- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

NEW YORK The days of surviving close shaves are over for "the Chin."
For 30 years, mob boss Vincent Gigante turned dementia into an art form, avoiding relentless efforts by federal authorities to put him in prison. The Genovese family head was reputed to be the nation's No. 1 Mafioso, even as he shuffled through Greenwich Village in pajamas and a bathrobe.
He rarely strayed from the neighborhood, yet controlled the New Jersey waterfront and is accused of ordering murders to settle a Philadelphia mob war.
Now, at age 74, Gigante's oddfather ruse has run its course. The enfeebled boss sits in a Texas prison hospital, doing a 12-year term for racketeering and murder conspiracy, awaiting trial today and another round of betrayals by associates turned cooperating witnesses.
The mob and the Chin aren't what they used to be.
Gigante is accused of running the Genovese family from behind bars. He may be guilty of violating two precepts developed during a half-century in the mob.
For the first time, authorities say, they possess audiotapes of Gigante that prove his sanity, tapes made as he entertained visitors in prison. Gigante directed Genovese business in a "coherent, careful and intelligent manner," prosecutors charged.
Gigante also is accused of involving his son, 45-year-old Andrew, in mob business a move he had long foresworn. Gigante felt that his children deserved better than the mob life, Gambino underboss Sammy "the Bull" Gravano once recounted.
It's a strange finale to a lifetime in organized crime, where Gigante's mumbling, stumbling charade kept prosecutors at bay while other kingpins, including mentor Vito Genovese and nemesis John Gotti, died behind bars.
"Thirty years, and I'll tell you: Chin did a great job of it," said infamous mob turncoat Henry Hill, who remembers Gigante, then a Genovese capo, padding around Sullivan Street in his "crazy act" during the early 1970s.
"He was odd. And then he'd give you the wink-wink, you know?"
Gigante took command of the Genovese family in the early 1980s, reigning for more than two decades as it became the nation's most powerful Mafia crew.
While Gambino family boss Gotti wore $1,800 suits and hand-painted ties, Gigante preferred bedtime attire. His uncombed hair stood up like pine needles, and his five o'clock shadow bristled around the clock.
The bizarre look belied a hardened criminal.
Gigante's rap sheet dates to 1945. Mob tough guys refused to speak his name aloud, instead touching their chins in deference to the boss and his paranoia about government bugs.
Even the murderous Gotti feared Gigante and with good reason, since the Chin had sanctioned his assassination in the 1980s.
A car bomb intended for Gotti in April 1986 instead killed his underboss. Two other Gambino associates, including Gotti's chauffeur, also were killed on the Chin's orders, said Bruce Mouw, former head of the FBI's Gambino squad.
"John Gotti was terrified of Gigante," Mr. Mouw said. Gigante, it seemed, feared nothing.
But in the twilight of his years, the wiseguy wasn't so wise.
His diminished-capacity defense finally collapsed in 1996, when a federal judge ruled Gigante competent to stand trial. Gigante was faking, the judge said, even after the mobster told a psychiatrist, "God is my lawyer."
A year later, the Chin went away for racketeering and murder conspiracy, including the plot to kill Gotti. That led to the tapes from prison, where authorities said he was still in command. Next came the indictment of Gigante and his son, Andrew, who is accused ferrying his father's orders from Texas to New York City.
At the height of his power, authorities said, the boss commanded an illegal domain that made money from the booths at Little Italy's San Gennaro Festival to the docks of Miami.

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