Today is a big day in New York City’s crime history. On June 23, 1992, John Gotti, the Gambino family’s “Teflon Don” was sentenced to life in prison.
Gotti was born in the Bronx in 1940 to a poor Italian family, but he quickly started doing errands for various mobsters working out of East New York, in Brooklyn. In New York, there were five major crime families– Bonanno, Colombo, Genovese, Lucchese and Gambino. Gotti had started to work for the Gambino family, who were considered to be the most powerful and influential mobsters of their time. By sixteen, Gotti had dropped out of school and was working full time with a crew called the Fulton-Rockaway Boys. Judging by the amount of times they were busted, I don’t think the Fulton-Rockaway Boys were exactly the Napoleons of Crime. He tried to steal a cement mixer but it fell and crushed his foot. The injury gave him this distinct walk, that later turned into his trademark swagger. Finally, Gotti was put away for 3 years in 1968 when he and his crew were caught stealing cars from Idlewild Airport, which later would be re-christened JFK International Airport.
In 1974, Gotti caught the attention of Carlo Gambino, head of the Gambino crime family. Gambino’s nephew was kidnapped and killed, so Gotti killed the people responsible. He was convicted, but only sentenced to four years for murder. (Jesus.) When he got out in ’77 after only serving three years, he was promoted to Captain of the most powerful mob family in America, as thanks for his actions.
When Carlo Gambino died, control of the family was given to Paul Castellano, Gambino’s brother-in-law. Paul and Gotti, didn’t really care for each other, and it wasn’t a big surprise when Gotti had him killed in 1985. With Paul out of the way, John Gotti was now the head of the Gambino family.
As soon as he took control of the family, the government started to tap his phone and build a case against him. They had enough evidence to put him away, but every time he was brought to trial, he was acquitted. Probably because all the witnesses changed their minds about testifying, and the jury was worried about getting their fingers cut off. Gotti had this star quality and swagger that made him a hit with the press. He claimed to be a hard working, plumbing supply salesman who was being harassed by the Feds. But, in reality, he was a total psychopath. Despite the mountains of evidence against him, he always got away. Hence the nickname “The Teflon Don”, because no matter what the prosecutors threw at him, nothing would stick.
Finally, in 1990, the cops arrested another mobster named Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano. He agreed to turn state’s evidence in return for not going to jail. In 1992, with Gravano’s testimony, Gotti was found guilty on 13 counts, including murder and racketeering. He was sentenced to life, and was locked in a cell for 23 hours a day until he died in 2002.
On our Crime Tour, we discuss the beginnings of the families, and organized crime in the city, but its interesting to see the end of the story. After Gotti went down, these families started to crumble. Now the mob is but a whisper of what it once was. Probably why Times Square is basically Disney Land. I’m not sure how big an improvement that is…