Much has written about the late Cosa Nostra Gambino crime family boss John Gotti, and there have been several films made about him.
In Anthony M. DeStefano’s “Gotti’s Boys: The Mafia Crew that Killed for John Gotti,” the author recounts the well-known Gotti story, quoting liberally from other books on the mob boss, but he concentrates on the criminals who served under him.
“During the mid-1980s the big news in the world of organized crime was the rise of a once unknown gangster from Queens named John J. Gotti to head the Gambino crime family through the bloody elimination of the former boss, Paul Castellano. In a move that took much of the world of law enforcement by surprise, Gotti, a little-known hi-jacker and compulsive gambler, engineered the murder of ‘Big Paul,’ as Castellano was known, as much as a method of self-preservation than anything else,” Mr. DeStefano writes in his introduction to the book.
“With the rise of Gotti to leadership of Gambino family, one of the five Cosa Nostra groups in New York, the public was subjected to a barrage of superlatives about the man who had the daring to kill a major crime boss. ‘The Most Powerful Criminal in America,’ and ‘Al Capone in an $1, 800 Suit’ were just some of the ways Gotti was described. He was handsome, ambitious, ruthless, the journalists told us, all of which was true.”
Mr. DeStafano goes on to state that with so much already written about Gotti, what more could another book reveal? Plenty, he tells us. He notes that the FBI’s archives of public figures have become available since the 1990s. The once secret FBI files were made available to the author and he says that they proved most helpful in enabling him to see the interplay of events that brought about Gotti’s downfall.
“Reading through these materials, both old and new, it became clear that there was more to discover about the men who bonded with Gotti from the start of his career, killed for him and propelled him the top of the Gambino family,” Mr. DeStefano writes. “Without this band of criminals, Gotti would have never made it to the top of organized crime.”
The book covers Gotti’s criminal underlings such as Angelo Ruggiero, John and Charles Carneglia, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, Gotti’s brother Peter, and mob associates Joseph Watts and Willie Boy Johnson.
These criminals helped Gotti rise but they also contributed to his downfall. One long-time criminal friend that helped in Gotti’s rise and fall was Angelo Ruggiero, known as “Quack-Quack,’ because of his incessant talking. Gotti called him “radio station.” Ruggiero’s constant talking on the phone and with other criminals at his house provided the FBI with a wealth of intelligence on the Gambino crime family, as they had bugs placed on his telephone and in his house.
Those tapes led to his arrest for drug trafficking and other crimes. After the tapes were released to the defense attorneys, Paul Castellano wanted to hear them himself.
The problem was that Quack-Quack could be heard on the tape discussing drug deals, a crime not permitted in the Gambino family, punishable by death. Even worse, Ruggiero could be heard bad-mouthing the boss, Castellano, which also could lead to his being murdered.
Ruggiero, Gotti and the aging and ill underboss, Aniello Dellacroce, stalled on providing the tapes until Castellano was murdered.
And then there was Wilfred “Willy Boy” Johnson. A Gotti enforcer, Johnson was half Native American and half Italian American. He had been friends with Gotti since they were teenagers. But to skate on a major bust, Johnson became an FBI informant, providing the feds with intelligence on his boyhood-friend Gotti and the other Gambino criminals.
And then there was “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, Gotti’s underboss and fellow conspirator in the murder of Castellano and take over of the Gambino family. Later, when Gotti and Gravano were arrested based on the tapes from a bug planted in an upstairs apartment over the mob’s Ravenite Social Club, those tapes were played in court in front of Gotti and Gravano. Sammy the Bull heard his boss bad-mouthing him, calling him greedy and power mad. The verbal betrayal lead to Gravano becoming a cooperative witness against Gotti.
“While he could be charming and funny to journalists and had charisma the public loved, Gotti was a brutal, thuggish boss,” Mr. DeStafano writes. “He liked the trappings of power and the publicity he received through the press. He was a gangster through and through, and that was all he wanted.”
“Gotti’s Boys” is a well-researched and interesting look back at Gotti and the men who rose and ultimately fell with him.
• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.
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GOTTI’S BOYS: THE MAFIA CREW THAT KILLED FOR JOHN GOTTI
By Anthony M. DeStefano
Kensington, $26, 304 pages