The Chicago Syndicate: Thomas Bilotti
Showing posts with label Thomas Bilotti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Bilotti. Show all posts

Saturday, September 26, 2009

John Gotti, Father and Godfather

For the first time ever, John Gotti's children, Angel, Victoria and Peter, speak openly about a life shrouded in secrecy and reveal what they knew about the mafia in an exclusive interview with "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Troy Roberts.

"I loved the man… but I loathed the life, his lifestyle," said Victoria Gotti. "Prosecutors say my father was the biggest crime boss in the nation... If you really want to know what John Gotti was like, you need to talk to my family. We lived this life…

"I think I realized early on that my family wasn't like other families…
Growing up, my parents tried to hide a lot of things from me…from all of us…

"I think you grow up scared, anxious all the time…" she said.

"I used to get up as a young boy and I used to get excited when I would go and see that my father was alive," said Peter Gotti. "When I would hear him snore, I’d know he made it home."

"We didn’t talk back to my father. We didn’t ask him, 'Did you kill anyone?'" said Angel Gotti.

"I didn’t know his life…I didn’t know his lifestyle," said Peter. "Honestly, I was just a kid that wanted to love his father."

"The public saw my father right out of central casting. He looked the part, acted the part… he was the part! The real life Godfather," said Victoria. "People treat him like he was the second coming of Christ!

"It was very difficult for me to look into these crimes that he was accused of committing… I was angry at everybody for lying to me," she said.

"Do I believe now that my father was this big boss? Yes, I do now," Angel concedes.

"Should I lie and say I don’t love him? We loved him. And that's really all we should have been held accountable for. We just wanna move on," said Victoria.

Now, their brother, John "Junior" Gotti, is on trial again. If convicted, he could face life behind bars.

"My brother John’s life is on the line…like my father. John was a player in that world… but John is not in that courtroom," said Victoria. "I believe that it’s the last name Gotti. It’s definitely Dad."

"It does not mean that a child has to answer for his father’s sins," said Peter.

"Now it’s time to set the record straight," said Victoria. "No one knows John Gotti better than his family does. Nobody. And we’re ready to talk about it. We’re ready to talk about him… finally.

They are images the public has never seen before: the private, treasured photographs and home videos belonging to the children of mob boss John Gotti - a man who once ran the largest organized crime syndicate in the country; a man convicted of multiple counts of murder.

"You don’t want to believe it. And when you love that person, it makes it so much more hard," said Victoria Gotti.

For the first time, the Mafia chieftain's daughters, Victoria and Angel, and his son, Peter, are talking openly about the life they’ve always kept secret… and no question is off limits.

"How difficult is it to accept that your own father either directly or indirectly killed people?" correspondent Troy Roberts asked John Gotti's youngest daughter.

"When you choose that life, I think you know what you're signing on for…," Victoria said. "I think he knew going in what was expected of him. What he would have to do. What it would cost him. And I don't think he cared. I think that all goes along with that life."

"Why do you call it the life?" asked Roberts.
"Because, mostly it’s called the life," Victoria replied.
"No one ever says, 'I’m in the mob?'" Roberts asked.
"No. It’s always the life."

Victoria has never spoken about "the life" publicly, but in her new book, "This Family of Mine: What It Was Like Growing Up Gotti," she's finally talking about what it was really like growing up Gotti.

When asked why she decided now to write a tell-all, she said, "It got personal. I woke up one day and said, 'Enough's enough.' There were so many things that had to be addressed as far as rumors, lies, gossip."

Victoria talked to her father about the possibility of writing a book before he died.

"'If you ever write that book,' he said, 'You write it as your life. One thing I ask that you do… Don't you ever look to make me out to be an altar boy, because I wasn't.'"

But when Victoria and her siblings were children, it's clear that John Gotti never wanted them to know that side of him.

"He just took everything to another extreme," said Gotti's youngest son, Peter. "I remember getting excited about going to see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. He would talk for a half an hour, 45 minutes, about how he just wanted to get them chestnuts. You can't even find roasted chestnuts anymore. But he was so excited he would talk like a little kid."

"He was a very funny. People don't know that. He was very funny," said Angel, Gotti's firstborn. But mixed in with the fun, were the lies - like what he told his children he did for a living. "He told me that he worked in a construction crew. I asked where he was going and he would say he was off to somewhere to build a school or a building," Victoria told Roberts.

They believed him, but the truth was that all John Gotti had ever wanted to be was a mobster. He had grown up one of 11 children - raised in Brooklyn by an abusive father and an overwhelmed mother. He quickly embraced a life of crime and violence, working for local gangsters and building a rap sheet.

"This is where he came from," Victoria explained. "These men were the men that were respected. This was something he saw early on and made up his mind that this was what he was going to do. This is what he was going to be. And he never saw anything wrong in that."

In 1958, the future Don was in a local bar where he met Victoria DiGiorgio. He was instantly smitten. Their affair produced a daughter, Angel, and in 1962, they were married. Gotti didn't earn much as a low-level mobster, and they struggled, "facing eviction month, after month, after month," according to Victoria.

Later that year, Victoria was born.

"Mom went into labor unexpectantly. I was early," she explained. "Mom, she said, 'They basically said to your father, "You can come back and pick up mother and child when you pay up the bill." At that time they didn’t have any monies. He comes back late, late that night - literally broke into the hospital. He scooped me up. He helped my mother down the stairs. They hobbled out. They had a good 13-block walk, it was freezing. They had no money for a cab or a bus ride and years later, my dad swore we bonded during that walk."

Two years later, the Gotti's son, John, was born, followed by Frankie. Despite the needs of his growing family, Gotti spent most of his time out of the house, getting into trouble. Victoria said her parents often fought over money and that her mother "was always fearful of the uncertainty."

In 1969, Victoria was just starting grade school, when her father was convicted for hijacking cargo from Kennedy airport and was sent to a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania for three years. As strange as it sounds, his children had no idea their father was in prison, even when they went to visit him.

"We used to go to prison to see him, and my uncle would be in the same prison. And we really didn't know that he was in prison," Angel told Roberts.

She explained that her mother told the children their father was working. "I remember driving to Pennsylvania. And there would be the big, giant wall. And we’d say, you know, 'Why is that wall… Oh! He built that wall.' I said, 'Wow, he built that big wall.' [And we'd ask] 'And Uncle Angelo, too?' 'Yeah.' We believed it."

When they were home in Brooklyn, Victoria tried to be just like all the other kids. But at the age of 7, she finally found out the truth about her father.

"I went to school and we had to write an essay [about] who our heroes were. And most kids chose their fathers. And I wrote like the other kids, you know, my dad is a construction worker and he builds tall buildings. So I took my place in the front of the room and I started to read this report. And there was a young girl in the back. She yells out, 'Her father’s not, you know, a construction worker. Her father’s a jailbird. He’s in jail.' She had heard it from her parents at the dinner table. She blurted everything that she could out. The fact that he had gone to jail before, that he wasn’t coming home. I remember just standing there in front of that room. It was like, 'Wow - what is she talking about?'' But it made sense to me. And I remember the class laughing at me and I got so upset, so nervous that I just peed on the floor. I'll never forget the teacher. She made me, in front of the kids, get on my hands and knees and clean up the mess."

Victoria asked her mother for the truth.

"I said to her something like, 'Is Daddy really in jail?' She had said to me, 'Sometimes people do bad things. Sometimes they need to pay for these things that they do.' And I remember looking at her and saying, 'Where’s my father? Is he in jail or is he working?' And she looked at me and she said, 'He is in jail.' And those words, I remember they just haunted me for days, nights, weeks, months. All I kept hearing was my mother's words, 'He is in jail.'"

The charade was finally over.

Learning that her father was in jail was Victoria Gotti's first indication that he lived a secret life. "I would lay awake nights and cry a lot thinking, is my dad gonna come home? Is he gonna go to jail again? Is he going to get killed?"

She was right to be afraid. Outside the home, John Gotti lived in a violent world.

In 1973, Gotti was sent to do a personal favor for the Godfather himself, Carlo Gambino. His orders: find the man thought to be involved in the kidnapping and murder of his nephew. At Snoopes Bar in Staten Island, Gotti and his partners confronted James McBratney, who was shot and killed. Although he was not the triggerman, Gotti went to prison, this time for attempted manslaughter.

By the time Victoria reached her early teens, her father had been incarcerated or on the lam for nearly half her life. But the McBratney hit was a big break in Gotti’s career. When he was released from prison in 1977, he was officially inducted into "the life," becoming a made man in the Mafia.

"He had earned his way. He had earned his keep," Victoria explained. "And that really started the rise in that life."

Living that life meant more time spent out of the house, either in his headquarters, called a social club, or out on the town. Gotti’s wife, Victoria, didn't like it one bit.

"She would do crazy things, my mother. One time she sent his armoire to his club," Angel told Roberts.

"As if to say don’t come back?" he asked. "Yeah, 'Here's your clothes, take them.'"

When they weren't fighting, the Gottis were enjoying the fruits of his newfound status. They were now living at a house in Howard Beach, Queens. Angel was 18 when she first got an inkling of how others really saw her father.

"I was dating someone from Ozone Park. He says to me, 'You know - your father’s really, he’s feared. He’s the toughest guy in this neighborhood.' And I’m like, "OK."

All the Gotti children - even Peter, the youngest - would have a moment when they discovered their father had a reputation.

"I was 12 years old. I remember I had a crush and I asked her out. And she said, to me, 'I would love to go with you. But my dad said I'm not allowed. Your family are very bad people,'" he told Roberts. "And, when I had gotten home I had started to cry. My mother told me, 'Peter, I'm telling you right now, your father loves you more than life. You forget all the nonsense and things they're saying; you remember that man would give his life for you. OK? And don't ever forget that.'"

But John Gotti couldn't protect his family from tragedy. In March 1980, 12-year-old Frankie, who Gotti affectionately called "Frankie Boy," was struck by a car while riding a mini bike.

"My sister called me and said, 'Frankie Boy got hit by a car,'" Angel said, tearing up at the memory. "I said, 'Mom, stay in the house. I just have to go and check on Frankie Boy.' And then we went there. And you know, [he's] lying in the street in front of my friend’s house."

Frankie died later that night.

"Dad walked in and then I remember he sat down and I remember he cradled his head in his hands and he lost it," Victoria said.

The driver of the car was the Gotti’s backyard neighbor, John Favara. Victoria claims Favara hit Frankie because Favara was driving erratically.

"He didn’t stop. He had gone to the end of the block and the neighbors were screaming. And he got out of the car and he was very upset. And he started to scream, 'What the f - was he doing in the street to begin with. Whose f-in' kid is this?'"

Police called it an accident, but Victoria was furious with what she says she heard about Favara's callous behavior, and she spoke to her father about it.

"I looked at him and I said, 'You’re supposed to be a tough guy. How can you let somebody kill my brother?' And he just looked at me and he said, 'You know, honey, it was an accident.' And I said, 'No it wasn’t.' And Dad didn’t want to believe it. He looked at me and he said, 'You're wrong, you’re angry. You’re wrong.'

"For the first time, I was so angry at my father that his life - if he could ever be this man when I really needed it, when I really wanted it - I think if ever I could have him be this man that he said he was. It would have been the moment because…"

"You wanted revenge?" asked Roberts.

"I wanted revenge. I was so upset and I thought our lives would never be the same again."

The tragedy sent their mother into a suicidal depression that left her practically bedridden for a year.

That July, John Gotti tried to brighten his wife's spirits by taking the family to Florida. Just three days later, John Favara was abducted as he left his job at a furniture store. Witnesses say several men hit him over the head, forced him into a van and drove off. Favara was never heard from again.

"Four months after your brother was killed John Favara disappeared. Is your father responsible?" Roberts asked Victoria.

"No," she replied.

"How can you be so sure? Did you ask him?"

"I'm positive he wasn't responsible."

"I just can't imagine that this incident, this horrible, tragic accident that devastated your family and your father didn't want to exact revenge?" asked Roberts.

"No… he didn't."

"You were a teenager. Your mother attempted suicide," Roberts continued.

"I'm with you. I'm with you," said Victoria. "I couldn't understand why, either. It angered me."

"I know what my father said, that it was an accident," said Angel. "That's what he said."

When asked by Roberts if it ever entered her mind that perhaps her father was behind that disappearance she replied, "Sometimes. I'm being honest. Sometimes."

Victoria believes her father's mob associates took it upon themselves to exact revenge.

"Do I believe someone in Dad's circle did it? I do. Somebody did it and they thought they'd be celebrated."

Favara's body has never been found. And police never made an arrest in the case. In the years after Frankie’s death, the Gottis struggled to get back to a normal life. Angel met, and then married, her boyfriend.

A year later, it was Victoria's turn.

"I think I was just a kid in a hurry to get out of my father's house quickly," she said.

"You had 1,500 [wedding] guests," Roberts noted. "That's a lot of thank you notes."

"A lot of people to greet," she said. "I didn't know half of the people at my wedding. More than half. I didn't know them. They weren't there for me. They were there for Dad… and I remember thinking something's up."

Little did Victoria know, but the groundwork for her father's ascension to Boss of Bosses was being laid. She danced that night not just with her father, but with the future Godfather.

"He was gonna become a leader. He wasn't gonna be a follower. He was gonna rise to the top," Victoria Gotti said of her father's ambition. "He was gonna make it."

On Dec. 16, 1985, at 5:25 p.m., John Gotti did just that. In a hail of bullets, his fortunes - and the fortunes of his unsuspecting family - changed forever.

It was widely reported that Gotti orchestrated one of the most famous mob murders in New York City history - the hit on his boss Paul Castellano and Gambino No. 2 man Thomas Bilotti.

"Gotti showed a lot of sophistication in engineering almost a flawless assassination of Castellano," said Selwyn Raab, a reporter who has covered the mob for more than 40 years and is a CBS News consultant.

Within days of the murder, Raab said it was no secret John Gotti was the new Godfather.

"After Castellano's murder, Gotti showed up at one of the most important mafia hangouts in New York, the Ravenite Club in Little Italy. And people were kissing his hand. And people were going over and fawning over him."

But back in Howard Beach, Queens, the family had no idea had what was going on.

"And my mother says, 'You're not gonna believe this.' And she was laughing. And she said, 'They have your father now as the boss.' And I said, 'The boss?' And she said, "The boss of the Gambino crime family.' And we all started laughing," Angel said. "We really thought it was funny. I thought it was a big, like - 'Oh, my God - like what are they gonna say next?'"

Peter was in the fifth grade when he learned his father ran the Gambino crime family.

"It was 1985. I had gone to school one morning and we're sitting in class and current events came around. And there are my friends, kids I grew up with. They would parade up to the class, in front of the class, and talk about my dad as if I wasn't even sitting in the room," he told Roberts.

The kids were all talking about a story in the New York Daily News. The headline read, "New Godfather Reported Heading Gambino Gang."

"'John Gotti's the new boss of the Gambinos,' that's what the article said. And, needless to say," Peter continued, "I went on home and I cut that article out of a newspaper. Without my mother knowing. Without my dad knowing. Without anybody knowing. And I still… to this very day, have that article."

Even before John Gotti became the boss of the Gambino crime family, he had brought his oldest son, John Junior, into the family business. It was a secret not even his mother knew about.

"John saw dad driving the fancy car and having these guys look up to him like he was God," said Victoria. And on Christmas Eve 1988, in a secret ceremony, John Junior became a made man.

"I have to wonder if John saw this as a way to just get our father's approval or to somehow make him proud," she said.

The family business was doing pretty well. According to investigators, during the 80s the Gambino crime family grossed about $500 million a year and Gotti himself was getting a pretty big cut. The family says they didn’t see it.

"He didn't move, he didn't go out and buy a huge house somewhere," Victoria told Roberts. "I'm not saying he didn't have it, but he didn't spend it."

"Investigators say he made between $10 to $12 million," Roberts pointed out.

"Oh, yeah, and investigators also say that… he left us $200 million buried somewhere in the backyard," Victoria responded. "I'm still trying to find that money. Investigators say. You tell me where the money is. I'm still lookin'."

But one look at John Gotti told another story.

"He was now wearing custom-made silk suits. I mean, he had monogrammed socks, only cashmere coats," said Raab. "He was now going to the chic restaurants in New York, nightclubs."

Gotti often stayed out all night, had a reputation as a womanizer and was a compulsive gambler.

Peter said his father loved to gamble. ""His way of bonding with me was to watch a ball game with me. Here I was, seven, eight years old. He's askin' my opinion on who I liked to win a college football game."

"Did you help him win? Roberts asked.

"Obviously, not. Because he didn't win much," Peter said with a laugh. But John Gotti made sure his family life was always separate from his work life.

"It sounds odd to people, they don’t understand it," said Angel. "We're not like 'The Sopranos.' We didn’t sit at the dinner table and you curse… we didn't ask him, you know, 'Did you kill anyone?' We didn't ask him those questions."

But if the family didn't want to ask him any questions, the government certainly did.

Raab said, "He was an emperor, he was a titan. He had this attitude, 'Come and get me if you can.'"

In the first five years of his reign, John Gotti was put on trial three times: for assault, for racketeering and for ordering the shooting of a union boss. And in each of those trials, Gotti beat the rap. What no one knew was he had bribed a juror, intimated a witness, and had a crooked cop on the inside.

Gotti's celebrity grew with each victory.

"They just couldn't seem to get enough of him," said Victoria.

John Gotti became a celebrity attracting celebrity. In an Italian restaurant in Little Italy, the Gambino Godfather met actor Marlon Brando, the Hollywood Godfather, and invited him to his social club across the street.

According to Victoria, "Brando was telling jokes all night and doing magic tricks. Dad was doing what he does best, telling stories. And they just enjoyed each other's company."

John Gotti's growing fame was a double-edged sword: he had become the most notorious mobster since Al Capone and he put himself squarely in the sights of the FBI.

"This is going to be very bad," Victoria said. "I was always terrified."

"I think he saw there was no happy ending," Victoria Gotti told Troy Roberts. "I think he knew that one day he was either gonna spend the rest of his life in jail or he was gonna end up dead."

John Gotti knew the FBI was never going to let up. He suspected they had bugged his headquarters in Little Italy, the Ravenite Social Club.

"He didn't trust the atmosphere in general, so he would get up and walk outside, and constantly walk around the block with someone. He didn't want to be recorded," Victoria explained. But someone was listening.

The FBI had placed bugs everywhere-in the club, in the apartment Gotti occasionally used upstairs, and even on the street. They gathered hundreds of hours of recordings of mob business.

The tapes led to Gotti's arrest in December 1990. He faced a litany of charges, including the murder of Paul Castellano.

"There's no question the government had a strong case," said reporter Selwyn Raab. "It was his own words. He talks about five murders. About Castellano, Bilotti. He talks about three other people and the reasons why they were killed."

But the government didn't just have tapes - they had a star witness: Gotti's right-hand man, his underboss in the Gambino crime family, Sammy "the Bull" Gravano.

"Sammy Gravano, you know, dots the I's and crosses the T's," said Raab. "Gravano was the icing on the cake. He made it easier for them."

Sammy Gravano, a self-confessed mafia hit man who admitted to taking part in 19 murders, turned on his former boss and made a deal with the government. He took the stand and told the court that John Gotti planned and organized the hit on Paul Castellano and that he and John Gotti were actually there went it went down.

"Sammy told a lot of lies," said Victoria.

Roberts asked her, "Did your father orchestrate the assassination of Paul Castellano?"

"Absolutely not," she replied. "No one man is that powerful in this organization. Not one man."

In her book, Victoria claims the assassination was a plan agreed upon by mafia bosses.

"I'm not arguing that he had no part in it, and I'm not arguing and saying he wasn't the boss after it. He was. Nobody can stand there and tell me that he did it alone."

But that's not what the jury said. On April 2, 1992, John Gotti was found guilty on all counts. And he was the only person ever tried and convicted for the murder of Paul Castellano.

Seventeen years ago, as a local reporter in New York, Roberts talked to Victoria just hours after her father was convicted.

"Victoria what did you think of the verdict?" Roberts asked in 1992.

"My father is the last of the Mohicans. They don't make men like him anymore, and they never will," she replied.

"I knew that I've lost my father. I knew that was it," she tells Roberts in 2009. "It was as if somebody had told me my father had died. And that's how I felt that day."

John Gotti was sent to the Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, for life.

"The man was never coming home," said Peter Gotti. "I believed the day would never come where I would be able to hug my father again, you know. I had trained myself to believe that that's it. I'm gonna visit my father behind glass for the rest of my life."

Peter was 18 years old when his father was put in solitary confinement.

"My dad had 6,000 meals alone. Ain't never ate with… he ate meals in his cell. And again, I’m not justifying anything. Just saying… he paid. He paid the piper."

Roberts asked Peter, "I'm curious to know why you did not follow in your father's footsteps. You're the only Gotti man to not do so."

"Did it ever dawn on you that my dad shielded me from it? And my brother enforced it even more. He did everything he can, he did everything he can to prevent me. Everything he can. He tried to screen every person I'm socializing with."

At the same time he was protecting Peter, John Junior was rising in the ranks of the Gambino crime family, becoming the acting boss when his father went to prison.

"When did you learn that your brother was in the mafia? Roberts asked Angel Gotti.

"When he got arrested," she replied.

John Junior was arrested in 1998, for extortion, loan sharking and gambling. His mother was caught completely by surprise. For 10 years, her oldest son had been a mobster and then acting boss of the Gambino crime family. And she never knew it.

"You know, John is her life. And she was not standing for it," Victoria said. "And she had such distaste for the fact that Dad was involved and now her son."

Mrs. Gotti believed her husband had lied to her, betrayed her trust and put John Junior in grave danger.

"She wasn't speaking to my father when he was in prison for a while." Angel said, "It caused a lot of problems for all of us."

John Junior was in grave danger; he was facing 20 years in prison and he was thinking of making a deal.

In a prison tape recorded in February 1999, and obtained exclusively by "48 Hours Mystery," John Junior asks his father's permission to take a plea.

"I don't love you John, I adore you," John Gotti told his son.

"I know you do," John Junior replied. "You understand my circumstance."

After some discussion, the Godfather reluctantly consented.

"John, I am not saying don't take this plea if you get what you want. As a father... I want you to be happy," John Gotti said. But John Junior wanted more from his father. According to Victoria, he also asked for permission to quit the mob. And Victoria says her mother decided to get involved.

"Mom goes to see Dad and Mom threatens Dad. And she says, 'Either you release him or… I'll never speak to you again. I won't be here anymore. You'll never see me in your life again.'"

When John Junior went to prison in September 1999, Victoria claims he left the mafia. Federal prosecutors didn't believe it. But her brother wasn't the only one Victoria says had secretly joined the mob. Her husband was also a Gambino member.

It was yet another secret she says her father had kept from her.

"I was angry at my ex-husband, at my father. I was angry at everybody. This isn't what I wanted for my life, for my kids," she said. But her anger would fade with time as her father grew gravely ill.

"He just looked at me and said, 'I'm never gonna be around forever.' And, of course, I knew that. And I said to him, "Yeah, I know, Dad. You know, whatever." But then he looked at me again and he said, 'I think it's time.'"

Ten years into his life sentence, John Joseph Gotti, the Godfather of the Gambino crime family, father of five and grandfather of 15, died of cancer. The last days of his life were spent in a prison hospital with his son, Peter, at his side.

"I watched this for six months. He never admitted or denied anything," said his youngest child. "That's what was funny about his personality. You know… his was [a] 'Hey, hey, hey, you mind your business,' type of personality. 'Let me pay with God.' And he did… In the end, he did."

To his family John Gotti was a fallen hero, to the public he was the last Don, but for his mob family he was a disaster. At the end of his reign, the Gambino crime family was decimated - more than half of the leadership was either dead or behind bars.

"I think about the devastation that this life has had on your family, on the Gotti men. Your father, your brother, three uncles are all incarcerated," Roberts said to Victoria.

"Yep. And a husband," she added. And "the life" continues to take its toll on the Gotti family.

John Junior Gotti is back in court facing a new round of charges. But Victoria says the government's case is about the past, not the present.

"My brother is not in that courtroom. It is my father, always, all over again, day in, day out. It's about John Gotti. That's what it's about."

The Gotti family claims the government is persecuting John Junior and that he quit the mob years ago. The government says John Junior is a killer and that he did not quit.

"They don't want to believe it," Victoria said. "John's attitude is, 'I paid for what I did in that life. I gave them my pound of flesh.'"

Now divorced, Victoria's life is focused on her three sons. They were the infamous bad boys of the TV show "Growing Up Gotti."

Today, the boys are all in college and Victoria isn’t worried that they will take up "the life."

"If they wanted to break my heart, they can do that. They know that. But, they know better."

For years, there have been questions about the multimillion-dollar mansion that Victoria and her sons still live in. Where did she get the money to buy it?

"My ex-husband certainly started this family, helped to build this house. Everything I own to this day came from me. Never my father," she told Roberts. "It came from legitimate money. I'm not in the mob, you know?"

Prosecutors investigated whether the house was bought with mob money, but found no evidence that it was.

Victoria is determined that her sons will not follow their father - and her father - into the mafia.

"Never a discussion about that," she said. "If they wanted to break my heart and go against everything I stand for, they can do that. They know that. But they know better."

John Gotti's grandchildren have decided, it seems, they don’t want to remember the Godfather… just their grandfather.

"I love my grandfather to death. He taught me everything I need to know," said John Gotti Agnello. Victoria's middle child, named after his grandfather, made him a promise just before he died. Could law school be in his future?

"You know what? I promised my grandfather a long time ago that I would do it. I wrote a personal letter to him on his funeral. I put it in his pocket that I would do it for him."

Carmine, Victoria's oldest son, is an aspiring musician who wrote a song about his family.

"I've been recording now in the studio for the past two and a half - almost three years. I mean, it's been a lot of work. Five days a week throughout the year. Everything's comin' together."

But John Gotti's children are still trying to figure out what it all meant-their father’s mob life; the death of their brother; the disappearance of their neighbor; the hit on Paul Castellano; the trials; prison; brothers and husbands in jail.

At the end, Peter Gotti says, his father was refusing medical care.

"I believe in my heart that it went around a full circle, 'cause I believe in the end, that he was punishing himself for the things he may have done. And… I feel for anyone if there was pain caused by him or not. I feel regret and sadness for that."

Hear more from Peter Gotti

For Victoria, the circle closed at her father's funeral.

"I remember sitting there. I was the last to get up. And I remember getting so angry and so angry and so angry. And just saying to him, 'What was this all for? What did you do? Look at you. Look at the life that you lived. Look at us. You loved us most in the world. Look at us. What was this all for?' And I walked out of there so angry. And I'm still angry. I don't understand it and I guess I never will."

Thanks to 48 Hours

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

John Gotti: How the FBI Made the Charges Stick

Friends of ours: John "Teflon Don" Gotti, Gambino Crime Family, Paul Castellano, Aniello Dellacroce, Thomas Bilotti, Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano

He was slippery, yes, but even the “Teflon Don” couldn’t escape justice forever.

John Gotti Mug ShotDespite the future nickname, John Gotti—a violent, ruthless mobster who’d grown up on the streets of New York—had been in and out of prison several times in his early career. In 1968, for example, we arrested him for his role in a plot to steal thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. Gotti was sent to prison, but was released in 1972.

And quickly made more trouble. Within two years, we’d arrested him again for murder. Same story: he went to prison and was out in a few years. Soon after, he became a “made man” for the Gambino family, one of the five most powerful syndicates in the Big Apple. Gambling, loansharking, and narcotics trafficking were his stocks in trade.

The heat was on. By the early 80s, using Title III wiretaps, mob informants, and undercover agents, we were beginning to get clear insights into the Gambino family’s hierarchy and activities (and into the other families as well) and were building strong cases against them as criminal enterprises. A break against Gotti came in late 1985, when mob violence spilled out on to the streets of Manhattan.

The scene of the crime? Sparks’ Steak House, a popular hangout for major criminals. On the evening of December 16, 1985, 70-year-old-mafioso Paul Castellano—the apparent successor of recently deceased Gambino boss Aniello Dellacroce—was gunned down along with his number two in command, Thomas Bilotti, in front of the restaurant. Gotti, who’d been watching from a car at a safe distance, had one of his men drive him by the scene to make sure his deadly orders had been carried out. [Thanks to several readers who pointed out that Dellacroce was actually not the boss. It was best put by pointing out that Dellacroce was the underboss, & had been under Carlo Gambino. Castellano had been the boss since 1976 (when Gambino died). In 1976, there was fear Dellacroce, as underboss, would resist Gambino's choice of Castellano as boss, since Dellacroce was above Castellano in the family. However, after being given almost complete autonomy over several crews, Dellacroce acquiesced to Castellano's appointment as boss. Murder Machine (Capeci & Mustain) has more details of all this.]

Top hood. Having eliminated the competition, Gotti took over as head of the Gambino family. With his expensive suits, lavish parties, and illegal dealings, he quickly became something of a media celebrity, and the press dubbed him “The Dapper Don.” Following a string of highly-publicized acquittals—helped in large part by witness intimidation and jury tampering—Gotti also earned the “Teflon Don” nickname.

Our New York agents and their colleagues in the New York Police Department, though, refused to give up. With extensive court-authorized electronic surveillance, diligent detective work, and the eventual cooperation of Gotti’s henchman—“Sammy the Bull” Gravano—the Bureau and the NYPD built a strong case against him.

The end was near. In December 1990, our agents and NYPD detectives arrested Gotti, and he was charged with multiple counts of racketeering, extortion, jury tampering, and other crimes. This time, the judge ordered that the jurors remain anonymous, identified only by number, so no one could pressure them. And the case was airtight.

The combination worked. On April 2, 1992, 15 years ago Monday, Gotti was convicted on 13 counts, including for ordering the murders of Castellano and Bilotti. The head of our New York office famously remarked, “The don is covered with Velcro, and every charge stuck.”

Indeed. Gotti had evaded the law for the last time. He died in prison in June 2002.

Thanks to the FBI

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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