Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano (born March 12, 1945) is a former underboss of the Gambino crime family. He is known as the man who helped bring down John Gotti, the family's boss, by agreeing to become a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) government witness.
Originally a mobster for the Colombo crime family, and later for the Brooklyn faction of the Gambinos, Gravano participated in the conspiracy to murder Gambino boss Paul Castellano. Gravano played a key role in planning and executing Castellano's murder; other conspirators included John Gotti, Angelo Ruggiero, Frank DeCicco, and Joseph Armone. After Castellano's death, Gotti elevated Gravano to consigliere, a position he held until he became underboss in 1990 around the time he became a government witness. At the time, Gravano was the highest-ranking member of the Mafia to break his La Cosa Nostra oath and cooperate with the government. His testimony drew a wave of La Cosa Nostra members to also become government witnesses.
- 1 Childhood, School life and Nickname
- 2 Nickname
- 3 School
- 4 Rampers street gang, army and later Colombo associate
- 5 Made Man
- 6 Gambino Soldier
- 7 Whacking the Boss
- 8 Co-underboss and consigliere.DeCicco death
- 9 Consigliere,DiB murder,Paruta death,Gotti gambling, Commission meeting and FBI Surveillance
- 10 More murders
- 11 Turning government witness, conspiracy to whack Gotti , John badmouths Sammy
- 12 Later life
- 13 Later Accusations
- 14 People murdered by Salvatore Gravano
- 15 In popular culture
- 16 Trivia
- 17 External links
Childhood, School life and Nickname
Salvatore Gravano was born in Bensonhurst on March 12, 1945. He had two older sisters. Another sister and a brother had died before his arrival. His mother, Caterina, was born in Sicily and brought to America as a baby. His father, Giorlando, also from Sicily, was on the crew of a freighter when he jumped ship in Canada and slipped into the United States as an illegal alien.
For Sammy and for friends and neighbors, his parents were always Kay and Gerry. English was the language of the house, except during visits from his grandmothers, who spoke a Sicilian dialect. Sammy was especially close to his maternal grandmother and picked up enough to be able to converse with her, but forgot it all after she died.
He was called Sammy instead of Salvatore or Sal for as long as he can remember. Someone had said that he looked just like Uncle Sammy, a brother of his mother’s, and the name stuck.
On Sunday mornings, Sammy usually accompanied his father to mass.Down the block, they would pass a corner saloon where gangsters would congregate.Sammy noticed that his father always stayed on the opposite side of the street, some of the men would wave to him and call out, “How you doin’, Gerry?” and his father would nod back in acknowledgment. Finally, when Sammy was about eight, he asked, “Who are those men, Dad? You know them?”Yes, I know some of them. They are not hardworking, nice people. They’re bad people, but they’re our bad people.”
This only excited Sammy’s curiosity and he kept pressing his father for more details what I got from him little by little,”Sammy says,“was that these men were people I should stay away from and not ever talk about. But they had ties to the community.
At age nine, Sammy had a traumatic experience that changed the whole course of his life. He was held back in the fourth grade.Sammy, in fact, was the victim of a severe case of dyslexia. For Sammy, a d became a b. A letter like r reversed itself but at that time dyslexia was unknown.If someone ridiculed him, he beat him up after school. That instantly ended the slights. “That’s when I found out that violence paid,” he says. “They stopped laughing.”
The only people who didn’t care about his reading and spelling abilities were the men at the corner saloon. They were the ones who named him Sammy The Bull . “It was my tenth birthday,i think,”said Sammy,“and my father and mother gave me a brand-new bike. We didn’t have a lot of money to throw around, so when they gave you something, you had to take care of it. I was real happy, but then the bike was robbed. It was my fault. I left it unwatched, unprotected. Maybe a week later a couple of my friends, little kids like me, told me that they saw the bike near a fruit stand on the corner across from the bar where those wiseguys hung out. I ran down there and sure enough two kids bigger and older than me from 79th Street had it.
“I went and grabbed the handlebars and I said, ‘Hey, this is my bike.’ But they wouldn’t give it back. So I started fighting both of them. It was hard going. I mean, I was getting a little beat up, but I was fighting my ass off. I wasn’t giving up that bike. I was doing pretty good, but I wasn’t winning, either. It was like when somebody would look at you and say, ‘Wow, you must have been in some fight,’ and you’d say, ‘Yeah, well, you ought to see the other guy.’
Now some of the wiseguys outside the bar were watching all of this, and a couple of them came over and broke us up. I was so mad I was crying, and one of the guys rubs my head and says, ‘Sammy, what are you crying for? You’re destroying these kids.’ And the other guy says, ‘What’s this all about, anyway?’
“And I said, ‘This is my bike and they took it and I’m taking it back.’ These two wiseguys that came over started to laugh. It was amusing to them, I guess. Then they told the two kids to beat it, it was my bike and I was keeping it. If their fathers had any problems with this, they should come see them. Then one of the guys says to me, ‘Come on, Sammy, stop crying.’ And he calls out to some of the other wiseguys who were watching, ‘Did you see this Sammy? He’s like a little bull.’
“Word got around, and pretty soon all the kids were calling me Sammy the Bull and that was that. Even later on, when I started getting intotrouble, the cops would come by looking for me and they would say they were looking for ‘the Bull, Sammy the Bull.’
I was playing hockey and got a little drunk with some other kids. They caught us and they brought us back to the school. We went up to the principal’s office and he started yelling and blasting me out, and then he finally said to another teacher in the office, ‘It’s their upbringing.Their mothers and fathers are irresponsible.’ In other words, he was blaming everything on my mother and father. About halfway through listening to this, I hit him a shot in the mouth and I guess I broke his jaw.
“I was thrown out of school. I went in front of the Board of Education, and they reinstated me in school, but not at Shillow. I was officially switched to McKinley junior High School. McKinley’s on Fort Hamilton Parkway. I had to take buses there. It was out of the neighborhood and there weren’t any Rampers around. There are different gangs, different guys. Like there were Irish gangs, and I got to make my bones all over again in that neighborhood, which I did. I was in a lot of fights!
Eventually Sammy was kicked out of school again.“I stopped going to school, and when I was sixteen, my family did sign me out.
Rampers street gang, army and later Colombo associate
I started boxing a lot in local gyms where guys were training to go into the Golden Gloves tournaments. It made me feel like I was somebody. You didn’t have to read to learn how to box. I was quick and I had some pretty good moves. I learned how to feint and jab and use my body the right way in a punch. They wanted me to join the Police Athletic League, so I could work my way up in the Golden Gloves. They said I had real potential. Forget it. I wasn’t fighting for no cops.
Early Police Encounters
“Cops would always be hassling you. It got me my first arrest. We were in front of a luncheonette and this cop car pulls up. The cop driving was Italian. I can’t remember his name exactly. Let’s say Benocchi. He was a real pain in the ass. He yells at us to get off the street.
Everybody scatters. I go down the block and stand in the doorway of a little bar. So I was off the street. This Benocchi had followed me and he says, ‘I told you to get off the street.’ I said, ‘You got eyes? I’m off the street.’
“With that, he’s out of the car and starts towards me. ‘Think you’re smart, you punk bastard?’ he says. I assume he’s ready to hit me with his nightstick, whatever, like they normally did. As soon as he got within range, I set myself and I nailed him with a shot to the jaw. He goes down. I kicked him in the face. Now the other cop in the car is on his way. His gun is out. I’m pinched for assault on an officer.
“Through some of the Rampers, I get this lawyer.“Next, the lawyer gets me and brings me up into court. First he talks to the prosecutor. He’s been getting delays to get this particular prosecutor. Then he says to the judge, ‘Your Honor, my client just arrived. He was delayed because of a car accident. I know you have a full calendar and there are extenuating circumstances to this case. Your Honor, what I would like is to plead my client guilty to a misdemeanor.’ The judge goes for that. He doesn’t have to reschedule the cop and start this over again. He grants the motion. All I get is a five-hundred-dollar fine Benocchi don’t know it, but he’s been set up.
“Right after court, me and my friends go back to the luncheonette where this started. It is right by the precinct house. We’re eating hamburgers, and sure enough, Benocchi walks in. He sees me, and real cocky, he says, ‘You didn’t show up in court. There’s a bench warrant out for you. I’m taking you in.’
“’Not me,’ I said. ‘They got a bench warrant out for your mother, is what. The case is over. I went to court. I copped to a misdemeanor. I got a fine and I got to go back in a couple of days and pay it.’
“My guys are laughing. He’s all red in the face. ‘I don’t believe it,’ he says. ‘I’m checking this out.’ He’s so confused he sits down on a stool. I say to the guy behind the counter, “Hey, Bo, what’s Benocchi eating? Hamburger? Put it on my tab. I’m celebrating today.’ He says, ‘You can’t pick up my tab.’
“’Yeah, well, that must be a first for you,’ I said, and we walked out, giggling
Sammy’s next encounter with the police, however, was not so amusing.
“There were four of us Rampers,” he said. “We’re looking to score in this lumberyard. We break in. There must have been an alarm we didn’t know about because all of a sudden the cops arrive. The other kids get away. I’m the only one who gets collared. They bring me into the precinct and it’s the old story. Who were my accomplices?
“’What accomplices?’ I say.
“In those days, there wasn’t no Miranda warning. The cops did what they want. They asked me a couple of more times and I’m not giving them anything. So they handcuff me to a pipe and started working on me. I mean, they beat me to a pulp. It was bad. There was blood all over the place. My nose was busted. I couldn’t see out of my eyes. I could hardly hear. Finally, they gave up and threw me into a holding cell.
“When my mom and dad came, she fainted dead away when she saw me. In court, my lawyer got it knocked down from a burglary felony to a misdemeanor. The case wasn’t all that strong. I got caught in the lumberyard, all right, but I hadn’t actually taken anything out, and they didn’t have the other kids. I was eighteen then, and the war in Vietnam was heating up. What my lawyer told the judge was that if there wasn’t any jail time, I would join the army. That way, every one was a winner. The judge agreed, and all I got was another fine.
“Afterwards, I told the lawyer, ‘I ain’t joining no army,’ and he says, ‘You don’t have to. I just said that to get you off.’
“I ended up in the army, anyway. I got drafted.” Actually, I ended up kind of liking the military. It wasn’t all that bad. Most of it was physical. I was nineteen and in real good shape. The sit-ups and push-ups, the running, the obstacle courses,all that stuff, didn’t bother me at all. I was right at the top of my company and that made me feel good about myself.
“All in all, I did very, very good in the army. It was a hell of a lot better than jail. I got promoted to corporal. By the end of my two years, they wanted me to reenlist. They offered me sergeant’s stripes and any place I wanted to go in the country if I signed up for four more years. Orders had come down for the company to go to Vietnam. But I had only four months left, and you needed something like ten months before they shipped you out. There were about a hundred guys and maybe twenty of us were scratched for different reasons. I wouldn’t have minded going to Vietnam. You got medals for killing people there. Anyway, I got an honorable discharge.”
Tommy Spero, who had been with Sammy in the stolen-car arrest, came to him. He said, “My uncle would love to meet with you.”“About what?”“He just wants to talk to you and stuff.“Now I know who Tommy’s uncle is. His name is Tommy, too, except everybody calls him Shorty. He’s a big shot, whatever, with the Colombo family. So I say, ‘Sure, why not?’”
In 1968, when Sammy the Bull had his meeting with Shorty Spero, the books remained closed, which was why Spero was an associate rather than a made member of the Colombo family. It was really a technicality. “Everyone in the neighbourhood knew Shorty pulled a lot of weight in the family,” Sammy said. “Shorty was a veteran. It was all around on the streets about the books being closed, but when they opened up, Shorty would be made right away.
When we met, he got right to the point. His message wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. Eventually, I’d have to hook up with the right people. But the way he put it was different. ‘I’ve had my eye on you,’ he says. ‘Why not come with me? You’re a tough guy, but you can’t keep doing things your own way. You can’t live your whole life on your own. Sooner or later, you’re going to get in real trouble or get killed. I’ll give you a different relationship, where you can be somebody. I’ll never stab you in the back. I’ll never bullshit you. I’ll never ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.’ Those were the words, that was the pledge, I wanted to hear. Like I’ve said, I’m obsessed with people being up front with me.”
Gravano became a particular favorite of family boss Joseph Colombo, who used Gravano to picket the FBI Manhattan headquarters as part of his Italian-American Civil Rights League initiative. Gravano's rise was so precipitous that it was generally understood that he would be among the first to become made when the Cosa Nostra's membership books were reopened (they had been closed since 1957).
After a few armed robberies ☀Gradually, Sammy’s new status enabled him to begin moving out of his old routine stick ups and break ins. “I’m starting to become more of a true gangster and racketeer, getting into business. Even if they’re not stone legitimate businesses, they’re real on a business level.
“One of the first was this after-hours club on 62nd Street and 17th Avenue. This guy Billy Stag told me about it. Billy wasn’t mobbed up, but he knew the ins and outs of running a club like that. He said old man John Rizzo, who was a made guy in the Gambino family, and Matty Gambino, who wasn’t made but pulled weight because he was related to Carlo Gambino, a nephew or something, were opening this club. ‘Sammy,’ Billy said, ‘they want me to manage it, but I’ll need somebody on my side. They’ll drive me crazy, especially Matty, who thinks he’s a big fucking gangster. Why don’t you get a piece of it?’
“I’ve accumulated some money and I go down to see John and ask could I have a piece of the joint. Now I know an old-time wiseguy like him ain’t interested in being there every night. He just wants to collect his end.
And when I go down, Louie Milito, who’s close to him, happens to be there, and Louie says, ‘Sammy will be great for the fucking club because Matty Gambino is a fucking waste.’ And the old man says, ‘I love the idea. You’re in.’
“I put it on record with Shorty and the Colombo family that I got a piece of this club. I’m there like every minute, working like a dog with Billy, stopping fights, seeing everything is OK. I’m taking shifts in the card game. I’m watching the door. If there’s a fight, I’m in between guys. Hey, I’m five feet five. Some of these fucking guys fighting are six one, six two, and they don’t give a fuck. It’s an after-hours club. They’re drunk. We’d start around ten or eleven at night. People would come in and leave and then others would come in, and we’d be filled to seven, eight in the morning. Sometimes a poker game would go on for two or three days straight without stopping.
“The only problem was Matty Gambino. He’d strut in with his overcoat draped over his shoulders. He’d come in like a fucking Don Juan—he was a good-looking kid—have a couple of drinks, pick up a girl or two and leave. Louie Milito would be around a lot. He’s got nothing to do with the joint, he’s just helping out, bringing in people to drink, play cards, whatever. ‘Sammy,’ he’d say, ‘how things going?’ and I’d tell him, ‘It’s going good.’ He’d say, ‘How come you and Billy got it all on your backs. Why don’t Matty work?’
“’Louie,’ I said, ‘you trying to break my balls? He’s only his nephew, but he thinks he’s Carlo Gambino himself. He comes in and he’s gone.’
“The truth is that I wish he would never come into the club at all.
One night me and Billy had finished doing the books, breaking down all the ends everybody got, and sure enough this Matty Gambino comes in with a couple of guys and some broads. He walks over and he said, ‘You know, Sammy, the bills don’t seem right with the amount of liquor we’re selling.’ He keeps on about this and that. ‘It don’t seem right,’he says. ‘What do you think is wrong?’
“’Wrong!’ I said. ‘Do you think me and Billy are robbing you? If I were you, I wouldn’t even answer that.’ He kind of draws back, stunned. ‘I tell you what,’ I said, ‘why don’t you take that fucking greaseball coat off, roll up your fucking sleeves, come in here and roll on the floor every time there’s a fucking fight and work the fucking joint. As a matter of fact, you handle the cash. You divvy it up.’
“’Sammy,’ he says, ‘don’t you think you’re out of order?’
“’Fuck you, out of order! You come in here, you want to abuse people, you’re a fucking punk! You come in here with your friends and don’t do no fucking work. Then you make a fucking accusation that something ain’t right? Let’s stop this conversation because it’s going to get worse and worse and I’ll knock your fucking head in, you understand, you fucking greaseball! Just make another accusation about something that ain’t right here with me or Billy.’
“The next thing I know there’s a massive meeting. Shorty’s there.
John Rizzo says, ‘Sammy, he went to his uncle, he went to Carlo. I’m sent down to talk to you about it. How could you do that? How could you say those things?’ Sammy was fuming but the matter was sorted out quickly and Sammy was still involved in the club
“So I learned a big lesson. Number one, you got to stand up for yourself. Number two, I didn’t stand a chance if I wasn’t hooked up with the Colombo family. Shorty’s getting a piece of my end. That’s how it works. After the expenses of the club, and paying off the cops, I’m taking out for myself about two thousand a week cash—which is not bad in those days—and five hundred of it goes up the ladder that I give to Shorty.
I wait to see what Carlo Gambino is going to say about all this—Shorty has already told me where Joe Colombo stands—and the answer is that when this Matty comes in again, he’s gonna be like a fucking mouse. As a matter of fact, every time he came in with his girls, it was, ‘Say hello to Sammy.’The whole picture changed.
In early 1970, Shorty Spero called Sammy in. Sammy had just turned twenty-five. “Are you ready to kill for the good of the family?” Spero asked. “I got a piece of work for you. It’s on record. The boss has given permission.”
- "As that Beatles song played, I became a killer. Joe Colucci was going to die. I was going to kill him because he was plotting to kill me. I felt the rage inside me.... Everything went in slow motion. I could almost feel the bullet leaving the gun and entering his skull. It was strange. I didn't hear the first shot. I didn't see any blood. His head didn't seem to move.... I felt like I was a million miles away, like this was all a dream.“
- I shot a second time in the same spot. This time everything was different. I saw the flash. I smelt the gunpowder. The noise was deafening. Now I saw his head jerk back, his body convulse and slip sideways. I saw the blood. Joe Colucci was dead. He looked like he was sleeping. He looked peaceful. You going to blow me away now? I thought.
“Tommy and Frankie started yelling at one another. I can’t remember what they were saying. That’s the only thing I can’t remember from that night. I told them to shut the fuck up. I told Tommy to get on the Belt Parkway and get off at the Rockaway Park exit. We had to dump the body.“I can’t describe the anger, the violence, the intensity that filled the car. But I can still feel it.
After the exit we drove for a few minutes into a quiet residential area. We were on a side street. I told Tommy to push the body out of the car. I couldn’t believe it when Tommy told me he couldn’t. He didn’t feel so good, like he was going to vomit or something. He was afraid to touch joe’s body. So I climbed over Frankie and out the rear passenger side window. I opened the door and put my arms around the body. I’ll never forget that feeling of deadweight. I wasn’t too graceful about it, but the adrenaline was still pumping. I pulled Joe‘s body out and dumped it facedown in the street. I got in the car where he’d been sitting and shut the door. Then I rolled down the window and shot the body three times. It lurched with each shot. There could be no doubt. The contract was carried out.
The Colucci murder won respect and approval from Persico for Gravano. Gravano later became a mentor to Colucci's son, Jack Colucci, who became involved in the construction industry as a Gambino associate.
“I found in empty store in a real shopping area on 86th Street. it was a tiny store. I named it The Hole in the Wall. As I was a crook, we called ourselves The Hole in the Wall gang. Jimmy Brassiere supplied us.I bought denims, all kind of jeans, all different sizes. Everything was slightly irregular. We had Polo shirts, T-shirts, women’s bathing suits.We continued with the pocketbooks and shoes. All kinds of things a woman would want.
“Business just took off. Now salesmen were coming in, like from Levi jeans. Let me show you this, that. There were other salesmen representing legitimate companies. A Polo shirt guy would be there with different styles and colors. ‘Hey, OK,’ I’d say, ‘I’ll try them. Give me three dozen.’ On occasion, Debbie would come in and help. So would Tommy and his wife, Camille, Joe Colucci’s widow. Tommy’s father, Ralph, was there. We were so busy, I hired a girl for an eight-hour day, so we were always covered in case none of us could make it.
“I’m there, too, on and off. Then one time when I was there, a lady came in and said she wanted to return something, whatever it was. I said sure, did she have her receipt? She said no, she didn’t get no receipt. I asked her who sold her the item and she said it was the older man. She was talking about Ralph. It happened again. I caught him half a dozen times.
I become conscious of the stock, matching up what we have and the sales receipts. He was robbing us blind, the cocksucker.
“Now Ralph Spero ain’t a made guy. He never got made. But it’s an awkward situation. He’s Shorty’s brother and I’m with Shorty. I decide it was better to sell the joint, get the fuck out. Learn my lesson and tomorrow’s another day. Basically, that was what I did with people, if they turned out to be pieces of shit. I tried to avoid confrontations. If
you pushed me too far over the line, then I would react. But there’s enough people to shoot in the head without looking for it all the time.
“I went to Jimmy Brassiere and said, ‘Do me a favor and buy the store. Or get one of your friends or the people you do business with to buy it. It’s a tremendous deal. Tons of customers are coming in.’ He says, ‘Sammy, you got a gold mine there. What the fuck do you want to sell it for?’
“’Listen to me,’ I said, ‘either buy it or get me a buyer.’
“He comes back to me. He’s got a buyer. ‘But why are you doing this, Sammy, why?’
“’Listen, between you and me, Ralph, Tommy’s father, he’s in there robbing. I’m going to wind up killing him, or something else bad will happen. I don’t want to be partners anymore. I don’t want no beefs.’ So Jimmy sold it for me.
In the early 1970s, Colombo mobster Ralph Spero, brother of Shorty, became jealous of Gravano's success, fearing that he would become a made man before his son Tommy. To avoid conflict, Shorty Spero allowed Gravano to leave the Colombo family and join the Gambino crime family in 1972.
“Toddo sent the word up to his boss, Carlo Gambino, and now I was on record as being with the Gambino family. In a way, I was sick about this, too. I liked Shorty. All this backbiting and double-crossing was what the real Cosa Nostra was. Except I wasn’t smart enough to know it then. I guess Ralph and Tommy got it pretty good because they came around sucking up to me, apologizing for creating this story. I told Ralph, ‘Don’t apologize to me. The next time you call my house and talk to my wife in that tone, it’ll be the last time you’ll ever do anything
Now with the Gambinos, Gravano became an associate of capo Salvatore "Toddo" Aurello. Aurello quickly took a liking to Gravano and became his mob mentor. Around this time, Gravano took a construction job (he later claimed to have considered leaving the criminal life). A former associate, however, falsely claimed to the New York District Attorney's Office that Gravano and another associate were responsible for a double murder from 1969. After Gravano was indicted, he desperately needed money to pay his legal bills. He quit his construction job and went on a self-described "robbing rampage" for a year and a half. One week into the trial, the prosecution moved to dismiss the charges. Gravano later said of this legal problem:
- "That pinch (arrest) changed my whole life. I never, ever stopped a second from there on in. I was like a madman. Never stopped stealing. Never stopped robbing. I was obsessed."
Gravano's robbery spree impressed Aurello, who proposed him for membership in the Gambino family. In 1976, the Cosa Nostra's membership books were finally reopened and Gravano became one of the first to be sworn in.
Family loyalty put to the test
In less than two years, Sammy would learn precisely what his blood oath to Cosa Nostra, his commitment to the life, entailed. He learned this from Frank DeCicco.
The crisis Sammy faced centered on Nick Scibetta, the kid brother of his wife. “He was a good kid, nice as you could want, growing up,” Sammy said. But then the drug culture sweeping the country snared him. He started doing cocaine. And to make matters worse, he began drinking heavily. There were car crashes and arrests for drunk driving.
Louie Milito phoned Sammy to report that somehow Nick had ended up in a gay nightclub owned by John Rizzo. A major brawl had erupted. The police had been called. “I got down there right away and got him out of the joint before the cops started pulling people in,” Sammy said.
Another incident involved the son of Tony jets, a Gambino family associate. Nick and the son had gotten into a fight and the son had beaten him up. Nick went to the police and the son was arrested for assault. “He was being marked as a rat,”Sammy said. “But I Made Nick change history, so the charges were dropped and that settled that.”
In still another incident, Nick had apparently insulted the daughter of Georgie DeCicco, Frank DeCicco’s uncle. “Now Frank didn’t get into this, but the girl’s father went bananas. He goes to Toddo. He wants Nick roughed up. I step in and say I’ll take care of it, let me handle it. I talked to Nick and I slapped him in the face pretty hard. But it was better than him getting his arms and legs broken.
“There are other situations with the kid. I’m trying to figure out what to do. Maybe get him the hell out of Bensonhurst. But unbeknownst to me, Paul Castellano is hearing about all this. It’s being put on record with Paul—the drugs and the drinking, the thing with Tony jets’s son, Georgie DeCicco’s daughter and so on and so forth. Paul decides he ain’t tolerating this no more. It reflects on the family, he says.
“Paul grabs Frank DeCicco and tells him to get Sammy’s crew and to whack out the kid. And he says to be sure not to tell me nothing about it.“Frank gets in touch with Louie Milito and Stymie, who ain’t made yet, and tells them, ‘This is what we got to do. This is what the boss wants.’ Stymie is Joe D’Angelo. He would become like my Luca Brasi, Don Corleone’s guy in The Godfather. There wasn’t nothing he wouldn’t do for me. Him and Louie say to themselves, ‘How can we do this behind Sammy’s back?’ “They get together with Frank and tell him this. Frank agrees with them. He goes to Paul and says, ‘This is wrong, not telling Sammy.’
The only part of Scibetta's body ever recovered was one of his hands, and he was declared legally dead in 1985. How Scibetta was killed, as well as the exact extent of Gravano's involvement, remains unknown.
“Paul finally says OK. ‘You have a meeting with Sammy Tell him what my orders are. If he doesn’t go along with this, I want him killed on the spot.’
“That’s when I first found out from Frank himself about what’s going on. When Frank finishes, I tell him, ‘Fuck Paul! I’ll take Paul out first.’ “Frank looks at me. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘You go to war with Paul and you’re a dead man, guaranteed. Louie and Stymie will be killed. Stymie, for sure, if he goes with you, which he will. And in the end, your brother-in-law will still die anyway. So what good would it do?’
“I couldn’t talk to Toddo about this. Paul has purposely kept him out of the loop. This piece of work is off the record. If I talk to him, he’s involved, too. Besides, I pretty much knew what he’d say: ‘The boss is the boss.’ “I said to Frank I wished that he never told me. He said, “Think about it. How could we live with ourselves without telling you? How could we look you in the eye?’
“So now I got an option. It’s to die with Nicky. I chose against Nicky. I took an oath that Cosa Nostra came before everything. I never thought it would come down to this. But it did. I was devastated. I was thinking of my wife and my in-laws, what good people they are, and how devastated they would be.“I was hoping that it would be like he just disappeared. It would be better for his mother and father. They knew he was a crazy kid. Maybe he had met somebody, some group of people, and run off.“The bottom line is that I let it happen. That makes me just as guilty. I didn’t know his body would be chopped up afterwards.That’s not me
“The cops found his hand somewheres. There was a memorial. I figured my job was to comfort the family as much as possible. What else could I do?”
“One night early, the bartender and the waitress are there. I’m sitting, talking to Tommy Spero, who wants to see the club. It wasn’t crowded. We’re just about open. A couple of customers come in and order drinks. A little while later, a bunch of bikers walk in, ten or twelve of them. I step outside with Tommy to get a breath of air. Then the bartender comes out and says, ‘Sammy, there’s a problem inside.’ “I go up to the lead biker. He’s a mountain of a guy. I say, “What’s the problem?’
“He said, real nasty, ‘There’s no fucking problem. This is our place. We’re taking it over.’ “I look around, and again, there’s a lot of them. And none of my guys are around. It’s too early. So I decide to try and use my head, try and avoid a confrontation with them. Which, if there is one, I know I’m definitely going to lose. “I try conning him. I say, ‘Look, I’m the owner here. You could be my partner. You can come by tomorrow and we’ll go over everything.’ I’m thinking how different things will be tomorrow.
“’Fuck tomorrow,’ he says. ‘I don’t need no partners. I own the whole place.’ “As we’re talking, the conversation basically moves outside. He’s standing in the street and I’m on the sidewalk and he’s still towering over me. I’m five five, he must be six four, two forty or fifty. “I start to realize I’m in big trouble. I can’t talk my way out of this. There’s nothing I can do. It’s getting more and more intense. A couple of the other bikers have come out and they’re laughing and making remarks.
“This guy tells them, ‘Hey, this is the fucking punk who owns the joint. This is our joint from now on.’ He looks at me and said, ‘When you come in here from now on, you got to pay.’“My mind is racing a hundred miles an hour. My conclusion is that I’m gonna go down, but I’m taking him with me. I make like I’m looking down. I key in on him and I throw a vicious punch. I hit him and he goes fucking flying backwards. But when I go to rush at him, my leg slips off the curb. The curb is like four or five inches high. My leg comes down all crooked. My ankle is busted. From my ankle going like that, I fall to my knees.
He’s almost up on his feet again. I try to grab him when he’s halfway up and hold him down. But I can’t. He’s as strong as a bastard. These other bikers are hitting and banging away at me. “Tommy has come running out and they throw him away like he’s a rag doll. The bartender comes out and they clock him right away. It’s just overwhelming, what’s happening. Cars are stopping, blowing horns. People are screaming from the windows. It felt like it lasted three hours. Probably, it was more like three or four minutes. There are sirens and these bikers take off.
“Tommy Spero grabs me. ‘You OK?’ I say I think so, I think I busted my ankle. Tommy takes me to a hospital before the cops get there. That’s when they tell me officially, after the X rays and all, that the ankle is busted in three places, two places on one side, one place on the other side. They put on a cast and they tell me to go to a specialist. These kinds of breaks are bad. I could break the ankle again. So anyway, I go to a doctor and he resets the ankle and gives me another cast about up to my knee. I’m on crutches and the ankle hurts like hell.
“I’m hobbling around and I am steaming. By that time, my guys are around. Louie Milito drives me to see Toddo and Toddo makes an appointment with Paul Castellano. We meet in the backyard of Jimmy Brown’s club on 86th Street. “I tell Paul what happened and he said, ‘What are you looking to do?’ “’I’m looking to kill all of them, if I can. Especially that one guy.’“Paul said, ‘Go ahead.’ He said he would authorize more men if I needed them.“I give my guys a description of this guy and we start scouring the whole neighborhood for him, asking questions, where he might be hanging out. I’m with Louie Milito and this kid Danny is driving.
And a couple of days later, lo and behold, there he is getting out of a car That’s double-parked around West 10th Street and King’s Highway. There’s another guy with him and they’re going into a house. It’s getting dark, but I recognized him.” Louie said, ‘Let’s get the guys.’ But I said, ‘We don’t have time. He’s double-parked. He’s going to come out and we’re going to lose him.’
“We race back to the club and me and this Danny get pistols. Louie has a sawed-off shotgun. We get back and sure enough, the car’s still there. We double-park down the block. About fifteen minutes later, they come out. “I’m in the backseat. Danny’s driving and Louie is in front with him.
I said, ‘Louie, they know me, but they don’t know you and Danny. I’ll duck down and when Danny pulls up to them, you ask that guy for directions, like you’re lost or something. And when he comes towards you, I’ll blast him.’“By then, I guess he knows who he fucked with and he’s a little nervous. Anyway, Louie rolls down the window and says, ‘Hey, pal.’ That’s as far as he gets. The guy—we found out his name was Jojo—turns around and runs up the block like a bastard. He don’t wait for nothing. He just boogied out of there. He must have seen something in the car. Louie jumps out and throws a shotgun blast at him.
He hits him. I’m leaning out of the side of the window and I’m shooting at him with a pistol, but I miss him. We see the guy stagger, but he’s still running.
“The problem is that Louie doesn’t have the right shells. It was so spur-of-the-moment that when we went to get the guns, the only shells that were there for the shotgun were birdshot, not the double-0 buckshot we would normally have used. We didn’t realize this until the whole thing was over and we checked out the shells that were left over. Louie had kept saying, ‘I hit him, the motherfucker. I know I hit him and the motherfucker didn’t even go down.’
“Now I see the other guy coming right at Louie. I don’t think he runsat Louie to attack him. I think he’s so scared and confused, maybe stoned, that he don’t know where he is. I yell to Louie and Louie turns around and hits him a shot in the chest from a couple of feet away. The guy topples over. Louie lowers the shotgun to his head and gives him a full blast.
Then we went around the block trying to locate Jojo. We knew he was hit and maybe he flopped down somewhere, but then we heard the sirens and drove off. “The next day another appointment is made with Paul. I told him we killed one guy, but the other one, the main one, got away. Paul gives me the strangest look. His eyes are, like, popping out of his head. He says,‘You went on this hit like that? With crutches? And a cast on?’
“’Well, yeah, Paul. I couldn’t get out of the car. I threw a couple of shots from out the window at the guy running away, but it was too far and I couldn’t aim too good. It was Louie that did the work. He got the guy in the shoulder and took down the other guy.’ “’All right,’ Paul said, ‘when you catch him, you still got permission to whack him.’ Then he said, ‘You know, if the law had come down on you, you could never have gotten away. You didn’t stand a chance.’
“Afterwards, Toddo told me Paul had said to him, ‘What’s with this Sammy, going out on a hit in his condition? I thought he would just assign his people to the contract.’ ‘What can I tell you?’ Toddo said. ‘He’s got the balls of a fucking elephant .’ Toddo said Paul kept shaking his head, like he couldn’t get over it.
“By now, we know a lot about this Jojo. Information was coming in. He was supposedly a Golden Glover with the idea of becoming a pro and ends up a biker. He was from the neighborhood. It turns out that Old Man Paruta’s sons know him, know where he lives. But they say he took off. He’s out of the state. So I relax. I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. He’ll be back. When he is, let me know and we’ll take care of him.’
“It’s a long time, maybe a couple of years, before he does come back. He reaches out for Paruta’s kids and asks that they sit down with their father. He knows their father is connected, but he doesn’t know he’s with me. He says he had this trouble with Sammy the Bull and he knows he’s a marked man. He wants Paruta to talk for him, and Paruta says, ‘Sure, you’re good friends with my kids, I’ll talk to this Sammy for you. Just take it easy. Go about your business. Stay low-key and I’ll reach out for Sammy.’ Paruta’s sons obviously knew their father was bullshitting him. The kids know Paruta is with me and everything that means.
“So Paruta comes to me. He says, ‘That kid Jojo is back. He came to me through my kids. He wants me to sit down with you and resolve this issue. Do you want me to take him out?’
“’Let me ask you something ,’Isaid. ‘You gave your word,yourkids gave this kid their word that he’d be OK?’
“’Yeah, more or less.’ “I asked what he was like.
“’Sammy,’ Paruta says. ‘He must be down to a hundred sixty. He’s shot to the socks. His face is all hollow. He’s been living the last couple of years like it was a horror. His eyes keep shifting around.’
“I said, ‘You know, Joe, your kids gave their word. You gave your word. People will know this, probably. So I’m giving him a pass. We had a fight. He did what he did. His friend got clipped. He’s living a life like you said. He paid the price. Go back. Tell him you resolved it. It’s over. Tell him I won’t do nothing.’ And till today, as far as I know, he’s still alive.
Like his predecessor Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano favored emphasizing more sophisticated schemes involving labor racketeering, construction, trucking, recycling and garbage disposal over traditional street-level activities such as loansharking, gambling, and hijacking. Castellano had a particular interest in the construction business. Gravano began to change his boss's cowboy image of him when he entered into the plumbing and drywall business with his brother-in-law, Edward Garafola.
That’s when Paul Castellano takes another kind of interest in me. He hears more and more that I’m getting into construction. He sends for me and says, ‘What are you doing, Sammy?’
“I said, ‘Nothing, really. I got this little plumbing company and I’m into drywall and stuff.’
“’I hear you’re meeting with union guys. I hear you’re doing good with the business.’
“’Yeah, Paul,’ I said, ‘we’re starting to win a few contracts. It could be good.’
“’Good, good,’ he says. ‘You need entree into the unions, the contractors, anybody, you let me know. We own them all. I’ll help you.’
“And he did. The better I did, the better it is for the borgata, the family.”
Castellano’s problem was that the house was so big, the water pressure fell off dramatically.”we had our people come and take a look at the system,”Sammysaid. “They advised putting in a secondary station with an extra pump. When the water got so far and hit this spot, it would be repumped, so you got the pressure out of the showers that you wanted. Paul was real happy with the result.”
The family’s participation in the bid-rigging of concrete-pouring contracts in which no work could begin on any contract in New York worth more than $2 million without Cosa Nostra approval; and the family’s hold over various locals of the building trades unions, including the painters, carpenters, laborers, mason tenders—and the teamsters.
“Paul just loved construction,”Sammy said. “That was his true pet, the construction industry.”
Over time, as Sammy’s involvement in construction grew, an aging Toddo Aurello, clearly headed toward retirement, advised him that in construction matters, he should deal directly with the boss.
In the building trades, the key to nonunion labor was Cosa Nostra control of union shop stewards, many of whom were made members or had put sons or relatives in as stewards. On average, a subcontractor using union labor might expect a profit margin of 15 percent. With nonunion workers, even with payoffs, the profit was 30 percent or more.
If all else failed, there remained the Gambino family’s control of Local 282 of the teamsters, so absolute that if the other New York families needed teamster assistance, they had to share the proceeds with Paul Castellano. Cosa Nostra had traditionally been in the driver’s seat with the union. Paul Castellano owned the local’s Irish president, John Cody, who was richly rewarded, so much so that he eventually wound up being convicted on racketeering and income tax evasion charges.
This was of little consequence to the family, which promptly saw to the selection of its choice as Cody’s successor, another 282 officer named Bobby Sasso. Ideally, a builder would pay off Local 282 not to have a teamster foreman at a construction site gate. That way, nonunion workers and drivers could roll in at will. The usual payoff was $40,000. As law enforcement began to zero in on the local, however, this arrangement was altered. A foreman would be assigned to preplanned sporadic duty, and the cost dipped to $20,000 or $10,000.
Along with his thriving start in construction, he opened another successful after-hours club called 20/20. He also ran, through fronts, the Plaza Suite, a large and very popular discotheque in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn adjacent to Bensonhurst. His personal take from the Plaza Suite alone was $4,000 a week.
Now that he could afford it, the time had come to enjoy life. And he bought a 30-acre country home, which he turned into a horse breeding and training farm for trotters, near the village of Creamridge, in rural New Jersey, midway between Staten Island and Philadelphia.
Teamsters Local 282, which had jurisdiction over building materials to all construction sites in the city. The Mafia's control over the city's labor unions and construction industry was so absolute that it had effective veto power over all major construction projects in the city. For all practical purposes, no concrete could be poured for any project worth more than $2 million without Mafia approval.
Gravano further ingratiated himself to Castellano when he interceded in a civil war that had erupted within the Philadelphia crime family. In March 1980, longtime Philadelphia boss, Angelo Bruno, was assassinated by his consigliere, Antonio Caponigro, without authorization from The Commission. The Commission summoned Caponigro to New York, where it sentenced him to death for his transgression. After Caponigro was tortured and killed, Philip Testa was installed as the new Philadelphia boss and Nicodemo Scarfo as consigliere. The Commission subsequently placed contracts on Caponigro's co-conspirators, including John "Johnny Keys" Simone, who also happened to be Bruno's cousin. The Simone contract was given to Gravano.
After befriending Simone through a series of meetings, Gravano, with the assistance of Liborio Milito and D'Angelo, abducted Simone from Skyview country club near Robbinsville airport (part of suburban Trenton, New Jersey) and drove him to a wooded area on Staten Island. Gravano then granted Simone's requests to die with his shoes off, in fulfillment of a promise he had made to his wife, and at the hands of a made man. After Gravano removed Simone's shoes, Milito shot Simone in the back of the head, killing him. Gravano later expressed admiration for Simone as a so-called "man's man," remarking favorably on the calmness with which he accepted his fate. Gravano earned praise from Paul Castellano for the killing.
Unlike his earlier club ventures, Sammy, now immersed in his construction projects,was not on the scene every night. “I got rid off the bouncers, who weren’t doing their job, and put in guys with me, like Mike DeBatt and Tommy Carbonaro, known as Huck, who were also working my after-hours club, the 20/20. I have my own professional manager, Joe Skaggs. I bring in new bartenders and I hire good working neighborhood girls as waitresses. Everybody who was in there are people around me, or people who knew people who were close and loyal to me.”
Long lines curled around the block. The wait to enter was frequently an hour or more. Some nights it was simply impossible to get in. The music was basically deejay, but there were live performances as well.Sammy had “oldies” nights that featured, among others, Chubby Checker. On weekends, he would have first-rate attractions like The Four Tops, whose 1981 hit single, “When She Was the Girl,” reached number one on the Billboard charts.
In 1982, Frank Fiala, a wealthy businessman and drug trafficker, paid Gravano $40,000 to rent the Plaza Suite for a birthday party he was throwing himself. Two days after the party, Gravano accepted a $1,000,000 offer from Fiala to buy the establishment, which Gravano had only valued at $200,000. The deal was structured to include $100,000 cash as a down payment, $650,000 in gold bullion under the table, and a $250,000 payment at the real estate closing.
Before the transaction was completed, Fiala began acting like he already owned the club.☀ Sammy learned that Fiala had already physically moved into his private downstairs office. Not only that, but Fiala had ordered work to begin breaking through an office wall for a staircase leading directly to the Plaza Suite, so he would not have to use the 86th Street building entrance and walk around the block to enter the disco. He had brought in Doberman guard dogs. He had armed men patrolling the premises. “I heard they were Czechoslovakian,whatever”, Sammy remembers. “They didn’t speak English. It started to look like a concentration camp.”
This ultimate affront enraged Sammy beyond redemption. He told Eddie Garafola, “I can’t take it no more from this bum.” Sammy, followed by Garafola, stormed into his office. Fiala was standing behind Sammy’s desk, smirking. He idly spun Sammy’s chair around to sit in it. A brace of Dobermans growled menacingly.
Sammy ignored them. “Frank, what do you think you’re doing?” he rasped. “This don’t belong to you till the closing. Get the hell out of here.”Fiala reached into a desk drawer and pulled out an Uzi. He ordered Sammy and Garafola to sit down. They sat.“Eddie turned white as a ghost, pure white,” Sammy said. “That Uzi was pointed right at me. My body completely tensed up like it was a piece of steel. I figured the bullets are coming the next second.
“But this Fiala didn’t pull the trigger. He said, ‘You fucking greaseballs, you do things my way. You think you’re so tough. The Colombians are really tough. The Colombians fucked with me and I took them out. You greaseballs are nothing.’“I realized he’s talking, not shooting. If somebody’s going to kill you, he don’t talk. He shoots. With that, I kind of caught my second wind. I said as calm as I could, ‘Listen, Frank, take it easy.
What are you getting excited about? This is a business deal. There’s always little hurdles you got to get over. On Monday, we’ll go to the lawyers for the closing. You’re right. The deal is already three-quarters done. You want to stay in the office? Fine. It’s yours, Bo.’”
Sammy watched Fiala relax and lay down the Uzi on the desk. “So we’re not going to get whacked. I tell Eddie to get up and we leave. I’ve never been so mad in my life. As soon as we’re outside, I said, ‘Eddie, this fucker is going tonight. He should have killed me right then and there.He would’ve had a better shot with the law than with me.”
He instructed Garafola to round up Sammy’s key men—Stymie, Milito, Paruta, Mike DeBatt, Huck, Nick (Nicky Cowboy) Mormando. They were to rendezvous at Stymie’s bar, Doc’s.Sammy stationed Nicky Cowboy in a car parked on the corner. He had a shotgun. If anyone in the group that normally accompanied Fiala drew a gun, he was to start shooting. Eddie Garafola would stand on the opposite corner of the side street.
As Fiala neared the Plaza Suite, Garafola was to call out to him. Armed with pistols and wearing ski masks, Stymie and Milito would be hiding in the alley. Michael DeBatt would be at his usual post by the door. Huck was inside in case of trouble there. Sammy himself would be on the side street near the alley. At a prearranged signal from him, Stymie and Milito would leap out and gun down Fiala.
“Everybody is in place and we’re waiting. Down at the corner, Eddie sees him coming and nods to me. I look at Mike DeBatt at the door and give him a nod. It’s about to happen.“Fiala rounds the corner. He has a small entourage with him, maybe eight or ten people. After he passes Eddie and is almost at the door, Eddie shouts, ‘Hey, Frank!’ “Fiala starts to turn to see who’s calling to him. In turning, he sees me. I am no more than six or seven feet away from him. He’s looking at me, eye-to-eye. Maybe he picked up the fury in my face or eyes. You could see the puzzled expression he had. I said, ‘Hey, Frank, how you doing?’
“As soon as Louie and Stymie heard me say ‘Frank,’ they run out of the alley. Louie gets him with a shot to the head. He flops to the sidewalk. Louie goes and stands over him. He leans down and puts his gun to one eye and blows it out. Then he puts the gun in the other eye and blows it away, too.
“There’s pandemonium on the street. People are running every which way. They’re screaming. Some people are trying to get into the disco. Others are trying to get out. Mike DeBatt by the door acts like he’s panicking. He’s yelling, ‘Get down! Get down! Somebody’s shooting.’
He’s holding the door, so nobody’s getting in or out. “I had another car, a getaway car, up the street. Stymie and Louie immediately head for it and take off. Down at the corner, Nicky Cowboy has his shotgun ready. But Fiala’s people are in total shock. They ain’t doing nothing.“I walked right up to Fiala’s body. I spit on him. Then I go to Nicky Cowboy’s car. So does Eddie. We both had guns. We give them to Nicky and off he goes. The hit men are gone. The guns are gone.
“I’m ready to cross over to a parking lot with Eddie where our car is. But by now the cops are all over. They’re telling everybody, even people on the sidewalk, not to move. We’re stuck. Just then some kid starts running away, why I don’t know, and a whole load of cops go after him.According to the police, the murder occurred at approximately 2 A.M. on Sunday, June 27, 1982.Without question,” Sammy said, “the entire neighborhood knew I did the hit. But nobody said a word.”
Sammy, however, was confronting a far more serious and immediate reality: the wrath of Paul Castellano. The Fiala hit had not been sanctioned, a mortal sin in the world of Cosa Nostra. The ultimate penalty, of course, was that Sammy could now die because of this transgression. To make matters worse, the New York Daily News reported rumors that the Gambino crime family had a hidden interest in the Plaza Suite and identified Castellano as the head of the family.
The next day Frank DeCicco advised Sammy, “Paul is ripping. He’s saying to everybody you did an off-the-record piece of work. With him saying things like that, it doesn’t look good. But I’ll stay right on top of everything.”
Sammy decided that lying low for a while would be a wise move.
Upon leaving the Plaza Suite, Gravano called Garafola and set up an ambush outside the club, involving Garafola, Liborio Milito, D'Angelo, Nicholas Mormando, and Michael DeBatt in the plan. Later that night, Gravano confronted Fiala on the street as he exited the Plaza Suite among a group of people, asking, "Hey, Frank, how you doing?" As Fiala turned around, surprised to see Gravano, Liborio Milito came up behind him and shot him in the head. Milito stood over the body and fired a shot into each of Fiala's eyes as Fiala's entourage and the crowd of people on the street dispersed, screaming. Gravano then walked up to Fiala's corpse and spat on it.
Although Gravano believed the entire neighborhood knew he was responsible for the murder, he was never charged for the crime: Gravano had made a $10,000 payoff to the lead New York Police Department homicide detective Louis Eppolito to ensure that the investigation yielded no leads.
Gravano attempted to lie low for nearly three weeks afterwards, during which time he called his crew together and made the decision to kill Paul Castellano if necessary. Gravano and Liborio Milito were then summoned to a meeting with Castellano at a Manhattan restaurant. Castellano had been given the details of what Fiala had done, but he was still livid that Gravano had not come to him for permission to kill Fiala first. Gravano, however, was spared execution when he convinced Castellano that the reason he had kept him in the dark was to protect the boss in case something went wrong with the hit.
Fiala's murder posed one final problem for Gravano in the form of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The high publicity generated by the incident triggered an IRS investigation into Gravano and Fiala's deal for the sale of the Plaza Suite and Gravano was subsequently charged with tax evasion. Gravano was represented by Gerald Shargel and acquitted at trial.
Gravano's relief at being acquitted was tempered by news close friend, D'Angelo, had been killed by a Colombo family associate celebrating his having been proposed for membership. The killer was then murdered, himself, on orders from the Colombo family.
Aligning with Gotti, DiBono issue and issues with Paul
Despite all the distractions of the Plaza Suite tax case, Sammy continued to broaden his construction interests. Besides the plumbing and drywall companies and his hardwood flooring and carpeting firm, he had launched a painting company. In much the same way that the Gambino family controlled Local 282 of the Teamsters, the Lucchese family controlled District Council 9 of the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades. “What I do,” Sammy said, “is I get Dino, who is a guy with the Lucchese people, to go and bid the painting contracts for me. Dino gets the job and I get half the profits.”
Concrete pouring was a cash cow and Sammy wanted in. Not a single load of concrete was poured for any contract worth more than $2 million—which is to say, every major building project in New York City—without the assent of four of the five families. Only the Bonanno family, in disgrace because of endemic heroin trafficking at the highest levels and no longer with a seat on the commission, was out of the picture.
The point man was a member of the Colombo family, Ralph Scopo, who was president and business manager for the Local District Council of the Cement and Concrete Workers Union. And, of course, there were the Teamsters. Certain concrete-pouring contractors were allowed to be part of what was called “the Concrete Club.” Each of the families controlled one or more of these companies. It was the only way they could avoid sudden union problems or cutoffs in concrete deliveries. In return, there was a kickback of two percent for every contract over $2 million. With Sammy on board, Marathon was now in the club, although being the new boy on the block and still small, the amount of work it could expect was then limited.
The way the system worked was monopoly capitalism in its purest form. When bids were solicited for a project, the families decided which of the companies was up for the contract. Once the price had been determined, the other companies in the club were advised accordingly and instructed to put in higher bids.In Manhattan, a lion’s share of concrete pouring went to two companies owned by a man named Edward J. Halloran. As a result, the cost of a cubic yard of poured concrete rose to $85, the highest in the nation.
Gravano eventually became embroiled in a dispute with business partner Louis DiBono, a member of another Gambino crew. Madonia said that DiBono produced documents to support his position and that they were phony. Sammy’s back went up at once. If there was one thing he insisted upon, however a job was obtained, it was that the work had to be top-of-the-line. “It’s clear he’s robbing us,” Madonia said.
Sammy, with Garafola and Madonia, confronted DiBono in his office. DiBono had a lawyer and an accountant present. Waving assorted papers, he began a labored explanation of how the figure owed Ace Partitions had been arrived at. After listening for a few minutes, barely able to contain himself, Sammy finally ordered Madonia, Garafola and DiBono’s representatives out of the office.
Then, leaning toward DiBono, his voice choking with rage, he said, “Shove the papers up your ass, you fat fuck. What do you think we are, suckers? Don’t try robbing me. There’s no way you’ll ever get to enjoy the money. I’ll scatter your brains all over the wall.” DiBono shrank back. “Sammy, we’ll work this out.” Sammy stormed out of the office.
DiBono immediately contacted Conte. He told his capo that Sammy had grabbed him and raised his fist, that Sammy had threatened to whack him out. He wanted Conte to go to Paul Castellano and get permission to have Sammy killed. What DiBono said Sammy had done was unpardonable. It was a fundamental tenet of Cosa Nostra that one made member could never raise his hands against another. What’s more, said DiBono, the charges Sammy had lodged against him were spurious.
Almost at once Castellano ordered a sit-down. Sammy knew he was in deep trouble. To make matters worse, Pat Conte was a Castellano favorite. When Castellano had sought to bring Dial’s poultry products into the supermarket chains, Conte had played a key role in paving the way.
Sammy told Frank DeCicco that he had let his temper get the best of him, but the truth was, he didn’t regret it. “Look,” DeCicco counseled, “there was only the two of you. It’s your word against his. He says one thing, you say the other. You deny it. Who can prove anything?”
“Maybe you’re right,” Sammy said. He respected DeCicco, and the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to be really good advice.Castellano sat at the head of the table. Neil Dellacroce was there,as well as the white-haired consigliere, Joe N. Gallo. Tommy Bilotti took his place. Frank DeCicco was present as well. Sammy saw DiBono sitting next to Conte.
“This fat fuck, Louie DiBono,” Sammy remembered, “was down there at the other end, smoking a fucking big cigar and smirking and laughing, like he’s saying to me, ‘Now I got you by the balls.’ Paul Castellano addressed Sammy. He said that grave accusations had been made by “a friend of ours.” Sammy had raised his hands against him.
Sammy had threatened to kill him. Was this true?“I looked at DiBono, that smirk on his face, waiting to hear me whimper out of this, to dog it, lie. Probably everybody at the table was expecting something like that. I thought to myself, If I do that, nobody’s going to know the truth. I said to myself, Fuck this. Whether I die or not I don’t give a flying fuck no more. I forgot Frankie’s advice. I’m not giving this guy the satisfaction.
“I went into a fucking frenzy. I just exploded. I stood up and I was yelling, ‘Yes, it’s true. This fat scumbag was robbing me. He was robbing the family.’ I explained how he was cheating on all the paperwork. He deserved to die. I said, ‘Paul, give me the permission and I’ll kill him right here and now.’”
There was total silence at the table, as if no one could actually believe their ears. Sammy saw Castellano pale, possibly at the thought of a hit taking place right in front of him. Conte’s lips appeared to be moving, but no words were coming out. DiBono stared at Sammy, wide-eyed. The smirk had disappeared.
Sammy knew that Neil Dellacroce was a hoodlum of the old school. But that was about the extent of it. On occasion, he had gone to Dellacroce’s club, the Ravenite, on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, to deliver a message from Toddo. Once or twice he had stayed on to play pinochle with the underboss.
Suddenly, his face flushed with anger, Dellacroce pointed toward Sammy and bellowed, “Here’s a guy who’s designing his death right now. But I want to tell you one thing. I listened and he’s speaking the fucking truth. He ain’t lying, and he could lie and try and get out of this. Maybe he did wrong, but he’s right. This other one is a disgrace to our life.”
Finally, Castellano, having recovered from his initial astonishment at Sammy’s outburst, spoke up. “All right, let’s take it easy.” In the face-saving discussion that followed, it was decided that both sides were equally guilty of wrongdoing. It was put down as a misunderstanding all around. Sammy and DiBono were to end their business relationship. They were to shake hands and that would be it.
When Castellano demanded Sammy’s promise that he would obey this edict, Sammy said, “Paul, I give you my word that I’m not going to hurt him.” Turning to the shaken DiBono, Castellano said, “I want your word, too.” But before DiBono could reply, Sammy broke in. “Paul, I don’t think there’s any worry about him hurting me.”
News of what had occurred spread throughout the family. No one could recall anything remotely like it ever happening before. The word was that Sammy was on the spot and he had the balls to shoot it out. He didn’t even try to hide threatening DiBono. Wiseguys laughed at the thought of how Paul Castellano’s knees must have been knocking under the table when Sammy wanted to whack out DiBono right in front of him. If there were any lingering doubts that Sammy was both a racketeer and a gangster, they vanished.
At the Bergin Hunt and Fish Social Club, an amazed John Gotti heard about it—and how his mentor, Neil Dellacroce, had stood up for Sammy the Bull.
During this time, the FBI had intensified its efforts against the Gambino family, and in August 1983, three members of Gotti's crew – Angelo Ruggiero, John Carneglia, and Gene Gotti – were indicted for heroin trafficking. Castellano was against anyone in the Family dealing narcotics. Castellano planned to kill Gene Gotti and Ruggiero if he believed they were drug traffickers. Castellano asked Ruggiero for a copy of the government surveillance tapes that had Ruggiero's conversations. To save Gene Gotti and Ruggiero, Dellacroce stalled the demand. Eventually, one of the reasons for Gotti's killing Castellano was to save his brother and Ruggiero. The FBI had bugged Ruggiero's house and telephone, and Castellano decided he needed copies of the tapes to justify his impending move to Dellacroce and the family's other capos.
When Paul Castellano was indicted for both his connection to Roy DeMeo's stolen car ring and as part of the Mafia Commission Trial, he learned his own house had been bugged on the basis of evidence from the Ruggiero tapes and he became livid. In June 1985, he again demanded that Dellacroce get him the tapes. Both Dellacroce and Gotti tried to convince Ruggiero to comply if Castellano explained beforehand how he intended to use the tapes, but Ruggiero refused, fearing he would endanger good friends.
Sammy started to take a second look at the family boss. “There’s this Eddie Garafola,” Sammy said. “He’s in demolition work and also construction. He gets a major job and he wants it nonunion. So he comes to me and I hook him up with Louie Giardino and Local 23, which is the mason tenders. Now Garafola is going to make a couple of hundred thousand out of this. I told him that he has to kick back one-twenty. He agrees. When the first forty comes in, I told Giardino, ‘Paul gets the whole forty. He’s the boss.
Let him get paid first.’ And that’s what we do. The next forty comes in and I think, What the hell, we use the union, it’s our union, and Louie is a friend of ours. Let him do what he’s got to do with the union. I don’t take a penny. I can wait. That whole forty goes to Louie and the union.
“Before I know it, the job’s almost done. I still don’t have the last payment. My forty. One day, I went to Eddie and said, ‘When are you coming up with the fucking forty?’ He said, ‘I came up with it last week, Sammy. I gave it to Louie Giardino.’ I was takenaback, but I don’t show any reaction.
“I sent for Giardino and I said, ‘Eddie gave you forty thousand last week?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ “’Well, what did you do with it? That’s my fucking forty.’ “He said, ‘I gave it to Paul.’“’You gave it to Paul? Oh, all right. No problem. I’ll get it off Paul.’“So I go up to Paul’s house. Frankie DeCicco’s there. I’ll never forget this. I went in and it’s, ‘Hey, Paul, hi Frankie, how’s it going, buddy?’ Then I said, ‘Paul, I believe Louie Giardino gave you forty last week. That was mine. You were paid and the union was paid.’
“All of a sudden, he whispers, ‘Shhh!’ And he looked up at the ceiling like there were a hundred bugs in it. He said, ‘Don’t bring it up to me anymore. I’ll bring it up to you.’” There wasn’t anything more I could say. There was some talk about this and that. When I leave the house, Frankie’s with me. He’s laughing. ‘Gee, Sammy,’ he said, ‘you’re so fucking dumb.’
“’What the fuck you talking about, dumb?’ I said.”He said, ‘This guy gets his hands on money, he never gives it back. He’s never bringing up that forty again.’”I said, ‘Are you nuts, Frankie? He’s got a trillion dollars. I gave him his end first. I paid the union second. I waited for my end. You mean to tell me he’s keeping my end?’
“Frankie said, ‘I tell you what. A steak dinner he never brings it up.’ We shook hands. It’s a bet.”Well, I bought Frankie the steak dinner. I couldn’t believe it. That bum kept the forty thousand. Never brought it up. Never said nothing.”
It was as if Castellano, beset by the unrest brewing in his ownfamily, was seeking allies in other families. “We had this captain up in Connecticut,” Sammy said. “I think his name was Frank Piccolo. The Genovese people hated him because he was their competition. They come up with some concocted story about how he was a thorn in their side, a real pain in the ass. That’s all I heard. They want permission from Paul to HI him and he gives it and they do kill him. For being a thorn in their side and a pain in the ass? He was doing his job for our family. He was doing what he was supposed to do. And Paul gave him up, a captain in our family, in two seconds, against every Cosa Nostra rule.
“It was a big disgrace for the family. A real black eye. You give him up in five minutes to the Genovese family? Would you want your father giving you up like that? That was a bad, bad move Paul made. A real bad move. You want to know your boss is going to fight for you tooth and nail. But now you’re not so sure anymore. Probably, he thought it was a good move business-wise or racketeering-wise, but gangsters don’t think like that.
Worse yet, it became apparent to Sammy, DeCicco and others that Big Paul was lining his pockets with proceeds that should have been shared with members of the Gambino family. “He gave away the bread association, which was ours, to the Colombo family,” Sammy said. “I don’t know what he got on that. And he started being real greedy with the concrete.
What he did was to hook up with Vinnie DiNapoli of the Genovese family—Vinnie’s a tremendously smart guy and a good mover in construction—and he lets Vinnie have Biff Halloran to handle. Halloran’s got Transit-Mix and Certified Industries, two of the biggest concrete suppliers in the city. We used to control Halloran. And we hear Vinnie is bringing suitcases of money to Paul.
“I remember one day Frankie DeCicco saying to me, ‘Hey, Sammy, what’s this? Why don’t he stick somebody in our family in the middle of this thing?’ We got soldiers who are broke. And he got his son-in-law to go partners with Nick Auletta of S and A, who’s also with Vinnie. So when we’re dictating to the Concrete Club, a lot of the jobs, most of them, went toSandA. Now I ain’t a captain yet but I’m a made guy. I own a business. I’m getting small jobs, but these guys Paul made deals with are getting the bulk of everything.
So that’s another big mistake Paul is making. We can see he’s not doing this for our family, he’s doing it for his personal family, for his personal pocket. “This is when the grumbling, so to speak, really starts with us and we’re talking to one another. I don’t know why Paul thought that we would never talk to each other. John Gotti, who’s got his own thing with Paul about Angie’s tapes, picks this up, of course.”
At a pre-Christmas gathering at Todt Hill in 1984, Sammy arrived with the requisite envelope of money. He stayed for a short while and then said he had to leave.
Paul asked him where he was going. “I want to stop by the Ravenite and pay my respects to Neil.” “What are you going down there for? You’re on my side.”Sammy looked at Castellano and said, “What sides? I thought we’re all one family. Neil’s our underboss.”
One day in late September 1985, Robert DiBernardo brought a message to Sammy. Could he go to Queens? Angelo and John would like to see him.
“So I went,” Sammy said. “But only Angie was there. He said, ‘Sammy, we’re gonna make a move. I’m making a move on Paul. Are you with me?’ I remember him hitting himself on the chest and saying, ‘I’m gonna blow this fucking motherfucker away.’
“I’m listening, not saying anything. Then I said, ‘Ange, let me ask you a couple of questions. Where’s John?’
“’He’s with me, Sammy. But he thought it was best for me and you to talk first.’ So already John was playing the big shot.
“I said, ‘Where’s Frank DeCicco on this?’
“’We’re gonna get to Frankie. And Frankie’s gonna be with us, you’ll see.’
“’So right this minute, Frankie don’t know what you’re telling me?’
“I said, ‘Angie, I’m not going to tell you what my position is. But
I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m getting in my car and I’m going to see Frankie myself and tell him about this meeting we’re having now. You got any problem with that?’
“’No, no. Go ahead and tell him. Come on, Sammy, I love you and Frankie. I need you. You know I’m dead without you.’
“I went over to Frankie’s house and rang the bell. For me, Frankie’s
an awesome guy. His crew is double mine, Toddo’s. And everybody loves him. He’s about six foot. Big, tough, muscular. Nose a little smashed over to one side. His father’s a made guy. His uncle George right now is a captain. Another uncle’s not made, but a street guy nonetheless.
“I said, ‘Frankie, come on out. Let’s take a walk. I got to have a long talk with you.’ And I tell him what’s going on, what Angie said.
“’All right, Sammy, what do you think?’ he said.
“I said, ‘Frankie, what do I think? That’s why I’m here. What do you think? What do we think, together? I mean, as boss, Paul’s selling the family out.’”
Both Sammy and DeCicco were acutely aware that what was being suggested was practically unheard-of. There hadn’t been an unsanctioned hit on a family boss in New York since Vito Genovese’s botched murder attempt against Frank Costello nearly thirty years ago.
“I said, ‘I guess the point is should we let John and Angie fight it out with Paul? Should we stay on the sidelines? Just sit back. Or should we join in?’ We bounced everything off each other for two, three hours, whatever it was, and we concluded that we’re not laid-back guys. We were really going to oppose this, or we’re going to approve it. And if we approve it, we would join in.
“Then Frankie said, ‘Neil’s not long for this world, and Paul may go up on these cases he has. If he does, the word is he’s making Tommy Gambino the acting boss and Tommy Bilotti the underboss.’
“I had heard some of this already, and it made me sick. Tommy Gambino was a fucking dressmaker. I went one time to the garment district to see him about something, and there he was, on his knees, pinning the hem on some model. ‘How does that look to you, Sammy?’ he said. ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ And Tommy Bilotti is a fucking abusive gorilla. We’re going to have to answer to them? They’re going to run our family?
“We keep talking, and finally we decide we’ll back the move, be part of it. Then I told Frankie, ‘The only thing I want is that you become the boss after this is over.’
“That’s when Frankie said, ‘John’s fucking ego is too big. I could be his underboss, but he couldn’t be mine. Look, he’s got balls, he’s got brains, he’s got charisma. If we can control him to stop the gambling and all his flamboyant bullshit, he could be a good boss. Sammy, I’ll tell you what. We’ll give him a shot. Let him be the boss. If it don’t work out within a year, me and you, we’ll kill him. I’ll become the boss, and you’ll be my underboss, and we’ll run the family right. Let’s give him the shot.’ “I said, ‘Frankie, if that’s the way you feel, that’s good enough for me,’ and we shook hands on it.
“The next day, we sent for Angie, both of us, to come to Frankie’s
club. We told him, ‘We’re with you. We need a series of meetings. And when you come down again, come with John. He’s no big shot here. If John don’t come down for the next meeting, we retract this. We won’t be with you. We’ll be against you if you go ahead and make the hit.’
“John is at the next meeting. Angelo’s there. I’m there. Frankie.DiB is there, too. No phones are being used. DiB is our messenger back and forth, the in-between guy. He’s giving us information about Paul. Besides the porno stuff, DiB is Paul’s main guy with the Teamsters, Local 282. He’s involved in some of these conversations in the beginning stages. Then we exclude him ‘cause he’s not a hit guy. He’s an earner, but he’s got no crew, no strength and power.
“We ask John what about the old-timers? And John says he spoke with Joe Piney—Joe Armone—a captain who’s very respected in the family. He handles the restaurant unions for Paul, the entertainment business, stuff like that. John says he’s on the bandwagon. And he says Joe Piney has talked to Joe Gallo, Paul’s consigliere.
Joe Gallo is not on the bandwagon. He don’t oppose it. If we do it, he’ll go along. But he’s not going to be part of it. In case it backfires, he’s in the clear. OK, he wants to be a fox. Let him.
“Me and Frankie want to make sure that Joe Piney said what John said he said about Joe Gallo. We make an appointment with him to meet us in the basement setup Joe Watts had in his house. We want to hear this out of his mouth. Not john’s mouth. Not Angie’s mouth. John and Angie are there. We send Joe Watts outside and Frankie says to Joe Piney, ‘You know what you’re here for?’Of course.’
“Frankie starts to ask Piney about Gallo, when John jumps in and Frankie said, ‘Please, John. Let me do the talking now.’ Then he says, ‘We understand you have Joe Gallo.’ ‘Yeah, I spoke to him. He won’t be part of the move. His name can’t be mentioned. But he will go along if we take over.’”
Sammy remembered how DeCicco stared at Joe Piney Armone and asked how sure he was that Gallo wouldn’t tip off Paul. The sixty-seven-year-old soft-spoken capo with his horn-rim glasses replied, “If he betrays us, or he backs up one inch, I’ll kill him.”
“Well, that was good enough for us. Frankie told him, ‘We don’t need you up front. We need you, after the fact, to appease some of the old-timers in the family.’
The next consideration was the reaction of the other families.Ruggiero reported his meeting at the Casa Storta restaurant with Gerry Lang and Donnie Shacks of the Colombos. Even more recently, they had said, “What’s John waiting for? To go to his own funeral?”
Gotti boasted that he had Joe Messino, the underboss of the Bonanno family, in his hip pocket. The family was still denied a seat on the commission because of its drug-trafficking. Chances of reclaiming it would be greatly improved with Castellano out of the way.
As for the Lucchese family, Tony Ducks Corallo not only hated Castellano but was immersed in preparing his defense in the forthcoming commission trial. He had suffered a particular humiliation. The New York State Organized Crime Task Force had successfully placed a bug in the Jaguar of Corallo’s driver. Corallo had not only chatted in the car about commission meetings but also made sneering comments about his fellow bosses, including Castellano.
One member of the Lucchese family, however, was a force to be reckoned with: Anthony (Gas Pipe) Casso. “Gas Pipe was tough,” Sammy said. “But, like with everybody, Frankie got along good with Gas Pipe, and he sounded him out in a roundabout way how he felt about Paul and suppose he wasn’t the boss no more. Frankie said Gas Pipe told him he didn’t give a fuck about Paul. So we figured we had tacit approval there. If he ever tried to do anything later, we could throw that in his face.”
The plotters concluded that the Genovese family was the only one that would not be approached. Big Paul and the Chin went back too far. “They weretootight,”Sammysaid. “They had all their big money arrangements. So we decided,‘FuckChin.’ If it comes down to it ,we’ll go to war with them. And we decided when we take down Paul, we got to take out Tommy Bilotti. They must go together. Everybody agrees to that, one hundred percent.”
On December 2, Neil Dellacroce died.
And the plotters received an unexpected bonus. Paul Castellano did not attend either his wake or his funeral. Shock reverberated through the Gambino family at this stunning breach of respect. Because of the DeMeo racketeering case, Castellano explained, he couldn’t afford the bad publicity that his presence might engender. No one bought this. Holed up in his mansion every night, consumed by his own judicial problems, he appeared to have no conception of the contempt he was being held in.
“Even before this, we decided we had to split up and go underground,” Sammysaid. “If there was a leak, somebody had to survive and keep playing. Frankie said him and me would move into Joe Watts’s basement.
Joe and his wife and kids would stay upstairs. John and Angie could do what they wanted. I told Debbie I had to leave for a while, maybe for weeks, maybe months, years. Don’t ask. I don’t know how long. Nobody in my crew knows anything, except Old Man Paruta. “We stayed in contact with John and Angie using certain phone numbers. But all we said was ‘We’ll meet at three at our friend’s house,’ or ‘I’ll see you by the park,’ whatever.
DeCicco reported that Castellano had sent him a message to be at a meeting. Among others who would be present, according to DeCicco, were Tommy Bilotti, the capos Tommy Gambino and Jimmy Brown and a Gambino soldier named Danny Marino, who was Castellano’s contact man with the Westies, the Irish gang of killers operating out of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. DeCicco did not know what the meeting was about.
“Frankie said it was set for around five o’clock. December sixteenth. At a steak joint down in the city called Sparks.”
The more we thought about it, the better it looked,”Sammysaid. “We concluded that nine days before Christmas, around five to six o’clock at night, in the middle of Manhattan, in the middle of the rush hour, in the middle of the crush of all them shoppers buying presents, there would be literally thousands of people on the street, hurrying this way and that.
The hit would only take a few seconds, and the confusion would be in our favor. Nobody would be expecting anything like this, least of all Paul.
And being able to disappear afterwards in the crowds would be in our favor. So we decide this is when and where it’s going to happen.
Whacking the Boss
Gravano's second choice to become boss after Castellano's murder was Frank DeCicco, but DeCicco felt John Gotti's ego was too big to take a subservient role. DeCicco argued that Gotti's boldness, intelligence, and charisma made him well-suited to be "a good boss" and he convinced Gravano to give Gotti a chance. DeCicco and Gravano, however, also made a secret pact to kill Gotti and take over the family as boss and underboss, respectively, if they were unhappy with Gotti's leadership after one year.
Not suspecting the plot against him, Paul Castellano invited DeCicco to a meeting on December 16, 1985 with fellow capos Thomas Gambino, James Failla, and Daniel Marino at Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. The conspirators considered the restaurant a prime location for the hit because the area would be packed with bustling crowds of holiday shoppers, making it easier for the assassins to blend in and escape. The plans for the assassination were finalized on December 15, and the next afternoon, the conspirators met for a final time on the Lower East Side. At Gotti's suggestion, the shooters wore long white trench coats and black fur Russian hats, which Gravano considered a "brilliant" idea.
John circled the block. When we came back, the spot was a little better, and we pulled in again. A couple of minutes later, another Lincoln came up next to us and stopped for the light. The dome light was on in the Lincoln and when I looked into it, I saw Tommy Bilotti and Paul.
They were talking to each other. Tommy wasn’t three feet away from me. I turned and toldJohn. I got on the walkie-talkie and warned the guys outside Sparks that Paul would be there any second. I reached for my gun. I said to John if Tommy turns towards me, I would start shooting.
“’No, no,’ he said. ‘We got our people in place.’
“’Yeah,’ I said, ‘but if Tommy sees us, maybe they won’t go there.’
“Just then the light changed, and Tommy pulled up in front of Sparks.
I didn’t see Paul getting out, only the white coats moving towards the Lincoln. But I saw Tommy get out from the driver’s side. All of a sudden, he was squatting down, like he was seeing something, which was Paul getting shot. And then I saw a white coat come up behind Tommy, and Tommy went down. The white coat was bending over him. I looked to see if any of the people on the street was doing anything.
They weren’t. “John slowly drove across Third Avenue into the block where Sparks was. I looked down at Tommy Bilotti laying in a huge puddle of blood in the street and I said to John, ‘He’s gone.’ I couldn’t see Paul. John picked up speed, and we took a right down Second Avenue and headed back to Brooklyn, to Stillwell Avenue. I didn’t see any of the shooters or the backup guys.
“We had the radio on, 1010 News, I think. On the way, we heard the report that there was a shooting in midtown Manhattan. And next that one of the victims was the reputed mob boss Paul Castellano. But I was in such a haze that I don’t remember anything else about that ride. If you offered me two million dollars, I couldn’t tell you.
“Frankie DeCicco came to my office to meet me and John. He said one of the waiters at Sparks came over to him and Jimmy Brown—jimmy Failla—and said Paul had been shot. He said Jimmy turned white and told him he could have been in the car with Paul, and Frankie said, ‘Don’t worry, you wouldn’t have been hurt.’ And Frankie said when they left the restaurant, they ran into Tommy Gambino. Frankie told him that his uncle just got shot and to go back to his car and get the fuck out of there.
“I don’t know who shot who. You don’t ask. I only heard later from John that one of the shooters, Vinnie Artuso, didn’t get a shot off. His gun jammed. Everything else went according to plan. It was, like they say, ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’
“We made an agreement that nobody involved in this from here on out would ever speak to each other about it at any time under any circumstances and wouldn’t admit anything to anybody else in our family or in any of the other families.”
The manner and place of Castellano’s death catapulted him from relatively minor media interest to the sort of coverage reserved for the assassination of a head of state. Not only did the tabloids go all out—“Big Paul, Chauffeur, Take Their Last Ride”—but the New York Times featured it on the front page above the fold two days running.
Castellano and Bilotti were each reported to have been shot six times.
Co-underboss and consigliere.DeCicco death
The new regime
“We had to have a meeting of the captains in the family,” Sammy said. “Frankie DeCicco spoke to me about doing it in Caesar’s East. We rushed the meeting. It was a couple of days after Paul went down. After the regular customers cleared out, all the captains met downstairs at a long table. Except Tommy Gambino, who I don’t believe we called. The drivers and anybody else that was brought stayed upstairs. The only ones down there who wasn’t a captain was Angelo and me. We stayed behind everybody at each side of the table. We had guns. You could say we were there for intimidating purposes. Joe Gallo was at the head of the table.
Frankie and John were on each side of him. He was our consigliere. With Paul gone and Neil being dead, he was now in official control of the family. “He was an old-timer, and he’s playing this game with the captains.
He knew what to say. He knew the ins and outs of Cosa Nostra. He told them that we had no idea who killed Paul. He said he was going to use Frankie and John to help him run the family and to investigate what happened. He told them not to discuss anything with anybody outside our family about the hit and not have any members carry guns or overreact to anything. Anything they heard or found out, they were to report it back through John Gotti or Frankie DeCicco. I think they were all shook-up. They knew we probably did it, but they didn’t know for sure. And they could see Joe Gallo was not saying, ‘Arm yourselves and get ready for war.’ He was communicating that they would be all right. Nobody was in trouble. Nobody was going to get hurt. We’re going to have an investigation.
“Officially, this is how we went to the other families. We told them we didn’t know what happened with Paul, but our family was intact. We weren’t in a position that a war would break out. We had no internal trouble. And we didn’t want anybody to get involved in our problems.
“A couple of weeks later, all the captains were called in again. The meeting was held in the recreation room of some big housing project in downtown Manhattan. Somebody knew somebody who gave us access to that room. Joe Gallo reiterates that we still don’t know what was going on, we’re still investigating. But the time had come to put our family together and vote for a new boss. Everybody has got the drift by now.
It’s all over the newspapers that John Gotti did the hit. And they can see the closeness of Frankie DeCicco, Sammy the Bull, Joe Piney, Joe Gallo.
“Between themselves, before Paul was hit, Frankie and John have agreed that John will be the boss and Frankie the underboss. At the meeting, Frankie gets up and votes for John Gotti. It zips right around the room. Nobody opposes. It’s unanimous. At that point, John announces that Frankie will be his underboss and that Joe Gallo will stay on as consigliere of the family. He says he’s making Angie Ruggiero the captain of his old crew. Frankie’s uncle, Georgie, will replace Frankie.
“Now I’m going to be made an official captain, too. But I don’t want it announced there and then. Toddo Aurello was at the meeting, and he knew I was part of this whole move. I want to give respect to Toddo and not have anything like that done while he’s sitting there. I went to him afterwards and I told him that if he wanted to stay on as captain of the crew, I would start up a new crew. I said, ‘It’s completely up to you. Whatever you want,’ and he said, ‘Sammy, I’m tired. I been using you as acting captain. I’d like to step down.’
“I said, ‘OK. You have been like a father to me. I’ll take the crew, and you’ll be directly with the administration of the family. ‘That’ll be great,’ he said. He shakes my hand and gives me a kiss and says, ‘Be careful.’ I set up an appointment with John, Frankie and Toddo, where Toddo asks official permission to step down. They give it, and that same night they make me a capo.
“Now was the point to see if we were gonna get retaliation from any of the other families. If there would be a war. So we sent out committees to notify them that we had elected a new boss, who our new boss and underboss was, who our new captains were. We said, ‘This is our new administration. We’re still investigating the Paul situation. There are no problems in our family. We don’t want no sanctions against us. And we want our commission seat.’
“We got recognition from every family, including the Genovese family. Except the Genovese people said that there was a rule broken, that this situation with Paul had to be put to rest, and someday somebody would have to answer for that, if and when the commission ever got together again. We said, ‘Don’t worry. As soon as we find out, we will retaliate. Until then, we’re just going to run our family.’
After Castellano's death, a meeting of the Gambino family's capos was held, at which Frank DeCicco nominated John Gotti to be the new boss. Gotti's nomination met with no opposition and he was installed as don. Gotti, in turn, selected DeCicco as his underboss and elevated Gravano to capo after Toddo Aurello announced his desire to step down.
Gotti was recognized as the Gambino family's boss and a member of The Commission by each of the other Five Families, including the Genovese family, whose approval for the hit on Castellano had been deliberately bypassed by Gotti and his co-conspirators. The Genovese family, however, was still upset that Gotti had proceeded without the full sanctioning of The Commission and cryptically announced that a Mafia rule had been broken, for which somebody would have to pay if and when The Commission, which was in disarray at the time due to the Mafia Commission Trial, met again. Gravano and DeCicco had been hiding out in safe houses, but they took the other families' full recognition of Gotti as an indication that it was safe to resurface.
“We had our commission seat, and from what we thought, it didn’t seem like there was going to be any war. There wasn’t going to be anything. It had gone up as high as the commission level and there wasn’t any opposition in any way, shape or form. Frankie and me had still been hiding out with guns in a safe house set up by Joe Watts. We were still tight, but after about a month, we started to loosen up somewhat. And then, about three months after this, it happened.”
On Sunday, April 13, 1986, like politicians rallying loyal supporters, Gotti and DeCicco planned to visit the Veterans and Friends Club in Bensonhurst, the headquarters of the family’s private trash collecting capo, Jimmy Brown Failla. Sammy also would be on hand.
“We’re doing our little stops,” Sammy said, “gathering power and strength, building momentum. Me and Frankie get there. We have coffee, see the boys, do a little ‘Hey, how you doing? Good to see you.’ And then John gives a call. He can’t make it. He’ll meet us in the city.
Frankie tells me this. So we plan to go to the city in Frankie’s Buick Electra, but we stay for a while doing our thing, talking to the boys.
“Then this made guy in the Lucchese family, Frankie Hearts—Frank Bellino—comes over and asks Frankie DeCicco, ‘Hey, do you have a card for that lawyer, Alaroni?’ And Frankie says, ‘Yeah, I think I got it.’
He looks through his wallet, all the other cards he’s got in his pocket. But he doesn’t have it. He says, ‘You know what? It’s probably in the fucking car, in the glove compartment.’ “I said, ‘Frank, you want me to get it?’ And he says, ‘No, you’ll never find it. There’s a lot of shit in there. Come on,’ he says to Frankie Hearts, ‘I’m sure it’s there,’ and they both walk out of the club.
“I’m still inside the club. From what I heard later, as they walked across the street, they could see a bag under the car. A paper bag. Frankie DeCicco joked with Frankie Hearts. ‘Look at that bag. There’s probably a bomb under my car.’ He don’t think anymore about it. It’s an absolute rule in Cosa Nostra that you don’t use bombs.
“Frankie DeCicco opens up the door and slides in on the passenger side and he’s looking through the glove compartment while Frankie Hearts is standing there. That’s when the bomb went off. Frankie Hearts goes flying backwards. The blast blew his shoes off. And his toes.
“When I heard the explosion, I didn’t think of a car. It was so fucking powerful, it sounded like a whole building blew up, a boiler or something. I came out of the club, and Frankie’s car is in fucking flames. And there’s Frankie Hearts with the blood shooting out of his feet.
“I go flying across the street. I saw Frankie DeCicco laying on the ground beside the car. With the fire, it could blow again. I tried to pull him away. I grabbed a leg, but he ain’t coming with it. The leg is off. One of his arms is off. His uncle Georgie came running over with another guy, Butterass, and a guy named Oscar. They’re trying to help me. I got my hand under him and my hand went right through his body to his stomach. There’s no ass. His ass, his balls, everything, is completely blown off.
“Just then a police van comes by on patrol. It backs in and they lower the tailgate and we pick Frankie up, holding whatever we can of him together, and put him in the van. Then they got Frankie Hearts and put him in the van and they shoot off for Victory Memorial Hospital.
“I was wearing a white shirt. I looked at my shirt, amazed. There wasn’t a drop of blood on it. The force of the blast, the concussion, blew most of the fluids right out of Frankie’s body. He had no blood left in him, nothing, not an ounce. I told my brother-in-law, Eddie Garafola, who had tried to help me with Frankie, to get going right away and go to john’s club. I said, “He’s supposed to meet us in the city, but he’s in Queens still. Tell him what happened.’ Then I told him to get all my guys to meet at my place, Tali’s, and to come heavy.
My brother-in-law had come back and said, ‘John wants to see you right now, immediately.’ I got in the car and go to this restaurant in Queens, where John is.I got in the car and go to this restaurant in Queens, where John is. He says, ‘Well, we got problems.’
“’I know,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what the fuck is going on, but we definitely have problems.’ For four months, since Sparks, we figured it was over. No problems. And here’s Frankie, all at once, blown to bits. I’m still at the restaurant when one of john’s people walked in and said, ‘John, Frankie’s dead. They said he died on the way to the hospital.’ He was already dead on the street, I thought. He had nothing left in him.
“John said the only thing was to stay on full alert and see what comes next, what we could find out. It looked like there could be a war after all. Our first thought was the Genovese family. But the Chin was a real stickler for the rules of our life, and one of the rules was you don’t use bombs. Nobody had pulled off a bombing in New York since the beginning of Cosa Nostra. Would Chin break this kind of rule? Was Frankie fucking some guy’s wife that we didn’t know about? Maybe greaseballs from Sicily did It.Paul had a lot of connections over there, and in Sicily they bomb all the time.
“It was only a long, long time afterwards that I found out what happened and that it was Frankie and John they were really after. The ‘they’ being Gas Pipe Casso from the Lucchese family and Chin Gigante. I was shocked. It goes to show how Cosa Nostra was just one double-cross after another. We had reached out and got Gas Pipe’s tacit approval about Paul. Maybe Chin don’t know this. But after Paul goes down, Chin grabs Gas Pipe—they had a relationship—and says, ‘Well, Paul’s out of the picture, let’s take out John Gotti and Frankie DeCicco. It’ll be a real hit parade.’
“They tell Jimmy Brown and Danny Marino what they’re gonna do and that Jimmy and Danny will be appointed by the commission as a committee to run the Gambino family for Chin. Let me tell you what a stand-up guy Jimmy Brown is. If some black guy walked in and said he just killed Paul Castellano and was the new boss, Jimmy would say, ‘Gee, great. What do you want me to do, boss?’ So basically the Genovese and Lucchese families would control our family.
“Gas Pipe was a couple of blocks away when the bomb went off. The mistake was using a couple of West Side guys, meaning they were associated with the Genovese people. I still don’t know who they were or even if they’re alive. One of them put the bomb under Frankie’s car. The other one was on the remote control. When he sees Frankie come out of the club with Frankie Hearts, he thinks Frankie Hearts was John. Frankie Hearts has kind of the same build as John and the same grayish hair. And he presses the button. Boom!
“I got along good with Gas Pipe. I still like him. For him, it was business, a master Cosa Nostra double-cross scheme, nothing personal. The only thing I didn’t like was the bomb. I would have more respect for him if he used a gun, according to the rules. I think the bomb was probably a devious Chin idea to make us think the Sicilians done it. I heard when my name came up, Gas Pipe said, ‘Forget it. We’re not gonna kill Sammy.’ That would’ve been another mistake. If John had been in the car and they put in Jimmy Brown and Marino, I would have killed them both. They were the true betrayers. They knew what was going to happen. And then I would’ve gone after Gas Pipe and Chin. I don’t think I could’ve won, but I would’ve fought until my death.
“Besides his toes, Frankie Hearts got mangled up a little. But he survived. That was how I found out what was going on just before the blast. I decided one thing. I used to drive myself. I was getting a driver. Not to say that joke line like in the movies, where the old boss tells his wife, ‘Go start the car.’ But to never leave my car alone anymore, so nobody can fuck with it.”
With DeCicco dead, the Gambinos were left without an underboss. Gotti chose to fill the vacancy by naming Angelo Ruggiero and Gravano co-underbosses.
"Nicky Cowboy" murder
“The real problem was guys in the family doing drugs. When a guy’s dealing drugs, you can talk to him. Reprimand him. You don’t have to kill him. In my crew, when I was captain, there was no drug-dealing. But drugs were everywhere you looked. One of the guys with me, Nicky Cowboy—Nick Mormando—got hooked on crack cocaine. He became like a renegade. He went berserk. He didn’t want to be in the crew no more.
He was going to start his own little gang. I couldn’t take a chance on him running around. He knew too much. So I got permission from John to kill him.
“We finally got Nicky to come by Tali’s, and he went with Huck to pick up the Old Man, Paruta, who was still alive then. Joe got in the backseat and shot Nicky twice in the back of the head. Me and Eddie were trailing in a car behind. We dumped the body in a vacant lot. It was found the next day.
Consigliere,DiB murder,Paruta death,Gotti gambling, Commission meeting and FBI Surveillance
John Gotti was imprisoned in May 1986 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York while awaiting trial on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges. He was forced to rely heavily on Gravano, Angelo Ruggiero, and Joseph Armone to manage the family's day-to-day affairs while he called the major shots from his jail cell.
John has limited visitation. Only his lawyers, his immediate family and his closest friend, Angie, can see him. So Angie is the messenger to communicate what John wants done. In early June, Angie came to me and said John has sent out an order to kill DiB—Robert DiBernardo. He said DiB was talking behind his back, and there were other reasons, which Angie didn’t say.
“Now I have been seeing DiB a couple of times a week. We share responsibility for dealing with Bobby Sasso, who’s running the Teamsters. DiBs a brilliant, wealthy guy. Paul used him directly with the unions and other business and he’s in with these Jewish guys as the largest distributor of X-rated films and stuff in the country. He was one of the owners of Great Bear auto repair and tire service. But DiB is no threat. He’s got no crew, no strength.
“I already have a sense of what this is about. Angelo wants to be underboss. Joe Piney had told me DiB said to Angie he had the balls to be underboss, but not the brains. If anyone should be underboss, DiB said, it should be Sammy. That didn’t mean anything to me. I don’t even want to discuss it with Joe Piney. I loved Frankie like a brother, and I’m sick that he’s dead. I had lost the one guy whose advice I could trust. Right then, I’m not interested in the position, or even talking about it.
“I said to Angie that if DiB was saying anything, it didn’t mean nothing. Just talk. DiB wasn’t dangerous. I asked Angie to reach John and see if we couldn’t hold up on this, and when John came out, we would discuss it. It was something we could hold up on.
“But Angie immediately responded that it had to be done. John was steaming. John’s brother Genie and Genie’s crew would do the hit at this house of the mother of one of the soldiers. I was to get DiB there for a meeting, and whoever was sitting behind DiB would shoot him. But the house wasn’t available.
“Angie came back to me. He said John was really hot. He wanted it done right now, he wanted it done right, and he wanted me to do it. I didn’t know what Angie was telling John about my reservations. I knew Angie was into DiB for two hundred and fifty thousand. I would imagine that this could’ve played a part in everything. But I don’t know if John knew that. Maybe John had some other motives, some hidden resentment from the past. Frankie and me had a tough time even getting John to elevate DiB to captain after Paul got hit.
But I never questioned that he gave the order. Obviously, sooner or later, I’m going to be talking to John myself and Angie can’t get caught in fucking lies. What was I going to do? What can I do? It’s an order from the boss. This was the life I chose, and the boss was the boss.
“I told Angie that DiB would be coming by my office for a construction meeting at five-thirty. He said he would be at the Burger King in Coney Island from six on. If I succeeded, I should meet him there.
“I sent the girl in my office home at five. Me, my brother-in-law, Eddie, and old Man Paruta were there. DiB came in and said hello. I told Paruta to get him a cup of coffee. In the cabinet, there was a .380 with a silencer. Paruta took it out, walked over to DiB and shot him twice in the back of the head.
“We picked up DiB and put him in a body bag we got from the Scarpaci funeral parlor. We locked it in the back room. We cleaned up the office and Eddie drove me to meet Angie at the Burger King. I told Angie it was done. I told him I had the keys to DiBs Mercedes. He said he would meet me later at Tali’s, around nine, and would arrange to get rid of the body and the car.
“Angie was at Tali’s with Genie Gotti and John Carneglia, who were tight with him in junk. Frank Locascio, a captain from the Bronx, was there, too. We went back to my office. DiB was put in the trunk of Locascio’s Cadillac. Some kids with Carneglia took DiB’s Mercedes. I don’t know what they did with the Mercedes, but Carneglia owned a car salvage yard. I have no idea what was done with DiB.
After DiBernardo’s murder, Sammy became the Gambino family’s link to Local 282 of the Teamsters. “I had control of the whole thing,” Sammy said. “The president, who was Bobby Sasso, the vice president, the secretary/treasurer, delegates, foremen. If I wanted a foreman in there,
I’d tell Bobby, ‘Put this guy to work.’ “I told Bobby that DiB was missing. We were trying to find out what happened to him. I said to report directly to me if he heard anything.
From here on in he was to answer to me on the construction jobs. He wasn’t to meet with anybody from any other family unless it was strictly union
business. Anything else, any schemes they had, was to go through me or John Gotti. It was for his advantage, too. That way he was protected from anybody leaning on him.
“I said we shouldn’t be seen in public together. There was getting to be too much heat. He wasn’t to go to any family weddings and funerals and social functions. We would set up meetings at two, three o’clock in the morning at hotels and motels, like the Golden Gate off the Belt Parkway.
“John called me and said he was changing the structure that pertained to the construction industry. Under Paul, Paul got seventy-five percent of what was coming in and DiB and myself split the other twenty-five. ‘Sammy,’ he says, ‘you were getting twelve and a half percent. Now you’re getting twenty. And I’m taking another five percent.’
“’John,’ I said, ‘you’re the boss. Whatever you want is good with me. What comes out of the unions and that stuff, I have no problems with, because I’m handling it for you.’
“And that’s what we did. Other deals were different. Like if I have a legitimate business deal—drywall work, steel erection—that was mine, I’d pass along maybe twenty or thirty percent, whatever I decided. I would give my crew some, give him some and take some.
“Even though I was doing all the work—John didn’t know anything about construction—I didn’t feel uncomfortable giving John his eighty percent. Hey, that’s the structure—it belongs to the family boss. The money, in that capacity, meant nothing to me. The money was coming in. But in these deals, setting them up, I enjoyed the negotiations, giving people a rough time. To tell the truth, I enjoyed the whole process more than the dollar value that was in it. I’m not stupid, and I don’t want to be screwed. I’m going after the buck, there’s no question about that. But in the give and take, just the money wasn’t my ultimate goal. It never was. The deal was the thing.”
Before it was over, Sammy’s wheeling and dealing with the Teamsters alone would bring John Gotti about $2 million annually. “I don’t believe he ever shared a penny of it with anybody,” Sammy said. “So what did he do with it? I remember one time that Joe Watts came to me and said, ‘Sammy, I’m giving you a tip. When you go down to New York today, he’s probably gonna look to borrow off you. He’s desperate. He’s looking for cash
“I said, ‘Borrow off me? For what?’ And Joe Watts says, ‘I’ll tell you this much. I know for a fact that he lost over three hundred thousand this week in gambling.’
“I know John would never ‘fess that up to me. So I don’t think anything more of it. But when I go down that night, sure enough, he asked me how I was sitting, how much I was holding. What he was talking about was the money from Bobby Sasso, which I would turn in every five, six weeks, whatever, to his brother Pete Gotti.
“I said, ‘Well, it ain’t time yet, but I am holding some money. About a hundred. Maybe a little less. If you need it, let Pete come over, and I’ll give it to him.’
“’Yeah,’ he said, ‘I could use it now. I’m gonna give out a big shylock loan, and I’m short. I want to give this one out.’
“Which was bullshit because I know he’s not a shylock. Now I knew Joe Wattswastellingthetruth. Another captain,Good-Looking jackie—John Giordano—told me the same number a couple of days later. ‘Wow,’ he said, ‘this fucking John is out of his mind. This guy’s betting with two fucking hands. He can’t earn enough money.’
“So I had heard it from two people, plus he made his little bullshit request that he wanted to push out money that week. God knows what he lost the week before, or the next week. Here’s a guy losing three hundred thousand in one week that we know of. And that has nothing to do with his other spending—clothes, broads, wining and dining, Cristal champagne in the discos, weddings, funerals. He went through a ton of money, just to keep that persona of Big John Gotti.”
Sammy had fixed a juror in the John Gotti case, and not just any juror, but one who turned out to be the jury foreman. The head of the Westies had come to Sammy and told him that he knew someone on the jury who was available for a price. “How much of a price?” Sammy asked. The answer was $120,000. Ever the negotiator, Sammy whittled it down to $60,000, payable in instalments. You never knew, he figured. The guy could get sick or something.
Certain that there would be at least a hung jury, with little likelihood of a retrial, Sammy’s mind was elsewhere. The news was traumatic. He was about to lose his second, and last, Luca Brasi.
“I loved the old man, Joe Paruta,” Sammy said. “My feeling for him went beyond any blood oath of Cosa Nostra. He was the only one during all the plotting for the Castellano hit—all the what if this, what if that—that I confided in, was able to walk with, talk with, relax with. Inone second, he agreed to take down Paul and Tommy Bilotti in that diner like I asked him to before we changed the plan. He never asked me any questions if I wanted him to do something. He would take any risk. After Stymie got shot, he practically never left my side. I think about him a lot, and I never know whether to laugh or cry.
“To me, Joe never seemed to change. He always looked the same, old and decrepit, always chain-smoking. But then, after the DiB hit, his smoker’s cough got worse and worse. Whatever doctor he was going to told him he should see a specialist, it could be serious. I made arrangements through doctors I knew and took him to Sloan-Kettering, the big cancer hospital in Manhattan, for tests.
“The prognosis was bad. We were all stunned. He had lung cancer, and the cancer had spread in his body. He had only a year left. The chief attending doctor pulled me aside. After acknowledging his awareness of my reputation, he admitted that he had told a lie to Paruta and his family.
The old man didn’t have a year to live. It was more like three months. “The old man had his little gambling and shylock operations and he had a piece of Tali’s. He was satisfied. He never asked for anything more. But I felt I had to honor him. John Gotti was still incarcerated. I sent word to him through Genie Gotti for permission to make Paruta a made guy in the family, and John approved right away.
“I personally carried his name to the other families, so there was no question who was sponsoring him. We arranged for joe’s wife and everybody to be out of his house one afternoon. I got a bunch of captains together. We assembled around joe’s bed in the smoke-filled room. He wasn’t going to stop smoking now. From what the doctor said, there was now only a month or two left for him.
“I closed the bedroom door, and the ceremony started. I was giving the oath. When it came time to ask the question that was the test of the candidate’s loyalty—‘Would you kill for this family?’—I almost said, ‘I know you did kill for this family!’ And when it came time for me to prick Joe‘s finger for blood to mingle with burning the holy card, I realised how bad off he was. I could barely get a drop. It was a solemn ceremony.
Maybe it wasn’t as lavish as others I was at, but I can’t remember one with more meaning of what Cosa Nostra was supposed to be. Now Joe was not only a friend of mine, but a friend of ours.“I felt real good the next day when his wife—who was more of a sister to me than my own sisters—called and said that all of a sudden, Joe was full of new life.
“But who was kidding who? No fucking oath was stopping them cancer cells. Every time I went to visit him, I could see him getting weaker. He was like a living skeleton. He called me to his bedside. Tears were streaming down his face. He asked me to give him the dignity he was losing. He wanted to die like a man, not like this. He asked me to kill him.
“I stood there, my mouth open. How could he ask me such a thing? I couldn’t even answer. ‘Kill me, Sammy,’ he said. ‘Don’t let me die like a dog.’“Every visit, it was the same. He wouldn’t let it go. ‘Kill me, Sammy. Kill me, please.’ He tried to get me to understand that a swift bullet was the best gift a true friend could give him. He couldn’t stand the pain no more.
“It was all set. I was home waiting to be picked up by Huck and Eddie. My wife was there. The night before I had been real irritable.
When Debbie mentioned this, I put her off. I said I had things on my mind. Now I stepped outside for a second, and when I came back, she said she had sad news. Eddie had just called. He said that Old Man Paruta
suddenly took a turn for the worst. He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, but died on the way. He was only fifty-nine.
My man of loyalty, of heart and soul, a man of honor, was gone.
“Debbie looked at me kind of funny. She couldn’t understand the smile on my face. She didn’t know that the happiness I felt came from a piece of work I didn’t have to do.
“I took care of his wife, Dottie, financially, like I done with Stymie’s wife.
“A couple of days after the funeral, I was in my office. I was devastated, completely destroyed. In the space of a year and a half I lost Stymie, then Frankie DeCicco and now Paruta.
“Big Lou Vallario came in. He had five, six years on me. He was a big guy, about six foot two, two thirty. He was already with Toddo Aurello when I went with Toddo. So there was a long-term relationship here. After I was a captain, I got him made in the crew. He was super loyal and solid.He handled my appointments and kept me straight about what had to be done.
“He said, ‘I know what you’re feeling. I can’t fill Stymie’s shoes, or Paruta’s. I wouldn’t even try. But I promise I’ll be there for you.’ “I said, ‘I appreciate that very much.“Well, I thought to myself, you can’t put back what happened. You got to just keep going, no matter what.”
Gotti's trial ultimately ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury and the boss was freed from jail. Gravano's specific position within the family varied during 1986 and 1987. He started out as co-underboss with Angelo Ruggiero and later was shifted to co-consigliere with Joseph Armone. When Joseph N. Gallo and Armone were convicted on racketeering charges in 1987, Gotti turned to Gravano to help fill the void, promoting him to official consigliere and making Frank Locascio acting underboss. By this time, Gravano was regarded as a "rising force" in the construction industry and often mingled with executives from major construction firms and union officials at his popular Bensonhurst restaurant, Tali's.
Gravano's success was not without a downside. First, his quick rise up the Gambino hierarchy attracted the attention of the FBI, and he was soon placed under surveillance. Second, he started to sense some jealousy from Gotti over the profitability of his legitimate business interests. Nevertheless, Gravano claimed to be kicking up over $2 million each year to Gotti out of his union activities alone.
Wiseguys were not renowned early risers. But Sammy was out of his new walled-in home on Lambert’s Lane on Staten Island at 6 A.m. His driver, Louis Saccente, would pick him up. He would usually breakfast about a mile away at a diner called Dakota. He would then cross over the Verrazano Bridge and work out at a gym off the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn before arriving at his Stillwell Avenue office around ten.
To Spero and Tricorico, The FBI Agents who followed Sammy.The Stilwell Avenue office seemed to double as a social club for Sammy’s crew, which enabled them through photographs and license plates to put together a fairly accurate rundown of who was in the crew. It was also obvious how much respect he was being paid, just in the way he was accompanied at lunch-time to a small Italian deli down the avenue featuring hero sandwiches.
“A lot of the scores I made, I cut up with my whole crew,” Sammy said. “No other guys like me did that. As a matter of fact, John Gotti called me in one time, and he said, ‘Sammy, what are you doing? All of your guys are making money, too much money.’ “I said, ‘Hey, John, they’ve wrapped up their lives around me, twenty-four hours a day. When I’m sleeping, they’re making sure I get picked up, who’s gonna drop me off, where I’m supposed to be, what meetings I have to be at. They don’t have a life of their own. They can’t really, a lot of them, go out and earn money.’
“He said, ‘No, no, Sammy. You got to keep them down. Bobby Boriello’—who’s his driver and bodyguard—‘I give him six hundred a week.’
“I looked at him and said, ‘Six hundred a week? He picks up one tab, he’s broke for the week. How can he support a family? How can he live? How can he do anything?’
“’Listen to me,’ he says. ‘Keep them broke. Keep them hungry. Don’t make them too fat.’
“I can play Machiavellian like John—John was always quoting Machiavelli, I guess he did read him—so I just said, ‘All right, yeah, that’s good thinking.’ But I went to Tali’s that night and I think we cut up fifty thousand. I put it on the table out back. Big Louie, Huck, Eddie, this one, that one, everybody cut it up. I always took the bigger end, because I’m the boss and that was right. I’m their boss. But to leave them broke? That ain’t right.
“I mean, John was caught on tape about Big Louie Vallario, who opened a club called Illusions, where the Plaza Suite used to be. John dropped in with some of his guys to make a show, and he told Louie, ‘Good luck, this is what we need, places like this. Makes us look good.’
“And then on the tape, John is saying, ‘This fucking bum, Louie, was nothing more than a coffee boy. He didn’t have two cents to rub together. And all of a sudden now, he’s opened up a million-dollar disco. This Sammy’s crazy.’
“That’s how John thought. Hold them down.”
Spero and Tricorico saw more evidence of Sammy’s stature in the Tuesday night gatherings at his bar and restaurant, Tali’s, on Bensonhurst’s main thoroughfare, 18th Avenue, and 62nd Street. During their surveillance, on any given Tuesday they would spot scores of men crowding in there, members of Sammy’s crew and others in the Gambino family, some of them captains, as well as captains and soldiers from the Colombo and Lucchese families.
By then, Sammy had become, as they say in the mob, a shylock’s shylock, and Tuesday was settle-up night on either the weekly interest or the principal due from such customers as other loan sharks or bookmakers who had been caught short. Gambino squad intelligence sources had already identified Sammy as a rising force in the construction industry, and at Tali’s on Tuesday night, Spero and Tricorico could see it for themselves—concrete company executives, building contractors and subcontractors, shop stewards in the construction unions and the Teamsters all flocking in to eat and drink, to touch base with Sammy.
Spero and Tricorico would have been delighted to mix in with the crowd. But there wasn’t a chance. Someone with Sammy was always out front, and while there wasn’t a closed-door policy, you had to be a recognizable regular from the neighborhood to gain entrance. Spero and Tricorico would try to get an early parking space to observe the goings-on. Tricorico remembered, “There’d be guys on the street, guys coming in and out. It was hard to hide. We used to be out there, two guys in a car, smoking cigars, watching Tali’s, making notes. And in a sense, we got a lot of information because we saw who came with who, from what companies, what unions.”
Sometimes they would see Sammy himself emerge from Tali’s and stroll down 18th Avenue with a visitor. Once they saw him in deep conversation with Mario Mastromarino, chief engineer of the Gem steel erection company. That was especially frustrating. There was no record of Mastromarino being mobbed up. What were the two of them talking about?
Stymie’s eighteen-year-old son, Joey D’Angelo, whom Sammy thought of almost as a son, would cover two or three blocks in each direction, “bird-dogging.”
“He’d come by,” Spero recalled, “and probably saw us and was back to Sammy reporting, ‘They’re down the street.’ But we were gathering general intelligence. We weren’t trying to be discreet. On that block, you couldn’t be.”
Toward this end, in 1988, Gotti desired a formal meeting of the Cosa Nostra commission. It was the first—and last—one that Sammy would attend. He helped set it up with the underboss of the Genovese family, Benny Eggs Mangano, and the Lucchese consigliere, Gas Pipe Casso.
The morning meeting would be held in lower Manhattan in an apartment of the brother of a Gambino family captain. “We were surprised that Chin Gigante went along with this,” Sammy said. “We only learned later that he had a relative living in that same building. He knew all its ins and outs and spent the night there ahead of time in case a hit was being planned.”
One of the key items to be addressed—the key item, as far as Gotti was concerned—was two family vacancies on the commission. Because of its heroin trafficking, the Bonanno family still did not have a seat. And because of the unsettled state of the Colombo family, junior Persico, in prison, could not decide who he wanted as acting boss.
“On the street, John and myself met Vic Amuso, who was running the Lucchese family now that Tony Ducks was away, and Gas Pipe. Our captain came out to take us to his brother’s apartment. He led us through an underground garage to the elevators. As we were walking, Gas Pipe turns to me and said, ‘What a great place for a hit.’
“Chin comes into the apartment with Benny Eggs. He’s in his bathrobe and pajamas. He has a four- or five-day growth of beard. He looked real grubby. “We resolved certain issues, and then John announces that we have reached out to junior. That he had to make up his mind about his acting boss. Junior Persico has finally approved one of his top guys, Vic Orena, and he’s agreed that only the commission can remove him. John backs Orena, and Orena is accepted. He will be seated at the next commission meeting.
By backing Orena, John figured he had a puppet. He would be able to control the Colombo vote. “Now John wanted the Bonanno family to have its seat back. John owns Joe Messino, who’s running the family. With Orena and Messino, John could count on controlling the commission, three votes out of five. But Chin said that decision should be put off to the next commission meeting, and the Lucchese people backed him.” Then John made another play
He said that Cosa Nostra had to replenish our ranks. He brought up the fact that the Genovese family had forty replacements to make and hadn’t made any new members for a very, very long time. John figured if he could get Chin to agree to make these forty guys, he would leak it that he was behind them being made and they would ultimately look to John.
“Chin stared straight at John and said, ‘When the time comes, I’ll make those moves inside my family. I appreciate your concern, but I’ll do it when I’m ready.’
“One thing I’ll never forget from that meeting was John telling Chin in sort of a proud way that his son, John junior, had just been made. Instead of congratulating him, Chin said, ‘Jeez, I’m sorry to hear that.’
“We were a little shocked by this, but Chin was right. Paul Castellano didn’t want his kids in the life. None of Chin’s sons were made. I myself would be dead set against it. I wanted my son to be legitimate, to have nothing to do with what I did.
“So here was Chin, who’s supposed to be crazy, saying who in their right mind wanted their son to be made? And there was John boasting about it. Who was really crazy?”
“The same thing happened with Mike DeBatt. I think Nicky got him hooked on crack. He went crazy. He didn’t come down for days. And when he does, he’s sweating, he’s all jumpy. His wife came to me, crying. ‘I don’t know what happened to him,’ she said. ‘He sits in the house behind a window with the blinds down, and he’s got a rifle.’ She said he’s saying,’If they come, I’m gonna battle it out.’
“I’ve lost control of him. I tried to talk to him, but he’s too far gone. He ain’t listening. And he’s done work with us and our family. He was a good man, Mike, until this. Not only did I like him, I went back with his father, who was originally with me. Remember, when the father died, I took the kid under my wing. I know the mother, the wife. These people came to my farm in Jersey. They came to my house. They came to my parties. This just tore my fucking insides out. Afterwards, I stayed with them, helped them. But there’s nothing I can do about Mike. This was the life.
“I got John’s permission. Mike worked the bar at Tali’s. I decided he would be killed in Tali’s and to leave him there to make it seem to the cops that the murder was because of a robbery. So nobody would think that it was related to Cosa Nostra or any mob matter.
“Huck shot Mike while he was behind the bar. My brother-in-law and Big Louie were there. I was waiting at this joint in Brooklyn, the Brown Derby, with John when Eddie came and advised us it was done.”
“Louie Milito was a friend of mine, ‘A friend of ours,’ but there came a time when Louie, who had helped me in a few hits, had to be hit himself.“He was a good-looking guy,” Sammy said. “A little taller than me. Stockier. Nobody went back more in the mob with me than Louie.
In the beginning, we were true street partners. Instead of talking about Sammy or Louie, people would say Sammy and Louie in the same breath. In those early days, Louie was much more successful than me with his car theft ring. He was well-off financially. I was a brokester. That didn’t mean nothing to me. Good for him!
“In the family, we did a lot of work together. Louie had put the .357 magnum against the head of Johnny Keys in that hit we did for Paul Castellano. He stood over the body of Frank Fiala and shot out his eyes in front of the Plaza Suite. Louie’s kids called me Uncle Sammy.
I got made, in Toddo Aurello’s crew, before he did.”I told Louie I would try to do something” Even though I was made, I couldn’t propose Louie myself because he was with Rizzo. I went to Toddo and explained that since Johnny Rizzo was a soldier under him, so, in reality, Louie was under him, too. Toddo said he thought I had a good point, and despite the chances of a beef from Rizzo, Toddo sponsored Louie directly to Paul.
“After the induction ceremony, I took Louie right over to John Rizzo’s club. You should’ve seen the look on Johnny’s face when I introduced Louie to him as a friend of ours. He calmly shook Louie’s hand and kissed him on the cheek. There was nothing else he could do. Louie was a made guy, just like him. And he knew me and Louie both had reputations of being stone killers. I didn’t really enjoy going around Rizzo, but he left me no choice. Louie deserved to be made.
“Now Louie and me were closer than ever. Besides the work we did together, I took him in on the partnership I had with Eddie Garafola in the painting company I set up, and Louie and I developed Gem steel.“The only problem was Eddie and Louie didn’t like each other. Eddie was complaining that Louie never shared his financial success with me, so why should I do it for him? And Louie was saying Eddie was a schemer and a liar, who didn’t belong in Cosa Nostra.
I knew about Eddie’s faults, but he was married to my sister and I had to think about her and my nieces and nephews. Instinct told me Louie was right about Eddie. I didn’t realise it was like the pot calling the kettle black.“It was after Fiala’s murder, after I had been in all that trouble with Paul Castellano because the hit wasn’t sanctioned, that Louie met me in the lounge of the Golden Gate in Brooklyn. He announced that he was breaking up our partnerships.
“I was stunned. ‘Let me ask you a question,’ I said. ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Sammy, I just got my reasons.’ Then he starts ranting that my brother-in-law is a swindler and a lying piece of shit. ‘I advised you five times to kill him,’ he said, ‘and you don’t want to do it.’
“So I assume the problem is Eddie. Fine, we’ll break up. But I told him I’m not giving up Gem. At that time, I didn’t have the legitimate consulting relationship with Joe Polito. We still have the kickback arrangement with him, but I was already thinking ahead.“What I didn’t know is Louie had this business opportunity that he took to Tommy Bilotti, who in turn took him to Paul.
At this meeting, Paul mouths off that he should have had Sammy killed over the Fiala situation. This was classic Paul—divide and conquer. Paul saw and seized an opportunity to drive a wedge between us. The Fiala business was history. But Louie figured that it wasn’t resolved in Paul’s mind and panicked. He thought if Sammy’s going to be killed, he’ll be killed as well. He took Paul’s word at face value. He don’t know Paul well enough to know that Paul was just talking. Everybody in close contact with Paul knew his bark was worse than his bite. Sure, Paul was mad at me about the Fiala hit, but he wasn’t going to kill me, then or ever.
“Then Louie went back to Paul again and told him he was completely separating himself from me. Louie wanted Paul to stop thinking of him and me as one person. Milito was no longer part of Gravano. And to prove it, he went secretly into partnership with Tommy Bilotti in Tommy’s shylocking business.
“I found all this out from Frankie DeCicco. DiB—Robert DiBernardo—told him. DiB was present at both meetings. Louie figured none of this would ever get out, because DiB was supposed to be so tight with Paul. He didn’t dream DiB would be our messenger on the Castellano hit.
“Louie had got pinched for something and was away for a short time when we made our move against Paul and Tommy Bilotti. Frankie was steaming. Louie could have betrayed us if he wasn’t in jail. He was playing both sides. As soon as Louie got out of jail, Frankie said he had to be killed. A guy like that was too devious.
“I argued for Louie’s life. I asked Frankie, who was now our underboss, to let Louie come under me. After all, we had spared people before. I would tell Louie what we discovered. I would put him on the shelf. I tried to convince Frankie that we didn’t have to kill him. But Frankie was adamant. Louie had to die. He had slapped us all in the face with his double-dealing. Even if Paul’s threat to kill me wasn’t real, Louie didn’t know it and he never tried to warn me. Then Frankie got blown up.
“When Louie was back on the street, John Gotti called me in. What about the hit? It had already been sanctioned. I talked again for Louie, and John said I was the one Louie had double-crossed. If I wanted to spare him, he’d go along with it. But he cautioned me to keep a sharp eye on my so-called friend.
“I read Louie the riot act and told him all that we knew. He never tried to deny anything. I said he was going to get a pass. But he didn’t buy it. I was acting out of friendship, but Louie was looking for the angle. He would question all the people around me. He wanted to know everything and anything I might have said about him.
Paranoia became his middle name. “He went to Tommy Bilotti’s brother, Joe. After the Castellano hit, Joe Watts argued that we should kill Joe Bilotti because he was a danger to us. I had argued to John Gotti that I didn’t think this was necessary. Joe Bilotti knew the life. I thought he would accept what had happened and become a good, loyal soldier, which he did. John said that if I met with him, and he decided to strike back, I could be the first to go.
Did I still feel the same way? I said yes. Then Frankie DeCicco jumped in and told John that he felt like I did, and he would go along to the first meeting with Joe Bilotti. “So the meeting was arranged in a Brooklyn diner. Joe was obviously nervous. I told him that our move was primarily against Paul, but that given his brother’s relationship with Paul, his brother had to go, too, and
”I knew he would understand that. I pulled back my jacket and showed him the cannon I was carrying. I told Joe, ‘You know me a lot of years. If we wanted you dead, do you think you’d be dead already?’ He looked at me and nodded his head. I said, ‘Joe, I give you my word that you got a pass.
I’m gonna be your captain. Don’t worry when I send for you. You’re a friend of ours in good standing. If you need me to sit down for you, I will. You got a tough job. You have nine kids. Tommy had nine kids. You have eighteen kids to take care of.’ And Joe’s still alive today.
“Anyway, now Louie goes to Joe and tells him they’re in the same position, something has to be up. Joe said, ‘No, no, we’re not in any position. I’m still alive. I’m the proof. Sammy gives his word, you can bank on it.’
“Then Louie made his big mistake. He must have been all fucked-up in his head. When I became consigliere, I appointed Big Lou Vallario captain of my crew. And now Louie Milito was going around bad-mouthing Big Lou and saying he should be captain. Unbelievable for him to even think I would consider it after his betrayals.
This is a serious matter when a soldier is backbiting his captain. And John Gotti hears about it. We both discussed Milito. He’s got to go, John said. John was concerned that Louie could snap anytime. He reminded me that he spared Louie’s life once under certain conditions, which Louie wasn’t abiding by. You couldn’t predict what he’d do next. He was tough and dangerous. I was sick, but I had to agree with John.
This time my mind and my gut won over my heart. “John decided that he wanted to avoid any appearance of a grudge hit. I wouldn’t be given the contract, but I would be present. The hit officially went to john’s brother Genie and his crew. Vallario would set up Louie. Joe Watts would get rid of the body.”
The date was a Tuesday, March 8, 1988. “Big Lou called Milito to tell him John Gotti finally decided to kill ‘Johnny G,’ a guy everybody knew John hated. So Louie had no reason to doubt his captain’s call. Big Lou said his crew was handling the hit, but Gene Gotti and myself would be there.
“Louie Milito showed up at Big Louie’s club in Bensonhurst close to seven Pm. When he came in, Big Louie was standing behind the service counter. Gene Gotti, one of his guys, Arnold Squitieri, and myself were at a round table playing cards. John Carneglia was sitting on a leather couch watching TV.
After saying hello, Milito went to the service counter for a cup of espresso. As he was telling Big Lou how much sugar to add to it, Carneglia got up from the couch and came up behind Milito with a .380 with a silencer. He put a quick shot into the back of Louie Milito’s head. Louie fell face-up on the floor. Carneglia bent over him and shot him once under his chin. He was quite dead.
“We put him in a body bag. Arnold and Carneglia went out to get their car. I had placed Eddie Garafola and Huck along two streets away from the club as lookouts. Everything was clear. Arnold and Carneglia drove off with the body bag in the trunk to bring it to Joe Watts. Big Lou, Eddie and Huck cleaned up while I took a walk/talk with Genie. Then Genie went home.
“Tuesday was when all my guys came to Talis, every Tuesday night at eight Pm. Everybody knew it. The FBI knew it. They were always there. So I had the FBI for an alibi. But Milito’s body was never found. “I made sure his wife had enough cash. I felt bad for her and the kids. They were why I had fought to keep him alive, even though her and Louie were getting close to a divorce. It cost me another twenty thousand to finish all the construction he was doing on his house. I told her that if she had any problems with anybody over anything, she should come immediately to me. Because sometimes there are assholes who will get their little brave pills because a guy is dead.
“Even though the hit had to happen, I was really bothered by it. I liked Louie, and I loved his kids. John Gotti sensed that I was fucked-up over this hit. But he said, ‘This guy wasn’t our friend. This was best for the family.’
“Louie wasn’t no innocent. He was a made guy and a killer. He knew the rules, and he went against them. He had played a very dangerous game—and he lost.”
Milito's wife Lynda claims in her book Mafia Wife that when Liborio Milito did not come home or call, she went to see Gravano at his home. Lynda said Gravano gave her $5,000 and cut all ties to her. Lynda also wrote that a friend saw Gravano driving Louie Milito's Lincoln Town Car and was able to identify it by damage done to the car before Louie Milito went missing. Lynda Milito would cry foul in her book after Gravano testified he had not been the shooter in Louie Milito's murder; she said that a Gambino family member later informed her Gravano had shot and killed Liborio Milito, contrary to what Gravano had told the FBI. Gravano, however, claims in his book Underboss that after Milito was killed, he finished the construction work Milito was having done on his home and continued to support Lynda Milito and her family.
In addition, a series of hits was ordered by Gotti, which Sammy either supervised or set up, that received scant, if any, press attention. One was “this greaseball,” as Gotti put it, who had beaten to death a Gambino soldier. Another was a Gambino soldier who, Gotti learned, had decided “to tell the truth” to a grand jury about the family’s role in private trash collection. Still another was a face-saving hit on a family-connected demolition and excavation contractor whose swindling ways had become such an embarrassment that the Colombo family had sought permission from Gotti to kill him.
Sammy had a marginal role in two other murders. One, which understandably did receive considerable press, was the execution of Willie Boy Johnson for informing. His time had finally come, despite Gotti’s oath on his dead son that Johnson had nothing to worry about. “John discussed how it should go, using me to bounce off ideas about the best way to do it. That was my only involvement. John is concerned that if it’s fucked-up, Willie Boy will go all the way with the government on stuff he hasn’t told them yet. I agreed with John that Willie Boy’s gotten a little lax by now. He surely thinks he’s got a pass. He still lives in his neighborhood.
John gives the contract to Eddie Lino, who was one of the shooters in the Castellano hit. Willie Boy has a construction job, plus he’s dealing drugs. We caught him with thirteen bullets in the head after he came out of his house early one morning. When I say ‘we,’ it’s because, legally, I guess I was part of the ‘we.’
Despite Gravano's rise in status to consigliere, Gotti continued to use Gravano for the task of murder. In May 1988, Gravano and Robert Bisaccia, a New Jersey crime family soldier, murdered Francessco Oliverri for beating a Gambino family crew member to death. Bisaccia shot Oliverri to death while Gravano waited in a stolen get-away car. After Oliverri, John Gotti had finally got around to taking care of Wilfred Johnson. Johnson had been a childhood friend of Gotti's and a longtime crew member while Gotti was captain of the Bergin crew. However, at Gotti's RICO trial, Diane Giacalone, the head prosecutor, revealed that Johnson had been an informant for the FBI for years. Johnson refused to testify for the prosecution. In Underboss Gravano claims that Gotti met with Johnson during the trial and informed Johnson that as long as he never testified against Gotti, he and his family would not be harmed. Johnson would never be allowed to participate in mob matters again, however. Johnson asked Gotti to swear on his dead son, Frank Gotti, who had been killed in a tragic accident years ago. Gotti swore. Now Gotti was having second thoughts. "John discussed how it should go, using me to bounce off ideas about the best way to do it. That was my only involvement," Gravano explained. Johnson was shot while walking to his car to go to work in front of his house in May 1988.
In January 1990, Gravano became the underboss of the Gambino crime family. That same year he was involved in two more murders, the first of which was Eddie Garofalo, a demolition contractor who made the mistake of running afoul of the Gambinos. On August 9, 1990, Garofalo was shot to death in front of his home as arranged by Gravano.
A second contract was one Sammy would have been happy to fulfill—Louie DiBono, whom he once threatened to kill in front of Paul Castellano.This was also the last murder that involved Gravano. Gravano described the reasons for the murder in Underboss:
- "He was still robbing the family and I asked for permission to take him out. But John had a meeting with DiBono, and DiBono told John that he had a billion dollars of drywall work that was coming out of the World Trade Center. John bit, hook, line and sinker, and refused my request. John said he would handle DiBono personally and become his partner. But DiBono was up to his old tricks double-dealing. He had obviously been bullshitting John. So when John called Louie in for meetings to discuss their new partnership, DiBono didn't show up. John was humiliated. This meant an automatic death penalty. John gave the contract to DiBono's captain, Pat Conte. Conte botched an ideal opportunity to kill DiBono. Then, as Gotti grew increasingly impatient, Conte explained that the problem now was trying to corner DiBono again. Whenever a meeting with him was arranged, DiBono never appeared. It was a joke, what was going on. I couldn't help laughing to myself. I told John why didn't Pat simplify everything. Just call Louie up and tell him to hang himself. Ten months went by. John looks like an asshole. He was too embarrassed even to ask me for help."
- “Then, completely out of the blue, this drywall subcontractor asked me if I could get him some work from Louie DiBono, that Louie was doling out work for the Port Authority at the World Trade Center. He gave me DiBono’s business card. Then I found out where the construction site was and where DiBono parked his car.
“I went by the Ravenite and asked John how he was making out with the DiBono situation. John tells me, ‘That guy never does the same thing twice. We’re having a hard time.’ I took out the card and told him where DiBono parked at the World Trade Center every single day. You should have seen john’s face. A couple of days later, Louie’s body was found in his car in the World Trade Center parking lot.
“As consigliere and then underboss, I wasn’t supposed to be doing these hits or getting into the details of them. All over the country, there were restrictions in all the Cosa Nostra families not to get the administration members involved, even captains, on hits. Captains in our family were saying when was John going to stop sending me out.
‘Hey,Bo,’I told them, ‘he wants me on one of these fucking things, I don’t want to hear another word about it.’ This is what I want to teach my men, my guys. He’s the boss. That’s it.
I was efficient at what I did. He knew it, and I knew it. I was probably the best hit man in the family. “When John Gotti wanted you dead, he wanted you dead yesterday. That way, he could walk around and look like he’s so fucking ferocious.”
Turning government witness, conspiracy to whack Gotti , John badmouths Sammy
Eventually, Gravano and several other members of the Gambino family became disenchanted with Gotti's lust for the media and high profile antics, feeling they brought too much heat. Several members of the family informed Gravano that Gotti's high profile and large gatherings of mob members at the Ravenite Social Club were constant targets for the FBI and that the media attention put a large spotlight on the Gambinos. Many members of the family, according to Gravano, complained to him about Gotti's use of Gravano in murders despite Gravano's position as underboss of the family. Gotti had been going in and out of the courtroom like it was a revolving door. He was first tried for assaulting a refrigerator repairman over a parking space. Through witness intimidation, he was acquitted. Gravano had paid a juror in Gotti's second trial to vote in favor of an acquittal allowing Gotti to beat the RICO charges lodged against him. Gotti's third trial on state assault charges ended the same way. Gotti's ego began to bother Gravano as well as several other members of the family. Gotti was first known as the "Dapper Don" in the press for his Brioni suits and hand-painted ties as well as his well-combed hair and quick wit with reporters. John Gotti required Gravano and Gambino consigliere Frank Locascio to be at the Ravenite social club five days a week and all of his captains to make an appearance once a week. When Gravano warned Gotti about the negative attention from reporters as well as the constant surveillance from the FBI, Gotti instructed Gravano not to worry about it as Gotti knew what he was doing.
Gotti ordered Gravano to become a fugitive to avoid arrest so that if Gotti was arrested, Gravano could run the family while on the run himself. Gravano hid out in various places on the east coast for two weeks before being ordered to return for a meeting at the Ravenite Social club in Little Italy
“The meeting was set for the Ravenite. Once again John refused to listen to reason. Instead of scheduling it at a secret place in the early morning hours, it had to be out in public with surveillance certain.
“They must have seen me right away. They didn’t waste any time. I was only inside the club about fifteen minutes before the door blew up and a slew of FBI agents came in. They announced they had arrest warrants for John, Frank Locascio and me. The other guys sitting in the club were told they were free to leave after they gave their names.
“John was very calm, like he was expecting this. I wasn’t so happy. After weeks of hiding out, I was now caught just because this meeting had to be held at the Ravenite. John said to the agents, he wasn’t going nowhere until he had a final cup of espresso. Before they could answer, he turned to the club’s counterman and told him, ‘Norman, give me, Sammy, Frankie some coffee.’ The agents didn’t say nothing. So John had his little moment. The three of us, the administration of the Gambino family, sat in the rear of the Ravenite and finished drinking our coffee with anisette.”
The arrests took place on December 11, 1990.
Handcuffed, Sammy and the others were taken in separate cars to the FBI’s New York headquarters a short distance away. Frank Spero and Matty Tricorico drove Sammy. They adopted a laid-back manner. They didn’t exhibit a triumphant “gotcha” attitude. They removed his handcuffs. Tricorico joked, “We thought we had your routine down pat. You fooled us pretty good.”
All three defendants were placed in the harshest part of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a ninth-floor area designated “total sep.”
“The whole ninth floor is maximum security, but total sep is the maximumofthemaximum. They say the toughest federal prison in the country is Marion, but it couldn’t be any tougher than this. At least Marion was clean. In total sep, there were roaches, rats, whatever, running all over. Everybody’s alone in a cell with a steel door and a little slot in it that opens up. They allow you an hour to come out to take a shower and walk up and down the hall, if you feel like it.
“They shake you down every time you come out of the cell. They strip-search you every time you have a visitor. When Debbie and my kids come, I’m taken to this big visiting room, and I said to the guard, ‘Where are the other prisoners, all the other visitors?’ He tells me, ‘You’re in total sep. You get a separate, completely isolated visit.’
“’All right,’ I said, ‘but why don’t you go to the other end of the room? Let me talk to my wife and kids.’ He actually apologized and said, Sammy, I can’t. I have to sit here and monitor the visit.’ “So this visit is really nothing. I just tell my wife to hang in there, be strong. Don’t worry about nothing. Continue the holidays, continue Christmas, like I was there. We’ll talk on the phone. She’s shocked. Distraught is the word.”
At the request of the defense, a bail hearing on December 21 was closed to the public and the press by the trial judge, U.S. Eastern District judge I. Leo Glasser.
“John told Frankie Locascio and myself that we all should intimidate the judge, glare at him to show how tough we are, be real aggressive in our attitude. I told John I know the judge. He was the judge in my tax case with the Plaza Suite disco. I said to John he’s a tough-minded judge, but he’s fair. Why antagonize him? But John don’t listen. He gives the judge his look, and judge Glasser stares right back, like he’s doing the same thing almost in reverse. He wasn’t intimidated. He don’t look scared to me. He denies bail and we’re back in our cells.”
The December 21 bail hearing forever changed the relationship between John Gotti and Sammy Gravano.
To demonstrate the high risk the defendants presented to society, prosecutor John Gleeson played excerpts of the Cirelli apartment tapes. It was the first time Sammy learned of their existence.
He was mesmerized by the tapes, especially the critical tape of December 12, 1989, which recorded a meeting between Gotti and Locascio that he had not attended.
On that tape, Sammy heard Gotti acknowledge that he had sanctioned the hit on Robert DiBernardo because Sammy had insisted that DiBernardo was being “subversive,” when the fact was that Sammy had done everything he could to spare DiBernardo’s life.
He heard Gotti tell Locascio that he had ordered the hit on Louie Milito because Sammy reported Milito’s offenses against the family. Ignored was the fact that Sammy had actually saved Milito’s life when Milito tried to play both sides against the middle during Castellano’s reign as the family boss and finally went along with Gotti’s decision that Milito had to go when Milito continued to undermine the family.
He heard Gotti say that Sammy had long wanted Louie DiBono dead, which was true. But in the end it was Gotti who ordered the hit and carried it out without any direct participation by Sammy.
The spin Gotti put on these hits enraged Sammy. The tapes portrayed Gotti as a long-suffering boss saddled with a mad-dog killer who hounded him to obtain authorization for hits until he finally threw up his hands and bowed to Sammy’s wishes.
That wasn’t all. The December 12 tape, Sammy would learn, contained more of Gotti’s nonstop diatribe against him. Every time he turned around, Sammy had some new business he hadn’t known anything about. “I tell him a million times,” Gotti said to Locascio, ‘Sammy, slow it down. Pull it in a fucking notch. You got concrete-pouring. You got Italian floors now. You got construction. You got drywall. You got asbestos. You got rugs. What the fuck next?’” Gotti would compare Sammy to Paul Castellano,who had “sold out the borgata [family] for a fuckin’ construction company. Three, four guys will wind up with every fuckin’ thing. And the rest of the borgata looks like a waste. Where, where’s my piece of these companies?”
Sammy said Gotti had committed the unpardonable. He was “creating a fuckin’ army inside an army ... I’m not gonna allow that.” Locascio suggested that Sammy might be downstairs in the Ravenite. Why didn’t he go down and bring him up, so all of this could be thrashed out?
“No, no, no,” Gotti exclaimed. “I’m gonna see him tomorrow, and I’m gonna talk to him tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, of course, never came.
As some of these excerpts boomed in the courtroom, Sammy glanced at Gotti. “He ain’t looking at me,” Sammy said. “Only his fingers on his right hand are drumming on the table. They say when I’m really mad, my eyes turn blank, kind of glassy. I guess some of the court officers, the marshals, whatever, caught what I was feeling, because the media reported that afterwards I went at John in the hall in back of the court, even grabbed him by the throat. I didn’t do that at all. This is Cosa Nostra, and he’s the boss. I am mad that there’s a betrayal, but not to the point that I would raise my hands to him. I never would.
“In the hall, I kind of looked at him, and he finally said, ‘You’re disturbed?’ and I said, ‘Fucking A, I’m disturbed. I think we got to talk about these tapes.’ “There’s no more conversation, because we’re put right back in total sep.”
The main defense lawyers, Bruce Cutler and Gerry Shargel, finally obtained a court order from judge Glasser to have the defendants moved out of total sep into the general jail population on the grounds that the Bureau of Prisons was breaking its own rules for the treatment of inmates who were not troublemakers.
Now Gotti, Sammy and Locascio could talk to one another. Sammy waited in vain for Gotti’s explanation of what he had said on the December 12 tape. Instead, Gotti informed Sammy and Locascio that they would not be permitted to listen to the tapes. Nor would either of them be able to meet with their attorneys except in Gotti’s presence. Gotti and Cutler would mastermind their mutual defense.
Sammy had retained Shargel, whose legal expertise he admired and who he hoped would strongly represent him in the coming strategy sessions. But then he learned to his dismay that judge Glasser had disqualified not only Cutler but Shargel as defense attorneys for the trial.
He invited Sammy to have a “man-to-man” discussion about what he had said on the December 12 tape. It didn’t get very far. His explanation was that he was upset by all of Sammy’s business ventures. “It was your fault,” he said.
Sammy didn’t argue. “What was the point,” he said. “It was done.
The government had the tape already.” But when he asked for permission to seek a severance so that he could attempt a defense without directly contradicting Gotti, Gotti refused. “We’re all in this together,” he said.
“I got to think of the future of the family. I got to think of the future of Cosa Nostra. I got to think of my public.”
The Gulf War was on. “We’re watching this bullshit on television every day. John’s rooting for Iraq to win the war, for our troops to die and this and that. I told him one day, “Look, it could be our kids in the army. Some of them could be the kids of people we know. What the fuck. OK, we hate the government. But what do these kids got to do with it? I mean, like it or not, we belong to this country. The country is good, maybe the people running it ain’t so good.’
“John don’t buy it. I got to root against us in this fucking war.
Maybe once or twice a week, they take you to the roof for recreation. Lo and behold, I go to the roof and it’s raining and what do they give you to wear? An army jacket! This jacket just brings back every memory I ever had about the army and the military, and now I have to take it off and go back down and root against the army? It really turns me off. It’s not me. I’ll fight the government, I’ll fight anybody who’s fucking with me, but this is beyond that, hoping our kids should get bombed and killed and everything.
“One morning Frankie Locascio goes out for his breakfast and robs a half a dozen oranges. Which is a major thing in the can, where you eat shit. ‘Hey, Sammy,’ he says. ‘I got an orange for you. I glommed them out of the refrigerator when I was in the kitchen.’
“About eleven o’clock, the king wakes up. At least, we think he just woke up. He comes out, and he’s got a puss on down to the floor. He sat down at the table.
“’Morning, John, How you feeling, bro?’ I said.
“Frankie’s there and he says, ‘Hey, John, I got an orange. You want an orange?’
“John tells him, ‘Stick the fucking orange up your motherfucking ass.
“Other inmates are around. I’m in total shock. ‘John, John,’ I said, ‘what are you doing? He’s your consigliere.’
“’Shut the fuck up,’ he says. He looks at Frankie. ‘You fucking bum. You think I was sleeping. I heard you. I’m the fucking boss. You offered him’—meaning me—‘a fucking orange first?’
“I said, ‘John, he robbed a half a dozen. He gave me one. He’s giving you five. You weren’t up. I’m up four hours before you.’ I saw the other inmates listening to this. ‘Fellas,’ I told them, ‘OK, get back in your cells.’
“John tells me, ‘What did you do that for?’
“I said, ‘John, he’s our acting consigliere. You’re the boss. You want to abuse him, go ahead. But not in front of all these fucking assholes.’
“’All right,’ he says. Then he says, ‘Frankie, when we get the fuck out of here, I’ll show you who the fuck the boss is.’
“John goes right back in his cell. I put my finger to my lips as if to say to Frankie to be quiet. And Frankie goes back to his cell. He stayed in there all day long. When John came out later, I said, ‘John, you’re killing this guy. For what? And me, too. For what? You said we’re all in this together. We’re fighting this case together. What the fuck are we doing wrong here?’
“John don’t make any sense. He’s talking bullshit. He says, ‘Sammy, I’ll explain it to you when we get out. But this fucking bum, I got him up to here.’
“’All right, John,’ I said. ‘But there’s other guys around. You know what I mean? We’re starting to look bad.’
“The next day, early in the morning, seven, eight o’clock in the morning, I’m standing by the phone and Frankie comes up to me. ‘Sammy, can I talk to you?’ ‘Yeah, sure, what’s up?’
“He has tears streaming down his face. A man fifty-nine, sixty years old, a real tough guy, a man’s man. He says he’s gone crazy, meaning John. He apologizes for not standing up to John when John was bad-mouthing me in the apartment. ‘The minute I get out, I’m killing this motherfucker.’
“’Frankie, you know what you’re saying?’ I said. ‘He’s your boss.’
“He says, ‘Sammy, I never been a punk in my life. Nobody’s ever talked to me that way. I don’t give a flying fuck if I die trying to do it or afterwards. He made me feel like a punk.’
“I thought about this for a minute. Then I said, ‘I agree with you, bro. You know what I’m gonna do? We’ll shake hands right now, Frankie. The minute we get out, we’ll set up a victory party immediately, and we’ll kill him.’
“Frankie said, ‘Sammy, two things. I’ll bring him to the party myself, and I got to be the shooter.’
“We shake hands. We kiss. He wipes his face. He’s a man again. His shoulders are back, his chest is out. He’s Frank Locascio again.”
“They split myself, John and Frankie up. I’m in Eleven South. John is in Eleven North. Frankie is in Nine North. One day when we’re visiting with the lawyers, John tells me, ‘Eleven South and Eleven North has the same library day. Put your name on the list. I’ll do the same.’ I think this was a Tuesday. He’s not so bad when we meet. He seems to have calmed down a little bit, even about Frankie.
After we go back up, the prison realizes that me and John were together in the library. So they change Eleven South to a Wednesday for me and a Thursday for John. But when they changed the library days, they put me in with Frankie, Nine North. So me and him are in there together. We talk about the case, how we can’t listen to the tapes, how we can’t meet with our lawyers without John. Nothing new. No big deal, all bullshit.
“The next day, there’s a visit with all the lawyers. John tells them, ‘Excuse us a minute,’ and they get up, like little puppies, and walk out of the room. And then John says, ‘What do you think, I’m a fucking jerk-off? You think I ain’t got eyes and ears all over this prison? You two went sneaking down to a meeting in the library.’
“I said, ‘Hey, John, we didn’t sneak. Like with you and me, the prison put me and Frankie on the same day. What do you mean, sneaking? Everybody knows we were there.’ ’Yeah, well, don’t go on another library meeting together again.’ “After I got back upstairs, I thought to myself that Frankie was right. This motherfucker is sick, sick, sick.
“One morning, a guard says to me, ‘Gravano, lawyer’s visit.’ It was about nine o’clock. I’m saying to myself, john’s starting to get up early? I’m cuffed up and go down. Who’s there but Gerry Shargel. He can’t represent me at the trial, but he’s allowed to give advice before it begins.
“I said, ‘You didn’t send for everybody?’ “’No.’ “’What’s up?’ “He says that he knows John sleeps in the morning and that I should tell him that Al D’Arco, who’s the street boss for the Lucchese family, has flipped.
“In the afternoon, another guard comes over and says, ‘Your friend wants to see you.’ Now between Eleven South and Eleven North, there’s a corridor where the elevators are. The guard says, ‘I’m gonna let you in the corridor. Make like you’re waiting for an elevator.’ So I’m there and John comes in and he starts yelling, ‘
What did I tell you about meeting lawyers alone?’ “’John,’ I said, ‘the guard said there’s a lawyer waiting. How could I know you and Frankie and everybody ain’t down there? That’s number one. Number two, Shargel told me Little Al flipped and to give you the message.’
“’Don’t ever let it happen again!’ John doesn’t give a fuck about D’Arco and how it might affect our case. All he cares about is me meeting this lawyer.
In 1989, in the rigged construction deals Sammy set up with the Teamsters and other unions, he had given Gotti eighty percent of the take—which came to minimally $1.2 million in cash. For his aboveboard construction contracts, Sammy and his wife, filing separately, paid taxes on nearly $800,000, her recorded income about double Sammy’s. After taxes, Sammy then gave Gotti anywhere from 30 to 50 percent, about another $200,000, again in cash. Gotti also received an additional $600,000 or so a year from Sammy’s nightclubs, after-hours clubs, various individual scores and street deals.
The only income Sammy kept for himself was his loan-sharking profits. By then he had $1.5 million out on the street, which brought in an average $15,000 in interest a week, which, as an aggressive entrepreneur, he continually rolled over.
“No question I was the biggest earner forJohn,”Sammy said. “But the was very cagey about what he got overall, except he was always complaining. You look at Tommy Gambino and the garment center and you know Tommy’s bringing in a ton of money.
There’s also the carting industry, the shipping on the piers, the hijacking scores, the drug money. I mean Patsy Conte had this food market chain, but he was a big heroin dealer. He slips John a hundred thousand every now and then and, believe me, John wouldn’t question it. John didn’t think, though, that it was coming from Patsy selling tomatoes. It was hard to tell. But if you figured it all out, I would say on the very low side, John was getting five million a year and probably more like ten, twelve million.
The only legitimate income he could show was being a plumbing supply salesman and a zipper salesman for this garment center company for, I think, a hundred thousand a year. And he don’t even bother paying taxes on that.”
“Besides that gang of lies John is telling Frankie Loc on the tape about the hits, he’s saying I got this business, I got that business. Those are lies, too. We have them businesses. I shared everything with John that I had in construction and everything else.
“So what is Mr. Machiavelli up to, saying I’m creating an army within an army? Nobody was more loyal to John in the family than myself. Obviously, in this double-crossing life of ours, John has decided maybe I’m a threat down the road. It’s true he don’t know everything I’m doing, but that’s because he doesn’t know nothing about the construction industry.
“Now Frankie ain’t standing up to him, but he ain’t going along with all this either, so John keeps pushing. He can’t just decide to whack me out for nothing. I’m his underboss. I have too much respect in the family and with other families. And I got my old crew, which is the best work crew in the family, who would die for me, no matter what. So John was hoping Frankie would go out and lay the groundwork, dropping little hints to the captains that Sammy’s doing this and that. Where is Sammy headed? Maybe it’s time for Sammy to go. Only Frankie didn’t do that.
and with other families. And I got my old crew, which is the best work crew in the family, who would die for me, no matter what. So John was hoping Frankie would go out and lay the groundwork, dropping little hints to the captains that Sammy’s doing this and that. Where is Sammy headed? Maybe it’s time for Sammy to go. Only Frankie didn’t do that.
“All John had to do was come to me once during that eleven months we were in there together and say, ‘Sammy, I’m sorry. My big fucking mouth got you indicted, number one. Number two, let’s try to get a severance for you, so you could fight your case. Fuck the public. Let’s try to fight this so that one of us, all of us, a couple of us, get out of this fucking mess.
“If he done that, I would have never cooperated with the government, not in a million years would I have cooperated. And if I lost everything and didn’t want to play this game anymore, I would have taken myself the fuck out. I don’t think I would have a problem in the world doing it. If I could hit somebody else, which I did plenty, I could definitely hit myself for the right reason. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suicidal, but I would do it if I didn’t like being in the can forever. I would have taken something. I would have whacked myself out and it’d be, ‘OK, God, let’s go onto this next life, what do we do now?’
“Instead, it’s I still can’t listen to the tapes. I can’t speak to my own lawyer. He’s saying, ‘You have no defense. Look what you made me do. Look how mad you got me saying stupid things, things that ain’t even true.’ It just got worse and worse. He’s telling me it’s my fault.
“That gets me thinking. No apologies. No severance. I got no defense. He don’t say point-blank to me, ‘You got to take the weight.’ But now I can see that’s what he’s setting me up for. He sees that December 12 tape could be to his benefit and go against me. If it’s played right, the jury could look at John as the boss, the way he dresses and all, and that poor John has lost control of this Sammy the Bull, his underboss.
This Sammy has run rampant and john’s on tape actually complaining about it. Maybe with his personality, his charisma, with movie stars like Anthony Quinn and Mickey Rourke coming into court and waving at him, the jury would think that he’s not such a bad guy and the real monster here is Sammy. So let’s convict him.”
“While I’m considering all of this, we have a meeting with the lawyers. I make another pitch to try and go for a severance. John says, ‘Sammy, a severance? I told you. What would my public think? They would think you don’t want to be on trial with me.’
“I said, ‘You want me to do the rest of my life in prison without even trying to fight for myself because of what the public may think?’ “John says, ‘Sammy, you got to understand this. It’s not about me now. Everything has to be to save Cosa Nostra, which is John Gotti. Cosa Nostra needs John Gotti. You got a problem with that?’”
On October 10, through a trusted intermediary, Sammy sent word to the two FBI agents he was sure he could count on to keep his intent confidential: Frank Spero and Matty Tricorico. The message was that he wanted to talk to them. They immediately informed their supervisor, Bruce Mouw, who brought the news to prosecutor John Gleeson.
Sammy was transported under heavy guard to the FBI’s training academy at the U.S. Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. There, Gleeson and Sammy hammered out the deal agreement, subject to judge Glasser’s approval. Gleeson found Sammy to be smart, engaging and a hard bargainer. Sammy tried—and failed—to get the maximum duration of his potential sentence reduced from twenty to ten years. But he did achieve two important points. One was a two-year cap on his availability as a government witness. Clearly, he wanted to avoid, if possible, testifying against any of the loyal members of his old crew. A “good faith” compromise was reached. If, through no fault of the government, a case it wished to prosecute had not been brought to trial before the two years were up, Sammy would cooperate. Otherwise, the decision to testify would be solely Sammy’s.
As for the second point, Gleeson had to hand it to Sammy. He wanted judge Glasser to sign off on the agreement immediately. Normally, a judge’s approval was with held until the time of actual sentencing. Gleeson perceived what was going through Sammy’s mind. What if Glasser became incapacitated? Another judge might come in and reject the whole package. Gleeson himself might be out of the picture. To Gleeson’s knowledge, no one had ever made a request like this before. But there was no no provision against it. Sammy still had to perform, and judge Glasser granted his approval.
Gotti Trial, Book and interviews
Sammy’s testimony began on March 2. Emissaries from Gotti’s oughtto have Sammy’s wife in court to unnerve him. She refused. She told them what she’d told Sammy. She wasn’t part of this.
Spero and Tricorico were on hand to supply moral support. So was Jim Fox. “I was in this back room with them,” Sammy said. “There’s a recess and Gleeson comes out and said, ‘We’re calling you out in a couple of minutes.’ Of course, I was nervous. I’ve been reading all this stuff about me, like I’m the devil. I’m a rat. I’m a canary. I’m a stool pigeon. I’m a piece of shit. I’m a traitor. I’m confused. Which side are these reporters on? It’s killing me that my wife and kids have to read all this.
“Then I’m called and I walk through that door into court. I thought I was in a funeral parlor. You could literally hear a pin drop. I walked in there, and it’s wall-to-wall people. I saw John and Frankie at the defense table. I took the oath, and I sat in the witness chair. My head is spinning a million different thoughts. John is fucking staring at me with this glassy-eyed look. I’m giving it right back to him.
He has this little smirk. Believe me, I’m not smirking. Then Gleeson asked me a question, and I had to turn and look at him. That first day John was like he always was. Sitting straight up, not a hair out of place, fancy suit, whatever, the big boss. My last day John ain’t so erect anymore. He was slumping down. His hair is a little messy. His tie is crooked. I think he knew he was beat.”
For three days, Gleeson led Sammy step-by-step through his life of crime, his life in Cosa Nostra, his life with John Gotti. Sammy was next subjected to five days of withering—and futile—cross-examination by Gotti’s attorney, Krieger, and Locascio’s lawyer, Anthony Cardinale.
The father of Gleeson’s dedicated, savvy lead assistant prosecutor, Laura Ward, was a federal judge. He dropped in periodically. “In all my years on the bench,” he told his daughter, “I’ve never seen a better witness. ”
On April 2, after only thirteen hours of deliberation, the jury found Gotti guilty of all the racketeering and murder counts against him. Locascio was found guilty of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder.
Both Gotti and Locascio received life sentences without parole. Gotti began his incarceration at the maximum security federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. Locascio was shipped to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
By the time Sammy The Bull Gravano was sentenced, on September 26, 1994, he was responsible for the conviction, guilty pleas or extended prison terms of dozens of key Cosa Nostra figures, the conviction of the corrupt juror in Diane Giacalone’s failed prosecution of Gotti and the New York criminal intelligence cop who had been feeding investigative information to Gotti, as well as for the guilty pleas of eight top trade union officials for labor racketeering. In the Gambino family alone, in addition to the convictions of Gotti and Locascio, seven captains were in prison on murder and assorted racketeering counts.
Among them was Tommy Gambino, the son of Carlo Gambino and the czar of the family’s empire in the garment industry, which cost the American public an average $3.50 in hidden taxes for every $100 spent on clothing. The bosses of the Colombo family and New jersey’s DeCalvacante family, the Genovese family underboss and the Colombo family consigliere were also convicted, as well as a Genovese captain and two Lucchese captains.
In addressing judge Glasser regarding Sammy’s law enforcement contributions, John Gleeson noted the unique “ripple” effect of Sammy’s testimony. “With respect to all previous cooperators,” Gleeson said, “...when those people cooperated, there was no ripple effect in the street, in the organized crime community. The take on that was, well, there’s something wrong with the guy. What we heard from informants, what we heard from the people who followed Gravano in to become a cooperating witness was that when Salvatore Gravano cooperated, it did not indicate that there was something wrong with Salvatore Gravano, but it indicated that there was something wrong with the mob. It was very much of an attitude adjustment, very much a turning point.”
As a result, Gleeson said, a “veritable flood” of cooperating witnesses had stepped forward, including the Underboss of the Lucchese family. Gravano, he told Glasser, “has rendered extraordinary, unprecedented, historic assistance to the government.”
Glasser, himself a product of New York’s meanest streets, seconded the opinion of a federal agent that Sammy’s decision to testify was “the bravest thing I have ever seen.” The judge declared, “There has never been a defendant of his stature in organized crime who has made the leap he has made from one social planet to another. There has never been a defendant whose impact on organized crime, and the suffocating hold of that criminal octopus upon industry and labor that has been so important and so extensive.”
He sentenced Sammy to five years, followed by three years of supervised release.Sammy returned twice more as a witness. One appearance was at a sanity hearing for Chin Gigante. After six years of differing views from psychiatrists, the government had finally moved for a definitive verdict.
Sammy was the subject of two days of rambling cross-examination which wound up being more of a rehash of the attacks on him by Gotti’s defense team than on Gigante’s mental competency. But Sammy sealed Gigante’s fate with one succinct comment. Asked if he would have met and discussed sensitive Cosa Nostra business with a man whom he believed to be crazy, he replied, “No. Because if I thought he was crazy, how would I know what he was doing? He could walk right into a police station after the meeting.” The presiding judge subsequently ruled that Gigante was fit to stand trial on racketeering and murder charges.
As of this writing, released from prison, Sammy is out there, somewhere. He is on his own. He has left the witness protection program.
His wife has divorced him. She sold their home, which was in her name, the Stillwell office building and other property she owned and moved away from New York City with their children.
With his new identity, he is determined to create a new life for himself. He has found legitimate employment. Now fifty-two, he has the body of a man twenty years his junior. He works out religiously. He continues the early-morning runs, three to five miles daily, that he began at Quantico.
He has abandoned cigarettes for cigars. At day’s end, he sometimes relaxes with a martini (Beefeater gin, two olives).
He has never testified against members of his old crew. Occasionally, he wonders if they’re aware of this. He would be delighted, however, to testify against his brother-in-law, who continues to go around saying what a rat Sammy is, but he never will because of his sister.
“How I could have put Cosa Nostra ahead of loyalty to my wife and my kids is something I will always have to live with,” he says. “All my life, growing up, I thought that people who went to school and put their noses to the grindstone were nerds, taking the easy way out. I know now that I was the one who took the easy way, that I didn’t have the balls to stay in school and try. That was the tough road, which I didn’t take.
“They say I broke the oath. But it wasn’t the oath I thought I was taking. I thought it was about honor and brotherhood. I mean, when you took the oath, that honor stuff got you as high as a kite when you were being made. You really believed in it, that it was worth living for and dying for and going to jail for. It was none of that. It was all about greed and power. In reality, it was a total joke.
“At least, my own kids know now what the life really is. I hope other kids will realize it, too, from my experience,” Sammy said.
“They say Cosa Nostra is on the ropes, which is probably true. But in boxing, when you got a guy like that, that’s the time to deliver the knockout punch. Don’t kid yourself. Cosa Nostra could come back. I hear the Chinese, the Russians are going to move in. Believe me, they can’t put together what took us fifty, sixty, whatever years to do.”
I asked Sammy how concerned he was about his physical safety. “A lot of guys in the program,” he said, “look over their shoulder every minute. Who was that guy on the corner? What was that car doing parked down the block? A coward dies a thousand deaths. A man only dies once. I’m not saying some kid won’t try and make a name for himself taking me out. But if it happens, I’m only going to die once. Not a thousand times. And this kid, whoever he may be, better be good.”
A Federal prosecutor later said that Gravano did not like the constraints of the program. Gravano began living very openly, giving interviews to magazines and appearing in a nationally televised interview with television journalist Diane Sawyer. He appeared on live TV after having had plastic surgery to hide his appearance from the mob. In one interview with author/journalist Howard Blum, Gravano boasted:
- "They send a hit team down, I'll kill them. They better not miss, because even if they get me, there will still be a lot of body bags going back to New York. I'm not afraid. I don't have it in me. I'm too detached maybe. If it happens, fuck it. A bullet in the head is pretty quick. You go like that! It's better than cancer. I'm not meeting you in Montana on some fuckin' farm. I'm not sitting here like some jerk-off with a phony beard. I'll tell you something else: I'm a fuckin' pro. If someone comes to my house, I got a few little surprises for them. Even if they win, there might be surprises."
In 1997, Gravano wrote a book called Underboss with author Peter Maas. In it, Gravano claimed that he became a government witness after Gotti attempted to defame him at their trial. Gravano finally realized that the Cosa Nostra code of honor was a sham. At this time, Gravano also hired a publicist, despite the fact Gravano complained often about the publicity-seeking Gotti. After the publication of Underboss, several families of Gravano's victims filed a $25 million lawsuit against him. Also in 1997, New York State took legal action to seize Gravano's profits from the book.
During an interview Gravano had with the newspaper The Arizona Republic, he claimed federal agents he had met after becoming a government witness had become his personal friends and even visited him in Arizona while on vacation. Gravano later claimed that he didn't want The Republic to publish the story, but relented after the paper allegedly threatened to reveal that his family was living with him in Phoenix. The story so incensed his former mob compatriots that they forced the Gambinos to put a murder contract on him.
By the late 1990s, Gravano had re-engaged in criminal activity. He partnered with a local youth gang known as the "Devil Dogs" after his son Gerard became friends with the gang's 23-year-old leader, Michael Papa. Gravano started a major ecstasy trafficking organization, selling over 30,000 tablets and grossing $500,000 a week. In February 2000, Gravano and 47 other ring members --including his wife Debra, daughter Karen, and Gerard--were arrested on federal and state drug charges. In a classic case of being hoisted by one's own petard, Gravano was brought down by informants in his own ring, as well as recorded conversations in which he discussed drug profits with Debra and Karen--the same evidence that sent John Gotti to prison eight years earlier. On May 25, 2001, Gravano pleaded guilty in New York to federal drug trafficking charges. On June 29, 2001, he pleaded guilty in Phoenix to the state charges.
On September 7, 2002, after numerous delays, Gravano was sentenced in New York to 20 years on the federal charges, to run concurrently with the 19-year Arizona sentence. Gerard received nine years in prison. Debra and Karen also pleaded guilty and received several years on probation.
On February 24, 2003, New Jersey state prosecutors announced they would indict Gravano for ordering the 1980 murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro by contract killer Richard Kuklinski. Prosecutors later dropped the charges when Kuklinski, the star witness, died before he could testify. Federal inmates who served time with Gravano claimed that he privately admitted to a role in the 1980 killing of a New York cop. Inmates also claimed that Gravano bragged about killing many more than 19 people.
Linda Milito claimed in her book Mafia Wife she had heard Gravano had smothered an elderly woman to death during a botched robbery. Milito also claimed that Gravano's former crew members told her that Gravano had shot her husband Liborio Milito twice in the back of the head and once under the chin. In his court testimony, Gravano had claimed to be a bystander when Milito was shot. John Gotti's lawyers also accused Gravano of being involved in two other murders that were not disclosed by the FBI, but these charges were never proven. If it is ever proven that Gravano lied about how many people he killed, appeals by people he helped put in prison could follow.
Since Gravano's imprisonment on drug charges, he has been diagnosed with Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder which can cause fatigue, weight loss with increased appetite, and hair loss. Gravano appeared at his drug trial missing hair on his head and eyebrows and appeared to have lost weight. In Phillip Carlo's book Confessions of a Mafia Boss, mobster Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, also imprisoned at Florence, claims that Gravano only ventures out of his cell to get food and that Casso has only seen him in the mess hall a couple of times.
As of May 2012, Gravano is incarcerated in an Arizona prison. He will not be eligible for release until 2019, and will be on supervised release for the rest of his life.
In 2002, he was convicted of operating a large drug ring which led to his serving a further 15 years of a 17-year sentence. He was released early in September 2017.Gravano was listed as being in the Arizona state prison system at a CO Special Services unit. He was not to be released until March 8, 2019; however, he was released eighteen months early on September 18, 2017
People murdered by Salvatore Gravano
Gravano is thought to be responsible for 19 murders, below is a confirmed list of his victims.
Order: Nº. Name/Rank/Affiliation/When/Involvement/Reason
- Joseph Colucci/Associate/Colombo crime family/1970/Personal/Gravano was the hitman, Colucci was murdered because his wife was having an affair with Tommy Spero, his uncle Ralph decided to have Colucci killed so his nephew could get together with Colucci's wife.
- Alan Kaiser/None/Independent/August 5, 1977/Personal/Mistaken identity; Gravano thought 16 year old Alan Kaiser was Aldo Candido the person who robbed his nightclub.
- Member of a biker gang/Associate/Biker gang/1978/Personal/A biker gang ransacked on of Gravano's bars he killed a member of the biker gang in revenge.
- Nicholas Scibetta/Associate/Gambino crime family/1978/Confessed/Scibetta was killed because he was involved in a dispute with George DeCicco's daughter.
- Tommy Spero/Associate/Gambino crime family/February 1980/Personal/Gravano murdered his enemy Spero after years of rivalry.
- John Favarra/None/Independent/March 18, 1980/Personal/Gravano was one of several members of the Bergin crew who kidnapped and murdered John Favara because he had accidentally run over and killed Gotti's youngest son Frank.
- John Simone/Capo/Philadelphia crime family/1980/Personal/Gravano was the hitman, Simone was murdered because he was involved in the unsanctioned murder of Philadelphia crime family boss Angelo Bruno.
- Frank Fiala/Businessman/Independent/1982/Personal/Gravano murdered Frank Fiala because of a business dispute, Fiala tried to buy the Plaza Nightclub and when the process of purchasing the club was ongoing he made decisions as if he was the owner already without Gravano's permission and this lead to arguments culminating in Fiala threatening to kill Gravano.
- Paul Castellano/Boss/Gambino crime family/December 16, 1985/Planned it/Gravano was involved with the planning of this murder and watched it from Gotti's car. Castellano was killed because he was unpopular and because Gotti wanted to become boss.
- Thomas Bilotti/Underboss/Gambino crime family/December 16, 1985/Planned it/Gravano was involved with the planning of this murder and watched it from Gotti's car. Bilotti was killed because he was unpopular and because he was Castellano's bodyguard.
- Nicholas Mormando/Associate/Gambino crime family/January 1986/Ordered it/Nicholas Mormando was killed because he was addicted to crack cocaine.
- Robert DiBernando/Capo/Gambino crime family/June 5, 1986/At the scene/DiBernardo was killed because he was allegedly plotting against the boss, Gravano watched as his associate Joseph Paruta murdered DiBernardo.
- Michael DeBatt/Associate/Gambino crime family/November 2, 1986/Ordered it/DeBatt was killed because he was addicted to crack cocaine.
- Liborio Milito/Soldier/Gambino crime family/March 8, 1988/At the scene/Milito was killed because he was disrespectful against Gravano for making Louis Vallario capo of his old crew.
- Francessco Oliverri/None/Independent/May 3, 1988/At the scene/Gravano drove the getaway car in this murder, Oliverri was killed because he murdered a Gambino made man.
- Wilfred Johnson/Associate/Gambino crime family/August 29, 1988/Unknown/Johnson was murdered because he was an informant.
- Thomas Spinelli/Assocaite/Gambino crime family/1989/Ordered it/Spinelli was murdered because he was an informant.
- Eddie Garofalo/Demolition Contractor/Independent/August 9, 1990/Ordered it/Gravano had Garafalo killed because they were involved in a business dispute.
- Louis DiBono/Soldier/Gambino crime family/October 4, 1990/Ordered it/DiBono was murdered because he was stealing from the Gambino crime family and Gravano saw a chance to get revenge on an old enemy after years of rivalry.
In popular culture
- In the 1994 TV Movie Getting Gotti, Gravano is portrayed by Ron Gabriel.
- In the 1996 TV movie Gotti, Gravano is portrayed by William Forsythe.
- In the 1997 TV movie Witness to the Mob, Gravano is portrayed by Nicholas Turturro.
- In the 2014 film Rob the Mob, Gravano is portrayed by Garry Pastore.
- In the 2018 film Gotti, Gravano is portrayed by William DeMeo.
- Salvatore Gravano drove a seventh generation Cadillac Deville in the 1980's and a 99 Green Lexus GS while in witness Protection.
- He was a small man at the height of 5 ft 5 inches.
- Talked about in the book A Higher Loyality: Truth, Lies, & Leadership, written by 7th FBI Director James Comey.
- Mentioned in the HBO Series "Sopranos" [Season - 1, Episode - 11]
- "Mr. Moran" is a song about Sammy Gravano on the album A Jackknife to a Swan by the ska-core group The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
- A Documentary was made about Salvatore Gravano and was shown on the Biography Channel.
Gravano's daughter, Karen Gravano, stars on VH1's Mob Wives.