John Gotti

John Gotti
John Gotti

John "Teflon Don" Gotti
Born October 27, 1940(1940-10-27)
The Bronx, New York City, New York, United States
Died June 10, 2002(2002-06-10) (aged 61)
Springfield, Missouri, United States
Alias(es) Dapper Don, Teflon Don, Johnny Boy
Charge(s) Murder, conspiracy to commit murder, loansharking, racketeering, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, tax evasion
Penalty Life in prison without parole
Spouse Victoria DiGiorgio
Parents John and Philomena Gotti
Children Angel Gotti
Victoria Gotti
John A. Gotti
Frank Gotti (1968-1980)
Peter Gotti, Jr.

John Joseph Gotti, Jr (October 27, 1940 – June 10, 2002) was an American mobster who became the Boss of the Gambino crime family in New York City. Gotti grew up in poverty. He and his brothers turned to a life of crime at an early age. Operating out of the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, Gotti quickly rose in prominence, becoming one of the crime family's biggest earners and a protege of Gambino family underboss Aniello Dellacroce.

After the FBI indicted members of Gotti's crew for selling narcotics, Gotti took advantage of growing dissent over the leadership of the crime family. Fearing that his men and himself would be killed by Gambino crime family Boss Paul Castellano for selling drugs, Gotti organized the murder of Castellano in December 1985 and took over the family shortly thereafter. This left Gotti as the boss of the most powerful crime family in America, which made hundreds of millions of dollars a year from construction, hijacking, loan sharking, gambling, extortion and other criminal activities. Gotti was the most powerful crime boss during his era and became widely known for his outspoken personality and flamboyant style, which eventually helped lead to his downfall. While his peers would go out of their way to shun attention, especially from the media, Gotti was known as the "The Dapper Don" for his expensive clothes and personality in front of news cameras. He was later given the nickname "The Teflon Don" because several attempts to convict him of crimes in the 1980s resulted in either a hung jury or an acquittal (i.e. the charges wouldn't "stick").

Gotti's underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano is credited with the FBI's success in finally convicting Gotti. In 1991, Gravano agreed to turn state's evidence and testify for the prosecution against Gotti after hearing Gotti on wiretap make several disparaging remarks about Gravano and questioning his loyalty. In 1992, Gotti was convicted of five murders, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, extortion, tax evasion, and loansharking. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole and was transferred to United States Penitentiary, Marion. Gotti died of throat cancer on June 10, 2002 at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.


Early life

John Gotti was born in an Italian-American enclave in the Bronx on October 27, 1940.[1] He was the fifth of the thirteen children of John Joseph Gotti Sr. and his wife Philomena (referred to as Fannie).[1][2] John was one of five brothers who would become made men in the Gambino Family;[3] Eugene Gotti was initiated before John due to the latter's incarceration.[4] Peter Gotti was identified as a Capo by 1989,[5] and Richard V. Gotti by 2002.[3] The fifth, Vincent, was not initiated until 2002.[6]

Gotti grew up in poverty. His father worked irregularly as a day laborer and indulged in gambling, and as an adult Gotti came to resent him for being unable to provide for his family.[2] In school Gotti had a history of truancy and bullying other students and ultimately dropped out, while attending Franklin K. Lane High School, at the age of 16.[7][8]

Gotti was involved in street gangs associated with New York mafiosi from the age of 12.[7] When he was 14, he was attempting to steal a cement mixer from a construction site when it fell, crushing his toes; this injury left him with a permanent limp.[7] After leaving school he devoted himself to working with the Fulton-Rockaway Boys, where he met and befriended fellow future Gambino mobsters Angelo Ruggiero and Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson.[7][9]

Gotti married Victoria DiGiorgio on March 6, 1962. The marriage produced five children—two daughters (Angel and Victoria) as well as three sons (John, Frank and Peter). Gotti attempted to work legitimately in 1962 as a presser in a coat factory and as an assistant truck driver. However, he could not stay crime free and by 1966 had been jailed twice.

Gambino crime family


Gotti's criminal career began when he joined Carmine Fatico's crew, which was part of what became known as the Gambino family after the murder of Albert Anastasia.[10] Together with his brother Gene and Ruggiero, Gotti carried out truck hijackings at Idlewild Airport (subsequently renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport).[11] During this time, Gotti befriended fellow mob hijacker and future Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino and was given the nicknames "Black John" and "Crazy Horse."[11][12]

In February 1968, United Airlines employees identified Gotti as the man who had signed for stolen merchandise; the FBI arrested him for the United hijacking soon after. Two months later, while out on bail, Gotti was arrested a third time for hijacking—this time for stealing a load of cigarettes worth $50,000, on the New Jersey Turnpike. Later that year, Gotti pleaded guilty to the Northwest Airlines hijacking and was sentenced to three years at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.[11] Prosecutors dropped the charges for the cigarette hijacking. Gotti also pleaded guilty to the United hijacking and spent less than three years at Lewisburg.

After he was released from prison, Gotti was placed on probation and ordered to acquire legitimate employment. Meanwhile, he returned to his old crew at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, still working under caporegime Carmine Fatico. Gotti was transferred to management of the Bergin crew's illegal gambling, where he proved himself to be an effective enforcer.[13] Fatico was indicted on loansharking charges in 1972 and made Gotti, still not yet a made man in the Mafia, the acting capo of the Bergin Crew, reporting to Carlo Gambino and his underboss, Aniello Dellacroce.[14]

After Carlo Gambino's nephew Emanuel Gambino was kidnapped and murdered, John Gotti was assigned to the hit team alongside Ralph Galione and Angelo Ruggiero for the main suspect, Irish-American gangster James McBratney. The team botched their attempt to abduct McBratney at a Staten Island bar, and Galione shot McBratney dead when his accomplices managed to restrain him. Identified by eyewitnesses and a police Bergin insider, Gotti was arrested for the killing in June 1974.[15] With the help of attorney Roy Cohn, however, he was able to strike a plea bargain and received a four-year sentence for attempted manslaughter for his part in the hit.[4]

After his death Gotti was also identified by Joseph Massino as the killer of Vito Borelli, a Gambino associate killed in 1975 for insulting Paul Castellano.[16][17]


Gotti was released in July 1977 after two years imprisonment. He was subsequently initiated into the Gambino family, now under the command of Paul Castellano, and immediately promoted to replace Fatico as Capo of the Bergin crew.[4] He and his crew reported directly to Dellacroce as part of the concessions given by Castellano to keep Dellacroce as underboss,[18] and Gotti was regarded as Dellacroce's protege.[19]

Under Gotti, the Bergin crew were the biggest earners of Dellacroce's crews.[4] Besides his cut of his subordinates' earnings, Gotti ran his own loan sharking operation and held a no-show job as a plumbing supply salesman.[20] Unconfirmed allegations by FBI informants in the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club claimed Gotti also financed drug deals.[19][21]

On March 18, 1980, Gotti's youngest son, 12-year-old Frank Gotti, was run over and killed on a family friend's minibike by John Favara, a neighbor.[22] While Frank's death was ruled an accident, Favara subsequently received death threats and, when he visited the Gottis to apologize, was attacked by Victoria Gotti with a baseball bat.[23][24] On July 28, 1980, he was abducted and disappeared, presumed murdered.[22] While the Gottis were on vacation in Florida at the time, John Gotti is still presumed to have ordered the killing,[25] an allegation considered probable by his son John Jr. while denied by his daughter Victoria.[26][27]

In his last two years as the Bergin Capo Gotti was indicted on two occasions, with both cases coming to trial after his ascension to Gambino Boss. In September 1984 Gotti was in an altercation with refrigerator mechanic Romual Piecyk, and was subsequently charged with assault and robbery.[28][29] In 1985 he was indicted alongside Dellacroce and several Bergin crew members in a racketeering case by Assistant US Attorney Diane Giacalone.[8][30] The indictment also revealed that Gotti's friend "Willie Boy" Johnson, one of his co-defendants, had been an FBI informant.[30]

Taking over the Gambino family

Gotti rapidly became dissatisfied with Paul Castellano's leadership, considering the new boss too isolated and greedy.[31][32]

In August 1983 Ruggiero and Gene Gotti were arrested for dealing heroin, based primarily on recordings from a bug in Ruggiero's house.[33][34] Castellano, who had banned made men from his family from dealing drugs under threat of death, demanded transcripts of the tapes,[33][35] and when Ruggiero refused he threatened to demote Gotti.[36]

In 1984 Castellano was arrested and indicted in a RICO case for the crimes of Gambino hitman Roy DeMeo's crew.[37][38] The following year he received a second indictment for his role in the American Mafia's Commission.[36] Facing life imprisonment for either case, Castellano arranged for John Gotti to serve as an acting boss alongside Thomas Bilotti, Castellano's favorite capo, and Thomas Gambino in his absence.[39][40] Gotti, meanwhile, began conspiring with fellow disgruntled Gambino family members Sammy Gravano, Frank DeCicco, Robert DiBernardo and Joseph Armone to overthrow Castellano.[41]

After Dellacroce died of cancer on December 2, 1985, Castellano revised his succession plan: appointing Bilotti as underboss to Thomas Gambino as the sole acting boss, while making plans to break up Gotti's crew.[42][43] Infuriated by this, and Castellano's refusal to attend Dellacroce's wake,[42][43] Gotti resolved to kill his boss.

Gotti agreed to a meeting with Castellano and Bilotti at Sparks Steak House on December 16, 1985.[44] When the boss and underboss arrived, they were ambushed and shot dead by assassins under Gotti's command.[45] Gotti watched the hit from his car with Gravano.[46]

Gotti was proclaimed the new boss of the Gambino family at the meeting of the family's capos on December 30, 1985.[47] He appointed his co-conspirator DeCicco as the new underboss while retaining Castellano's consigliere Joseph N. Gallo.[48][49]

Gambino boss

Identified as both Paul Castellano's likely murderer and his successor, John Gotti rose to fame throughout 1986.[50][51]

In the book Underboss, Gravano estimates that Gotti had an annual income of not less than $5 million during his years as boss, and more likely between 10 and 12 million.[52]

"The Teflon Don"

Gotti's newfound fame had at least one positive effect; upon the revelation of his attacker's occupation, and amid reports of intimidation by the Gambinos, Romual Piecyk decided not to testify against Gotti, and when the trial commenced in March 1986 he testified he was unable to remember who attacked him. The case was promptly dismissed, with the New York Daily News summarizing the proceedings with the headline "I Forgotti!"[29][53]

On April 13, 1986, underboss DeCicco was killed when his car was bombed following a visit to Castellano loyalist James Failla. The bombing was carried out by Lucchese capos Victor Amuso and Anthony Casso, under orders of bosses Anthony Corallo and Vincent Gigante, to avenge Castellano and Bilotti by killing their successors; Gotti also planned to visit Failla that day but canceled, and the bomb was detonated after a soldier who rode with DeCicco was mistaken for the boss.[54] The use of bombs, banned by the American Mafia, cleared Gigante of suspicion from Gotti.[55]

Following the bombing Judge Eugene Nickerson, presiding over Gotti's racketeering trial, rescheduled to avoid a jury tainted by the resulting publicity while Giacalone had Gotti's bail revoked due to evidence of intimidation in the Piecyk case.[56][57] From jail, Gotti ordered the murder of Robert DiBernardo by Sammy Gravano, having been told by Ruggiero that DiBernardo had challenged his leadership.[58] He also had Joseph Armone promoted to replace DeCicco.[59]

Jury selection for the racketeering case began again in August 1986,[60] with John Gotti standing trial alongside Gene Gotti, "Willie Boy" Johnson (who, despite being exposed as an informant, refused to turn state's evidence[61]), Leonard DiMaria, Tony Rampino, Nicholas Corozzo and John Carneglia.[62] At this point, the Gambinos were able to compromise the case when George Pape, a friend of Westies boss Bosko Radonjich, was empaneled; through Radonjich Pape contacted Gravano and agreed to sell his vote on the jury for $60,000.[63]

In the trial's opening statements on September 25, Gotti's defense attorney Bruce Cutler denied the existence of the Gambino Crime Family and framed the government's entire effort as a personal vendetta.[64] His main defense strategy during the prosecution was to attack the credibility of Giacalone's witnesses by discussing their crimes committed before their turning states'.[65] In Gotti's defense Cutler called bank robber Matthew Traynor, a would-be prosecution witness dropped for unreliability, who testified that Giacalone offered him drugs and her panties as a masturbation aid in exchange for his testimony; Traynor's allegations would be dismissed by Judge Nickerson as "wholly unbelievable" after the trial, and he was subsequently convicted of perjury.[65][66]

Despite Cutler's defense, according to mob writers Jerry Capeci and Gene Mustain, when the jury's deliberations began a majority were in favor of convicting Gotti. Pape, however, held out in Gotti's favor until the rest of the jury began to fear their own safety was compromised,[63] and on March 13, 1987, they acquitted Gotti and his codefendents of all charges.[62] Five years later Pape was convicted of obstruction of justice for his part in the fix.[67]

In the face of previous Mafia convictions, particularly the success of the Commission trial, Gotti's acquittal was a major upset that further added to his reputation.[68] The American media dubbed Gotti "The Teflon Don" in reference to the failure of any charges to "stick."[69]


While Gotti himself had escaped conviction, his associates were not so lucky. The other two men in the Gambino administration, underboss Armone and consigliere Gallo, had been indicted on racketeering charges in 1986 and were both convicted in December 1987.[70] The heroin trial of Gotti's former fellow Bergin crewmembers Ruggiero and Gene Gotti also commenced in June of that year.[71]

Prior to their convictions, Gotti allowed Gallo to retire and promoted Sammy Gravano in his place while slating Frank Locascio to serve as acting underboss in the event of Armone's imprisionment.[72]

1992 conviction

On December 11, 1990, FBI agents and New York City detectives raided the Ravenite Social Club, arresting Gotti, Gravano and Frank Locascio.[73] Gotti was charged, in this new racketeering case, with five murders (Castellano and Bilotti, Robert DiBernardo, Liborio Milito and Louis Dibono,) conspiracy to murder Gaetano "Corky" Vastola, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion.[74][75] Based on tapes from FBI bugs played at pretrial hearings the Gambino administration was denied bail and attorneys Bruce Cutler and Gerald Shargel were both disqualified from defending Gotti after determining they had worked as "in-house counsel" for the Gambino organization.[76][77] Gotti subsequently hired Albert Krieger, a Miami attorney who had worked with Joseph Bonanno, to replace Cutler.[78][79]

The tapes also created a rift between Gotti and Gravano, showing the Gambino boss describing his newly-appointed underboss as too greedy and attempting to frame Gravano as the main force behind the murders of DiBernardo, Milito and Dibono.[80][81] Gotti's attempt at reconciliation failed,[82] leaving Gravano disillusioned with the mob and doubtful on his chances of winning the newest case without Shargel, his former attorney.[83][84] Gravano ultimately opted to turn state's evidence, formally agreeing to testify on November 13, 1991.[85]

Gotti and Locascio were tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before United States District Judge I. Leo Glasser. Jury selection began in January 1992, with the empaneled jury being kept anonymous and, for the first time in a Brooklyn Federal case, fully sequestered during the trial due to Gotti's reputation for jury tampering.[86][87] The trial commenced with the prosecution's opening statements on February 12;[88][89] prosecutors Andrew Maloney and John Gleeson began their case by playing tapes showing Gotti discussing Gambino family business, including murders he approved, and confirming the animosity between Gotti and Castellano to establish the former's motive to kill his boss.[90] After calling an eyewitness of the Sparks hit who identified Gotti associate John Carneglia as one of the men who shot Bilotti they then brought Gravano to testify on March 2.[91][92][93]

On the stand Gravano confirmed Gotti's place in the structure of the Gambino family and described in detail the conspiracy to assassinate Castellano and gave a full description of the hit and its aftermath.[94] Krieger, and Locasio's attorney Anthony Cardinale, proved unable to shake Gravano during cross-examination.[95][96] After additional testimony and tapes the government rested its case on March 24.[97]

Five of Krieger and Cardinale's intended six witnesses were ruled irrelevant or extraneous, leaving only Gotti's tax attorney Murray Appleman to testify on his behalf.[97][98] The defense also attempted unsuccessfully to have a mistrial declared based on Maloney's closing remarks.[99][100] Gotti himself became increasingly hostile during the trial,[101] and at one point Glasser threatened to remove him from the courtroom.[97][102] Among other outbursts, Gotti called Gravano a junkie while his attorneys sought to discuss Gravano's past steroid use,[103][104] and he equated the dismissal of a juror to the fixing of the 1919 World Series.[87][99]

On April 2, 1992, after only 14 hours of deliberation, the jury found Gotti guilty on all charges of the indictment (Locasio was found guilty on all but one.)[105][106] On June 23, 1992, Glasser sentenced both defendants to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and a $250,000 fine.[75][106][107]

Incarceration and death

Last photo of John Gotti, taken by the Bureau of Prisons on October 17, 2001.

Gotti was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. He spent the majority of his sentence in effective solitary confinement, only allowed out of his cell for one hour a day.[1][108]

While in prison, Gotti offered $100,000 to the Aryan Brotherhood to kill Walter Johnson, a black inmate who had assaulted him. The Aryan Brotherhood accepted Gotti's offer. The prison guards surmised that Johnson was in danger and moved him to a different cell block, ultimately transferring him to another prison.[109][110] Gotti, during a prison visit with his family, was recorded saying: "Being a nigger is an embarrassment, being John Gotti's grandson is an honor."[111]

Photo of John Gotti after he was assaulted in prison

Despite his imprisonment, and pressure from the Commission to stand down,[112] Gotti is believed to have held on to his position as Gambino boss with his brother Peter and his son John A. Gotti Jr. relaying orders on his behalf.[113] By 1998, when he was indicted on racketeering, John Gotti Jr. was believed to be the acting boss of the family.[114] Against his father's wishes, John Jr. pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years and five months imprisonment in 1999.[26][115] He maintains he has since left the Gambino family.[116]

John Jr.'s indictment brought further stress to John Gotti's marriage. Victoria DiGiorgio Gotti, up to that point unaware of her son's involvement in the mob, blamed her husband for ruining her son's life and threatened to leave him unless he allowed John Jr. to leave the mob.[117]

In 1998 Gotti was diagnosed with throat cancer and sent to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri for surgery.[118] While the tumor was removed, the cancer was discovered to have returned two years later and Gotti was transferred back to Springfield, where he would spend the remainder of his life.[119][120]

Gotti's condition rapidly declined, and he died on June 10, 2002 at the age of 61.[1][121] The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced that Gotti's family would not be permitted to have a Mass of Christian Burial but allowed it after the burial.[122]

Gotti's funeral was held in a nonchurch facility.[122] After the funeral, an estimated 300 onlookers followed the procession, which passed Gotti's Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, to the gravesite. Gotti was buried next to his son Frank Gotti. Gotti's brother Peter Gotti was unable to attend owing to his incarceration.[122] In an apparent repudiation of Gotti's leadership and legacy, the other New York families sent no representatives to the funeral.[123]

Peter Gotti is believed to have formally succeeded his brother as Gambino boss.[124]


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  122. ^ a b c "Final Farewell To Gotti". CBS News. 06-15-2002. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  123. ^ Raab, p. 467
  124. ^ Michele McPhee and John Marzulli (2002-06-11). "GOTTI'S RULE SEEMS OVER Family likely to give way". New York Daily News. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 


  • Blum, Howard. Gangland : How The FBI Broke the Mob. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. ISBN 0671687581
  • Capeci, Jerry and Gene Mustain. Mob Star: The Story of John Gotti. New York: Penguin, 1988. ISBN 0-02-864416-6
  • Capeci, Jerry and Gene Mustain. Gotti: Rise and Fall. New York: Onyx, 1996. ISBN 0-451-40681-8
  • Davis, John H. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. ISBN 0-06-109184-7
  • Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. London: Robson Books, 2006. ISBN 1861059523

External links

Business positions
Preceded by
Paul Castellano
Gambino crime family

Succeeded by
Peter "Petey Boy" Gotti
Preceded by
Paul Castellano
Capo di tutti capi
Boss of bosses

Succeeded by
Vincent Gigante

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