John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon
Changes At the Top
On October 15, 1976, the grandfatherly-looking Carlo Gambino died of natural causes. Before his death, he let family consigliere, Joseph N. Gallo, and key capos, James "Jimmy Brown" Failla and Ettore Zappi, know that he wanted the leadership of the family to pass to his cousin, Paul Castellano. Yet there was one sticking point to this change: Aniello Dellacroce, the current underboss. On Thanksgiving Day in 1976, Dellacroce was released from prison. Many Gambino Family members believed Dellacroce should have been named boss. His years of loyalty to the family, and the respect and admiration that the street soldiers had for him, were just a few of the reasons.
In December, the upper echelon of the Gambino Family met at the home of capo Anthony "Nino" Gaggi to officially name a new boss. It was a tense situation. Not knowing what might transpire, Gaggi taped a gun under the kitchen table prior to the meeting. He then armed his nephew, Vietnam veteran Dominick Montiglio, with an automatic weapon. Montiglio took up a position in an upstairs apartment, which overlooked a doorway leading out to the driveway of Gaggi's house.
"If you hear any shots from the kitchen," Gaggi instructed Montiglio, "shoot whoever runs out the door."
But there was no shootout. Castellano agreed to keep Dellacroce as family underboss. In accepting Castellano's leadership proposal, Dellacroce was given several crews to oversee, including the Bergin crew of Carmine Fatico.
Then Gotti came home. According to the terms of his parole, he had to have a legitimate job, so in the summer of 1977, he became a salesman for Arc Plumbing & Heating Corporation. Years later, when the president of the plumbing concern was asked at a hearing what function Gotti performed, he replied, "What John does is point out locations."
Gotti set his sights on climbing into Carmine Fatico's position as head of the Bergin crew. Fatico had recently beaten two loansharking cases, but he and his brother Daniel, along with crewmembers Charles and John Carneglia, had been convicted of hijacking. The Faticos pled guilty, hoping to receive probation. One of the government informants reported that Gotti was hoping that his former mentor would be sent away, enabling him to move ahead. Carmine Fatico received five years probation, but his reign as capo of the Bergin crew was over, because the terms required that he not associate with known criminals. Occasionally Gotti was to seek the elder Mafioso's counsel, but they would never meet at the Bergin.
Gotti was still considered an associate and could not officially become the "acting capo" of the crew until he became a made member of the Gambino Family. Some time during the first half of 1977, Angelo Ruggiero (paroled earlier than John) and Gene Gotti (who acted as crew boss in his brother's absence), were both made. According to an informant, another induction ceremony was planned for later that year upon John's release from the Green Haven Correctional Facility. In this second rite, Gotti and eight other men took the Mafia oath of omerta.
Now a made member of the Gambino Family, Gotti's hijacking career officially came to an end. He avoided what were considered "riskier crimes" and settled instead on mob staples, such as gambling and loan sharking. Since Gotti was still on probation, he ordered Bergin crewmembers "not to bring heat on the club." They were told to "stop loitering in front of the Bergin and to park their cars elsewhere." This was a far cry from what his attitude would be years later.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the FBI's snitches reported that Gotti lost heavily at gambling and crewmembers were growing concerned because they were unable to make money. It was not unusual for Gotti to drop $30,000 in one night. In February 1981 Gotti opened a gambling den on the second floor of the Bergin club for "family" men only. The game operated every night except Saturday, closing down around 4:00 am. In early March, the game moved to Manhattan, to a location on Mott Street around the corner from Dellacroce's Ravenite Social Club. The game was very popular and drew many gamblers from throughout the city. The crew finally made money even though Gotti continued to lose heavily. Since he was overseeing the game Gotti could borrow money from the house. In a move typical of him, he became concerned about those who borrowed from the house and ordered an accounting, only to discover that he owed the most – some $55,000. Bugs and taps on the telephone of a crewmember revealed the contempt in which others held Gotti, including Angelo Ruggiero and John's own brother Gene.
One night, a Queens detective squad watched as Wilfred Johnson handed a package to a drug dealer in exchange for a paper bag that he threw into the trunk of his car. Detectives followed Johnson to his home in Brooklyn. When Willie Boy opened the trunk to get the bag, the detectives approached him. The bag contained $50,000, which Johnson quickly claimed came from the gambling operation. Still on probation after having served less than four years of a ten-year sentence, Johnson got scared. He told the officers to take the money, because if his parole officer found out about it he would go back to prison.
Johnson, who was already working as a confidential informant for the FBI, now agreed to do the same for the New York City Police Department. In June 1981, he ratted out the Mott Street gambling club and approximately thirty men were arrested. After spending the night in the Manhattan Criminal Court, the men---represented by attorney Michael Coiro---pled guilty to misdemeanor gambling charges, and were fined $500 and released. The following night, a new operation opened across the street from the raided location. However, the game never regained its former popularity.