The Life of the Dapper Don
John Joseph Gotti Jr was born on October 27 1940 in South Bronx, NY to parents John Joseph Gotti Sr and Philomena Gotti. He was the fifth child in a family of thirteen. The family were poor, and most of the pay that John Gotti Sr earned from his job as a day laborer was frittered away through gambling.
In his early teens, Gotti would become involved with the gangs in East New York, and had his first run-in with the law at the age of 14, whilst attempting to steal a cement mixer. It fell onto his feet, crushing his toes, and causing a permanent limp. He officially dropped out of Franklin K. Lane High School at the age of 16 and began to focus on a criminal career with the Fulton-Rockaway boys. It was whilst with this gang that Gotti would meet many of the people who would stay with him on his ascension to the top.
He began to get noticed by the Gambino Family after he was sent to ‘teach a guy a lesson’ regarding a stolen car ring. He undertook this piece of work with Willie Boy Johnson, who was also a member of the Fulton-Rockaway boys. Gotti and Johnson brutally beat this man, and this caught the eye of a few guys in what was then known as the Anastasia Family (the boss was a certain Albert Anastasia). Gotti had been doing work for Carmine Fatico up until this point, but he was soon to meet his mentor, Aniello Dellacroce.
In February 1968 Gotti was arrested for a hijacking at United Airlines, after being identified by some of the staff. He was sentenced to three years at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. He got parole in 1972, and he soon returned to working under Carmine Fatico at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Ozone Park, Queens. Though he wasn’t ‘made’, Gotti was named acting capo of the Bergin Crew after Fatico was indicted on loansharking charges. It was during this time that Gotti became closer to Dellacroce, as he often visited the Ravenite Social Club to discuss the activities of his crew with the Gambino underboss. In 1973, after the nephew of boss Carlo Gambino was kidnapped and killed, Gotti was given the ‘hit’ on James McBratney, who was the one thought to be responsible for the killing. The hit was carried out at Snoope’s Bar in Staten Island, with Angelo Ruggiero and Ralph Galione also assigned to the team. The hit didn’t go to plan, and Gotti was identified by onlookers and was arrested in June 1974. He received a four year sentence for attempted manslaughter.
Gotti served two years of the sentence and was released in July 1977. Upon his release he was initiated into the Gambino Family, by the then boss Paul Castellano. He was immediately made capo of the Bergin crew, who reported directly to Neil Dellacroce. Gotti and his crew were Neil’s biggest earners. Besides running his own loansharking operation, there were allegations that Gotti was financing drug deals with members of the Bergin crew, though this was never proven. On December 11, 1978 Gotti assisted in the Lufthansa Heist at Kennedy Airport, which at the time was the biggest unrecovered cash robbery in history. An estimated $5.875 million (equivalent to almost $24m today) was stolen in cash and jewellery.
During his time as capo, Gotti became increasingly unhappy with the leadership of Gambino boss Paul Castellano. He felt Castellano was more of a businessman than a street guy, and was too isolated from the family. Castellano (along with other high-ranking mobsters) was arrested on charges of racketeering in early 1985, which would eventually lead to the ‘Commission Trial’. It was a combination of factors that led Gotti to start thinking that the Gambino family would be better off without Castellano at the helm, and along with other capos and soldiers in the family, he began to conspire to overthrow the boss. After the death of Gotti’s mentor, Neil Dellacroce who died of cancer on December 2, 1985, it was thought that Castellano planned to break up the Gotti crew. This sealed the fate of Big Paul Castellano, and Gotti resolved to have him killed.
The Castellano ‘hit’ was to take place on the early evening of Monday, December 16, 1985, outside Spark’s Steak House, East 46th St in Manhattan. As Paul Castellano and driver Tommy Bilotti began to exit the car outside the entrance of the restaurant, they were confronted by a hit team, who shot and killed them both. Gotti was overseeing the operation from a nearby car, alongside Sammy Gravano. John Gotti was formally accepted as the new boss of the Gambino family at a meeting held on January 15, 1986.
At the time of Gotti’s takeover, the Gambino family were thought to be the most powerful Mafia family in America, and were said to have an annual income of $500 million. It was estimated that Gotti himself had an annual income of between $5m and $12m per year. After rising to power in the Gambino family, Gotti began to court his newfound fame in the media, and the press began to follow him around. He had two pending court cases from his days as capo, but one of these was dismissed soon after the trial began, as Romual Piecyk said he couldn’t remember who had attacked him during an altercation in 1984.
On April 13th 1986, Gotti’s second in command, Frank DeCicco, was killed by a car bomb. John Gotti was meant to be in the car with DeCicco, but had cancelled earlier in the day. The killing was apparently revenge for the unsanctioned hit on Paul Castellano, and was carried out by Anthony ‘Gaspipe’ Casso and Vic Amuso of the Lucchese family, under the orders of Vincent Gigante and Anthony Corallo.
During Gotti’s racketeering case in late 1986, a juror, George Pape, was paid $60,000 by Sammy Gravano to deliver a favorable verdict. On March 13, 1987, Gotti and his co-defendants were acquitted of all charges. Following this, the media dubbed him ‘The Teflon Don’, as no charges seemed to stick. In a separate racketeering case, Gotti’s underboss Joseph ‘Piney’ Armone and consigliere Joseph Gallo were convicted in December 1987, leading Gotti to appoint Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano as underboss
In early 1988, Gotti made it a requirement for his capos to meet with him at the Ravenite Social Club at least once a week. This allowed FBI surveillance to record and identify much of the Gambino family and provided evidence that Gotti was the boss of the family. It was during this time that the FBI first bugged the Ravenite, though no incriminating conversations were recorded.
On December 24th, 1988, Gotti’s oldest son, John A Gotti Jr was initiated into the Gambino family, in a ceremony held by Sammy Gravano. He was almost immediately promoted to capo.
John Gotti was again arrested on January 23, 1989, this time in connection with ordering the 1986 assault of union official John O’Connor. Gotti was released on $100,000 bail, and was later acquitted at trial. However, it later emerged that FBI bugs had apparently caught Gotti discussing plans to fix the jury, as he had done in a previous case, but these bugged conversations were not disclosed at the time.
FBI agents and NYPD detectives raided the Ravenite on the evening of December 11, 1990, and arrested Gotti, along with underboss Sammy Gravano and consigliere Frank Locascio. Federal prosecutors charged Gotti with five murders, conspiracy to murder, illegal gambling, loansharking, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. They were all denied bail based on recordings from bugs which were played at pretrial hearings. These tapes created a huge rift between Gotti and Gravano, as some of the recordings were of Gotti badmouthing Gravano – calling him greedy and attempting to frame him as the driving force behind three of the murders. After hearing these tapes, Gravano eventually decided to turn state’s evidence and formally agreed to testify in November, 1991.
The trial began with the opening statements on February 12th, 1992. Gravano was brought in to testify on March 2nd. During his testimony he confirmed that John Gotti was indeed the boss of the Gambino family, and, with great detail, told of the conspiracy to assassinate Paul Castellano. Gotti became increasingly hostile as the trial progressed, and at one point was threatened with removal from the courtroom. On April 2, 1992, John Gotti was found guilty on all charges, and Frank Locascio guilty on all but one. On June 23rd, 1992, both were sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and a $250,000 fine.
Gotti was sent to United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, where he would spend the majority of his sentence in solitary confinement – leaving his cell for just one hour a day. In July, 1986, an altercation took place with an inmate named Walter Johnson, who punched Gotti whilst they were in the prison recreation room.
Despite being in prison, Gotti attempted to retain his title as boss, using his son John Jr or his brother, Peter, to deliver messages on his behalf. In 1998, John Jr was believed to be the acting boss of the family. After he was indicted and pleaded guilty on racketeering charges (and subsequently sentenced to six years), it’s thought that Peter then took on the role of acting boss.
John Gotti was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998 and was sent to undergo surgery at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. The tumour was removed, but the cancer returned two years later. His condition declined rapidly, and he died on Monday 10th June, 2002. He was 61 years old. He is buried at St. John Cemetery, Queens, New York.
Personal and Family Life
John Gotti married Victoria DiGiorgio on March 6, 1962. They have five children – Angel, John Jr, Victoria, Frank and Peter. Tragedy struck the family on March 18th, 1980, when Frank was killed in a road accident at the age of 12. He was riding a friend’s bike when a neighbor’s car struck him. The neighbor, John Favara, was reportedly abducted and disappeared on July 28, 1980.
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