- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) 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, who had throat cancer, 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.

When Gotti moved to take over the Gambinos, they were the biggest and most powerful of the city's five Mafia families, with 300-plus "made" members, 2,000 "associates" and fingers in every pie, including the garment district, garbage hauling, construction, extortion and loan sharking.

He took charge by murdering Castellano, who had angered Gotti and others with, among other things, his ban on drug trafficking. By some accounts, Gotti feared Castellano was plotting to eliminate him, so he carried out a pre-emptive strike.

Gotti and Gravano watched from half a block away as a hit squad in matching raincoats ambushed Castellano and his driver outside a Manhattan steakhouse on Dec. 16, 1985.

Gotti's seizure of power made him a criminal celebrity. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine and was glamorized as a gangster the law couldn't bring down.

Already in 1984, he had walked free when he was charged with attacking a motorist over a minor traffic dispute. The purported victim refused to identify him in court, inspiring a tabloid headline, "I FORGOTTI." In 1987, Gotti beat a federal rap in Brooklyn by bribing a juror, and in 1990, another apparent payoff helped win his acquittal in the attempted murder of a union official.

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