Death came on June 10 in a prison hospital in Springfield, Mo. for John Gotti, the flamboyantly famous and colorfully brutal former head of the notorious Gambino crime family of New York who rose to power in a hail of gunfire and fell under the gavel of justice in a courtroom.
When he took over the Gambino clan in 1985, he did so in a classic mafia fashion: he killed his predecessor. On the street in front of a steakhouse in Manhattan’s midtown, Paul “Big Paulie” Castellano was shot dead. Witnesses reportedly said that Gotti was in a car nearby and witnessed the shooting.
One of New York City’s five most powerful and infamous mob families—the Gambino crime syndicate—was soon taken over by gangster John “Gotti” Guadagnino in the early 1980s.
A total of over 2,000 “associates” that worked for the Gambinos were said to be part of the “family” of over 23 “crews” that comprised the Gambinos. The Garment District in Manhattan was under its thumb, as were construction and garbage transportation firms. The family had a long history of loan sharking and extortion, but under Gambino, they entered the drug trade, which they had hitherto avoided.
The public’s fascination with Gotti was sparked almost as rapidly as the Gambino family’s fall from power.
Typical of the mob, this mafia figure was bland and uninteresting, giving vague responses to reporters and avoiding the spotlight. It was clear to me that Gotti enjoyed the spotlight. Hairstylists cut and styled his hair every day; he wore $2,000 Italian suits, $400 hand-painted ties, and shirts of an uncanny whiteness. He made it known that he learned about leadership by reading “The Prince” by Niccol Machiavelli, and he seemed to relish the opportunity to jeer at lawyers and police officers.
Since Al Capone in 1920s Chicago, Gotti became the face of organized crime. As with Capone, Gotti relished going out at night, dining at posh restaurants, and mixing with A-listers from the world of sports and entertainment. He was chauffeured around in a Mercedes-Benz for his nightly rounds.
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He was on the top page of New York newspapers for years because of his alleged acts and his appearance on the cover of Time magazine (which he kept blown up in his office). As a regular on late-night television comedic monologues, he gained notoriety beyond New York.
Despite Gotti’s willingness to be open about his deadly tendencies, he became well-known and even admired by some members of the public. Fear, after all, is a useful tool in the pursuit of self-control. Gotti’s rants to colleagues about the desire to kill a variety of people were recorded by federal wiretaps for hours on end.
Asked about the fate of a neighbor who inadvertently hit Gotti’s 12-year-old kid with his automobile in 1980 and killed him, he always smirked. After his son’s funeral, Gotti traveled to Florida. While in New York, the neighbor was spotted getting into a truck and then disappearing into the ether.
Because of his dapper attire and Hollywood persona, the “Dapper Don” became known as “the Teflon Don.” In 1985, he successfully defended himself in three key court cases against prosecutors. The incredible winning streak came to an end in 1990.
A federal jury found Gotti guilty of murder, extortion, and obstruction of justice, and he was given the death penalty.
This is because of the large-scale effort by the FBI to eliminate organized crime. Extensive wiretapping and a hidden weapon, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, who was turned against his employer by prosecutors, were two of the most important weapons in the Gotti war. As early as 1992, Gravano was giving testimony in trials involving organized crime all around the country. He went into witness protection only to come out of it. For the second time, he has been accused of conducting an Ecstasy drug enterprise in Arizona, which he denies. To state and federal charges, he pleaded guilty in the spring of 2013.
Gravano’s testimony was a waste of time for Gotti, who had been smirking and nodding his head throughout the trial. He departed the courtroom with an oath of omerta, the code of silence on criminal matters, until his death. There appears to be little evidence that he broke his promise.
He was taken to Marion, Ill., a maximum-security federal prison (despite a lifelong fear of flying). In a jail hospital in 1998, he underwent surgery for cancer of the neck and throat. A few months before, he had been admitted to the prison hospital in Springfield.
Immigrant parents in New York City had 13 children, including John Gotti, the son of John Joseph Gotti. The former high school dropout rose to the position of the gang boss. When he first started in the criminal underworld, he ran errands for mob figures and worked his way up the arrest ladder with charges for public intoxication, bookmaking, car thefts, gun possession, and burglary.
With his 1968 arrest for truck hijackings and cargo thefts around New York City’s Kennedy International Airport, he became a household name. In 1972, he was released from prison after serving a three-year federal term for the crime. After that, a member of the Gambino family was abducted and killed. Gotti shot and killed the suspected kidnapper outside a restaurant when the Gambino family tracked him down.
Gotti continued on the run for a year before he was finally apprehended and put on trial for the shooting. Roy Cohn, Gotti’s lawyer, negotiated a deal with the prosecution that reduced Gotti’s sentence to just four years in prison.
He became a national hero for the Gambinos in 1977. Before Paul Castellano, who was a new and less-than-popular family head, he rose through the ranks and flourished as a result. Almost an instantaneous legend was established once lead dealer Gotti arbitrated the issue in question.
For years, he insisted that he earned $100,000 a year selling plumbing supplies as his sole source of income. Those who were close to Gotti claimed that his annual income, excluding the money he made from selling plumbing supplies, was as high as $12 million.
Victoria DiGiorgio of New York; four children; five brothers; and 11 grandchildren are all that is left of him.
61-year-old convicted felon and former Mafia kingpin John Gotti passed away from cancer in a Missouri prison hospital in 1990 after a life sentence.