The Chicago Syndicate: Salvatore Gravano
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Showing posts with label Salvatore Gravano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salvatore Gravano. Show all posts

Sunday, April 01, 2001

Sammy Gravano and the Devil Dogs

Mob rat Sammy Gravano had a new name, a new home, and a lock on Arizona’s Ecstasy market. Then a gang of skinheads brought him down.

When 18-year-old Jordan Jarvis took off out of the keg party at 2658 East Gemini Street around 11:30 p.m. Memorial Day weekend in 1999, he was shaking. Streaming out of the house behind him in a blind rage were about 15 steroiders from Highland High in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. These guys called themselves the Devil Dogs, and they were enormous. As they came after Jarvis, a couple of them stripped off their T-shirts.

“Emergency!” someone yelled. “Get that motherfucker!”

Jarvis ran to the street and almost cried with relief when he saw his friend Charles “Bubba” Cairns, 19, in his black open-top ’76 International Harvester Scout truck, the engine running. “Go, dude, go!” Jarvis yelled to Bubba, jumping into the front seat and buckling himself in. But then Bubba’s friend Alisha Larson, 17, lost her shoe as she was climbing into the backseat. She bent to pick it up.

The Dogs were upon them, screaming like lunatics. “You’re the motherfucker who beat up Riley Gilbert!”

“No, man,” Jarvis said. “I don’t even know who that—”

A fist slammed in out of the darkness and shattered Jarvis’s cheekbone. The Devil Dogs swarmed around the truck. They grabbed at Jarvis. His seat belt held him in. So one of them, a kid named Kevin Papa, climbed into the Scout, straddled Jarvis and began smashing his face, over and over. “Stop it! Stop it!” screamed 17-year-old Beth from the backseat. She tried covering him with her body, but the Dogs pulled her away and then took turns hammering his face. To Beth the flat smack of fists pummeling Jordan Jarvis “sounded like machine-gun shots.”

The attackers howled like a pack of mongrels. As they kicked and clawed and punched, they spit out expletives: “Faggot!” “Piece of shit!” “You fucking niggers!” It didn’t seem to make much difference that Jarvis and Bubba were both white.

Even though he was in a choke hold, Bubba managed to get the truck into gear. “White power!” someone yelled as they peeled away down Gemini Street. Beth looked down—her legs were spattered with blood. When she checked on Jarvis, she almost fainted. His face was unrecognizable, a red and purple mass. Jarvis’s nose was crushed, pushed flat into a mangled left cheek. Blood soaked his shirt, the seats, the windshield. As Jarvis fought to stay conscious, he thought, I’m going to die.

As they raced away, Jarvis dimly heard a sound fading behind them—the strange sound of human children barking like dogs.

Twenty miles to the west, a short, stocky 54-year-old man with graying hair relaxed with his family in Tempe, quietly enjoying the holiday. A few of his neighbors still knew him as Jimmy Moran, owner of a local construction firm. Close friends and family knew him by another name: Salvatore Gravano. The Bull.

Few would question his status as the most notorious Mob turncoat in history. After a 20-year career as an enforcer, hitman, and eventually underboss of New York’s Gambino family, Sammy Gravano turned informer in 1991. He nailed 39 mobsters and landed Gambino boss John J. Gotti in Federal prison for life. Despite admitting to 19 murders, his searing insider testimony earned him a sweetheart deal with the government. Then, in the kind of second act that Americans—especially mobsters—aren’t supposed to have, Gravano relocated to Arizona and quickly returned to the work he knew best.

In rebuilding a crime network from the ground up, Sammy the Bull didn’t reach out to the old-world Mafia. Instead, authorities say, he joined together with a new breed of vicious young suburban white-boy gangsters led by Michael Papa, 23, a brilliant and charismatic Arizona State University premed student, and Gravano’s own son, Gerard, 23. With Sammy as godfather and venture capitalist, and muscle provided by the violent white supremacist gang the Devil Dogs, the group sought to dominate the Phoenix market for a drug that burst like a supernova in the 1990s: Ecstasy. At its height the Gravano-Papa cartel was pulling in about $1 million profit per month.

Sammy and the Dogs. Together they rose, and together they fell. Gravano couldn’t have known it on that quiet Memorial Day weekend, but the Gemini Street attack would eventually set forces in motion that even the most powerful former Mob man in America would be unable to control.

The Bull Gets a New Life

Salvatore Gravano’s first hit was in 1970, on one of his closest childhood friends. He murdered the guy in cold blood as a favor to a more powerful friend, who lusted after the guy’s wife. Years later, some say, the Bull stood by calmly and watched his wife Debra’s brother get shot, a Mob murder he helped plan.

“If evil had to take on a form or a shape, Sammy is it,” said Rosanne Massa, the sister of one of Gravano’s murder victims. But to prosecutors he was the golden boy. And so, on April 19, 1995, Gravano stepped through the doors of an Arizona prison and into the Federal Witness Protection Program after just five years of jail time and $250,000 in fines. He still had millions, and a new taxpayer-supported life to spend them on.

His Fed handlers constructed a new identity for him. “James Moran” would hail from the backwater badlands of South Dakota, as far from the killing streets of Brooklyn as you can get. Gravano even had minor cosmetic surgery, a nip and tuck around the face on the government’s dime. “It was either for vanity or to disguise himself from Gotti’s assassins, but either way it didn’t work,” said a law-enforcement source. “He was still ugly, and he was still recognizable.”

In 1996, a year after he left prison, Gravano left the Witness Protection Program. “Too many restrictions,” he’d say later. “You couldn’t have contact with your family or anybody.”

Nobody came out of witness protection like Sammy. He produced the bestseller Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia, his chronicle of Mob life. He got to keep half of the $850,000 book deal—in violation of New York’s Son of Sam law prohibiting criminals from profiting from their exploits. He was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on Turning Point. He was the world’s first incognito with a press agent.

He liked Arizona. But he had to have his family around him. After all, he thought, what’s more important than family?

The Neighborhood Goes to Hell

When Vince Zajdzinski saw a middle-aged couple and a realtor across the street from his house, looking over the dilapidated acre-and-a-half property at 1207 East Secretariat, he recognized Sammy Gravano right away. “He has such a distinctive build,” Zajdzinski says. “He’s a small man, five-six, but he’s got that boxer body.” Zajdzinski, 62, a builder and former Chicago fireman, had just watched an A&E profile on Gravano.

Zajdzinski didn’t let on that he knew who his new neighbor was. Gravano introduced himself as Jimmy Moran. Sammy soon hired Zajdzinski to gut and rebuild his new home, a $500,000 job. Poring over blueprints one evening, Zajdzinski decided it was time for Gravano to come out into the open.

“Are we going to be putting gun turrets into this place or what?” he asked.

Sammy laughed. “You know who I am?”

Zajdzinski stared at him.“You’d be a hard guy not to know.”

The job dragged on. Gravano, Zajdzinski says, was maddening as a client, obsessive over details and not particularly knowledgeable about construction. One afternoon, after being informed by Zajdzinski that “he didn’t know shit,” the Bull charged. Lunging across the living room, Gravano whipped out a pistol and put it to his neighbor’s head. Gravano’s wife, Debbie, witnessing the scene, froze.

“Look, if it will make you feel better,” Zajdzinski said coolly, “just go ahead and shoot me.”

For a beat Gravano hesitated. Then he backed off and stalked away. “You’re not going to make me go back,” he snarled.

The incident didn’t break up the friendship. Months later Zajdzinski took Gravano to his evangelical church. When the minister announced the altar call, summoning anyone in the congregation to be born again, one man raised his hand.

The serial killer with 19 notches in his belt, Sammy the Bull.

Gravano soon gathered his extended family at the sprawling eight-bedroom Secretariat house—Debbie, Gerard, daughter Karen, Karen’s boyfriend David Seabrook, and a revolving series of friends and cousins. Sammy wanted to be surrounded by neighborhood people who still had his back.

Debbie and he had divorced, but they made a pact. Sammy could have his family life, but he also had to keep his own apartment a few miles away. He would have to spend nights at his place. That way if Gotti and company sent assassins, the hit wouldn’t take out the whole family.

Back in the Game

Phil Pascucci looked like what he was, East Coast Italian, so Gravano was standoffish toward the 35-year-old hustler when he met him in late 1997. After all, there were still Gotti allies out on the street. “I’m not their favorite person,” he told a friend. “They could motherfuck me up and down.” But gradually Sammy thawed out. According to affidavits obtained from defense sources, the two began a tight three-year relationship, during which Pascucci acted as part business partner, part surrogate son. Soon enough Gravano asked Pascucci to help him put together a large-scale pot purchase.

The practical-minded Pascucci balked. Too tough, he said. Instead, he steered Gravano in another direction: Ecstasy.

Gravano had never heard of the drug. Pascucci painstakingly explained the market in E to Gravano. How you could make a pill for 50¢ and sell it wholesale for $9 or $10. And how you could move 30,000 or 40,000 tabs a week.

Pascucci had a source, a lab in Texas. In early 1998 Sammy took over wholesale distribution, while Pascucci handled supply. As long as they were making money together, Pascucci was Sammy’s fair-haired boy. Gerard, Sammy confided to one of his men,“could never come in and be involved…because he doesn’t have what it takes. Some people do, some people don’t.” But when Pascucci’s E connection dried up in mid-1998, Gravano turned cold toward his surrogate son. It was time for Gravano’s real son to step up and become Daddy’s new supplier.

Like Father, Like Son

Gerard Gravano resembled his dad: short and squared-off, with deep-set, heavy-lidded eyes. But the kid seemed lost since moving to Arizona three years earlier. He had a lot to live up to. Few in his family thought he had his dad’s brains or street savvy. So when opportunity knocked, Gerard kicked open the door.

It was late 1998 when Gerard Gravano met a fellow transplanted New Yorker named Michael J. Papa in the VIP lounge at a Phoenix hot spot. Papa was one of the local club scene’s biggest E dealers, but he didn’t hawk his product on the dance floor like some street skell. He was way smoother than that.

A Long Islander from Jericho, New York, the tall and good-looking Papa had been captain of his high school football team, and a punter for the University of Buffalo in ’94. Now he was a 4.0 student at ASU with a thriving sideline. He was always holding—good stuff, too, foreign-made Ecstasy pills stamped with logos borrowed from corporate America or Hollywood—Calvin Kleins, Nikes, Pink Pussycats.

Ecstasy dealers were the new royalty of the club scene. “When Mike Papa and his guys came into a club,” said a young female ASU student who frequented the rave scene, “it was like the sea parted.” It didn’t hurt that Papa was bulked up on steroids and bronzed from tanning salons. The guy looked the part.

The Ecstasy scene in Phoenix seemed to bloom overnight. Fewer than one thousand pills had been confiscated in the whole state in 1999. A year later that number climbed to 75,000 in one week in the Phoenix area alone. Suddenly MDMA, 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a synthesis of mescaline and speed, was everybody’s favorite drug.

When Gerard Gravano met him, Mike Papa already had an Ecstasy distribution network in place centered around the clubs near ASU. He was moving up to 1,000 pills a week, with a markup of at least $10 per pill. If only he had the right backing, he told Gerard one night, he could be moving 25,000 a week.

In response, Gerard told Mike Papa who his father was.

The Punk Meets the Godfather

Sammy Gravano began providing seed money and leadership for Mike Papa’s Ecstasy organization in spring 1999. When he was around the Bull, the normally confident Papa became tongue-tied, staring at the floor as he talked. According to one member of Gravano’s inner circle, “Sammy would go up and down with Papa. One week he would be in, Sammy liked him; the next week he’d say, ‘This kid can’t be involved with us.’” But the upside was too great to resist. The arrangement was simple: Mike Papa would offer his supply of pills; Sammy would offer the weight of the Gravano name. And if further intimidation was necessary, Mike Papa would summon a horde of barking, shatteringly violent skinheads to do his bidding.

Papa had first encountered these teen freaks through his friend Jovan Isailovic, 20, a wild-eyed Czech. After meeting at Gold’s Gym in the East Valley suburb of Gilbert, Mike and Jovan became inseparable—lifting weights together, shooting steroids together, selling drugs together. For kicks they would sometimes get together with a bunch of Jovan’s sketchy friends, load up on drugs and booze, and engage in their own brand of extreme cage fighting, usually in an empty swimming pool. Two guys at a time would enter the pool and proceed to beat each other bloody. The one who could pull himself out afterward was the winner. Jovan Isailovic fought under the moniker “the Iceman.”

Before long Papa had more than just a close friend: He had an enforcer. “Mike Papa could say, ‘Jovan, sic ’em,’” says former Gilbert officer Mike Sanchez, “and Jovan would just pound the crap out of whoever it was without even thinking about it.” But there was more to the relationship. Jovan, like many of his cage-fighting buddies, had been a charter member of a group of Highland High School white-supremacist muscleheads called White Power. Since 1993 each class had seen its own gang, and Jovan had kept close ties to each. Every year they called themselves something different—Chindo Squad or A-Team or Dog Pound. The class of ’99 found its name in an epithet the Germans threw at the Marines in World War I: Devil Dogs.

Bad Dogs

Jovan’s pretty, flame-haired little sister Jovanka, 17, started going out with Mike Papa’s little brother, Kevin, while they were both students at Gilbert’s Highland High. At five-seven Kevin was smaller than his brother, but that only made him look up to Mike more. He was dying to prove himself to his older sibling.

On his 17th birthday, Kevin’s mom, Mary Ann Papa, saw the words “Devil Dogs” scrawled on a card her son received from Jason Lee, a hulking six-one, 245-pound skinhead friend of his.

“What does that mean, what Jason wrote?” Mary Ann asked.

Kevin just laughed. “Jason is an idiot,” he said. But at Highland, Kevin was spending more and more of his time with Lee and the other Dogs, often wearing a uniform ripped from the skinhead book of style: white sleeveless “wife beater” Ts, jeans, black Doc Marten boots with fat white laces. Even though much of the group’s hatred was aimed at blacks, one of its members, Marquis Wonsey, was the child of a white parent and a black one. “We’re OK with Mark,” said one Dog. “He’s no gangsta. He dresses white and he talks white.”

They were a loose group, perhaps 20 core members, but they liked to make their impact felt—with their fists. “We go out and hunt pussies and homos,” one Devil Dog said in June 1999. The violence of the random beatings seemed to increase every weekend. One victim lost a tooth in the shoe of an attacking Devil Dog. Another showed up at the Gilbert police department with a boot-print-shaped bruise on his forehead. But it was the beating of Jordan Jarvis on Memorial Day weekend—outside the home of Jovan and Jovanka Isailovic—that got the cops interested for real. The kid’s ruined face was impossible to ignore. Gilbert police antigang officers Sanchez and Terry Burchett began hauling in the Dogs, including Kevin Papa, for questioning. Witnesses fingered Kevin as the one who was “dropping bombs”—throwing great looping punches—on Jarvis that night. He admitted that the Devil Dogs jumped victims “almost every week, especially at concerts.”

As the investigation widened throughout the summer of 1999, two things became clear. If you wanted Ecstasy in Gilbert, the guy to see was Mike Papa. Also, Mike Papa was connected. Heavy connected. Mob connected.

The cops couldn’t believe what they were hearing. “None of us would’ve ever believed these kids were tied to former mobsters,” recalls Sanchez. “It was too good to be true. It was huge.” It was also time to call in reinforcements.

Consolidating the Drug Market

Michael Papa liked to boast. “I’ve got a new boss,” he started saying that July, dropping the name Gravano as a veiled threat.

He also began crowing of a connection “high up in the Israeli Mafia.” Papa’s seemingly bottomless supply of E came from a smuggling organization run by a 45-year-old Israeli named Jacob “Koki” Orgad. It was made in Israeli labs. The ring pumped at least 9 million pills into the U.S. market from 1997 to 1999.

Orgad specialized in hiring white trash from Middle America to act as drug mules. Based in L.A., Orgad had tentacles in every major metropolitan area in America. His man in New York City, Ilan Zarger, became Michael Papa’s source for drugs.

That summer Mike Papa and Gerard Gravano began a campaign of consolidation. Prompted by Sammy, backed by Jovan and the Dogs, they clawed their way into a bigger and bigger share of the Ecstasy market.

Early in July 1999, Gerard and Mike Papa waited in darkness outside a club called Pompei near ASU. Inside the club was James Keller*—one of the most visible Ecstasy dealers in Phoenix, a flamboyant, cash-flush kid who wore a long black leather duster, even in the stifling Arizona heat.

When Keller stepped out of Pompei that night, Gerard Gravano suddenly appeared out of the shadows. Gerard wasn’t physically intimidating, but lately he had been packing. Mike Papa materialized behind him. Sweeping a steroid-enhanced forearm around Keller’s windpipe, Papa caught the dealer in a naked choke hold, a classic Brazilian jujitsu move.

“This is our fucking turf!” Gerard screamed into the guy’s face.

Mike Papa dropped the slumping dealer to the pavement. Then he and Gerard stomped Keller’s face to a pulp.

The heavy muscle was repeated all over the rich drug bazaars along Scottsdale Road. The Phoenix Ecstasy market had been a series of small duchies, each run by an individual dealer. That summer it became a single empire, run by Sammy the Bull.

Keller turned out to be a Zarger man, and he whined to New York about his treatment. Zarger sent a burly bodyguard named Macho to Arizona and talked openly about having Sammy “whacked.” Weller and two Zarger goons demanded a meeting.

The dispute was settled in Cosa Nostra fashion, with a sit-down in mid-July 1999. Practiced in the art of intimidation, Sammy made sure it took place on his own stomping ground—Uncle Sal’s (as in Salvatore Gravano) Italian Ristorante, the Scottsdale place where Debbie and Gerard worked and which served as a de facto headquarters for the Gravano family.

Flanked by Mike Papa and Gerard, Sammy was in rare form. “I own Arizona,” he said. “It’s all locked down. You can’t sell pills here without going through me.”

Maybe it was the threat of violence. Or maybe it was the cheap red wine. But the Zarger people caved. Sammy agreed to let them continue their business; they agreed to give him 25¢ from every pill they distributed in the state. The threat of a hit vaporized. If Gerard and Mike hadn’t had a monopoly on the Phoenix Ecstasy market before this, they sure did now.

High on the Hog

The money rolled in in fistfuls, and it went out just as fast. Everyone had a new Lexus—Sammy, Debbie, Gerard, David Seabrook. “It looked like a friggin’ Lexus dealership over there,” said one neighbor of the house on Secretariat.

The renovation had transformed the place into a $750,000 showcase, all built to Sammy’s order. A custom front door of knotty alder, complete with a speakeasy-style peep window. Miniature horses in a paddock out back. A swimming pool complete with waterfall and 65 tons of surface-select boulders.

The pool helped support Sammy’s cover as a pool excavator. His company, Marathon Development, stood out amid the junked-up industrial park landscape, a neat pea-gravel yard around a cappuccino-colored office. Most days Sammy sat at a desk at the rear, near the access to the parking lot, where he could watch the front and back doors at the same time.

Michael and Gerard sometimes did 25,000 pills a week, and they were branching out to Columbus, Albuquerque, San Francisco. The cash was flowing. But as any dealer knows, cash can be as much of a headache as the drugs. It has to be dealt with.

On the night of October 25, 1999, Michael Papa left the office of Marathon Development. Driving with his girlfriend, Laurel, in her black Nissan Altima, he headed north toward the club district of Scottsdale. They never made it.

Phoenix police officers Ronald Sterrett and Rose Choulet stopped the Altima under the guise of investigating a traffic violation. They searched his wallet. “What’s this?” Sterrett asked. A deposit slip showing $17,729 placed in a Wells Fargo account.

“I just invested $15,000,” Papa quickly explained. “I became part owner of a pool company called Creative Pools.” It was a subsidiary of Marathon Development. The cops gave Papa a citation for driving with a suspended license. They kept the deposit slip: hard proof of a business relationship with Gravano.

Business continued without a hitch. Throughout this period, Sammy Gravano continued warm relationships with his contacts in the federal government, many of whom made it a practice to drop by whenever they were in Arizona. They might have been impressed by the number of FedEx packages coming into Sammy’s firm—shipments of Ecstasy, mostly from New York.

In September 1999, Gravano spoke at a conference of FBI supervisors in Phoenix. Fifty or so Feds listened as Gravano talked about lessons gleaned in his career as a Gambino gangster. When Gravano returned to Marathon Development that afternoon, he never noticed a tiny pole camera mounted in the parking lot, which had a peeking view into his office.

Someone was watching.

What started as the Devil Dogs beating case had blossomed into a full-blown investigation run by the Phoenix police and the DEA. Authorities painstakingly compiled surveillance reports and 16,000 wiretapped conversations. Heat was coming from inside, too—Zarger and Orgad had both been arrested that summer, and federal authorities were turning their distributors into informants, using classic connect-the-dots techniques to trace the drugs to Arizona. But if anything, Mike Papa became more reckless. His most brazen move furnished investigators with its most solid link between the Devil Dogs and Sammy Gravano’s E cartel. On the night of January 8, 2000, wiretaps monitored Mike Papa’s desperate calls for help to shake down Kevin G. Purser, 37, owner of a Tempe restaurant, for payment of a debt. Soon the parking lot was full of Papa’s closest allies. When he strolled inside to make his play, about a dozen buddies walked in with him.

Mike Papa and his goon crew were in the restaurant for almost a full hour. (Kevin Purser denies any shakedown occurred.) All during that time, cars and trucks driven by high school–age white males with shaved heads slowly circled the parking lot, cavalry support for the ground troops inside.

Snaring a Bull

Like many small men, Sammy owned a small dog—a Chihuahua he insisted was a miniature Doberman. It was barking in the early morning of February 24, 2000, when a small army of Phoenix police and DEA agents swept down on Gravano’s apartment. They confiscated guns, marijuana, and a cache of Viagra.

A few miles to the south, a police tactical team in full protective gear used a steel battering ram to smash down the alder door of the Secretariat house. All across the East Valley, the busts went down simultaneously. Sammy Gravano. Debbie Gravano. Karen Gravano. David Seabrook. Gerard Gravano. Mike Papa. Jovan Isailovic. Forty-five people in all.

During initial court appearances, Gravano father and son struck a defiant tone. Gerard complained bitterly of lack of access to counsel. “You might as well line us up and shoot us in the head,” he said. Sammy was positively dismissive. “In my criminal life,” he told the judge, “this is a minor thing.”

Representatives from the Arizona state attorney general’s office asked for $5 million bail, declaring the former hitmen a danger to the community. The judge agreed. Gravano’s family, Mike Papa, and Jovan Isailovic were released on bond, but Sammy himself fell into the hands of Maricopa County’s famed Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America.” Sheriff Joe dresses his inmates in lipstick-pink boxer shorts, which, he says, curtails their macho tendencies. Sammy the Bull in pink undies. It was an image to warm the icy cockles of John Gotti’s heart.


Shortly after the February 24 Ecstasy-ring bust, Kevin Papa finally faced sentencing for the Devil Dogs’ beating of Jordan Jarvis. Five of the Devil Dogs were charged, convicted, and received jail time. Kevin Papa got the harshest stretch of all—two and a half years in the state penitentiary in Yuma.

Over 18 months, Jarvis himself endured repeated bouts of reconstructive surgery—three operations, with more to come. His doctors scraped bone spurs from the misshapen planes of his face and took cartilage from his ear to rebuild his nose.

Debbie Gravano sold the house on Secretariat, but she and her children remain in the Phoenix area awaiting trial. Uncle Sal’s enjoyed a brief surge in popularity after the busts but has since been padlocked.

Sammy Gravano’s state trial on 181 counts of conspiracy, drug distribution, and running a criminal enterprise is scheduled to begin June 4. This winter new federal charges were piled on Sammy, Gerard, and Mike Papa in New York, based on the investigation of the drug network of Ilan Zarger and Koki Orgad.

The federal government is paying in full for Sammy Gravano’s defense. “I think the Feds are going to offer Sammy a deal,” former Gotti defense attorney John Mitchell told Court TV. “Sammy knows a great deal of information that was never disclosed…I don’t think [they] want that to come to light, and they’re going to step in and take care of their boy.”

Jovan Isailovic pleaded guilty to Ecstasy distribution charges. His sister Jovanka sent Kevin Papa their junior prom portrait. “I can’t believe this is the last time we kissed,” she wrote.

Kevin Papa says he is tormented by his cellies at Yuma, who taunt him about Michael Papa’s connection with Gravano.

“They ask me, ‘What’s your brother doing with that rat?’”

He never knows how to answer.

Thanks to Gil Reavill

Monday, April 27, 1998

A Who's Who, and Who's Where, of Mafia Families

Although six leaders of the Genovese crime family were convicted of racketeering last year, investigators still rank the Genoveses as the nation's most potent and insulated Mafia faction. The family is said to be the largest gang, with 200 to 250 ''made,'' or inducted, members and almost 1,000 associates -- people who assist the family's underworld operations.

Joseph J. Coffey, the former commanding officer of New York State's Organized Crime Task Force and a consultant to the New Jersey and Nevada gambling commissions, described the Genovese family, with its extensive network of gambling and loan-sharking operations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, as ''the Ivy League of the underworld,'' referring to its reputation among law enforcement officials as the most successful organized-crime family.

Federal and state officials have identified Dominick V. Cirillo, a longtime capo, or captain, as the acting Genovese boss. They say Mr. Cirillo, 68, of the Bronx, took over last year in the wake of the racketeering conviction and imprisonment of Vincent Gigante, 70, his predecessor.

Law enforcement analysts see the Gambino crime family as the area's second-most-powerful group. But they say its influence has been undermined by a spate of convictions of its leaders and the defection of a former underboss, Salvatore Gravano.

John J. Gotti, 57, the family boss, is serving a life sentence without parole for murder and racketeering, and his son, John A. Gotti, 34, who Federal and state officials say was appointed as the acting boss by his father six years ago, is being held without bail, awaiting trial on racketeering, fraud and extortion charges.

Investigators identify John J. D'Amico, 63, a Gambino capo with homes in Hillsdale, N.J., and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, as the family's primary leader. Mr. D'Amico's prestige, the authorities say, increased after the indictment in January of the younger Mr. Gotti, and the conviction and imprisonment last year of Nicholas Corozzo, 58, another high-ranking capo.

J. Bruce Mouw, the former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Gambino squad, said that although the younger Gotti has the title of acting boss, the family actually has been run by a committee consisting of Mr. D'Amico, Mr. Corozzo and Peter Gotti, a capo who is John J. Gotti's brother. John J. Gotti's attempt to oversee the family from a Federal prison in Marion, Ill., floundered, Mr. Mouw asserted. ''They are in a sad state,'' he said. ''They have no real boss, no underboss and no consigliere.''

As a sign of the Gambinos' problems, law enforcement agents note that its crews -- units led by capos -- are down to 12 from a high of 21, and that active soldiers now number about 150, compared with 250 in 1986 when John J. Gotti seized power.

Although overall mobster influence appears to be declining, the authorities believe that the Bonanno family has gained strength and is approaching the Gambinos as the country's second-most-dangerous Mafia faction.

The Bonanno organization, the authorities say, has 100 active members and is the only New York family with an active boss, Joseph C. Massino, 55, of Howard Beach, Queens. And, unlike other mob families, it has no top leaders in prison or under indictment.

Murderous family disputes, turncoats and numerous convictions have severely weakened the Lucchese and Colombo crime families in the last decade, investigators say. Each group is estimated to have about 120 members and is led by acting bosses and committees. Joseph A. DeFede, 64, a capo from Howard Beach, is the temporary Lucchese chief, and Andrew Russo, 63, of Old Brookville, N.Y., who is in jail for parole violations, is the Colombo family's acting boss.

In describing the Mafia's gradual decline in the area, Robert T. Buccino of the New Jersey Attorney General's office said that in 1969, the apparent peak of the mob's influence, more than 200 Mafia capos and soldiers flourished in the state. Today, he said, the number of active New Jersey mobsters is about 20.

Thanks to Selwyn Raab

Sunday, September 03, 1995

Genoveses Surpass Gambinos as Most Powerful New York Crime Family

With John Gotti and scores of other organized-crime members behind bars, law enforcement officials say that New York's mob families are undergoing a major power realignment, elevating to the top rung of the Mafia a man who is best known for walking around his neighborhood in his pajamas.

Federal and state officials say that since Mr. Gotti, the head of the Gambino family, was convicted of murder and racketeering in 1992, the rival Genovese organization has supplanted the Gambino family as the most powerful Mafia group in New York and the nation. The shift has placed significant power in the hands of Vincent Gigante, the boss of the Genovese family and now the decisive voice on the Mafia's commission, the group that sets mobster policies and resolves disputes.

Since Mr. Gotti, 54, began serving a life sentence without parole, the officials say, he has been confined away from the general inmate population and his communications outside of prison have been closely monitored. As a result, his hold on the Gambino family has loosened and the crime organization has fallen into disarray, lacking firm leadership. The family's ranks have been whittled in the last five years to about 200 active members from 400, according to Federal and state investigators who work on organized-crime cases.

The Genovese family, on the other hand, has 300 members and a hierarchy relatively unscathed by prosecutions, making it the country's strongest Mafia force, Federal and state law enforcement officials say.

Law enforcement officials emphasize that huge amounts of money are at stake in the shift of power. Mr. Gigante's influence on the commission, the officials say, often allows the Genovese family to harvest the largest shares of revenue in mutual crime ventures with other families. On Friday, a Federal grand jury in Manhattan charged that the Genovese family took a secret bite out of the Feast of San Gennaro, one of the city's most popular street festivals. In a perjury indictment, the grand jury said that Genovese members picked vendors for the feast in lower Manhattan and siphoned off significant amounts of the rents paid for stalls.

Law enforcement officials say that the Genovese family has risen in the wake of the Gambino family's decline, allowing Genovese mobsters to take over some construction and gambling rackets previously dominated by the Gambino faction.

Federal and state officials estimate that New York's five Mafia organizations -- the Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno and Colombo families -- annually take in billions of dollars in illicit profits. City Police Department officials estimate that Mafia groups and people who work for them reap more than $2 billion a year alone in profits from illegal bookmaking and gambling enterprises in the New York area. Salvatore Gravano, the former Gambino underboss, testified that he routinely turned over more than $1 million a year in cash to Mr. Gotti as his share of the family's plunder from extortion in the construction industry.

The Genovese family has created the largest bookmaking and loan-sharking rings in the New York area, the officials say. The family's other major rackets include shakedowns from construction companies for labor peace, control of the Fulton Fish Market and extortion of companies doing business at the Ports of Newark and Elizabeth.

As the head of the Genovese family, the 67-year-old Mr. Gigante presents an unorthodox image for a mob titan. Since the early 1980's, he has been seen strolling sober-faced and bent near his home in Greenwich Village, clad in pajamas and bathrobe and mumbling incoherently.

Federal prosecutors say that Mr. Gigante, by feigning mental illness, has managed for five years to evade trial on charges of racketeering and plotting to murder his rival, Mr. Gotti. "Gigante still remains a very powerful figure in organized crime," said Lewis D. Schiliro, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminal division in New York. "We are confident he is the boss of the Genovese family."

New Jersey authorities say the Genovese family has also emerged as the strongest Mafia group in that state. Robert T. Buccino, deputy chief of investigations for the state's Organized Crime Bureau, said that the Genovese family is suspected of being involved in gambling and loan-sharking rings and of extorting kickbacks for labor peace from construction, garbage-removal and trucking companies.

Overall, the authorities say that from informers and wiretaps they have noticed significant shifts in the underworld, including these:

* All five families are reinforcing their ranks in an action they call opening the books. In 1990 they stopped accepting new members because of fears that newcomers could be more vulnerable to Government pressure to become turncoats. Defections and prosecutions, however, have reduced their combined rolls to about 700 active mobsters from 1,000 in the late 1980's, and the godfathers believe it is now safe to admit carefully screened recruits.

* After four years in prison, Mr. Gotti has lost control of the Gambino family. Although he appointed his son, John Jr., 31, as acting boss, the younger Gotti's rank is meaningless, and most Gambino captains are acting on their own authority.

* The Bonanno family has revived and prospered since its boss, Joseph C. Massino, was released three years ago from prison. The family is now almost as strong as the Gambino family.

Along with the Lucchese and Colombo families, the Genovese, Gambino and Bonanno organizations have operated in the region for 60 years and have created the largest and most entrenched mobster stronghold in the country, F.B.I. officials and prosecutors say. And even though Government efforts over the last decade have helped weaken or virtually eliminate most of the 20-odd Mafia families in the country, the organizations in New York have proven more resilient, officials say.

Still, the officials say, they have achieved significant victories against the mob in New York City and its suburbs, severely wounding the Gambino, Lucchese and Colombo families through the convictions of their bosses and their top lieutenants on racketeering charges.

Additionally, prosecutions and civil suits brought since 1990 by Federal prosecutors and the Manhattan District Attorney's office have loosened the Mafia's hold over major unions. The cases disclosed that the five families had a hand in milking union pension and welfare funds and used threats of violence and work stoppages to rig contracts and to extort millions of dollars from companies in the construction, trucking, garbage-carting, garment and newspaper delivery businesses.

Federal and state officials and investigators, however, grudgingly concede that no major figure in the Genovese family has become a turncoat. "Clearly, we have not had the same impact on them as the other families," said Eric Seidel, head of the state's Organized Crime Task Force. "They have hardly been touched."

Mr. Seidel and other officials credit Mr. Gigante's organizational skills and tight security for keeping his family intact.

Mr. Gigante, whose underworld nickname is Chin, relays his orders through a handful of trusted intermediaries, officials said. Secrecy is so intense, they said, that Genovese members are forbidden to mention Mr. Gigante by name and refer to him only by touching or motioning to their chins.

"We've had some bad breaks with the Genovese family," Mr. Schiliro, the F.B.I. official, acknowledged in an interview. "Chin represents a difficult individual for us. We've had him in court a number of times without final success."

Mr. Gigante was indicted in 1990 on Federal charges of bid rigging and extortion, and in 1993 he was accused in a superseding indictment of conspiracy to murder eight organized-crime figures and of plotting to kill Mr. Gotti.

A hearing on his mental and physical ability to stand trial will be held on Sept. 11. Barry Slotnick, Mr. Gigante's lawyer, did not respond to repeated telephone calls for comment on the charges against Mr. Gigante.

As evidence of Mr. Gigante's power, law enforcement officials point to the Gambino family's acceding to his ultimate authority on the Mafia commission even though he is accused of ordering the murders of Gambino leaders. The Federal indictment against Mr. Gigante asserts that he wanted Mr. Gotti and several of his captains killed because they engineered the murder in 1985 of the previous Gambino boss, Paul Castellano.

The decline of the Gambino family, authorities say, stemmed largely from Mr. Gotti's conviction three years ago on Federal charges of murder and racketeering and the life sentence that followed. Investigators say they believe that even Mr. Gotti's most steadfast supporters in the family realize there is faint hope that his conviction will be overturned.

Mr. Gotti is being held in virtual solitary confinement in the Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Ill., and officials said that his network of receiving information from New York and transmitting instructions has been shattered. Visitors can talk to him only over a monitored telephone, and his mail is inspected. "By not being in the general prison population," a Federal agent said, "it is impossible for him to keep in touch, issue orders and have control over anybody."

Mr. Gotti's son continues to collect the "tribute," a share of the family's income that is reserved for the boss, officials said. But they noted that prison sentences have reduced the number of active family crews to 10 from 22 and sharply cut the Gambino family's income.

While the Gambino family's fortunes have waned, numbers in the once nearly moribund Bonanno family seem to be surging, officials said. Since Joseph Charles Massino, the 52-year-old boss of the family, was released from prison in 1992, the family has mustered 12 active crews and is considered by prosecutors and agents to have become a formidable crime family again.

The Bonanno and the Genovese families, investigators said, are the only New York families operating with a full hierarchy of boss, underboss and consigliere, or counselor, who are not behind bars.

An indication of the importance attached to the regrouping of the Bonanno family is the F.B.I.'s assignment of Bruce Mouw, who headed the squad that dug up the evidence that convicted Mr. Gotti and his chief aides, to direct the unit investigating the Bonanno group.

The Colombo family, which has been shattered by a murderous internal war, also has a new leader. Investigators said that Andrew T. Russo, a capo, or captain, was recently promoted to acting boss by Carmine Persico Jr., the family's boss who is serving a life sentence for racketeering and murder.

Federal agents said that a shaky truce exists between two Colombo factions. Mr. Russo is a cousin of Carmine Persico's, and agents believe he may be serving as a caretaker boss until Mr. Persico's son, Alphonse, is installed by his father.

Thanks to Selwyn Raab

Tuesday, March 03, 1992

Sammy the Bull Testifes That John Gotti Ordered the Slaying of Gambino Crime Boss Paul Castellano

Reputed mob boss John Gotti ordered the slaying of Paul Castellano out of fear that he faced assassination himself, Gotti's onetime underboss said during his first day of testimony yesterday in a hushed and heavily guarded courtroom.

There were "quite a few reasons" why Gotti wanted the head of the Gambino crime family killed, Salvatore Gravano said in a low and gravelly voice. But, he testified, Gotti's chief motive was self-preservation.

Gravano described the 10 months during which, he, Gotti and others planned Castellano's execution. He said the final plan came shortly after the death of cancer-striken Aniello Dellacroce, the Gambino family's underboss and Gotti's mentor.

"Paul showed total disrespect and didn't go to the funeral," Gravano told the jury. "We were wondering if and when . . . Paul might make a move - if he might strike," Gravano testified. "We wondered if he might shoot John and Angelo" Ruggiero, a close Gotti associate. "Paul Castellano, after Neil [Dellacroce] died, said he was going to wreck John's crew," said Gravano. He said Castellano was angry that members of Gotti's crew had violated a family rule - enforceable by death - against drug dealing.

Gravano, the highest-level mob informant ever to testify against Gotti, was calm and composed as he took the stand under a deal to reduce his prison sentence to 20 years. Indicted along with Gotti and co-defendant Frank Locascio, he faced life in prison without parole if convicted at trial. Gravano occasionally glanced at Gotti, and once during the testimony pointed out Gotti and Locascio as being the boss and consigliere of the crime family.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gleeson, Gravano said others beside Gotti were dissatisfied with Castellano.

"At the time, there were a lot of conversations about Paul. Nobody was too happy with him . . . He was selling out the family for his own basic businesses," said Gravano, explaining that Castellano formed several business partnerships with leaders of the Genovese crime family.

Gravano said Gotti and his followers also were upset that Castellano had allowed another crime family to kill a Gambino crime captain in Connecticut. "You just don't let another family kill a captain in your family," Gravano testified. "That's against the rules."

Gravano said Gotti discussed two other possible plans for killing Castellano that were rejected. In one plan, Castellano was to have been shot at his home on Staten Island. But that plan was dropped because "there was a lot of FBI surveillance at his house," Gravano said.

Another rejected plan called for an old-time mobster to walk into a diner where Castellano and his driver, Thomas Bilotti, frequently went before meeting with Castellano's lawyer, James LaRossa. "The old man was known by Paul and would be able to walk in and shoot him," Gravano said.

Gravano, 46, said the final planning session for Castellano's murder came the night before Castellano and Bilotti were shot to death outside Sparks Steak House on East 46th Street on Dec. 16, 1985.

Frank DeCicco, a Castellano loyalist, had informed Gotti and Gravano that he would be meeting Castellano and Bilotti for dinner at Sparks on Dec. 16, Gravano testified. Also among those attending the dinner, said Gravano, would be Thomas Gambino, son of the late Carlo Gambino, for whom the Gambino family is named.

The night before, at a meeting Gotti arranged, Gotti, Gravano and Ruggiero sat down with eight other mob figures at Gravano's drywall construction firm in Brooklyn and outlined a plan to kill two men whose names were not revealed. "We didn't tell them who was going to be hit," Gravano said. "We just said he had to be done."

Gravano said it was decided that the shooters would be John Carneglia, Edward Lino, Salvatore Scala and Vinny Artuso, all members of the Gambino crime family.. The others would serve as backups who would be stationed at various locations.

The next afternoon, the participants - armed with guns and walkie-talkies - met Gotti and Gravano in a small park on the Lower East Side and were told the names of their targets for the first time. "We told them exactly who was going, and that it had to be done," Gravano testified.

The designated shooters were stationed in front of Sparks, Gravano said, and four backup shooters were posted around the block. He said the backups included Anthony Rampino, a convicted Gambino soldier, and Ruggiero.

"Me and John got in the car and went to the Third Avenue side of East 46th," Gravano testified. "I was a backup shooter. If they [Castellano and Bilotti] got away, we would be ready."

At that point in his testimony, U.S. District Court Judge I. Leo Glasser closed the session for the day and ordered Gravano's examination to continue today.

Gravano, known on the street as Sammy the Bull, spent much of his two hours on the witness stand discussing his crime career, which he said began shortly after he dropped out of school at the age of 16. From 1961 to 1964, "I worked on and off. I committed armed robberies, burglaries."

He served in the Army between 1964 and 1966. After his discharge, he said he returned to Brooklyn. "I went back to my life of crime," he said.

Gleeson asked him how many murders he was admitting."Nineteen," Gravano said.

Gravano said he was something of an expert killer. Asked by Gleeson if there was a common expression used by the Gambino family for murder, Gravano said without emotion: "To do a piece of work - to whack someone out."

He described his 1976 initiation into the Gambino crime family in the presence of Castellano. He said during the ceremony, his trigger finger was pricked with a pin, a drop of blood was placed on the picture of a saint and the picture was set afire.

He then repeated his oath of silence: "If I divulge any secrets of this organization my soul should burn like this saint."

Gravano testified that officials of the Luchese, Colombo and Bonanno crime families were notified of the plan to kill Castellano. "They were behind the killing," he said. New York's fifth crime organization, the Genovese family, was not consulted. "We didn't trust them because Paul Castellano was in partners with them," Gravano said.

Thanks to Pete Bowles


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