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If a guy just so mentions "La", I'm going to strangle [him]. He don't have to say "Cosa Nostra", just "La" and they go.
Gotti

John Joseph Gotti, Jr., also known as "The Teflon Don" or "The Dapper Don", was an American gangster and the Gambino Crime Family's boss from 1985 to 2001. He became popular for his outspoken attitude, stylish appearance, and apparent imperviousness to convictions. He was eventually found guilty of racketeering and related charges in 1992, and later died in prison in 2002.

Background[]

Mugshot of a young John Gotti

Mugshot of a young John Gotti.

Gotti was born in 1940 in South Bronx, New York City. He was the fifth of thirteen children of John Joseph Gotti, Sr. and Philomena "Fannie" DeCarlo, a couple of poor Italian immigrants presumably from San Giuseppe Vesuviano, Naples. His father was a day laborer and gambler who neglected support of his family due to his addiction (which John, Jr. came to resent him for), to the point that two of his children eventually died from poor healthcare. From his elementary school years, John, Jr. earned a reputation for fighting and for his bad temper. In an effort to keep his sons away from a life of crime, Gotti, Sr. decided to move to the Brooklyn waterfront (which, at the time, was controlled by Albert Anastasia, founder and boss of Murder, Inc.) but the family ended up evicted, and, a year later, they relocated to East New York. The area was filled with Cosa Nostra's men, and Gotti, Jr. became involved with street gangs associated with the American Mafia. During his first run-in with the law, at fourteen, he accidentally crushed his toes with a cement mixer he was trying to steal, and this left him with a permanent limp. At sixteen, he dropped out of Franklin K. Lane Junior High (where he already had a reputation for bullying and truancy) joined a local gang, and eventually became its leader. The gang was called the Fulton-Rockaway Boys, and among its ranks were future Gambino mobsters Angelo Ruggiero and Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson. Four of John's brothers would later join him as Gambinos: Gene (who was "made" even before John was, due to the latter being imprisoned at the time), Peter (1988), Richard (2002), and Vincent (2002). In 1958, John met his future wife, Victoria DiGiorgio, with whom he would father five children: Angela, Victoria, John Jr., Frank, and Peter. He briefly worked as a coat presser (in a garment factory) and truck driver assistant, in 1962, only to return to full-time criminal activities shortly afterwards.

Career in the Mob[]

Gotti began his first criminal enterprise as a teenager at his former high school, Franklin K. Lane, where he began running bets. He met with other gangbangers at a notorious Mafia den, Helen's Candy Store, and was eventually recruited by Anastasia soldier and future Philadelphia Crime Family boss Angelo Bruno as a bagman for the latter's illegal gambling operation. He was also involved in loansharking activities, at the time. His very first arrest was in 1957, for disorderly conduct, although the charges were later dropped. This brought him to the attention of Bruno's immediate superior, capo Carmine "Charlie Wagons" Fatico, who began employing Gotti and his gang for some work. In 1957 and 1959, he received suspended sentences after he was caught stealing copper and after he was arrested during a raid on an illegal gambling den. In 1963, he spent his first time behind bars for stealing a rental car. On March 31, 1965, he was arrested for an attempted burglary in Suffolk County. In 1966, a police wire tap overheard Gotti beating up a car salesman who had "disrespected" Colombo capo Sonny Franzese. The salesman later disappeared. At Fatico's behest, John, his brother Gene, and Ruggiero began hijacking trucks carrying valuable shipments as they drove from Mafia-controlled Idlewild Field (now the well-known JFK Airport) through Brooklyn. It was at this time that he was given his first two nicknames, "Crazy Horse" and "Black John", and that he met his mentor and future patron, underboss Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce. On December 1, 1967, he was caught in the act during a hijacking and later overheard by the FBI while he directed two more. In 1969, he was sentenced to four years of imprisonment at Lewisburg federal penitentiary, in Pennsylvania (it was during his incarceration that his brother, Gene, became a "made" Gambino). Lewisburg, at the time, was something of a paradise for Italian-American mobsters, who basically ruled the prison. There, Gotti was definitively introduced to how organized crime worked by Bonanno man Carmine Galante. After three years, he was paroled out.

Made Man[]

Carlo Gambino

Carlo Gambino.

In 1972, Gotti and Ruggiero returned to work under Fatico at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, in Queens, from which the latter managed his illegal gambling operation. That very same year, when "Charlie Wagons" was indicted on loansharking charges, he named Gotti (who was not yet a "made man") acting capo of the Bergin crew. During this time, he became even more close to "Neil" Dellacroce, whom he met at the latter's headquarters, the Ravenite Social Club of Little Italy. In 1973, Emanuel "Manny" Gambino (the twenty-nine-year-old son of the Gambino family's boss at the time, Carlo) was kidnapped by an Irish hood, James McBratney. Even though the ransom was paid, McBratney killed Manny and dumped his body inside an ammunition depot. Gotti was recruited as part of a "revenge squad" (along with Ruggiero and Ralph "Wigs" Galione) tasked with the abduction and torture killing of McBratney. On May 22, the squad, dressed as policemen, attempted to lure him out of a Staten Island bar, but things turned into a mess and McBratney was killed by Galione ahead of time. While Galione ended up killed for screwing up the operation, the FBI, in June 1974, went to pick up Gotti (who had been identified through witness' descriptions and thanks to Wilfred Johnson, who was an informant at the time). On June 2, 1975, he was condemned to a four-year suspended sentence for attempted manslaughter in the second degree, thanks to the efforts of his attorney, famed Roy Cohn. Shortly thereafter (according to Bonanno member Joseph Massino) he killed Vito Borelli, a Gambino associate who had insulted then-acting boss Paul Castellano (Borelli was Castellano's daughter's boyfriend). In August of the same year, after he had breached his suspended sentence, he started serving two years at Green Haven, upstate New York. He was again paroled in July 1977. That summer, he was finally initiated as a "made" man into the family, along with Ruggiero.

Aniello Dellacroce

Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce.

On October 15, 1976, Carlo Gambino had passed away from natural causes. Against all expectations, instead of appointing his underboss, "Neil" Dellacroce, as his successor, Gambino had picked out Paul Castellano, his trusted brother-in-law, as the new boss. This basically split the family into two rival factions. While Castellano focused on white collar businesses, Dellacroce, who remained as underboss, ran traditional Mafia activities such as extortion and loansharking. Soon after he was "made", Gotti took over (with the backing of Dellacroce) the Bergin crew. However, after the FBI had shut down its once profitable hijacking business, and with the gambling activities costing money, Fatico's crew was not much of a prize. As a means to rectify the situation, he deliberately and directly violated the Gambino ban over narcotics, setting up a drug operation (involving heroin, cocaine, and hashish) with help from Angelo Ruggiero's brother, Sal. When he handed Dellacroce the proceeds from the drug trafficking, he always maintained they were from burglaries, hijackings, or gambling. With his secret drug income, he also had the money to afford for his gambling habits. All the while, he held a no-show job as a plumbing supply salesman. It was in this period that Gotti and his family relocated to Howard Beach, Queens, where he would arrange huge parties every 4th of July, complete with fireworks. In December 1978, Gotti assisted in the infamous Lufthansa heist, at Kennedy Airport, with $200.000 allegedly being his part of the share. He was later involved by several people, including Henry Hill, in the January 14, 1979, disappearance of Tommy DeSimone (who had participated in the Lufthansa heist). In August of the same year, he traveled to Miami with Ruggiero and "Willie Boy" to get rid of Tony Plate, on behalf of Dellacroce. The latter had been indicted alongside Plate on loansharking charges, and was afraid that if he appeared alongside him in court he would have certainly been convicted. Plate disappeared after he left his Miami hotel, presumably for a meeting with Gotti. In 1980, the latter was formally named capo and, for his birthday, was given a new Lincoln car by the family. On March 18, however, he suffered a tragic loss: his twelve-year-old son, Frank, was accidentally run over and killed by one of Gotti's Howard Beach neighbors, John Favara. Frank was idolized by his father because he was the son that was going to make it outside the mob. At his own wife's request (Victoria even threatened to smash Favara's head with a baseball bat), he orchestrated his revenge. While the latter was on vacation in Florida, Favara was abducted outside his home, on June 28 (possibly by "Willie Boy" Johnson and others), and was never seen again (according to an informant, he was held until the capo returned and killed him personally with a chainsaw. According to others, he was killed and his body dissolved in acid).

Boss of the Gambino Crime Family[]

The Assassination of Paul Castellano[]

Castellano murder scene

Thomas Bilotti lies dead near Castellano's car.

Castellano's dead body

Castellano's dead body.

For quite some time, rumors had begun circulating that Gotti was dealing with drugs, and, in 1981, Castellano reiterated the Gambinos' ban on drugs, under penalty of death. Gotti was unconcerned and acted like there was nothing wrong, at least until Angelo Ruggiero and Gene Gotti, in August 1983, were wiretapped and indicted on heroin trafficking charges (also thanks to "Willie Boy" Johnson). Castellano wanted to hear the incriminating tapes, and when Ruggiero refused, he threatened to demote Gotti. The latter, in September 1984, was indicted on charges of assault and robbery, after an altercation with refrigerator mechanic Romual Piecyk. A year later, he was indicted alongside Dellacroce and members of the Bergin crew on racketeering charges brought by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Giacalone. The indictment finally revealed "Willie Boy" Johnson was actually an FBI and Queens D.A. informant from 1969 onward. Castellano had his own legal problems too: in February 1985, he had been arrested and charged with racketeering along with other Mafia bosses (during which time he named Gotti acting boss alongside Tommy Bilotti, who was Castellano's chauffeur, and Thomas Gambino, son of the late Carlo). When, on December of the same year, Castellano failed to show at Dellacroce's funeral (he had passed away from cancer), this convinced even more Gotti, who never really liked Castellano and deemed him to be too greedy, that something was to be done. He had been planning his move for over a year, and now it was time: he had to kill the godfather. On December 14, Castellano and Tommy Bilotti were ambushed and shot dead outside a Midtown Manhattan steakhouse by a hit squad. The latter included Anthony "Roach" Rampino, Gene Gotti, and Bartholomew "Bobby" Boriello (Gotti's chauffeur). Meanwhile, Gotti and his trusted right-hand man, Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, watched from their car. Gotti arranged a meeting on January 15, 1986, in order to force the other capos (who knew well he had been behind the hit all along, but feigned ignorance) to make a decision, and he was finally accepted as their new boss. Later, Joe N. Gallo, Castellano's former consigliere, reunited the capos in a desperate attempt to outmaneuver Gotti, but failed and ended up demoted, with Salvatore Gravano taking his place. On April 13, Frank DeCicco, Gotti's protégé and underboss, was killed through a car bombing in retaliation for the death of Castellano (the actual target was apparently Gotti himself). Members of the Luccheses and Genoveses, under orders from bosses Anthony Corallo and Vincent Gigante (who were loyal to Castellano and were angry at Gotti for not asking their permission before killing him), turned up to be responsible. DeCicco's void was filled by Angelo Ruggiero.

The Teflon Don[]

Gotti and Cutler

Gotti and his attorney, Bruce Cutler (left), in court.

The newfound leader of a multi-million dollar criminal organization, Gotti had now to face trial for his 1984 and 1985 charges. In March 1986, he was tried for the assault and robbery of Romual Piecyk, but the latter claimed on the stand he had forgotten who attacked him, and the case was dismissed. The New York Post ran the headline "I FORGOTTI" across its front page. It was later revealed Gambino thugs had intimidated Piecyk during the course of the trial. The second trial, concerning the racketeering charges, was marked by lack of cooperation between the FBI, who wanted to wait till they had something more on Gotti, and the Assistant U.S. Attorney, Diane Giacalone, who was apparently more interested in a short-term result. The trial began in August 1986, and this time Gotti was denied bail due to evidence of witness intimidation in the previous assault and robbery case. From jail, he was prompted by Ruggieri to order the murder of Robert DiBernardo, who was purportedly conspiring behind Gotti's back (Ruggieri owed money to DiBernardo). At jury selection, juror George Pape hid his friendship with Boško "The Yugo" Radonjić, head of the Westies and associate of the Gambino family. Pape accepted to sell his vote in exchange for $60.000. Among the other co-defendants were Anthony Rampino and "Willie Boy" Johnson, the latter of whom refused to turn to state's evidence despite having being uncovered as an informant by Giacalone. On September 25, during the opening statements, Gotti's attorney, Bruce Cutler, denied the existence of the Gambino crime family and claimed his client was put to trial as part of a personal vendetta by the government. His strategy was to attack the prosecution's witnesses' credibility, and he went as far as to make a former Giacalone's witness testify that he had received drugs and her panties from her, in exchange for his testimony (the witness, a known bank robber, was later charged with perjury). On March 13, 1987, partly due to Pape's vote, partly due to the fact that jurors began to fear for their own safety, Gotti and his buddies were all acquitted. Gotti was dubbed "The Teflon Don" by the press (for charges just couldn't stick against him), and he became something of a celebrity for his style (he was also called "The Dapper Don"), mannerisms and outspoken attitude (he bought coffee for the FBI agents surveilling him).

Ravenite Social Club location

Former location of the Ravenite Social Club, on Mulberry Street.

In August 1987, the FBI warned Gotti about a plan by the Genoveses to murder him as well as his brother. In order to avoid a war, Gotti held a meeting between the leaders of the Genovese and Lucchese families (the Luccheses' underboss had been injured in an unauthorized hit by a Gambino capo), and they all agreed to reconcile their differences. In early 1988, against Gravano's advice, Gotti required his capos to meet with him at the Ravenite once a week, which gave the FBI an opportunity to identify much of the Gambinos' hierarchy. Although the club was bugged, Bureau agents failed to produce any high-quality incriminating recordings. In the same year, Gotti took control of the New Jersey DeCavalcante Crime Family by presenting himself with numerous other Gambino mobsters to the funeral of Vincent "Jimmy" Rotondo, a DeCavalcante capo whose killing was ordered by the same Gotti. Rotondo had introduced both DeCavalcante and Gambino's men to an informant. On May 3, 1998, Gotti approved the killing of Francesco Oliveri, who was held responsible for the killing of another Gambino man. On August 29, "Willie Boy" Johnson was killed by two Bonanno hitmen as a favor to Gotti. On Christmas Eve, Gotti's son, John A. Gotti, Jr., was initiated into the family. On the evening of January 23, 1989, Gotti was arrested and charged with ordering the May 7, 1986, shooting attack on labor union official John O'Connor (who survived the attempt, which was perpetrated by Westies' members). The latter had allegedly ordered an attack on a Gambino restaurant in early 1986, which was prompted by the fact that the mobsters running the restaurant hired non-union laborers to work on the place. Gotti was again acquitted due to lack of collaboration between federal and state authorities. On September 11, 1989, real estate developer Fred Weiss was killed on Gotti's orders because of the latter's suspect that Weiss was going to cooperate with federal authorities. A breakthrough for FBI agents surveilling Gotti was finally represented by their discovery of an apartment just above the Ravenite Club, which the boss used to explicitly discuss criminal activities, since he knew the downstairs club had been entirely wiretapped. The apartment belonged to an old lady, Nettie Cirelli, the widow of Ravenite's old janitor. On November 19, federal agents planted listening devices in the apartment. It was the beginning of the end for "The Teflon Don". On August 9, 1990, Gotti ordered the murder of Eddie Garofalo, a building contractor, at Gravano's behest.

1992 Trial and Conviction[]

Salvatore Gravano in court

Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano in court.

On December 11, 1990, the Ravenite Club was stormed by NYPD detectives and FBI agents. Gotti, Gravano, and Frank Locascio (the underboss at the time) were all arrested. The don was charged with five murders, those of Castellano, Bilotti, DiBernardo, Liborio Milito and Louis Dibono. Milito was a soldier who had been killed in March 1986, while Dibono had been killed for stealing from the family and not attending meetings. Both murders had been ordered by Gotti but at Gravano's behest. Gotti was also charged with conspiracy to kill Gaetano "Corky" Vascola (a DeCavalcante man Gotti was convinced would have become a government witness), loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery, and tax evasion. All the defendants were denied bail, and both Bruce Cutler and Gerald Shargel were disqualified from defending Gotti and Gravano, like they had done in the past. This was because they were liable to be called as witnesses, since, prosecutors argued, they knew about potential criminal activities. The tapes recorded inside the Cirelli apartment revealed Gotti had begun to despise Gravano for being, according to him, "too greedy", and also indicated the don had intentions to frame him for some of the murders he was charged with. Upon hearing this, Gravano became disillusioned with the mob and, seeing no hopes of winning the case, accepted to turn state's evidence, formally agreeing to testify on November 13, 1991.

The federal trial was held in Brooklyn, and was attended by actors of the likes of Anthony Quinn and Mickey Rourke, who intended to pick up Mafia mannerisms. When it began, in January 1992, the jurors' identities were kept secret, and the jury was kept fully sequestered as precaution against jury tampering. On the stand, Gravano described in detail the Castellano hit, as well as the structure of the Gambino family itself. He admitted to nineteen murders, and implicated Gotti in four of them. The latter became increasingly hostile, to the point he was almost removed from the courtroom for his behavior. On April 2, 1992, the jury found Gotti guilty on all charges, while Locascio was found guilty on all but one. James Fox, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's New York Field Office, announced at a press conference: "The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro, and all the charges stuck". On June 23, 1992, both defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, and fined $250.000. Mob riots followed Gotti's conviction. On December 24, 1992, Thomas and Rosemarie Uva, a couple who had committed several robberies at Mafia-owned social clubs, were both shot to death in Ozone Park, Queens. Although Gambinos were suspected of being involved, the alleged killer, Dominick Pizzonia, was later found not guilty in court. The Uvas' story was the subject of two films: Rob the Mob (2014) and Wannabe (2015).

Incarceration, Death, and Aftermath[]

John A. Gotti, Jr.

John A. Gotti, Jr.

Gotti was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, and was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell, twenty-two hours a day. The only visitors allowed were lawyers and relatives. His final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected in 1994. Despite his imprisonment, he retained his title as boss of the Gambino family (which, according to Mafia rules, he could retain until his death or retirement), with Peter Gotti and John, Jr. relaying orders on his behalf. On July 18, 1996, he was punched by fellow inmate Walter Johnson for allegedly calling him with a racial slur. Gotti, wanting revenge, hired two members of the prison Aryan Brotherhood to kill Johnson, but the latter was transferred before they had an opportunity to do so. Gotti is also believed to have hired the Brotherhood to kill Locascio, after learning his former underboss sought to kill him.

In 1998, John, Jr. was indicted on racketeering charges and, against his father wishes, decided to plead guilty. Upon discovery that his son was involved with the mob, Victoria DiGiorgio threatened Gotti to leave him unless he allowed John, Jr. to leave the family. In the same year, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and sent to a medical facility for federal prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. Although the tumor was removed, it was later discovered to have returned, and Gotti's condition declined quickly. He died on June 10, 2002. After the funeral, hundreds of onlooker followed the procession, which passed the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club to the gravesite. He was buried next to his son, Frank. Representatives of other families did not attend the funeral as a sign of repudiation of Gotti's leadership, who substantially brought to the decimation of the Gambino family. Peter Gotti formally succeeded Gotti in his role shortly before the latter's death. The John Gotti story was the subject of several works of fiction, including: Getting Gotti (1994, starring Lorraine Bracco and Anthony John Denison), Gotti (1996, starring Armand Assante), and the similarly-named Gotti (2018, starring John Travolta).

Modus Operandi[]

With the exception of the murder of John Favara, who had accidentally caused the death of his son (killing civilians for personal reasons was actually against Mafia rules), Gotti only killed his victims for "business" reasons, when they wronged or failed him in some way, threatened him, or were suspected of being/becoming informants. He also accepted to kill at his fellow gangsters' request (though it was always him who took the final decision). During his tenure as the Gambino Crime Family's boss, Gotti never personally killed his victims, who were disposed of by his underlings and hitmen, usually by shooting at point-blank. The Castellano and Bilotti murders were committed by a hit squad dressed in identical tan raincoats and fur hats (as a means to divert witnesses). In order to avoid wiretaps, Gotti would usually bring his men on "walk-talks" outside his club, and at some point employed an apartment located above it.

Known Victims[]

Most of the following occurred in New York City.

John Favara

John Favara.

Paul Castellano

Paul Castellano.

Liborio Milito

Liborio Milito.

Robert DiBernardo

Robert DiBernardo.

Louis DiBono

Louis DiBono.

  • 1957:
    • Unspecified date and location: A victimless theft
  • 1963: Unspecfied date and location: A victimless car theft
  • 1965:
    • March 31: Suffolk County: A victimless attempted burglary
  • 1966: Unspecified date and location: An unnamed car salesman (was beaten; disappeared)
  • Unspecified dates between 1966 and December 1967: Brooklyn: An unspecified number of victimless truck hijackings
  • December 1, 1967: The JFK Airport: A victimless truck hijacking
  • Unspecified date and location: Directed two more victimless truck hijackings
  • May 22, 1973: Staten Island: James McBratney, 31 (shot to death; participated in the killing but didn't pull the trigger)
  • 1975:
    • Unspecified date and location: Vito Borelli (killed by unspecified means)
  • Decemeber 11, 1978: The JFK Airport: the Lufthansa heist (assisted)
  • 1979:
    • January 14: Thomas DeSimone, 28 (disappeared, possibly killed with his help)
    • August: Miami, Florida: Tony Plate, 66 (disappeared, presumably killed by him or others of his crew)
  • June 28, 1980: Howard Beach, Queens: John Favara, 51 (disappeared, presumably killed on his orders)
  • September 11, 1984: Queens: Romual Piecyk (assaulted and robbed, later intimidated during trial)
  • December 16, 1985: Outside the Sparks Steak House, Midtown Manhattan: The Castellano hit (both were shot several times on his orders)
    • Paul Castellano, 70
    • Thomas Bilotti, 45
  • 1986:
    • March 8: Liborio Milito (shot to death on his orders at Gravano's behest)
    • May 7: Midtown Manhattan: John O'Connor (was shot on his orders, survived)
    • June 5: Bensonhurst, Brooklyn: Robert DiBernardo (shot to death on his orders at Ruggiero's behest)
  • Unspecified date and location after Gotti's release from custody: Gaetano "Corky" Vastola (plotted to kill)
  • 1988:
    • January 4: Brooklyn: Vincent "Jimmy" Rotondo, 57 (shot to death on his orders)
    • May 3: Astoria, Queens: Francesco Oliveri (shot to death on his orders)
  • September 11, 1989: New Springville, Staten Island: Fred Weiss (killed on his orders)
  • 1990:
    • August 9: Brooklyn: Eddie Garofalo (killed on his orders at Gravano's behest)
    • October 4: Found in the World Trade Center underground parking lot: Louis DiBono, 63 (killed on his orders at Gravano's behest, was shot three times)
  • December 24, 1992: Ozone Park, Queens: (both shot to death, possibly on his orders)
    • Thomas Uva, 28
    • Rosemarie Uva, 31
  • Unspecified date after July 18, 1996: United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois: Walter Johnson (ordered his murder, survived)
  • Unspecified date: United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois: Frank Locascio (possibly ordered his murder, survived)
  • August 29, 1998: Brooklyn: Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson, 52 (shot to death as a favor to him)

On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders[]

Sources[]

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