~ By Editor @ MobbedUp.com
It was Monday, December 16, 1985. Downtown Manhattan was filled with shoppers in a frenzy trying to get some last-minute Christmas shopping done. After waiting at a red light, the Lincoln Continental quickly made its way to the front of Sparks Steakhouse. Without delay, a tall sharply dressed older man who could easily pass for your everyday office executive, exited the car and started to straighten out his suit and remove his leather gloves.
As the older gentleman stepped onto the sidewalk, two men wearing Russian style fur hats with matching vanilla colored rain coats quickly confront him and without saying a word the men start firing indiscriminately at their larger than life target. Before the man could even raise his hands in self-defense he is struck in the head by a bullet and violently collapses just steps from his car door. As he lay dying, with blood now visibly emanating from his mouth, one of the men walks up to him, kneels down, sticks his pistol underneath the man’s chin, and fires. Just as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The deed was done. Paul Castellano was dead.
The day was Sunday, October 27, 1940 in the Bronx, New York. Joseph and Fannie Gotti had just welcomed their new baby boy John Joseph into the world. At the time, the Bronx, New York was a bustling place with newly arriving Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants coming ashore everyday. America was the land of opportunity but that opportunity would not be easy. For those poor souls willing to sacrifice long hours and back-breaking work down at the docks or in crammed warehouses loading and unloading trucks it was better than being back home under fascist government regimes. To many immigrants, the back-breaking work was a drastic change from having to beg for money and many time go days without eating. Many immigrants preferred the harsh working conditions and accepted them as normal. Many would go on to save enough money to open a business of their own. However, some would take to the streets in search of a quick payday.
When John Gotti entered the criminal underworld the mafia had long-established a base of power in many major metropolitan cities. New York was the epicenter of it all, and sometimes John would hear of stories of well-dressed men with diamond picky rings. To the average school kid it would be a scary tale of mayhem and murder. To John Joseph Gotti they would be stories that piqued his curiosity and intrigued him to no end. He would hear tales of mafia heavyweights such as Albert Anastasia, Benny Siegel, Charlie Luciano, and Frank Costello. John couldn’t understand how men such as these could wield such immense power and yet remain unscathed, untouched by the law. Soon John would learn that these men were not your ordinary citizens. They were mafia dons.
Early on in school John had difficulties forming sentences. It wasn’t until his parents sought out professional care that John was diagnosed with a form of dyslexia. Inevitably, John would be the center of jokes from other boys at which John quickly responded with violence. Having tired of the boring school routine, John, at the tender age of twelve, would spend his days running errands for the local wiseguys. During the evenings John would spend it down at the local borgata committing petty crimes with the local street gang called the Fulton-Rockaway boys. At first, John started out shoplifting and purse snatching, but as he became older his borgata became a recruiting ground for the local wiseguys, particularly a Gambino capo named Carmine ‘Charley Wagons’ Fatico.
Carmine Fatico was a loyal but vicious caporegime. He ran the local social club and most of the mob business in East New York for boss Albert Anastasia. It was through his hanging around Carmine that John would go on to meet the man who would eventually become his life-long father figure in Cosa Nostra, Aniello ‘Neil’ Dellacroce. As time passed John eventually graduated from simple thefts to robberies and carjackings. At the young age of fourteen he became the leader of his gang and soon thereafter, John attempted to steal a cement mixer only to have his toes crushed in the process. In time John would eventually walk with a slight limp which reminded many of how notorious boss Albert Anastasia would strut in public.
Having barely passed middle-school John attempted to stay in school at Franklin K. Lane High in Brooklyn, only to drop out in his second year at the age of sixteen. He never looked back. John viewed school as a roadblock instead of a stepping stone. He felt his chances of making it in the real world were in the streets, not in a classroom. He viewed his father’s life as a total failure. And although he respected his father for trying to provide for his family, he vowed never to walk in his footsteps. John viewed himself above that. Above the frayed life his father lived. Never having enough to sustain his family. He saw the hardships, he lived them. There was no way he intended to settle for mediocrity.
Soon after dropping out of school altogether John sought out to make a name for himself. He was a mad man on a mission. He wanted to be noticed and respected by all. He knew he would have to immerse himself in illegal activities if he was to garner the respect of the underworld. He was now officially on record with the Gambino family as a Fatico crew associate. JFK airport was his playground and Gotti started his climb to the top. He would get tips all the time from truckers looking to make a quick buck on the side. Carmine was in charge and Gotti knew he had the blessing to do as he pleased when he pleased. Instead of trying to avoid him, truckers would go out of their way to appease him and in turn they avoided a beating and were well paid for their loyalty.
In early 1962 John wed his longtime girlfriend Victoria DiGiorgio, who was only seventeen at the time. Being a devout catholic Victoria insisted they marry before she would have their second child Vicky. The constant scheming and social clubbing put a strain on their relationship and for the first few years of the marriage the couple would separate numerous times. For a time, John decided to lay low and try to resolve his family matters. He would try his hand at different legitimate jobs. When it seemed that all was going well, John would be enticed to leave his job and hit the streets. So in 1966, John was jailed twice for different crimes. Soon thereafter, the family decided to move to Ozone Park in Queens, New York. It was this move that would put John on the fast track to getting his button and solidifying his position within the Fatico crew.
The late 1960′s saw John in and out of correctional institutions until he was eventually convicted and sentenced to three years in Federal prison for stealing cargo at JFK airport. While John was in prison, Carmine decided to move his crew near the Gotti house in Queens. The new club would be called the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club. While boasting that they were in fact a hunting and fishing club, the club was nothing more than a front for the more illicit activities taking place behind closed doors. Shortly after being released in 1971, Gotti became the acting captain of the Fatico crew, as Carmine faced loan sharking charges from the feds. John becoming acting captain of the Fatico crew was unprecedented in Cosa Nostra being that John was not even a made man yet. This demonstrated the level of respect and loyalty that Gotti had acquired while loyally serving Carmine.
Soon thereafter, Carmine was convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence. This left Gotti in charge of the Bergin crew. Something he intended to take full advantage of. In May of 1973, Gotti’s golden opportunity came around when the family boss came calling. Apparently, someone was stupid enough to kidnap for ransom the nephew of Carlo Gambino. To this day it is not known whether the kidnappers knew who Emanuel ‘Manny’ Gambino truly was or they simply didn’t care. Either way the kidnappers deemed it better to kill Manny after receiving the ransom money rather than face the possibility of being picked out of a line-up. The kidnapping was not only an insult to Don Carlo but an affront to the Gambino Crime Family as a whole.
Carlo did not take any chances and wanted the best crew to find and punish the persons responsible. Considering that Gotti’s crew, now numbering in the hundreds, was one of the family’s top crews, it was not surprising that John would be sent for and assigned the task of finding the guilty parties. After a few days, people started reporting back to Gotti and his crew. A name that continued to pop-up was that of a rough and tough Irish gangster named James McBratney. During the mid to late 1960′s, McBratney was part of the upstart Irish gang called the Westies based out of Manhattan’s Westside in Hell’s Kitchen. The Westies would eventually go on to become partners with the Gambino family, but for now, McBratney had to pay for his sins. It didn’t take Gotti long to put two and two together. The hit squad was put together and it would be Ralph ‘Wigs’ Galione, Anthony ‘Quack, Quack’ Ruggiero, and John Gotti.
The orders were for McBratney to die a slow and painful death. One late evening in a Staten Island bar called Snoops, the trio found their target half drunk near the bar area. As the three entered, Galione flashed a phony badge and asked McBratney to step outside so he could be questioned. McBratney not being anybody’s fool smelled a rat. He may have been half drunk but his street instincts were fully intact. McBratney immediately called Galione’s bluff. Once the trio realized the gig was up, they attempted to forcefully walk McBratney out of the bar. McBratney sensing imminent danger started to wrestle with the three and with that, Galione pulled out a nine-millimeter pistol and quickly pumped three bullets into McBratney.
As their victim fell to the floor dead, patrons started to scream and panic. John, Ralph, and Anthony hurriedly left the bar but were quickly rounded up the following morning. Thanks to the bar patrons John was identified as the ‘leader’ and was eventually convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for manslaughter. It was only through famed mob attorney Roy Cohn’s legal maneuvering that Gotti was able to receive the lenient prison sentence.
After Gotti left prison in 1977, and with Dellacroce’s blessing, he was officially inducted into the Gambino Crime Family and became the permanent Capo of the old Fatico crew. It was a bitter-sweet moment for Gotti. While imprisoned, Carlo Gambino had died, but before he passed away he went against Cosa Nostra tradition and left the family in hands of his brother in-law, Paul ‘Big Paulie’ Castellano. This went completely against mafia protocol were the family Underboss, in this case Neil Dellacroce, would be the obvious family successor. Dellacroce could rightfully claim he was the new boss and reject Castellano outright. However, Mr. Neil, as he was sometimes called, was old school and he knew that causing a civil war would not benefit the good of the family. Moreover, it would potentially cause the family to lose strength and even their seat as head of the Commission. Gotti on the other hand, hated Castellano, and had it not been for Dellacroce, he would have attempted a bloody coup.
In March of 1980, the Gotti family suffered a heart wrenching loss when Gotti’s son Frank Gotti was struck and killed by Gotti’s neighbor John Favara. While the tragedy was found to have been a terrible accident, with Favara being cleared of any wrong doing, the Gotti’s felt that Favara may have been speeding. Favara personally knew the Gotti’s and when he attempted to visit them to offer his condolences, it was reported that Victoria Gotti attacked him with a baseball bat sending him to the hospital. Favara refused to press charges. Not long after that Favara started to receive death threats and both his home and vehicles were tampered with. Other neighbors urged Favara to move, but Favara refused citing his innocence. Unfortunately, Favara could not see that his presence in the neighborhood was detrimental to the Gotti’s, but especially to Victoria who never fully recovered from the death of little Frankie.
It was Monday, July 28, 1980, a muggy day with temperatures expected to be in the low 90′s. John Favara had just finished his day at Castro Convertibles, a furniture company in New Hyde Park. It was about five o’clock in the afternoon as Favara was making his way to his car when he was struck in the head by a pair of unknown male’s and quickly put into an unmarked van that quickly sped away. Witnesses reported seeing the commotion while receiving an odd explanation to Favara’s unconscious and limp body.
One of the men that was stuffing Favara into the van said “they were taking their friend home because he did not feel well.” That was the last time John Favara was ever seen. Nobody has ever been convicted in the disappearance of Favara, but the list of those wanting to curry favor with John Gotti was too long for investigators to properly investigate, and no charges were ever brought.
During the early 1980′s, Gotti’s gambling and nightlife started to spin out of control. The more money John made the more he spent. It was during this time that Gotti’s younger brother Gene started to deal drugs with Gotti’s longtime childhood friend, Anthony ‘Quack, Quack’ Ruggiero. Paul Castellano had set down strict rules that anybody caught dealing in drugs would be killed without question. And while this drug edict was in place, Castellano would many times turn a blind eye to the money that came from drug dealing. Making him a hypocrite in Gotti’s and everyone else’s eyes.
Castellano was not the only one noticing the rampant drug dealing coming from Gotti’s crew. The feds were also abreast of Gene and Ruggiero’s drug empire. So much so, that Ruggiero’s home, Gotti’s club, and Gene’s home had all been bugged by the feds. This bugging would mark the beginning of the end for Castellano and his reign as boss.
The feds would eventually come calling in 1985, with John and Gene Gotti being indicted along with Gotti mentor Neil Dellacroce and Quack, Quack Ruggiero for racketeering and drug dealing. The heavier charges being reserved for Gene and Quack, Quack Ruggiero. As the indictments reached Castellano, he immediately requested a sit-down with Gotti and Dellacroce. Gotti, knowing full well the implications of being caught dealing in drugs asked Dellacroce to intercede on his behalf.
Dellacroce requested a meeting with Castellano, and during the meeting Castellano demanded that Gotti turn over to him the tapes from the FBI bugs. Dellacroce tried stalling Castellano but knew that it would only be temporary and eventually he would have to hear them. Ruggiero, being Dellacroce’s nephew, received a tongue lashing from the old-school Dellacroce on why made men did not deal in drugs. Ruggiero remained adamant, and refused to turn the tapes over to Castellano explaining ‘his family was on them.’
The tapes would never reach Castellano, as more pressing matters came to the forefront. On Monday, December 2, 1985, Anthony ‘Neil’ Dellacroce took his last breath and died peacefully at Immaculate Hospital in Queens. It was standard mafia protocol to attend the family’s underboss funeral. To not attend would send a clear message of disrespect and defiance. At Dellacroce’s, funeral most of the Gambino members were present, and those not in attendance made sure to send large flower arrangements and gifts.
Everyone knew how close John was to Neil, which is why most Gambino’s lined up and wished him well. Shockingly, the one person who should have been first in line was not there. To add insult to injury, Castellano did not even bother to send any type of condolences or flowers to show sympathy for his underboss’ passing. Gotti viewed this as an immense sign of disrespect and dishonor. When asked by underlings why he did not attend the funeral Castellano would say “he did not want to endanger anyone by being present as the feds would be watching.” It is true that Castellano had already been indicted in the commission case however, little did he know the contempt he was being held in. This charge was much greater than any prison sentence he could have received. Castellano had less than two weeks left to live.
When Gotti first heard Castellano’s edict on drug dealing he was incensed. He knew Castellano took drug money as tribute from anyone in the family. Castellano’s double-dealing nearly cost him his life early on in his administrator years. Castellano was considered by most Gambino soldiers to be a business man first, and a gangster second. Gotti was one of these soldiers. Gotti felt Castellano was not a street guy, and never truly learned what it was to hustle for money. Castellano’s home life also added to Gotti’s outrage as Castellano decided to start a love affair with his live-in housemaid Gloria Olarte. Castellano’s wife Nina was so furious that she moved out of the Castellano home soon after finding out.
Keeping Dellacroce on as underboss when Carlo Gambino died was perhaps one of the smartest things Castellano could have ever done. Not only did this allow for some type of continuity with the old regime, but it also kept Gotti and his crew in check with Cosa Nostra rules. And one rule that Dellacroce would not allow Gotti to break was to assassinate a sitting boss. Dellacroce argued that irregardless of Castellano’s recklessness, he was not to be touched or harmed. Dellacroce knew that Castellano’s days were numbered. He knew that once he passed away, Gotti would quickly move on Castellano. Gotti, while not happy about Dellacroce dying, did see the bright side to the sad event and quickly assembled a hit squad.
The blood had hardly coagulated in Castellano’s dead corpse when Gotti was already assembling a sit-down with Gambino family capo’s. The news quickly spread through New York’s five boroughs. Paul Castellano was dead, assassinated in broad daylight by a four man hit team. The hit had been carried out with deadly precision, just as Gotti had planned it. For the first few days after the assassination, the entire New York mafia was thrown into chaos. The killing of a family associate or made guy can sometimes be expected. However, assassinating the Capo di tutti capi in broad daylight in the middle of rush hour in one of the busiest boroughs in the country, is astounding if not shocking.
The message at the initial sit-down was “nobody panic, don’t overreact, don’t carry weapons. Everyone is okay, but we need to find out who was behind the hit.” Frankie DeCicco was the only remaining man left alive on the Gambino administration panel. DeCicco, being Gambino family Consigliere, spoke at the sit-down and ordered an investigation into the slayings. He also ordered the capo’s to report to other families that the “Gambino family was still intact” and that their “commission seat” should be left untouched. After a few days, a subsequent sit-down was held where a new boss would be elected. By this time, the media was having a field day speculating and pointing to John Gotti as the one responsible for the killings. So unsurprisingly, at the next sit-down, DeCicco stood up and asked that Gotti be the next family boss with him serving as underboss. The votes quickly went around the room and everyone was in agreement. John Gotti was now head of the most powerful mafia family in the country.
John Gotti’s short reign as Gambino family boss would be the subject of many books and movies. Not only would he be the subject of many articles and magazines but he would also come under tight FBI scrutiny for his alleged role in the slayings. When Gotti decided to kill Castellano and his underboss Thomas Bilotti, he broke a cardinal rule within Cosa Nostra. A rule that would not be forgotten by his enemies. A rule that would nearly cost him his life in the coming years.
To be continued……………..