The Early Years
John Gotti was the second of five Gotti brothers to join the Gambino crime family, but he quickly became one of the most infamous Mafia bosses in the world. Long before he was hijacking cars and ordering hits, he was born in the New York City borough, the Bronx, to John Joseph and Philomena Gotti, as the fifth of thirteen children.
As a teenager, he seemed unable to behave himself in school, and was frequently reported not only for truancy, but also for bullying. When he turned sixteen, he dropped out of school, never to return. By this time, he was already associated with many small-time Mafia crime rings. His first attempt at car theft resulted in a full set of broken toes and a limp he would have for the rest of his life. After dropping out of school, he joined the Fulton-Rockaway Boys gang, a longtime Mafia syndicate, which ultimately funneled him towards the Gambino family.
There was a brief interlude in 1962, after marrying Victoria DiGiorgio, when he tried to work a legitimate job in a coat factory and driving trucks part time, but the life was not for him. By 1966, he had been imprisoned twice for Mafia-related crimes.
Associate of the Gambino Family
As an associate of the Gambino family, Gotti, his brother Gene, and his friend Angelo Ruggiero, began hijacking trucks from Idlewild (JFK) Airport. While working as a hijacker for the mob, he often came into contact with Joseph Massino, who would later become the leader of the Bonanno family.
He was arrested three times for the hijackings, and served only three years. As soon as he was paroled, he was back working as an associate of the Gambinos, under Carmine Fatico. Because of his arrest and incarceration for stealing, he was transferred to the gambling rings. Here, he acted as an enforcer, and when Fatico was arrested, he was named as the acting leader of Fatico’s crew. Though he was not yet an official member of the family, he was quickly rising through the ranks and gaining a reputation for violence.
The most significant turning point in Gotti’s career came in 1973, when he was asked to carry out a hit on fellow gangster, James McBratney, who had killed one of Carlo Gambino’s nephews. Along with his old friend Ruggiero and fellow hit man Ralph Galione, they carried out the hit. Gotti was the only one to serve any time for the murder, and even then, he served only two years.
Captain in the Family
After his release, the Gambinos finally initiated him, and he became the permanent leader of Fatico’s old crew. The crew’s gambling activities, under the strict direction of Gotti, soon became the most profitable in the Mafia. He restarted Fatico’s failed loansharking business, and began pumping money into the gang’s drug business.
As he was promoted through the gang’s ranks, he ran into more and more trouble with the law. Before ascending to top tier of the mafia, Gotti was arrested and indicted twice, once for assault and robbery, and again for racketeering.
Rise to Power
It was well known, not only in his crew, but also throughout the entire gang, that Gotti was not happy working under Paul Castellano, the reigning Gambino boss. When Castellano was indicted as part of a RICO case, he chose Gotti, along with two of his other captains to act in his stead, even though he later planned to break up Gotti’s crew.
John Gotti found that several of the Gambino gangsters agreed with him, and together they formed “The Fist,” and began plotting to permanently overthrow Castellano. On December 16th, 1985, The Fist cornered Castellano and his top bosses at a steak house in Midtown Manhattan. Though no one in the mob admitted to the fact, they all knew that Gotti was behind the murder of their boss, and yet, he was elected to replace him, less than a month after Castellano’s murder.
Boss of the Gambino Family
When he came to power, the Gambino family was the wealthiest and most powerful in America. In order to counteract the ruthless reputation he had built for himself, he was friendly with the media and even with the FBI agents assigned to follow him. This, along with strict instructions to deny association with the mob, made it nearly impossible for prosecutors to get anything to stick to Gotti. He became known as “The Teflon Don.”
The FBI’s huge racketeering case, designed to bring down the Gambino family, failed to stick to Gotti, but two of his underbosses were convicted and incarcerated. To replace them, Gotti promoted Sammy Gravano and Frank Locascio. Against their advice, he began holding weekly meetings of his entire administration at a club in lower Manhattan. The consistency of these meetings, attended by the most important members of Gotti’s gang, allowed the FBI to fill out the Gambino roster.
Conviction and Death
In 1990, the FBI stormed the Ravenite Social Club, arresting John Gotti and many of his bosses in charges of racketeering, gambling, and murder. The bugs planted in the club revealed weaknesses in the hierarchy, and before long, the FBI was able to turn Sammy Gravano, one of Gotti’s most trusted underbosses, to state’s witness.
It was ultimately Gravano, who confirmed Gotti as the leader of the Gambino family and fingered him for the murder of Castellano, who brought down John Gotti. In 1992, Gotti was sentenced to life in prison, where he would die, in 2002, from throat cancer. Some investigators believe that in the ten years before his death, he continued to run the Gambino family, relaying orders through his son and brother.
Throughout his years as an associate, capo, and eventually, boss in the mafia, Gotti attempted to keep his family separate from his life of crime, even though his son did eventually join the Gambino family. In 1980, his youngest son was killed accidently by a neighbor, and though the Gotti family was on vacation when that neighbor disappeared, it is more than likely that John Gotti avenged his son.