Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

Career

Around 1960, when he was twenty, Gotti met and fell in love with Victoria DiGiorgio. The petite, raven-haired beauty was born to a Jewish father. Her parents divorced when she was still an infant and she later took the last name of her stepfather. Two years younger than Gotti, DiGiorgio dropped out of high school during her senior year. The two were married on March 6, 1962 almost a full year after the birth of their first child, Angela. The marriage proved to be a stormy one, with many fights and periods of separation. Yet despite their problems, the couple went on to have two more children in rapid succession: a second daughter, Victoria, and John A., who became known as "Junior."

Around this time, Gotti actually tried his hand at legitimate work-- a coat factory presser and a truck driver's assistant – before ultimately turning all his energies toward a life of crime. Victoria Gotti disparaged her husband's career. She disliked how it made her live.  Once, when Gotti was away serving a three-year stretch, she was forced to apply for public welfare. Another time she took her husband to court for non-support. Years later FBI bugs would pick up conversations where Gotti talked about his wife, stating, "The woman is driving me crazy!"

Gotti spent his first time in jail, a 20-day period, in 1963 when he was arrested with Salvatore Ruggiero, Angelo's younger brother.  They were in an automobile that had been reported stolen from a rental car agency. Gotti's crimes during the early to mid-1960s were mostly petty in nature – larceny, unlawful entry, and possession of bookmaking records. In 1966 as well, he would spend several months in jail for an attempted theft.

Aniello Dellacroce, Gambino family underboss
Aniello Dellacroce, Gambino family underboss

Yet 1966 proved to be a banner year for the Brooklyn hood. Gotti became an associate of a Mafia crew headed by Carmine Fatico and his brother Daniel. Operating out of a social club called the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Ozone Park, Queens, the Faticos answered to Gambino Family underboss, Aniello Dellacroce. Gotti's criminal career as hijacker began as a member of the Bergin crew. The crew's target, as well as the target of the other New York crime families, was the massive John F. Kennedy International Airport.

While not a great hijacker, Gotti was successful enough to move his family to a nicer apartment in Brooklyn. He and Victoria soon had their fourth child, a second son, whom they named Frank.

On November 27, 1967 Gotti and another crew member – either Angelo Ruggiero or another of Gotti's brothers, Gene – forged the name of a forwarding company agent and then took a rented truck to JFK's United cargo area and drove off with $30,000 worth of merchandise, a good portion of it in women's clothes. Four days later, the FBI was watching as Angelo and Gotti loaded up again with women's clothing, this time at a Northwest Airlines cargo terminal. Once outside the airport, an automobile containing Gene Gotti pulled alongside. The FBI swooped in and arrested the three men, finding Gotti in the rear of the truck hiding behind several boxes. During the subsequent investigation, United employees identified John Gotti as the man who had signed for the earlier stolen merchandise. He was arrested for the United hijacking in February 1968. In April, while out on bail, he was arrested a third time for hijacking---this time for stealing a load of cigarettes worth nearly $500,000 outside a restaurant on the New Jersey Turnpike.

At the urging of Carmine Fatico, the Gotti brothers and Angelo hired defense attorney Michael Coiro to represent them. John pled guilty to the Northwest hijacking and was sentenced to four years at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Prosecutors dropped the charges in the cigarette hijacking, and Coiro was able to get the judge to let Gotti plead guilty in the United theft, while allowing his Lewisburg time to serve as the penalty. Gotti served less than three years of his sentence at Lewisburg, from May 1969 to January 1972.

After his release from prison, the first order of business for Gotti was to get a legitimate job. John was put on the payroll of Victoria's stepfather's construction company. While Victoria may have wished that her husband would begin a new life, she was resigned to the fact that she could never change him. Shortly after his return she was pregnant with the couple's last child, another son, whom they named Peter. Years later, Victoria would tell a detective inquiring into her husband's activities, "I don't know what he does. All I know is, he provides."

The crew Gotti returned to at the Bergin club consisted mainly of associates. The made members had grown old and a Mafia edict in 1957 had prevented the making of any new ones. Gotti possessed the most moxy of the crewmembers, and when Carmine Fatico was indicted for loansharking and stopped frequenting the club, he used Gotti to oversee the day-to-day activities there. At the age of 31, Gotti became the acting capo of the Bergin crew, with the blessing of Dellacroce.

Carlo Gambino, the family patriarch
Carlo Gambino, the family patriarch (AP)

The Bergin crew under Gotti was young and hungry. Looking to make money, they naturally gravitated toward dealing in narcotics. The unwritten law of the underworld as it pertained to drugs was, "You deal, you die." This had allegedly been decreed at the infamous Apalachin Summit in November 1957, and was carried forward by Carlo Gambino. The more practiced rule was that you could not get caught, and if you did, you faced certain death. A portion of the money from drug deals was always kicked up to the bosses, who chose to look the other way as long as the money rolled in and no one associated with the family ended up in jail.

By May 1972, as Gotti assumed control of the Bergin crew, several members had already become confidential informants for the FBI, or were on their way to it. This group included Willie Boy Johnson and William Battista. Over the years, the government received conflicting reports from these informants as to John Gotti's actual involvement in narcotics. Johnson always maintained that Gotti was not involved and that he toed the line on the no-drug policies of Gambino, and later, of Paul Castellano.

 

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