The Gambino Crime Family
Manhattan vs. Brooklyn
As clever and foresighted as Carlo Gambino was, he left his family divided and embittered when he died. The Gambinos had split into two camps: the Manhattan faction, which was loyal to Dellacroce, and the Brooklyn faction which sided with the new boss, Paul Castellano. "Big Paul" had thrown a bone to the Manhattan faction by keeping Dellacroce on as his underboss, but it wasn't enough to stop the backroom grumbling. The Manhattan faction believed that Castellano wasn't half the gangster that Dellacroce was and that Castellano had simply inherited the position instead of earning it.
The two factions had different philosophies regarding organized crime. The Dellacroce faction valued traditional mob rackets—gambling, street-level extortion, narcotics trafficking, prostitution, loan sharking, and hijacking—the so-called "blue collar crimes," while the Castellano faction favored "white collar crimes" such as high-level extortion, bribery, and theft in labor, construction, waste management, the garment industry, on the docks, and at JKF Airport. Castellano wanted to further Carlo Gambino's master plan of using ill-gotten gains to buy into legitimate businesses, but eventually the Manhattan faction began to feel that their profits were being funneled to a boss who wanted everything to be legit and cared little for the workhorse crews who did the dirty work. They feared that if all family operations eventually became legit, there would be no place for the hard-core criminals who took their cues from Dellacroce and revered the memory of Albert Anastasia.
Although Castellano adopted an executive style, he maintained a significant contingent of tough guys in his faction to keep Dellacroce's Manhattan faction in check. One of the premier crews in the Manhattan faction was Carmine "Wagon Wheels" Fatico's, which included an up-and-coming John Gotti. Fatico's crew was into bookmaking, loan-sharking, gambling, and hijacking, particularly at JFK Airport, and they had a reputation for using violence to get what they wanted when they wanted it. But the Brooklyn faction had a crew that was even more violent, some were certifiable psychopaths, led by capo Roy DeMeo. Working out of the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, DeMeo, who was a trained butcher by trade, had taught his young protégés how to kill cleanly and efficiently. As described by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci in Murder Machine, this crew specialized in draining the blood from bodies, cutting them up into small pieces, wrapping the pieces into small packages, and disposing of them so they wouldn't be found. The apartment at the rear of their regular hangout, the Gemini Lounge, was occupied by one of DeMeo's cousins, Joseph "Dracula" Guglielmo, and dozens of people were known to have met their end in that apartment. If anyone in the Manhattan faction entertained thoughts of challenging Paul Castellano, the idea of tangling with DeMeo's demented crew gave them pause—at least until DeMeo was found dead in the trunk of his Cadillac in 1983. He'd been shot five times behind both ears.
The rank and file's dissatisfaction with Castellano grew as the years passed. They resented his aloofness and apparent disdain for the foot soldiers in his family as exemplified by his remote mansion, which he called the "White House," in the Todt Hill section of Staten Island, the highest point in the five boroughs. They became outraged when rumors spread that the boss had been having an affair with Gloria Orlate, his Colombian maid, while his wife was still living in the house. These rumors were confirmed by FBI tapes obtained from a bug planted in a lamp on his kitchen table. The feds caught Big Paul discussing illegal deals with his underlings and whispering sweet nothings to Olarte. According to Joseph F. O'Brien and Andrew Kurins, two of the agents who planted the bug, in their book Boss of Bosses: The Fall of the Godfather— The FBI and Paul Castellano, the boss "doted on her... Like adolescents... the pair indulged in long sessions of kissing and petting, stroking and teasing without ever having actual intercourse." Castellano would later undergo surgery to regain his sexual prowess for her. To the men of honor in the Gambino family, this was no way for a boss to act.
It seemed that everything Castellano did rubbed the Manhattan faction the wrong way. He made a pact with Genovese family boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante to execute, without warning or appeal, any member caught dealing drugs. Many wiseguys in the Gambino family were heavily into the drug trade and depended on those profits, including several members of Carmine Fatico's crew.
By the early 1980s, Castellano faced RICO charges in two upcoming trials—the Commission case which sought to put away the heads of the five New York families and a case that targeted Roy DeMeo's stolen luxury car ring. Castellano decided to plan ahead in case he was convicted and had to serve time. He let it be known that Thomas Gambino, Carlo's son, would take over for him and Tommy Bilotti would serve as underboss. The Manhattan faction seethed. They considered Thomas Gambino even more white collar than Castellano and had little respect for Bilotti who, though a capo, served as Castellano's chauffeur and bodyguard.
In 1983, a federal indictment charged 13 members of the Gambino family with drug trafficking. This group included John Gotti's brother, Gene, and his best friend, Angelo "Quack Quack" Ruggiero, who got his nickname for his nonstop talking. Unbeknownst to him, the feds had been listening in on his home phone conversations since 1980, and they had the chatty Ruggiero on tape discussing family business, making drug deals, and expressing contempt for Castellano, calling him a "pansy" and a "milk drinker" among other things. By law, when a person is charged with a crime based on evidence gathered from a wiretap, he's given transcripts of the taped material to aid in his defense. Ruggiero was presented with boxes of such transcripts, and it wasn't long before Big Paul sent down word that he wanted to see them. If his men were dealing dope, he wanted to know about it. Ruggerio told Castellano that he was innocent, that it was a bum rap, that the feds had no case against him. (In fact, Ruggiero had borrowed $200,000 from Castellano for a drug deal, telling the boss that it was for a pornography enterprise.) Castellano, however, could not be placated. He insisted that he see the transcripts.
Ruggiero went to underboss Aniello Dellacroce for help. Dellacroce managed to stall Castellano through 1984 and into 1985, but Castellano persisted. He wanted a copy of Ruggiero's transcripts, and as his own trials drew near, he felt that it was crucial to know what had been going on in his family behind his back. By now the 70-year-old Dellacroce was dying of cancer and couldn't be of much help to Ruggiero, but Ruggiero's childhood friend, John Gotti, rallied to his side. The white-collar boss from up on the hill was not going to interfere with the business of the real wiseguys. Castellano was losing his patience with these insolent soldiers. He informed his inner circle that if he didn't get the transcripts soon, he would have Ruggiero and Gotti whacked. Rumors of his intentions filtered through the ranks and found their way to Gotti.
On December 2, 1985, Dellacroce succumbed to his illness. Without Dellacroce to intervene for them, Ruggiero and Gotti were at grave risk. But Castellano was at risk, too. If he attempted to take out Ruggiero and Gotti, the Manhattan faction was ready to go to war against the rest of the family, threatening to destroy what had become the dominant criminal organization in New York City. Each day the tensions mounted. For John Gotti and his crew, the choice soon became evident: Kill or be killed. If there was ever any doubt in John Gotti's mind, it was Paul Castellano himself who provided the last straw. Big Paul did not attend Aniello Dellacroce's wake. To the Manhattan faction, this was an unforgivable show of disrespect.
On December 16, just after 5 p.m., the streets of midtown Manhattan were jammed with office workers and Christmas shoppers. Rush hour had begun, worse than usual during the holiday season, and a black Lincoln Continental inched along with the crush of traffic. Tommy Bilotti was behind the wheel, Paul Castellano in the front passenger seat. They were heading for Sparks Steak House on East 46th Street between Second and Third Avenues for a meeting that had been arranged by capo Frank DeCicco.
Eight hit men waited for their arrival. The primary team of four wore identical trench coats and fur Cossack hats and lingered in the doorways along the block where the steakhouse was located. The backup team hung back nearby in case they were needed.
Castellano's car arrived at about 5:30 p.m. As the boss opened his door to get out, the hit team converged. Castellano and Bilotti took six bullets each, the hubbub of rush-hour traffic masking the sound of the shots. The sight of two men in business suits sprawled on the pavement alerted pedestrians that something had happened. Bilotti's body was face up in the middle of East 46th Street, blocking traffic. Big Paul had toppled into the gutter and lay in a contorted position with blood pooling around him. As people gathered around, the assassins walked quickly to waiting cars. Eye witnesses said they saw the identically dressed men but were unable to identify any of them individually.
In a matter of weeks the newspapers declared John Gotti, the man who had organized the hit, as the new boss of the Gambino family. In one bold move, he deposed an unpopular leader, averted a mob civil war, and saved his own hide. The ascent of John Gotti would mark a return to the methods of Gotti's idol, Albert Anastasia, the Lord High Executioner.