John "Teflon Don" Gotti
October 27, 1940|
The Bronx, New York City, United States
|Died||June 10, 2002
Springfield, Missouri, United States
Cause of death
|Saint John's Cemetery, Queens|
|Other names||Dapper Don, Teflon Don, Johnny Boy|
|Known for||Head of the Gambino crime family|
|Murder, conspiracy to commit murder, loansharking, racketeering, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, tax evasion|
|Life without parole|
John A. Gotti
Frank Gotti (1968–1980)
Peter Gotti, Jr.
|Parents||John Joseph Gotti, Sr. and Philomena (aka Fannie)|
John Joseph Gotti, Jr. (October 27, 1940 – June 10, 2002) was an American mobster who became the Boss of the Gambino crime family in New York City. Gotti and his brothers grew up in poverty and turned to a life of crime at an early age. Operating out of the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, Gotti quickly rose to prominence, becoming one of the crime family's biggest earners and a protégé of Gambino family underboss Aniello Dellacroce.
After the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicted members of Gotti's crew for selling narcotics, Gotti took advantage of growing dissent over the leadership of the crime family. Fearing he and his men would be killed by Gambino crime family Boss Paul Castellano for selling drugs, Gotti organized the murder of Castellano in December 1985 and took over the family shortly thereafter. One of the key details was waiting for the moment after the death of Aniello Dellacroce, who died a few weeks earlier from natural causes. Dellacroce had risen to the position of underboss when Carlo Gambino moved Joseph Biondo aside.
This left Gotti as the boss of one of the most powerful crime families in America, one that made hundreds of millions of dollars a year from construction, hijacking, loan sharking, gambling, extortion and other criminal activities. Gotti was one of the most powerful crime bosses during his era and became widely known for his outspoken personality and flamboyant style, which gained him favor with much of the general public. While his peers avoided attracting attention, especially from the media, Gotti became known as the "The Dapper Don" for his expensive clothes and personality in front of news cameras. He was later given the nickname "The Teflon Don" after three high-profile trials in the 1980s resulted in his acquittal, though it was later revealed that the verdicts were the result of jury tampering, juror misconduct and witness intimidation. Law enforcement authorities were not impressed with his style or reputation, however, and they continued gathering evidence against Gotti that helped lead to his downfall.
Gotti's underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano is credited with the FBI's success in finally convicting Gotti. In 1991, Gravano agreed to turn state's evidence and testify for the prosecution against Gotti after hearing Gotti on wiretap make several disparaging remarks about Gravano and questioning his loyalty. In 1992, Gotti was convicted of five murders, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, extortion, tax evasion, and loansharking. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole and was transferred to United States Penitentiary, Marion. Gotti died of throat cancer on June 10, 2002, at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.
John Gotti was born in an Italian-American enclave in the Bronx on October 27, 1940. His ancestors came from San Giuseppe Vesuviano, in the province of Naples. He was the fifth of the thirteen children of John Joseph Gotti, Sr. and his wife Philomena (referred to as Fannie). John was one of five brothers who would become made men in the Gambino Family; Eugene Gotti was initiated before John due to the latter's incarceration. Peter Gotti was initiated under John's leadership in 1988, and Richard V. Gotti was identified as a capo by 2002. The fifth, Vincent, was not initiated until 2002. Gotti grew up in poverty. His father worked irregularly as a day laborer and indulged in gambling, and as an adult, John Gotti came to resent him for being unable to provide for his family. In school, Gotti had a history of truancy and bullying other students and ultimately dropped out, while attending Franklin K. Lane High School, at the age of 16.
Gotti was involved in street gangs associated with New York City mafiosi from the age of 12. When he was 14, he was attempting to steal a cement mixer from a construction site when it fell, crushing his toes; this injury left him with a permanent limp. After leaving school he devoted himself to working with the Mafia-associated Fulton-Rockaway Boys gang, where he met and befriended fellow future Gambino mobsters Angelo Ruggiero and Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson.
Gotti met his future wife, Victoria DiGiorgio, in 1958. The couple had their first child, a daughter named Angel, in 1961, and were married on March 6, 1962. They would have four more children, another daughter (Victoria) and three sons (John, Frank and Peter). Gotti attempted to work legitimately in 1962 as a presser in a coat factory and as an assistant truck driver. However, he could not stay crime free and by 1966 had been jailed twice.
Gotti's criminal career began when he became an associate of Carmine Fatico, a capo in what became the Gambino family after the murder of Albert Anastasia. Together with his brother Gene and Ruggiero, Gotti carried out truck hijackings at Idlewild Airport (subsequently renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport). During this time, Gotti befriended fellow mob hijacker and future Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino and was given the nicknames "Black John" and "Crazy Horse." It was also around this time that Gotti met Gambino underboss Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce.
In February 1968, United Airlines employees identified Gotti as the man who had signed for stolen merchandise; the FBI arrested him for the United hijacking soon after. Two months later, while out on bail, Gotti was arrested a third time for hijacking—this time for stealing a load of cigarettes worth $50,000, on the New Jersey Turnpike. Later that year, Gotti pleaded guilty to the Northwest Airlines hijacking and was sentenced to three years at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Prosecutors dropped the charges for the cigarette hijacking. Gotti also pleaded guilty to the United hijacking and spent less than three years at Lewisburg.
Gotti and Ruggiero were paroled in 1972 and returned to their old crew at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, still working under caporegime Carmine Fatico. Gotti was transferred to management of the Bergin crew's illegal gambling, where he proved himself to be an effective enforcer. Fatico was indicted on loansharking charges in 1972. As a condition of his release, he could not associate with known felons. Although Gotti was not yet a made man in the Mafia due to the membership books having been closed since 1957, Fatico named Gotti the acting capo of the Bergin Crew soon after Gotti was paroled. In his new role, he frequently traveled to Dellacroce's headquarters at the Ravenite Social Club to brief the underboss on the crew's activities. Dellacroce had already taken a liking to Gotti, and the two became even closer during this time. The two were very similar—both had strong violent streaks, cursed a lot and were heavy gamblers.
In 1973, after Carlo Gambino's nephew Emanuel Gambino was kidnapped and murdered, John Gotti was assigned to the hit team alongside Ruggiero and Ralph Galione for the main suspect, Irish-American gangster James McBratney. The team botched their attempt to abduct McBratney at a Staten Island bar, and Galione shot McBratney dead when his accomplices managed to restrain him. Identified by eyewitnesses and a police Bergin insider, Gotti was arrested for the killing in June 1974. With the help of attorney Roy Cohn, however, he was able to strike a plea bargain and received a four-year sentence for attempted manslaughter for his part in the hit.
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Gotti was released in July 1977 after two years imprisonment. He was subsequently initiated into the Gambino family, now under the command of Paul Castellano, and immediately promoted to replace Fatico as Capo of the Bergin crew. He and his crew reported directly to Dellacroce as part of the concessions given by Castellano to keep Dellacroce as underboss, and Gotti was regarded as Dellacroce's protégé.
Under Gotti, the Bergin crew were the biggest earners of Dellacroce's crews. Besides his cut of his subordinates' earnings, Gotti ran his own loan sharking operation and held a no-show job as a plumbing supply salesman. Unconfirmed allegations by FBI informants in the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club claimed Gotti also financed drug deals.
On March 18, 1980, Gotti's youngest son, 12-year-old Frank Gotti, was run over and killed on a family friend's minibike by John Favara, a neighbor. While Frank's death was ruled an accident, Favara subsequently received death threats and, when he visited the Gottis to apologize, was attacked by Victoria Gotti with a baseball bat. On July 28, 1980, he was abducted and disappeared, presumed murdered. While the Gottis were on vacation in Florida at the time, John Gotti is still presumed to have ordered the killing, an allegation considered probable by John, Jr., while denied by his daughter Victoria.
In his last two years as the Bergin Capo, Gotti was indicted on two occasions, with both cases coming to trial after his ascension to Gambino Boss. In September 1984 Gotti was in an altercation with refrigerator mechanic Romual Piecyk, and was subsequently charged with assault and robbery. In 1985 he was indicted alongside Dellacroce and several Bergin crew members in a racketeering case by Assistant US Attorney Diane Giacalone. The indictment also revealed that Gotti's friend "Willie Boy" Johnson, one of his co-defendants, had been an FBI informant.
Gotti rapidly became dissatisfied with Paul Castellano's leadership, considering the new boss too isolated and greedy. Like other members of the family, Gotti also personally disliked Castellano. Castellano lacked street credibility, and those who had paid their dues running street level jobs did not respect him. Gotti also had an economic interest; he had a running beef with Castellano on the split Gotti took from hijackings at JFK Airport. Gotti was also rumored to be expanding into drug dealing, a lucrative trade Castellano had banned.
In August 1983, Ruggiero and Gene Gotti were arrested for dealing heroin, based primarily on recordings from a bug in Ruggiero's house. Castellano, who had banned made men from his family from dealing drugs under threat of death, demanded transcripts of the tapes, and when Ruggiero refused he threatened to demote Gotti.
In 1984, Castellano was arrested and indicted in a RICO case for the crimes of Gambino hitman Roy DeMeo's crew. The following year he received a second indictment for his role in the American Mafia's Commission. Facing life imprisonment for either case, Castellano arranged for John Gotti to serve as an acting boss alongside Thomas Bilotti, Castellano's favorite capo, and Thomas Gambino in his absence. Gotti, meanwhile, began conspiring with fellow disgruntled Gambino family members Sammy Gravano, Frank DeCicco, Robert DiBernardo and Joseph Armone (collectively dubbed "the Fist" by themselves) to overthrow Castellano, insisting despite the boss' inaction that Castellano would eventually try to kill him. The conspirators had the support of the bosses-in-waiting of the other families in the Commission case as well as the complicity of Gambino consigliere Joseph N. Gallo.
After Dellacroce died of cancer on December 2, 1985, Castellano revised his succession plan: appointing Bilotti as underboss to Thomas Gambino as the sole acting boss, while making plans to break up Gotti's crew. Infuriated by this, and Castellano's refusal to attend Dellacroce's wake, Gotti resolved to kill his boss.
DeCicco tipped Gotti off that he would be having a meeting with Castellano and several other Gambino mobsters at Sparks Steak House on December 16, 1985, and Gotti chose to take the opportunity. The evening of the meeting, when the boss and underboss arrived, they were ambushed and shot dead by assassins under Gotti's command. Gotti watched the hit from his car with Gravano.
Several days after the murder, Gotti was named to a three-man committee to temporarily run the family pending the election of a new boss, along with Gallo and DeCicco. It was also announced that an internal investigation into Castellano's murder was well underway. However, it was an open secret that Gotti was acting boss in all but name, and nearly all of the family's capos knew he'd been the one behind the hit. He was formally acclaimed as the new boss of the Gambino family at a meeting of 20 capos held on January 15, 1986. He appointed his co-conspirator DeCicco as the new underboss while retaining Gallo as consigliere.
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Identified as both Paul Castellano's likely murderer and his successor, John Gotti rose to fame throughout 1986. At the time of Gotti's takeover the Gambino family was regarded as the most powerful American mafia family, with an annual income of $500 million. In the book Underboss, Gravano estimated that Gotti himself had an annual income of not less than $5 million during his years as boss, and more likely between $10 and $12 million.
To protect himself legally, Gotti banned members of the Gambino family from accepting plea bargains that acknowledged the existence of the organization.
Gotti maintained a genial public image in an attempt to play down press releases that depicted him as a ruthless mobster. He reportedly would offer coffee to FBI agents assigned to tail him.
Gotti's newfound fame had at least one positive effect; upon the revelation of his attacker's occupation, and amid reports of intimidation by the Gambinos, Romual Piecyk decided not to testify against Gotti, and when the trial commenced in March 1986 he testified he was unable to remember who attacked him. The case was promptly dismissed, with the New York Post summarizing the proceedings with the headline "I Forgotti!"
On April 13, 1986, underboss Frank DeCicco was killed when his car was bombed following a visit to Castellano loyalist James Failla. The bombing was carried out by Lucchese capos Victor Amuso and Anthony Casso, under orders of bosses Anthony Corallo and Vincent Gigante, to avenge Castellano and Bilotti by killing their successors; Gotti also planned to visit Failla that day, but canceled, and the bomb was detonated after a soldier who rode with DeCicco was mistaken for the boss. Bombs had long been banned by the American Mafia out of concern that it would put innocent people in harm's way, leading the Gambinos to initially suspect that Zips (Sicilian mafiosi working in the United States) were behind it; Zips were well known for using bombs.
Following the bombing Judge Eugene Nickerson, presiding over Gotti's racketeering trial, rescheduled to avoid a jury tainted by the resulting publicity while Giacalone had Gotti's bail revoked due to evidence of intimidation in the Piecyk case. From jail, Gotti ordered the murder of Robert DiBernardo by Sammy Gravano; both DiBernardo and Ruggiero had been vying to succeed Frank DeCicco until Ruggiero accused DiBernardo of challenging Gotti's leadership. When Ruggiero, also under indictment, had his bail revoked for his abrasive behavior in preliminary hearings, a frustrated Gotti instead promoted Joseph Armone to underboss.
Jury selection for the racketeering case began again in August 1986, with John Gotti standing trial alongside Gene Gotti, "Willie Boy" Johnson (who, despite being exposed as an informant, refused to turn state's evidence), Leonard DiMaria, Tony Rampino, Nicholas Corozzo and John Carneglia. At this point, the Gambinos were able to compromise the case when George Pape, a friend of Westies boss Bosko Radonjich, was empaneled; through Radonjich Pape contacted Gravano and agreed to sell his vote on the jury for $60,000. Pape's actions meant that Gotti entered the courtroom knowing that he was at least assured of a hung jury.
In the trial's opening statements on September 25, Gotti's defense attorney Bruce Cutler denied the existence of the Gambino Crime Family and framed the government's entire effort as a personal vendetta. His main defense strategy during the prosecution was to attack the credibility of Giacalone's witnesses by discussing their crimes committed before their turning states'. In Gotti's defense Cutler called bank robber Matthew Traynor, a would-be prosecution witness dropped for unreliability, who testified that Giacalone offered him drugs and her panties as a masturbation aid in exchange for his testimony; Traynor's allegations would be dismissed by Judge Nickerson as "wholly unbelievable" after the trial, and he was subsequently convicted of perjury.
Despite Cutler's defense and critiques about the prosecution's performance, according to mob writers Jerry Capeci and Gene Mustain, when the jury's deliberations began a majority were in favor of convicting Gotti. Pape, however, held out for acquittal until the rest of the jury began to fear their own safety would be compromised. On March 13, 1987, they acquitted Gotti and his codefendants of all charges. Five years later Pape was convicted of obstruction of justice for his part in the fix.
In the face of previous Mafia convictions, particularly the success of the Commission trial, Gotti's acquittal was a major upset that further added to his reputation. The American media dubbed Gotti "The Teflon Don" in reference to the failure of any charges to "stick."
While Gotti himself had escaped conviction, his associates were not so lucky. The other two men in the Gambino administration, underboss Armone and consigliere Gallo, had been indicted on racketeering charges in 1986 and were both convicted in December 1987. The heroin trial of Gotti's former fellow Bergin crewmembers Ruggiero and Gene Gotti also commenced in June of that year.
Prior to their convictions, Gotti allowed Gallo to retire and promoted Sammy Gravano in his place while slating Frank Locascio to serve as acting underboss in the event of Armone's imprisonment. The Gambinos also worked to compromise the heroin trial's jury, resulting in two mistrials. When the terminally ill Ruggiero was severed and released in 1989, Gotti refused to contact him, blaming him for the Gambino's misfortunes. According to Gravano, Gotti also considered murdering Ruggiero and when he finally died "I literally had to drag him to the funeral."
Beginning in January 1988 Gotti, against Gravano's advice, required his capos to meet with him at the Ravenite Social Club once a week. Regarded by Gene Gotti as an unnecessary vanity-inspired risk, and by FBI Gambino squad leader Bruce Mouw as antithematic to the "secret society", this move allowed FBI surveillance to record and identify much of the Gambino hierarchy. The FBI also bugged the Ravenite, but failed to produce any high-quality incriminating recordings.
1988 also saw Gotti, Gigante and the new Lucchese boss Victor Amuso attending the first Commission meeting since the Commission trial. In 1986, future Lucchese underboss Anthony Casso had been injured in an unauthorized hit by Gambino capo Mickey Paradiso. The following year, the FBI warned Gotti they had recorded Genovese consigliere Louis Manna discussing another hit on John and Gene Gotti. To avoid a war, the leaders of the three families met, denied knowledge of their violence against one another, and agreed to "communicate better." The bosses also agreed to allow Colombo acting boss Victor Orena to join the Commission, but Gigante, wary of giving Gotti a majority by admitting another ally, blocked the reentry of the Bonannos' and Joseph Massino.
Gotti was nevertheless able to take control of the New Jersey DeCavalcante crime family in 1988. According to the DeCavalcante capo-turned-informant Anthony Rotondo, Gotti attended his father's wake with numerous other Gambino mobsters in a "show of force" and forced boss John Riggi to agree to run his family on the Gambino's behalf. The DeCavalcantes remained in the Gambino's sphere of influence until John Gotti's imprisonment.
Gotti's son John Gotti Jr. was initiated into the Gambino family on Christmas Eve 1988. According to fellow mobster Michael DiLeonardo, initiated in the same night, Gravano held the ceremony to keep Gotti from being accused of nepotism. John Jr. was promptly promoted to capo.
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On the evening of January 23, 1989, John Gotti was arrested outside the Ravenite and charged with ordering the 1986 assault of union official John O'Connor. O'Connor, a leader in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 608 who was later convicted of racketeering himself, was believed to have ordered an attack on a Gambino-associated restaurant that had snubbed the union and was subsequently shot and wounded by the Westies. To link Gotti to the case, state prosecutors had a recording of Gotti discussing O'Connor and announcing his intention to "Bust him up," and the testimony of Westies gangster James McElroy.
Gotti was released on $100,000 bail, and was later acquitted at trial.
On December 11, 1990, FBI agents and New York City detectives raided the Ravenite Social Club, arresting Gotti, Gravano and Frank Locascio. Gotti was charged, in this new racketeering case, with five murders (Castellano and Bilotti, Robert DiBernardo, Liborio Milito and Louis Dibono) conspiracy to murder Gaetano "Corky" Vastola, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion. Based on tapes from FBI bugs played at pretrial hearings the Gambino administration was denied bail. At the same time, attorneys Bruce Cutler and Gerald Shargel were disqualified from defending Gotti and Gravano after prosecutors successfully contended they were "part of the evidence" and thus liable to be called as witnesses. Prosecutors argued that Cutler and Shargel not only knew about potential criminal activity, but had worked as "in-house counsel" for the Gambino organization. Gotti subsequently hired Albert Krieger, a Miami attorney who had worked with Joseph Bonanno, to replace Cutler.
The tapes also created a rift between Gotti and Gravano, showing the Gambino boss describing his newly appointed underboss as too greedy and attempting to frame Gravano as the main force behind the murders of DiBernardo, Milito and Dibono. Gotti's attempt at reconciliation failed, leaving Gravano disillusioned with the mob and doubtful on his chances of winning the newest case without Shargel, his former attorney. Gravano ultimately opted to turn state's evidence, formally agreeing to testify on November 13, 1991.
Gotti and Locascio were tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before United States District Judge I. Leo Glasser. Jury selection began in January 1992, with an anonymous jury and, for the first time in a Brooklyn Federal case, fully sequestered during the trial due to Gotti's reputation for jury tampering. The trial commenced with the prosecution's opening statements on February 12; prosecutors Andrew Maloney and John Gleeson began their case by playing tapes showing Gotti discussing Gambino family business, including murders he approved, and confirming the animosity between Gotti and Castellano to establish the former's motive to kill his boss. After calling an eyewitness of the Sparks hit who identified Gotti associate John Carneglia as one of the men who shot Bilotti they then brought Gravano to testify on March 2.
On the stand Gravano confirmed Gotti's place in the structure of the Gambino family and described in detail the conspiracy to assassinate Castellano and gave a full description of the hit and its aftermath. Krieger, and Locasio's attorney Anthony Cardinale, proved unable to shake Gravano during cross-examination. After additional testimony and tapes the government rested its case on March 24.
Five of Krieger and Cardinale's intended six witnesses were ruled irrelevant or extraneous, leaving only Gotti's tax attorney Murray Appleman to testify on his behalf. The defense also attempted unsuccessfully to have a mistrial declared based on Maloney's closing remarks. Gotti himself became increasingly hostile during the trial, and at one point Glasser threatened to remove him from the courtroom. Among other outbursts, Gotti called Gravano a junkie while his attorneys sought to discuss Gravano's past steroid use, and he equated the dismissal of a juror to the fixing of the 1919 World Series.
On April 2, 1992, after only 14 hours of deliberation, the jury found Gotti guilty on all charges of the indictment (Locasio was found guilty on all but one). James Fox, director of the New York City FBI, announced at a press conference, "The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro, and all the charges stuck." On June 23, 1992, Glasser sentenced both defendants to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and a $250,000 fine.
Gotti was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. He spent the majority of his sentence in effective solitary confinement, only allowed out of his cell for one hour a day. His final appeal was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994.
While in prison, Gotti was severely beaten up by Walter Johnson, a fellow inmate. Afterwards, Gotti offered at least $40,000 to the Aryan Brotherhood to kill Johnson. The Aryan Brotherhood accepted Gotti's offer. The prison guards surmised that Johnson was in danger and transferred him to another prison. Gotti is also believed to have hired the Brotherhood for another aborted hit on Frank Locascio after learning the disgruntled acting consigliere sought to kill him.
Despite his imprisonment, and pressure from the Commission to stand down, Gotti is believed to have held on to his position as Gambino boss with his brother Peter and his son John A. Gotti Jr. relaying orders on his behalf. By 1998, when he was indicted on racketeering, John Gotti Jr. was believed to be the acting boss of the family. Against his father's wishes, John Jr. pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years and five months imprisonment in 1999. He maintains he has since left the Gambino family. Peter Gotti subsequently became acting boss, and is believed to have formally succeeded his brother as boss shortly before John Gotti's death.
John Jr.'s indictment brought further stress to John Gotti's marriage. Victoria DiGiorgio Gotti, up to that point unaware of her son's involvement in the mob, blamed her husband for ruining her son's life and threatened to leave him unless he allowed John Jr. to leave the mob.
In 1998 Gotti was diagnosed with throat cancer and sent to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, for surgery. While the tumor was removed, the cancer was discovered to have returned two years later and Gotti was transferred back to Springfield, where he spent the rest of his life.
Gotti's condition rapidly declined, and he died on June 10, 2002, at the age of 61. Per John Jr., "If you look on his death certificate he choked on his own vomit and blood. He paid for his sins". The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced that Gotti's family would not be permitted to have a Requiem Mass but allowed it after the burial.
Gotti's funeral was held in a nonchurch facility. After the funeral, an estimated 300 onlookers followed the procession, which passed Gotti's Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, to the gravesite. John Gotti's body was interred in a crypt next to his son Frank Gotti. Gotti's brother Peter was unable to attend owing to his incarceration. In an apparent repudiation of Gotti's leadership and legacy, the other New York City families sent no representatives to the funeral.
Following his conviction Gotti himself has been portrayed in four TV movies:
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