John Gotti and the Gambino Family

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New York is home to five crime families, the Gambino, Bonanno, Genovese, Lucchese and Colombo organizations (Gardiner and Shallwani). The Gambino family was the largest of the five, and with the colorful John Gotti at its helm, was the focus of many FBI investigations (“John Gotti”). The five organizations are primarily involved in narcotics, loan-sharking, gambling, extortion, infiltration of organized labor, Viagra trafficking and Internet offshore gambling. To prove that the New York mafia has not lost its luster, Vincent "Vinnie" Asaro, a Bonanno family captain, was arrested in 2014 for the 1978 Lufthansa Heist, which took place over thirty years before, where over $6 million in cash and jewelry was stolen from the John F. Kennedy International Airport. Asaro was later acquitted of the charges against him (Clifford). The New York mafia is still present, but it is doing business in the old world way, behind the scenes and not with the attention seeking and bravado displayed by John Gotti which brought the Gambinos to their knees (Gardner). 

The Mafia Hierarchy

The structure of the mafia is such that the soldiers come up with a means to generate revenue, in the case of Gotti, it was truck hijacking, some secure tax-free gas and then bootlegged the gasoline, others sell drugs (Gardiner and Shallwani). The soldier has to share a percentage of his revenue with his lieutenant, who then shares with his captain, who thereafter shares with his capo. Skimming from the proper revenue share is not in the best interest of the soldiers, or anyone in the chain of command. If you are suspected of skimming, you could wind up swimming with the fishes.

The typical hierarchy of the mafia includes associates, who are not specifically members of the mafia, but who partner with the mafia to accomplish a particular goal ("Mafia in the United States"). An associate can be a banker who engages in money laundering in conjunction with the mob, or cops who engage in illicit activities. An associate can also be a newcomer who is yet to become a made member of the mafia. Only associates who are Italians or Sicilians can become made men. The bottom rung of the mafia is the soldier. The soldier is the person who does all the work, is often exposed to the most danger and seeks to be recognized for their ability to bring in revenue and demonstrate their loyalty. Young children have been enlisted into the mafia and become soldiers. The next level is the lieutenant who generally manages the soldiers and reports to the capo or caporegime. In some instances the solders are managed directoy by the capo without the use of an intervening lieutenant ("Mafia in the United States"). The capo reports to the underboss or the boss, depending on the organizational structure. The consigliere is the third highest ranking member of the family. The consigliere is an advisor, often a best friend of the mob boss. He acts as a counselor, provides advice and helps to resolve disputes within the organization. Not in the direct line of the hierarchy, the consigliere’s sole function is trusted friend, strategic counselor and provider of sound advice. The underboss is the second highest mafia member in the organization. He is in charge of the capos and reports to the mob boss. He is often groomed to take over the position of the boss, if he has been indicted or is in ill health. In some instances, there are two underbosses at the same time, like in the case of the Gambino family, where Paul Castellano and Aniello "Mr. Neil" Dellacroce were both underbosses to Carlo Gambino. The boss is the man in charge of the mafia family, sometimes referred to as the Don or the Godfather. The boss receives a percentage of everyone’s take in his organization. The commission, which is composed of bosses from the five New York families and the Chicago Outfit, have not openly met since 1985. They still exists, but because of pressures from law enforcement, they have receded from public view ("Mafia in the United States").

John Gotti: Gambino’s Dapper Don

John Gotti was born in the Bronx in 1940 (“John Gotti”). He was born to Philomena and John Joseph Gotti, Sr. the fifth in a line of thirteen children living in poverty. Gotti, Sr. was a day laborer, and struggled to provide for his family, a fact John ultimately came to resent. John dropped out of high school at 16, but not before developing a reputation as a bully and a truant. Gotti ran with gangs from the age of 12 and got involved with robberies and car-jacking. While trying to steal a cement mixer, the truck fell on him, crushing his toes. The outcome of accident remained with him his entire life, as he was known for his signature gait (“John Gotti”). Gotti became an intricate member of the Fulton-Rockaway Boys, a mafia related gang in Ozone Park, Queens, where he later met long time mentor Angelo Ruggierio and ultimate informant and government witness, Wilfred Johnson. John and his brothers, Gene, Peter, Richard and Vincent Gotti, each became made men in the Gambino crime family, although some earlier than others. John stepped up his life of crime when he became an associate of Carmine Fatico of the Gambino family. He continued focusing on hijacking trucks near the then Idlewild Airport, and soon met Gambino underboss Aniello Dellacroce (Parker). 

After Gotti’s arrest and imprisonment for hijacking, he returned to Ozone Park to the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, back home to Carmine Fatico’s crew (Parker). Fatico put Gotti in charge of his gambling operations, and later when Fatico was indicted on loansharking charges, he named Gotti temporary capo of his Bergin crew. As capo he would venture to Dellacroce's base of operations at the Ravenite Social Club to give him updates on the goings on with the crew. Dellacroce took a liking to Gotti because they were cut from the same cloth, both very violent, centered in profanity and ardent gamblers. After a botched murder in front of witnesses that Gotti participated in, he struck a plea deal and was only sentenced to four years, and wound up serving only two. Gotti was made in 1977 and became capo, officially taking over Fatico’s crew under now mob boss Paul Castellano (Parker). Gotti became one of the highest earning of underboss Dellacroce’s crew. He received a percentage of his crew’s earning, ran a drug business, had a loan sharking operation, and had a front position with a plumbing supply company that he never appeared at. Gotti also participated in the Lufthansa Heist, where his job was to dispose of the getaway van at his salvage yard, but the driver, Parnell "Stacks" Edwards, decided not to deliver the truck and instead parked it in front of a fire hydrant and went inside and fell asleep. This mistake helped to unravel the identity of many of the crew members involved in the heist ("Family of Man Killed”).

Gotti’s angst with Castellano continued as Castellano angst against Gotti grew as well. Castellano had forbidden drug operations, but Gotti refused to stop (Parker). With the unofficial approval of lower level members of other families, Gotti did the unthinkable, he ambushed Castellano and underboss Thomas Bilotti at the Sparks Steak House on December 16, 1985. Gotti became the boss of the Gambino family in 1986. Gotti became known as the Teflon Don because of his ability to be charged at trial, but ultimately be acquitted. His trial success was due in major part to the counsel of defense attorney Bruce Cutler, stating that the government had a vendetta against Gotti. In addition, one of the jury members, George Pape, was paid off to hold his vote out for acquittal. After deliberations, the jury members initially all voted to convict, except for Pape. However, after a while, the jury concluded that if they went against Gotti that it might not be in their best personal interest, so Gotti and his co-defendants were all acquitted, helping to solidify his reputation (Lubasch).

Against the advice of Sammy Gravano, Gotti required his capos to travel to the Ravenite Social Club weekly, to give him an update and pay their duty ("Gotti's Mistake."). This allowed the FBI Gambino Squad to engage in surveillance and record discussions and photograph the family hierarchy (Raab). Gotti had one final acquittal, but in 1992 Gotti was charged with racketeering in the murders of Castellano, Milito, Dibono, Bilotti and DiBernardo; conspiracy to murder Vastola; illegal gambling, loansharking, bribery, tax evasion and obstruction of justice (“John Gotti”). Gotti made it easy for the feds to secure proof about the activities he was engaged in, recordings of his conversations were ongoing and countless hours of conversation were accumulated (Newfield). Instead of hiding his activities as was the custom in the mafia, Gotti reveled in being the center of attention. He was known for being narcissistic, boastful and egocentric. In addition to Gotti giving himself away, the federal prosecutors had some new legislative tools at their disposal.

Federal RICO Statutes and the Mafia

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as RICO, is a federal law that heightens criminal penalties for the acts of mobsters and others who are leaders of an ongoing criminal organization ("109. Rico Charges"). RICO focuses on the illegal act of racketeering, and it provides that the heads of syndicates can be tried for the illegal actions they order performed by others to do or that they assist them in doing. The statute is a big win for law enforcement because it obliterates a loophole that allowed bosses who ordered others to murder or commit some other crime, to be immune from going to trial because the boss did not personally commit the crime ("109. Rico Charges").

Sammy “the Bull” Gravano

Gotti’s underboss, Sammy “the Bull” Gravano was a key component to bringing down the Teflon Don as well ("The Return of Sammy the Bull"). Gravano decided to turn states evidence against Gotti when the FBI allowed him to listen to Gotti making negative remarks about him, calling him greedy on wiretap, and trying to frame Sammy as the main proponent behind murders that Gotti had actually ordered. After the trial, and about one additional year in prison, Sammy was entered into the U. S. Federal Witness Protection Program. Gravano later exited the program because he felt it was too restrictive and returned to a life of crime. He was later arrested and pled guilty to federal drug-running charges for selling and leading a multimillion dollar Ecstasy drug ring ("The Return of Sammy the Bull").

Attorney Bruce Cutler

In the 1992 trial, defense attorney Bruce Cutler was disqualified from representing Gotti, which was a big blow to his defense (Lubasch 2). Cutler had successfully gotten Gotti acquitted many times previously. The surveillance conducted by the feds indicated that Cutler had advanced knowledge of some of the murders and other criminal activities, which made him “part of the evidence” and subjected him to possibly being called as a witness. In addition, prosecutors described Cutler as the Gambino family in-house counsel (Lubasch 2).

Gotti’s Incarceration

Gotti was found guilty and received a life sentence (Raab 2). He was imprisoned in the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. He remained in solitary confinement but was allowed to leave his cell for just one hour per day. Despite this schedule, he was seriously beaten up by fellow prison inmate Walter Johnson. Gotti paid the Aryan Brotherhood $40,000 to murder Johnson, but the authorities, hearing about the plan, moved Johnson to another facility for his protection. In 1994, his attorneys appealed his conviction, but it was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. John Gotti died of cancer in 2002. The other four New York families would not attend Gotti’s funeral because of the havoc he wreaked on the mafia and his own mob family (Parker). More than half of the Gambino family had been imprisoned.

Work Cited

Vanian, Jonathan. "This Drone Startup Just Achieved A Milestone In Doorstep Delivery." Fortune. Time, Inc. 25 March 2016. Web. 1 April 2016. <>.