I’m a Boss
John Gotti Jr. was born on October 27, 1940. John Gotti was flashy, fearless, fierce and ruthless. He was the type of mob leader that had not been seen since the heydays of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. John Gotti ushered in a second glory period for the Gambino crime family in the 1980s. He used a combination of old-school charm and a ruthless desire for power, money, and respect. He was a man of contradictions; a man who could go from vicious murder operations to throwing barbecues for his neighbors.
John Gotti Jr. was known as both the “Dapper Don” and the “Teflon Don” for his flashy attire and ability to beat any rap that the authorities tried to throw at him. He was the top dog in the underworld throughout the 1980s, and executed his commanding presence with an unparalleled toughness and willingness to do whatever it took to stay at the top.
John Gotti began his life born and raised in Brooklyn. His days of crime started when he joined street gangs and committed petty thefts as a youngster. John Gotti Jr.’s first arrest was at the age of 14. He was caught trying to steal a cement mixer, but dropped it and broke his foot. An example of the suave character, which served him well for most of his life, Gotti managed to talk his way out of trouble by attributing the incident to a boyhood prank.
After dropping out of school in the eighth grade, John Gotti Jr. started moving up in the underworld. By 1966, he was hijacking trucks at JFK airport for the Gambino family. Gotti befriended Gambino underboss Aniello Dellacroce in the mid-’60s. This began his ascent within the family…right after a hijacking gone awry led to him serving three years in the slammer in 1969.
Upon his release, John Gotti Jr. proved himself to be a major player in the family. He earned the respect of Gambino boss Carlo Gambino when he avenged the death of Gambino’s nephew. His nephew had allegedly been kidnapped and murdered by an Irish mobster named James McBratney. Two eyewitnesses saw the murder of McBratney. At the trial, Gotti turned on his legendary charm and got his first-degree murder charge reduced to second-degree manslaughter, and only served two years in prison.
While Gotti was serving time, Carlo Gambino died and left his crime empire in the hands of his cousin, Paul Castellano. Gotti was upset to not see it go to his mentor Dellacroce and hated Castellano for it. Castellano was equally as un-fond of Gotti and this mutual dislike would last until things came to a head in the mid-1980s.
John Gotti Jr. began work in the lucrative narcotics trade upon his release from prison, another thing that Castellano, and Gambino before him, strongly opposed. Drugs were the dividing force within the Cosa Nostra in the ’70s and ’80s, and the Gambino family was no exception. Younger mobsters liked the big and easy money that came with heroin trafficking. Older members feared that it would attract the attention of the FBI, and preferred to stay in tried tested and true businesses like sanitation, construction and union manipulation.
In 1980, John Gotti Jr.’s son Frank was accidentally struck and killed by a neighbor’s car while he was riding his bike. After weeks of harassment and threats, a couple of Gotti’s goons drove by the man’s home, threw him in a van and sped away. He was never heard from again. The Gottis were in Florida at the time and John was never charged.
John Gotti Jr. kept moving up in the family during the ’80s, eventually becoming capo and flourishing in the drug trafficking trade. Dellacroce had acted as peacekeeper between Castellano and Gotti over the narcotics racket but when he died in 1985 all bets were off.
That year, federal authorities caught up with Castellano, indicting him on several criminal charges. Gotti feared that Castellano’s anger in his involvement in heroin trafficking would make the now-aging Castellano rat him out to the feds. This would push him out of the organization altogether, so Gotti decided that he had to act now.
Patience was never a forte of Gotti’s, instead of just waiting for the aging Castellano to expire before he vied for the top spot in the family, he took matters into his own hands. He went against Mafia policy of asking permission from the other families before offing a Don, Gotti gunned down his nemesis and his new underboss Tommy Bilotti outside a Manhattan steak house on December 16, 1985. John Gotti Jr. was now king, and judging by the way he handled his newfound power, it was good to be king.
John Gotti’s Empire
Once in power, Gotti ran his empire from the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy. From the very beginning of his reign, Gotti made it clear that he wanted the spotlight. He frequently wore $2,000 suits, relished media attention, and became known as the “Dapper Don” for his flamboyant, extroverted arrogance. He also insisted that all of his “employees” pay their respects to him regularly by stopping by the club on Mulberry Street. Those who didn’t usually paid the ultimate price. This would eventually prove to be Gotti’s undoing, as the FBI now had a constant stream of Mafiosi to photograph, and a location to wiretap.
John Gotti Jr. graduated from the “Dapper Don” to the “Teflon Don.” He dodged conviction in three separate criminal cases beginning in 1986 through a combination of charm and brilliant defense counsel.
In addition to Gotti’s flamboyancy, he was also indiscreet. He blatantly disregarded the “omerta” code of silence, and often talked openly about hits and plans to commit crimes as well as about the Cosa Nostra itself.
After the FBI armed themselves with years of photographic and wiretap evidence, it finally moved in for the kill in the early ’90s. With the help of Gotti’s right-hand man, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, John Gotti was convicted on five murder charges and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. Gravano was turned informer in exchange for leniency in his part in the Gambino family crime spree.
The end of John Gotti
John Gotti Jr. spent 10 years confined to his cell for 23 hours a day in Missouri maximum-security prison. In an ironic twist of events, he got the last laugh, and died from throat and head cancer in 2002, never completing any significant portion of the sentence.
While in prison, Gotti appointed his son John Jr. to lead the family. The younger Gotti, while inheriting all the love of the high life, didn’t possess any of the charm or the cunning his father had, and ran the family to the ground. In 1999, he copped a plea to federal racketeering charges, leaving control of the Gambino family to his uncle Peter.
While the turbulent 1970s and ’80s provided a perfect stage for John Gotti to make his climb to the top, times are different today, and there will likely never be another Don like him. The family is a shadow of its former self, and unless radical and detrimental changes in law enforcement come into effect, its glory days are clearly over.