Archive for Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Mafia legend dies behind bars at age 61

June 11, 2002


— John Gotti, who swaggered, schemed and murdered his way to the pinnacle of organized crime in America only to be toppled by secret FBI tapes and a turncoat mobster's testimony, died at a prison hospital Monday. He was 61.

The U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., announced the death of the former Mafia boss. Gotti had suffered from throat cancer and had been moved to the prison hospital from the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Ill.

Once known as the "Dapper Don" for his fine double-breasted suits and confident bearing, and as the "Teflon Don" after a series of acquittals, Gotti was sentenced to life in 1992 for racketeering and six killings. His victims included "Big Paul" Castellano, whom he succeeded as boss of New York's Gambino crime family in 1985.

Gotti reigned for six years as the nation's most high-profile mobster, passing himself off as a plumbing supply salesman while strutting about in $2,000 Brioni suits and sneering at law enforcers who kept trying to put him behind bars. Some crime chroniclers called him the most important gangster since Al Capone, a comparison Gotti did not discourage.

When Gotti finally was convicted by a federal jury in Brooklyn, James Fox, the FBI agent in charge in New York, declared: "The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro."

In the end, Gotti's leadership of the Gambinos led to the loss of power and money for the crime family, because his high profile attracted so much attention from prosecutors.

His undoing was Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano, his one-time closest confidant and underboss who turned government witness.

John Gotti was born Oct. 27, 1940, one of 13 children of poor immigrant parents from Naples. Gotti quit school at 16 and gravitated to petty crime. His violent ways drew the notice of Gambino family wise guys in his Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1950s.

Within a few years, he was running cargo thefts at Kennedy Airport, for which he served three years. Released in 1972, he killed the murderer of a nephew of boss Carlo Gambino an act that earned him four more years in prison but helped him climb in mob ranks.

By the early '80s, Castellano had replaced the deceased Carlo Gambino as family boss. And Gotti began attracting the attention of the FBI, which was making increasing use of the new RICO anti-racketeering statute to fight organized crime.

Married in 1960, John Sr. and his wife, the former Victoria DiGiorgio, had four other children daughters Victoria, a successful romance author, and Angela; and sons Peter and Frank.

In 1980, at 12, Frank was killed by a neighbor's car while riding his minibike. Though ruled blameless by police, the neighbor was abducted weeks later and never seen again. No charges were ever brought.

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