Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson (September 29, 1935 – August 29, 1988) was an American gangster and hitman for the Gambino crime family. He became an FBI informant from 1969 to 1987. He provided the FBI with information relating to John Gotti and other members of the Gambino crime family. He was a friend of Gambino crime boss John Gotti even though Johnson was informing on him.
Johnson was born in Canarsie, Brooklyn, one of five children of a part Native American father John Johnson, and an Italian-American mother. His parents had settled in Red Hook, Brooklyn where Wilfred Johnson was raised with his brothers and sisters.
He was known on the streets as "Indian". Johnson's father, John Johnson, was an abusive alcoholic who frequently beat his wife and children. Johnson's father often spent his entire paycheck on alcohol. Johnson's mother would periodically desert her husband and children, only to return later. This dysfunctional and vicious childhood helped mold Johnson into a criminal. He was referred to as a "half breed" in reference to his mixed Italian-Lenape heritage and Cher's song "Half Breed".
Johnson's criminal career began when he was only nine years old; he was arrested for stealing money out of a Helen's Candy Store cash register, a Murder Inc. mob hangout. Johnson's school life was quite traumatic as well. The boy had a hair-trigger temper that frequently got him into trouble. At age 12, Johnson either fell or was pushed off the school roof during a fight. As a result of this accident, Johnson sustained head injuries that would plague him with persistent headaches for the rest of his life.
Entry into organized crime
As a young man, Johnson grew to be a massive man, with a towering height and a monstrous size, he was 6' 9" and weighed close to 300 pounds and had extremely large arms and hands. This led him to become a Mafia enforcer. By 1949, he was running a gang of thugs in East New York who strong armed debtors into paying their mob debts. In 1957, Johnson met John Gotti for the first time. Gotti was a 17 year-old high-school drop-out and Johnson was a street thug perpetually in trouble with the law.
When Gotti joined the Gambino family, Johnson came with him. Johnson became known as the "terminator" because of his skill with strong-arm work. Requiring a steady income, Johnson was given a modestly-successful gambling operation. Because Johnson was only half-Italian from the wrong side of the family, he could never become a made man. However, he brought in money as well as anyone else in the family. Johnson married an Italian woman and never had a mistress. In Johnson's mind, he was part of the family.
Retired Lieutenant Remo Franceschini of the Queens District Attorney’s Squad gives this description of Johnson in his book, “A Matter of Honor: One Cop's Lifelong Pursuit of John Gotti and the Mob”:
"He was real stocky, about five feet nine inches and well over two hundred pounds, looked like a professional wrestler. Size twenty-one neck, gravel voice. You didn't want to meet Willie Boy on the street, and if you met him you'd better have backup ammunition in your pocket because six bullets were not going to stop this guy. He was the type of guy who, if he got shot, he would almost try to rip the bullets out of his own chest and then get really pissed off. 'You shot me? Now you're in f—kin' trouble"
Cooperation with the FBI
In the late 1960s, Johnson the loyal soldier would turn against his crime family. It started in 1966, when Johnson was imprisoned for armed robbery. His Caporegime, Carmine Fatico, vowed to financially support Johnson's wife and two infant children. However, Fatico soon broke this promise. Johnson's wife, who was to remain loyal to him throughout all his prison terms, was forced to go on welfare. Johnson felt the mob was not living up to its obligations. Almost always, Wilfred did not volunteer information, but would answer direct questions asked by law enforcement officials. His FBI handler Special Agent Martin Boland would submit questions from various organized crime squads inside the FBI and the DEA. In 1967 during an FBI interview, someone spotted Johnson's apparent dissatisfaction with the mob. After his release from prison, the FBI approached him about becoming an informant. Reluctant at first, Johnson finally agreed to talk in return for the government dropping some counterfeiting charges. Johnson also wanted to pay back the Gambinos for their dishonesty. In 1978 Johnson informed Boland about the whereabouts of Lucchese crime family capo Paul Vario's hijacking headquarters which at the time was operating out of a scrapyard owned by Clyde Brooks. Although he was an informant, Wilfred customarily was careful about discussing his friend John Gotti. Johnson had a curious relationship with Gotti, at one point remarking to Boland, "Sometimes I love him, and sometimes I hate him." He did not provide much elaboration except for occasional hints, among them complaints about Gotti's gambling addiction, which often involved, he said, bets of up to $100,000 a week. Some of that action, Johnson complained would be laid off at his modest bookmaking operation, forcing Johnson to absorb the loss. On other occasions, Johnson would say bitterly about Gotti, "You know, he wears these expensive suits now, but he's still a lot of bullshit; he's still a mutt. Don't be fooled by that smooth exterior." Underlying Johnson's bitterness was apparent resentment over his continuing lowly status in the crew of Carmine Fatico, a seemingly state of permanent inferiority, despite all his loyal service. He resented how Fatico and Gotti always treated him like a peon: "They still see me as a gofer and make me handle swag." Except for one hundred dollars Johnson once borrowed from Boland as an "emergency personal loan" which was promptly paid back, Boland declining an offer of "vig" on it, Wilfred did not receive a dime from the FBI. Although he did make some profit, his information solved a number of major hijackings for the FBI, and in cases where insurance companies offered large rewards for recovery of stolen goods, the FBI provided confidential affidavits attesting that Johnson was directly responsible for recovery of hijacked goods. Johnson collected the rewards, in one case thirty thousand dollars for recovery of a large shipment. As an informant, Johnson did not seek, as many do, intervention by the FBI to get criminal charges reduced or dropped.
Career as informant
During his 18 years as an informant, Johnson provided information on all the different New York Mafia crews that he worked on and the FBI used that information to make many arrests. However, as his FBI "handler," Special Agent Martin Boland noticed, Johnson refused to discuss his background or childhood in any detail.
One of the most significant pieces of information provided by Johnson was how The Vario Crew was avoiding FBI wire taps and bugs. The crew was using a parked trailer in a junkyard owned by Paul Vario in Brooklyn.
Johnson provided the FBI with information on a large-scale narcotics ring, run by John Gotti and others, called the "Pleasant Avenue Connection." He revealed that Gotti and Angelo Ruggiero had murdered Florida mobster Anthony Plate. Johnson also had details on the murder of James McBratney, the man who kidnapped Emmanuel Gambino.
Exposure and murder
In 1987, Johnson's career as an informant came to an abrupt end. In a public hearing that year, Federal prosecutor, Diane Giacalone in a overzealous attempt to convict John Gotti revealed that Johnson was working for the FBI, in an attempt to convince him to plea-bargain and testify against Gotti. Johnson's FBI handlers tried to convince him to enter the Witness Protection Program, but for some reason he refused. This led to a breakdown in already strained relations between the FBI and Giacalone, and led the FBI to cease involvement in the Gotti case, which led to an acquittal. the acquittal also put Wilfred Johnson's life in danger as his status as a rat was revealed to the gambinos.
On August 29, 1988, at 6:05am Bonanno family hit men, Thomas Pitera and Vincent Giattino ambushed Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson as he walked to his car and shot him to death. the gunmen fired 19 rounds at him. Johnson was hit once in each thigh, twice in the back, and at least six times in the head. The hit team then dropped jack-like spikes on the street to prevent the possibility of pursuit. Pitera had done this as a favor to Gotti.
In 1992, Thomas Pitera and Vincent Giattino were indicted and tried for the murder of Johnson. Giattino was found guilty. Pitera was acquitted, but was later convicted of six other murders.