadership in the other New York Families. Internal dissension had culminated in the loss of their spot on the Commission, which had recently issued an edict forbidding them from inducting new members (a ban that would last until 1984). The Borelli hit was viewed as an opportunity by Catalano, who summoned Family Captains Joseph Massino and Dominick Napolitano and relayed the order, stressing the importance of gaining allies."

Oh, and we almost forgot: Massino provided additional details on the whacking of Borelli when he testified against acting boss Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano in 2011.

Massino identified John Gotti as the triggerman in the Borelli hit.