Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano

Honoring a New Commitment

In addition to his testimony against John Gotti, Gravano was responsible for the conviction of George Pape, the bribed juror in the Giacalone case, and a member of the New York Police Departments intelligence division who fed information to the Gambino Family. Gravanos testimony helped send seven Gambino Family capos, including Thomas Gambino, to prison on a variety of charges. In addition to the Gambino Family, Gravano helped send several high-ranking members of the Colombo, Genovese and DeCavalcante Families to jail.

Judge Leo Glasser
Judge Leo Glasser

On September 26, 1994 Gravano came before Judge Glasser for sentencing. Prosecutor John Gleeson (today a federal judge) praised Gravanos work, stating that his testimony had created a veritable flood of other organized crime members stepping forward to cooperate, including both the acting boss and underboss of the Lucchese Family. In closing, Gleeson told the judge that Gravano, has rendered extraordinary, unprecedented, historic assistance to the government.

Glasser called Gravanos decision to cooperate, the bravest thing I have ever seen. Glasser then sentenced Gravano to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release.

Vincent (Chin) Gigante
Vincent (Chin) Gigante (AP)

After his sentence, Gravano testified at two more trials. The first was Vincent the Chin Gigante. The boss of the Genovese Family had avoided prosecution for years by feigning mental illness. Part of his routine was roaming the streets of Greenwich Village in a bathrobe and slippers. His defense team wanted the judge to accept that Gigante suffered from severe dementia. Tests were administered by top neurological experts to show that even if he was lucid while ordering crimes to be committed, his brain disorders now prevented him from understanding the charges against him and in aiding in his own defense. Seven years after the initial indictment, Gigante finally went to trial in June 1997. Each day he was brought to court in a wheelchair.

Gravano, whose government agreement didnt call for him to testify, appeared on July 10, and testified that he had attended four meetings at which Gigante was present. At two of these meetings the Genovese Family boss was dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe, but spoke lucidly and rationally with other gang leaders. During the trial, reporters for the New York newspapers commented that plastic surgery had changed Gravanos appearance slightly giving his face a pinched, drawn look. The ex-underboss, who had recently been interviewed by Diane Sawyer from the ABC news program Prime Time Live, was reported to have put his audience to sleep repeating tales of murders and illegal activities from his past.

Near the end of the grueling cross-examination, Gravano was forced to sit through an embarrassing moment. A Gigante defense attorney read to the court the psychological evaluation of Gravano that was prepared when determining if he was a suitable candidate for the Witness Protection Program. The March 1995 evaluation read in part:

The candidate presents a good social fašade that masks extremely shallow emotionality, high impulsivity, irresponsibility and unpredictability. His outward presentation conceals a self-centered personality that is primarily, if not completely, driven by internal needs without regard for the needs of others.

The report recommended that Gravano be closely monitored due to his limited exposure to a life style beyond the mob and prison. Two years later this report would prove to be right on.

On July 25, 1997, Gigante was found guilty and ordered sent to a federal prison hospital to undergo psychiatric evaluation before sentencing.

Gravanos other scheduled appearance was in a case involving Joe Watts, another of the Gambino Family associates who couldnt be initiated due to his non-Italian heritage. Watts had been indicted for the murder of a Gambino soldier along with family capos Danny Marino and James Failla, both of whom pleaded guilty.

Watts hired famed defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey, who had just finished with the O. J. Simpson murder trial in California. The New York media was anticipating a showdown between Bailey and Gravano. Bailey had actually negotiated a deal for Watts to become a government witness. However, the Justice Department turned down the offer after determining that the potential cooperating witness was not cooperating.

Watts had figured, incorrectly, that Gravano, fresh off plastic surgery, was not going to show up and let his new face be seen. With that, Watts felt confident that the government had no case. Shortly after the trial began, it was announced that Gravano would be called as a witness. Watts panicked. If found guilty, he could face a life sentence. The great showdown between Bailey and Gravano never materialized, as Watts quickly pled guilty.

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