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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Few heads at Chin Funeral

Friends of ours: Vincent "Chin" Gigante, John Gotti, Mario Gigante, Genovese Crime Family, Frank Costello

Pallbearers carry a coffin with the body of former Mafia boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante out of St. Anthony of Padua Church in the Village after a simple service attended by few mobsters. There were no garish floral arrangements yesterday and only a few shiny limos with refrigerator-size guys. Hardly a capo showed up. Mostly, the funeral of the legendary Mafia boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante was a quiet reminder of an Old World Greenwich Village that is disappearing day by day.

Gigante, after all, was an underworld dinosaur, an old-time gangster who dodged prison for decades by shuffling unshaven about the Village in a bathrobe, muttering that Jesus was his lawyer. His final tribute reflected the fallen state of the Mafia, with hardly any mobsters seen paying their final respects at the St. Anthony of Padua Church on Sullivan St.

It was a modest affair, nothing like the 2002 funeral for mob boss John Gotti, when 19 open-air cars packed with flowers paraded about Queens.

The attendees mainly were family and friends, including Gigante's brother, Mario, a reputed captain in the Genovese family, Gigante's wife, Olympia, and several of his children.

The service was held a few blocks down Sullivan St. from the tiny apartment where Gigante lived for years with his mother. It was presided over by another of his brothers, the Rev. Louis Gigante.

Rev. Gigante, who stood by his sibling even after Vincent had admitted the crazy act was just that, did his best to preserve the image of his brother as a man misunderstood. "The world had a different view of him through the media," he declared. "But we, his family, his friends, the people of Greenwich Village, me, his brothers, his mother and father, we all knew him as a gentle man, a man of God."

To a church three-quarters full, the priest presented the powerful gangster as a lonely throwback wedded to his rapidly changing neighborhood. "Vincent never traveled," the priest said. "He was always on Sullivan St., walking and helping others, neglecting himself."

No mention was made of Gigante's status as Godfather of the most powerful crime family in America. No one recalled that Gigante once parted the hair of mobster Frank Costello with a bullet, shouting, "This one's for you, Frank!"

Instead there was the story of a 77-year-old man dying alone in a prison somewhere in the Midwest, neglected. As the priest saw it, the government that pursued his brother for decades finally did him in. "In the eight years Vincent was in prison, I visited him 19 times. There wasn't a day he didn't suffer," said Rev. Gigante. "He did his time like a man. He was going to come home. He was dying to come home. But he couldn't. They allowed him to die."

Then the white-gloved pallbearers did their job, carrying the coffin piled high with red and white poinsettias down the aisle and into the pre-Christmas chill.

In the end, Vincent (Chin) Gigante emerged from his childhood church, carried out into a Village the old mob boss would have barely recognized.

Thanks to Greg Smith

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