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I loved the Godfather. I thought that was the best interpretation of our life that I've ever seen. Godfather I and Godfather II - the other one stunk. - Sammy "Sammy the Bull" Gravano
Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano (born March 12, 1945) was an underboss of the Gambino crime family. He is best known as the man who helped bring down family boss John Gotti by agreeing to become a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant and turn state's evidence.
Originally a mobster for the Colombo crime family, and later for the Brooklyn faction of the Gambinos, he was part of a conspiracy within the family to murder Gambino boss Paul Castellano. Gravano played a key role in planning and executing Castellano's murder; other conspirators included John Gotti, Angelo Ruggiero, Frank DeCicco and Joseph Armone. The conspiracy would elevate Gravano's position in the family to underboss under Gotti, a position he held at the time he turned informer. He was the highest-ranking member of organized crime ever to turn informer. His testimony drew a wave of Cosa Nostra members to become informants.
Childhood and early lifeEdit
Salvatore Gravano was born in 1945 to Giorlando (Gerry) and Caterina (Kay) Gravano. He was the youngest of three children, and the only boy. They lived in Bensonhurst, a largely Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. Early on, one of his relatives remarked that he looked like an uncle Sammy. From that point on, he was always called "Sammy," and never "Salvatore" or "Sal."
Gravano did poorly in school due to an undiagnosed case of dyslexia. During his childhood, the condition was not well understood by the medical community of the time, and his problems in school were dismissed as "being a slow learner." He was held back on two occasions. At first, this made him a target of jokes at school, but they ended after he assaulted several of his tormentors. He continued to assert his physical presence through violence as he grew up, and his parents were forced to sign him out of school when he was 16 years old.
He began stealing when he was only 7 or 8 and would take two cupcakes from a corner store in Bensonhurst every day on his way to school. Sammy sobbed when he was caught stealing from his corner shop at the age of 8 and was let off with a firm warning by the shopkeeper. However, by the time he was 13, he had joined the Rampers, a prominent gang in the area.
His father ran a small dress factory and could sustain a good standard of living for the family. When he saw Sammy drifting in the wrong direction, he tried all possible methods of discipline, even forcing him to attend Mass with him.
Gravano was drafted into the United States Army in 1964. While an enlisted soldier, he mainly worked as a mess hall cook. He rose to the rank of corporal and was granted an honorable discharge after two years. Gravano was not deployed to the Vietnam War.
Gravano married Debra Scibetta in 1971; they had two children. Later in his mob career, he was ordered to help arrange the murder of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Scibetta. He is also the brother-in-law of Gambino crime family capo Edward Garafola and Mario Garafola. He was a childhood friend of Colombo crime family associate Gerard Pappa.
The Mafia had been in Bensonhurst for a long time; several "wiseguys" hung around a bar that Sammy and his father frequently walked by. On one occasion, they helped Sammy recover a stolen bike, and one of them was so enamored by his fighting ability that he nicknamed him "the Bull." The nickname stuck.
Despite his father's attempts to dissuade him, Sammy, like many of his Ramper colleagues, drifted into the Mafia. He first became associated with the "Honored Society" in 1968 through Tommy Spero, whose uncle, Shorty, was an associate of the Colombo crime family under its future boss, Carmine "the Snake" Persico. Gravano was initially involved in petty crimes, as he almost always had been, such as larceny, hijacking, and armed robbery. He quickly moved up the ranks and into racketeering, running a loansharking business and a lucrative poker game in the back room of an after-hours club of which he was part-owner.
Gravano became a particular favorite of family boss Joe Colombo, who used Gravano to picket the FBI as part of his Italian-American Civil Rights League initiative. Gravano's rise was so precipitous that it was generally understood that he would be among the first to become made when the Mafia's membership books were reopened (they had been closed since 1957).
In 1970, he committed his first murder—that of Joseph Colucci, a fellow Spero associate with whose wife Tommy Spero was having an affair. Colucci reportedly was planning to kill Gravano and both Speros in response.
Using the man Colucci had confided in, Gravano and Tommy Spero planned the murder. After a night of drinking and dancing at the local clubs, Colucci was lulled into a false sense of security. After leaving a diner around 4:00 a.m., the four men piled into an automobile. While a Beatles tune filled the air, Gravano performed his first hit for the mob.
Gravano described the experience thusly:
"As that Beatles song played, I became a killer. Joe Colucci was going to die. I was going to kill him because he was plotting to kill me. I felt the rage inside me.... Everything went in slow motion. I could almost feel the bullet leaving the gun and entering his skull. It was strange. I didn't hear the first shot. I didn't see any blood. His head didn't seem to move.... I felt like I was a million miles away, like this was all a dream. 'I shot a second time in the same spot. This time everything was different. I saw the flash. I smelt the gunpowder. The noise was deafening. Now I saw his head jerk back, his body convulse and slip sideways. I saw the blood. Joe Colucci was dead. He looked like he was sleeping. He looked peaceful. You going to blow me away now? I thought."Although the other occupants were in on the plot, bedlam seemed to fill the car. Driving to a secluded area to dump the body, Tommy Spero, who was behind the wheel, told Gravano he was unable to touch the body of his old friend. Gravano climbed out of the back seat, pulled Coluccis body out of the car, and left it face down in the street. He got back in the car, rolled down the window and fired three more shots into the body.
We were all scared, not like afraid, but excited. But then I felt a surge of power. I realized that I had taken a human life, that I had the power over life and death. I was a predator. I was an animal. I was Cosa Nostra.
Gravano's murder of Colucci won him the respect and approval of Persico. Gravano went on to serve as a mentor and father figure to Colucci's son Jack Colucci, who would become involved in the construction industry and act as a Gambino family associate.
Sometime in the early 1970s, Ralph Spero, brother of Shorty, became jealous of Gravano's status as a rising star in the family, fearing he would be made before his own son, Tommy. Shorty Spero thus granted Gravano his official release from the Colombos after confirming the Gambino crime family would take him in.
With the Gambinos, Gravano became an associate of longtime capo Salvatore "Toddo" Aurello. Aurello quickly took a liking to Sammy, who already had an education in mob life through Persico, and became his mob mentor. Around this time, Gravano took a construction job and claims to have considered going legit. A former associate, however, falsely claimed to the New York District Attorney's Office that Gravano and another associate were responsible for a double murder from 1969. Indictments were issued and Gravano, in need of money to pay his legal bills, quit his construction job and went on a self-described "robbing rampage" for a year and a half. One week into the trial, the prosecution moved to dismiss the charges, but Gravano considered the experience to be formative, sealing his future in a life of crime:
"That pinch changed my whole life. I never, ever stopped a second from there on in. I was like a madman. Never stopped stealing. Never stopped robbing. I was obsessed."Gravano's robbery spree impressed Aurello, who proposed him for membership in the Gambino family. In 1976, the Mafia's membership books were finally reopened and Gravano was one of the first to be sworn in.
Family loyalty put to the testEdit
Gravano's loyalty to his dueling families was put to the test in 1978, when the erratic behavior of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Scibetta, attracted the attention of Gambino leadership. Scibetta, the brother of Gravano's wife, had developed an alcohol problem and soon started using cocaine. A series of altercations with mob associates followed, one of which ended with Scibetta having his adversary arrested, earning him a reputation as a stool pigeon. Scibetta sealed his fate when he insulted the daughter of Georgie DeCicco, uncle of Gambino member Frank DeCicco. Hearing the news, Gravano gave his brother-in-law a beating in an attempt to forestall worse punishment. The elder DeCicco, however, was incensed and took the matter to boss Paul Castellano, who ordered a hit on Scibetta.
The order was given to Frank DeCicco, who was told not to inform Gravano. DeCicco gave the contract to Loborio "Louie" Milito and Josephy "Stymie" D'Angelo, Sr., two associates on Gravano's crew. After consultation, the three agreed it was wrong not to tell Gravano. DeCicco went to Castellano and persuaded him to give permission to inform Gravano, but Castellano also authorized DeCicco to kill Gravano if he opposed the murder. According to Gravano, he was initially livid at the news and threatened to kill Castellano, but DeCicco eventually convinced him opposition would be futile and he acquiesced to the murder.
The only part of Scibetta's body ever recovered was one of his hands, and he was declared legally dead in 1985. How Scibetta was killed, as well as the exact extent of Gravano's involvement, remains unknown.
Around this time, Gravano opened an afterhours club in Bensonhurst. The bar was the scene of a violent altercation one night involving a rowdy biker gang intent on ransacking the establishment, which may have served as inspiration for a similar scene in the 1993 film A Bronx Tale. A melee ensued in which Gravano broke his ankle and the bikers were chased off. Gravano then went to Castellano and received permission to murder the leader of the gang. Along with Milito, Gravano hunted down the leader, wounding him and killing another member of the gang. Castellano was flabbergasted when he learned the crutch-ridden Gravano personally took part in the hit.
Like his predecessor Carlo Gambino, Castellano favored emphasizing more sophisticated schemes involving construction, trucking, and garbage disposal over traditional street-level activities such as loansharking, gambling, and hijackings. Castellano had a particular interest in the construction business. Gravano began to change his boss' cowboy image of him when he entered into the plumbing and drywall business with his brother-in-law, Edward Garafola. As Gravano's involvement in construction increased, he became closer and closer to Castellano, eventually penetrating Castellano's inner circle and becoming a regular at his Todt Hill, Staten Island mansion.
Gravano quickly acquired tremendous clout in the construction and trucking industries. The Aurello crew supervised the Gambino family's control over Teamsters Local 282, which had jurisdiction over building materials to all construction sites in the city. The Mafia's control over the city's construction industry was so absolute that it had effective veto power over all major construction projects in the city. For all practical purposes, no concrete could be poured for any project worth more than $2 million without Mafia approval.
After Aurello's death, the crew was controlled by Frank DeCicco, and Gravano was made the point-man in the all powerful Teamsters Local 282 rackets, working closely with successive union bosses John Cody and Robert Sasso (both of whom would be sent to prison for labor racketeering). Gravano installed Louis "Big Lou" Vallario, Frank Fappiano, and Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo as his day-to-day soldiers in the construction rackets.
Gravano's construction and other business interests soon earned him a reputation as a "good earner" within the Gambino organization and made him a multi-millionaire, enabling him to build a large estate for his family in rural Ocean County, New Jersey. Flush with cash, he also invested in trotters to race at the Meadowlands Racetrack and started operating a popular discotheque, The Plaza Suite, in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn. Gravano reportedly made $4,000-a-week from the Plaza Suite alone. Gravano also used the club as his construction headquarters.
Gravano further ingratiated himself to Castellano when he interceded in a civil war that had erupted within the Philadelphia crime family. In March 1980, longtime Philadelphia boss Angelo Bruno was assassinated by his consigliere, Antonio Caponigro, without authorization from The Commission. The Commission summoned Caponigro to New York, where it sentenced him to death for his transgression; after Caponigro was tortured and killed, Philip Testa was installed as boss and Nicky Scarfo as consigliere. The Commission subsequently placed contracts on Caponigro's co-conspirators, including John "Johnny Keys" Simone, who also happened to be Bruno's cousin. The Simone contract was given to Gravano.
After befriending Simone through a series of meetings, Gravano, with the assistance of Milito and D'Angelo, abducted Simone from Yardley Golf Club in Yardley, Pennsylvania (in suburban Trenton, New Jersey) and drove him to a wooded area in Staten Island. Gravano then granted Simone's requests to die with his shoes off, in fulfillment of a promise he had made to his wife, and at the hands of a made man. After Gravano removed Simone's shoes, Milito shot Simone in the back of the head, killing him. Gravano would later express admiration for Simone as a "man's man," remarking favorably on the calmness with which he accepted his fate. Gravano earned praise from Castellano for the killing.
Frank Fiala murderEdit
By the early 1980s, the Plaza Suite was a thriving establishment. Patrons often had to wait in line for up to an hour before being admitted and the club featured high-profile live acts such as Chubby Checker and the Four Tops.
In 1982, Frank Fiala, a wealthy businessman and drug trafficker, paid Gravano $40,000 to rent the Plaza Suite for a birthday party he was throwing himself. Two days after the party, Gravano accepted a $1,000,000 offer from Fiala to buy the establishment, which Gravano had only valued at $200,000. The deal was structured to include $100,000 cash as a down payment, $650,000 in gold bullion under the table, and a $250,000 payment at the closing.
Before the transaction was completed, Fiala began to act as if he had already purchased the club. He brought people in to begin remodeling the place and he hired his own bouncers. All of this irritated Gravano, but the last straw came when Fiala moved into Sammys private office and began breaking through an office wall. Gravano, enraged, stormed into the office followed by Garafola. Fiala was standing behind Gravanos desk. He sat down in Sammys chair smirking at the two men.
"What do you think you're dong?" Gravano growled. "This doesn't belong to you till the closing. Get the hell out of here." Fiala reached into a desk drawer, removed an Uzi and aimed it at the two. Ordering the pair to sit down, the brazen, yet foolish, Fiala stated, "You fucking grease-balls, you do things my way." The second Gravano realized he was not going to be shot he began to plot Fialas demise.
Upon leaving, Gravano called Garafola and set up an ambush outside the club, involving Garafola, Milito, D'Angelo, Nicholas Mormando, and Michael DeBatt in the plan. Later that night, Gravano confronted Fiala on the street as he exited the Plaza Suite amongst a group of people, asking, "Hey, Frank, how you doing?" As Fiala turned around, surprised to see Gravano, Milito came up behind him and shot him in the head. Milito stood over the body and fired a shot into each of Fiala's eyes as Fiala's entourage and the crowd of people on the street dispersed, screaming. Gravano then walked up to Fiala's corpse and spit on it.
Although Gravano believed the entire neighborhood knew he was responsible for the murder, he was never charged for the crime: Gravano had made a $5,000 payoff to the lead homicide detectives, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, to ensure the investigation yielded no leads.
While Gravano was able to evade criminal charges, he had incurred Castellano's wrath over the unsanctioned killing. Gravano attempted to lay low for nearly three weeks afterwards, during which time he called his crew together and made the decision to kill the boss if necessary. Gravano and Milito were then summoned to a meeting with Castellano at a Manhattan restaurant. Castellano had been given the details of what Fiala had done, but he was still livid that Gravano had not come to him for permission to kill Fiala first. Gravano, however, was spared execution when he convinced Castellano that the reason he had kept him in the dark was to protect the boss in case something went wrong with the hit.
Fiala's murder posed one final problem for Gravano in the form of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The high publicity generated by the incident triggered an IRS investigation into Gravano and Fiala's deal for the sale of the Plaza Suite and Gravano was subsequently charged with tax evasion. Gravano was represented by Gerald Shargel and acquitted at trial.
Gravano's relief at being acquitted was tempered by news close friend D'Angelo had been killed by a Colombo crime family associate celebrating that he was being proposed for membership. The killer was then murdered himself on orders from the Colombo family.
Aligning with GottiEdit
In the aftermath of the Fiala murder, Gravano continued to focus on his construction business, branching out into the lucrative concrete paving industry. New York City's cement industry was controlled by four of the Five Families, which made millions of dollars by manipulating bids and steering contracts.
Gravano eventually became embroiled in a dispute with business partner Louie DiBono, who was also a member of another Gambino crew. A sit-down with Castellano was held, at which an irate Gravano accused DiBono of withholding $200,000 in payments for subcontracts and threatened to kill him right then and there. Gambino underboss Neil Dellacroce intervened on Gravano's behalf and Castellano decreed that the matter would be settled by the two men ending their business partnership, though Gravano's standing with the boss slipped as a result of the incident. Dellacroce, however, was rising star John Gotti's mentor, and when word got back to him that Dellacroce had supported Gravano, he was impressed.
During this time, the FBI had intensified its efforts against the Gambino family, and in August 1983, three members of Gotti's crew — Angelo Ruggiero, John Carneglia, and Gene Gotti — were indicted for heroin trafficking. Castellano was against anyone in the Family dealing narcotics. Castellano was going to have Gene Gotti and Ruggerio killed if it turned out they had dealt heroin. He asked for tape transccripts of Ruggerio's conversations. He was stalled for as long as they could stall him. Eventually one of the reasons for Gotti kiling Castellano was to save his brother and Ruggerio. The FBI had bugged Ruggiero's house and phone and Castellano decided he needed copies of the tapes to justify his impending move to Dellacroce and the family's other capos. Castellano demanded that Dellacroce obtain them from Ruggiero (whose attorney had obtained them through normal court procedures), but Dellacroce stalled.
When Castellano was indicted for both his connection to Roy DeMeo's stolen car ring and as part of the Mafia Commission Trial, he learned his own house had been bugged on the basis of evidence from the Ruggiero tapes and he became livid. In June 1985, he again demanded that Dellacroce get him the tapes. Both Dellacroce and Gotti tried to convince Ruggiero to comply if Castellano explained beforehand how he intended to use the tapes, but Ruggiero refused, fearing he would endanger good friends.
Three months later, Gravano was approached by Robert DiBernardo, a fellow Gambino member acting as an intermediary for Gotti. DiBernardo informed him that Gotti and Ruggiero wanted to meet with him in Queens. Gravano arrived to find only Ruggiero was present. Ruggiero informed Gravano that he and Gotti were planning to murder Castellano and asked for Gravano's support. Gravano was initially noncommittal, wanting to confer first with Frank DeCicco. In conversation with DeCicco, both men voiced concern that Castellano would designate his nephew, Thomas Gambino, acting boss and his driver, Thomas Bilotti, underboss in the event he was convicted and sent to prison. Neither man appealed to Gravano or DeCicco as leadership material, and they ultimately decided to support the hit on Castellano.
Whacking the bossEdit
Gravano's first choice to become boss after Castellano's murder was Frank DeCicco, but DeCicco felt John Gotti's ego was too big to take a subservient role. DeCicco argued that Gotti's boldness, intelligence, and charisma made him well-suited to be "a good boss" and he convinced Gravano to give Gotti a chance. DeCicco and Gravano, however, also made a secret pact to kill Gotti and take over the family as boss and underboss, respectively, if they were unhappy with Gotti's leadership after one year.
The conspirators' first order of business was meeting with other Gambino members, most of whom were disaffected under Castellano, and gaining their support for the hit. Gotti and Ruggiero then sought and obtained the approval of the Colombo and Bonanno families, while DeCicco secured the backing of the Luccheses. The conspirators decided not to approach the Genovese family due to boss Vincent "The Chin" Gigante's long-standing friendship with Castellano. With Neil Dellacroce's death on December 2, the final constraint on a move by Gotti or Castellano against the other was removed. Gotti, enraged that Castellano chose not to attend his mentor's wake, wasted little time in striking.
Unsuspecting the plot against him, Castellano invited DeCicco to a meeting on December 16, 1985 with fellow capos Thomas Gambino, Danny Marino at Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. The conspirators considered the restaurant a prime location for the hit because the area would be packed with bustling crowds of holiday shoppers, making it easier for the assassins to blend in and escape. The plans for the assassination were finalized on December 15, and the next afternoon, the conspirators met for a final time on the Lower East Side. At Gotti's suggestion, the shooters wore long white trench coats and black fur Russian hats, which Gravano considered a "brilliant" idea.
Gotti and Gravano arrived at the restaurant shortly before 5 o'clock and, after circling the block, parked their car across the intersection and within view of the entrance. Around 5:30, Gravano spotted Castellano's Lincoln Town Car stopped at a nearby intersection and, via walkie talkie, alerted the team of hitmen stationed outside the restaurant of Castellano's approach.
Castellano's driver, Thomas Bilotti, pulled the car up directly in front of the entrance. As Castellano and Bilotti exited the Lincoln, the roughly half dozen shooters moved in and opened fire, killing both men in a barrage of bullets. As the hat-and-trench coat adorned men slipped away into the night, Gotti calmly drove the car past the front of the restaurant to get a look at the scene. Looking down at Bilotti's body from the passenger window, Gravano remarked, "He's gone."
Co-underboss and consigliereEdit
The new regimeEdit
After Castellano's death, a meeting of the Gambino family's capos was held, at which Frank DeCicco nominated Gotti to be the new boss. Gotti's nomination met with no opposition and he was installed as Don. Gotti, in turn, selected DeCicco as his underboss and elevated Gravano to capo after Toddo Aurello announced his desire to step down.
Gotti was recognized as the Gambino family's boss and a member of The Commission by each of the other Five Families, including the Genovese crime family|Genovese family]], whose approval for the hit on Castellano had been deliberately bypassed by Gotti and his co-conspirators. The Genovese family, however, was still upset that Gotti had proceeded without the full sanctioning of The Commission and cryptically announced that a Mafia rule had been broken, for which somebody would have to pay if and when The Commission, which was in disarray at the time due to the Mafia Commission Trial, met again. Gravano and DeCicco had been hiding out in safe houses, but they took the other families' full recognition of Gotti as an indication that it was safe to resurface.
The Genoveses made good on their veiled threat in April 1986 when DeCicco was killed by a car bomb outside Castellano's former social club in , then operated by Gambino capo James Failla. Gravano was at the club at the time and was blown off his feet by the blast. Gravano attempted to pull DeCicco from the wreckage but realized it was no use when he saw various body parts scattered about.
The attack was orchestrated by Genovese boss Vincent Gigante, with the backing of Lucchese leaders Vittorio "Vic" Amuso and Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso. The bomb was intended to kill both DeCicco and Gotti, who was supposed to be at the club for a meeting with Gravano and DeCicco. Gotti, however, couldn't make the meeting and rescheduled for later that evening at the Ravenite Social Club in Manhattan. Failla and fellow capo Daniel Marino were two of Castellano's closest associates before his death and both men were in on Gigante's plot. In exchange for a promise to be designated co-leaders of the Gambino family after the assassinations, Failla and Marino provided intelligence and tipped off the plotters to the planned meeting in Bensonhurst. The plotters reportedly used a car bomb for the attack in order to divert suspicion. The method had its intended effect, as Gotti and Gravano considered and dismissed the possibility that Gigante was behind the plot, reasoning, "[H]e wouldn't use... bombs."
With DeCicco dead, the Gambinos were left without an underboss. Gotti chose to fill the vacancy by naming Angelo Ruggiero and Gravano co-underbosses.
"Nicky Cowboy" murderEdit
The first person on Gravano's hit list after Castellano's murder was Nicholas "Nicky Cowboy" Mormando, a former member of his crew. Mormando had become addicted to crack cocaine and was suspected by Gravano of getting friend and fellow crew member Michael DeBatt addicted to the drug. According to Gravano, Mormando started to act "like a renegade... berserk." The final straw came when Mormando announced he no longer wanted to be in the crew and planned to start his own gang. Gravano decided he "couldn't take a chance" because Mormando "knew too much" and he got permission from Gotti to kill Mormando.
Gravano arranged to have Mormando murdered on his way to a meeting at Gravano's Bensonhurst restaurant, Tali's. After assuring Mormando of his safety, Gravano told him to pick up Joseph Paruta on his way. Paruta got in the backseat of the car and shot Mormando twice in the back of the head. Mormando's corpse was then disposed of in a vacant lot, where it was discovered the next day.
Gotti was imprisoned in May 1986 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York while awaiting trial on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges. He was forced to rely heavily on Gravano, Angelo Ruggiero, and Joseph "Piney" Armone to manage the Gambino crime family's day-to-day affairs while he called the major shots from his jail cell.
In June, Gravano was approached by Ruggiero and, supposedly at Gotti's behest, given orders to murder capo Robert DiBernardo for making negative remarks about Gotti's leadership. Gravano was friendly with DiBernardo and tried to get the murder called off until he had a chance to speak with Gotti after his trial. Ruggiero claimed to have met again with Gotti and told Gravano that the boss wanted DiBernardo killed right away. Gravano arranged a meeting with DiBernardo where Joe Paruta, a member of Gravano's crew, shot DiBernardo twice in the back of the head as the underboss watched. Gravano later learned that Ruggiero was $250,000 in debt to DiBernardo and realized Ruggiero may have fabricated the orders from Gotti or simply lied to Gotti about what DiBernardo was accused of saying in order to erase the debt and improve his own standing in the family. In any event, DiBernardo's death proved profitable for Gravano, as he took over the deceased man's control of Teamsters.
Gotti's trial ultimately ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury and the boss was freed from jail. Gravano's specific position within the family varied during 1986 and 1987. He started out as co-underboss with Ruggiero and later was shifted to co-consigliere with Armone. When Joseph N. Gallo and Armone were convicted on racketeering charges in 1987, Gotti turned to Gravano to help fill the void, promoting him to official consigliere and making Frank Locascio acting underboss. By this time, Gravano was regarded as a "rising force" in the construction industry and often mingled with executives from major construction firms and union officials at his popular Bensonhurst restaurant, Tali's.
Gravano's success was not without a downside. First, his quick rise up the Gambino hierarchy attracted the attention of the FBI, and he was soon placed under surveillance. Second, he started to sense some jealousy from Gotti over the profitability of his legitimate business interests. Nevertheless, Gravano claimed to be kicking up over $2 million each year to Gotti out of his union activities alone.
Michael DeBatt, the son of a late friend of Gravano's had also become addicted to crack cocaine. DeBatt's wife came to Gravano pleading for help. She told Gravano DeBatt stayed up at night with a gun claiming "they were coming to get him." Gravano had taken DeBatt under his wing after the elder DeBatt's death, as he had done with Joey D' Angelo. Gravano responded to DeBatt's wife's cries for help by having DeBatt shot to death at Tally's, Gravano's bar. The shooters emptied the cash register and left DeBatt in the bar to make it look like a robbery.
Not long after this, Gravano became the family's consigliere and his old crew was taken over by Louis "Big Lou" Vallario. Louie Milito, Gravano's old buddy from his childhood days with the Rampers, was not pleased with this decision. Milito made the mistake of telling other crew members that it was he who should have been given the top spot in Gravano's crew after Gravano's promotion, and not Vallario. Gravano claimed in his book Underboss that before the Castellano hit, Milito had become much closer to Castellano and Bilotti. Castellano had informed Milito that Gravano should have been killed after the unsanctioned murder of Frank Fiala as well as after Gravano threatened fellow made man Louie DiBono. With John Gotti and the Bergin crew in hot water with the indictment of Angelo Ruggerio on heroin distribution charges, Milito feared Gravano and his crew could be in danger of being killed along with Gotti, once Neil Dellacroce died. Milito, according to Gravano, severed business ties with Gravano and started a loanshark operation with Tommy Bilotti. When Castellano and Bilotti were murdered, Milito was in prison. Upon his release, Gravano claims Gotti wanted Milito killed. Gravano claims he stood up for Milito and stopped the murder from happening. After he was read the riot act, Milito returned to Gravano's crew, only to badmouth his old friend's choice of Vallario as captain after Gravano's promotion. Milito was called to a meeting to discuss the murder of a Gambino associate. Gene Gotti, John Carneglia, Louie Valario and Arnold Squitieri were present at the meeting, as was Gravano. While Milito was drinking some espresso, Carneglia shot him to death. Milito's body has never been found. Milito's wife Linda claims in her book Mafia Wife that when Louie Milito did not come home or call, she went to see Gravano at his home. Linda said Gravano gave her $5,000 and cut all ties to her. Linda also wrote that a friend saw Gravano driving Louie Milito's Lincoln and was able to identify it by damage done to the car before Louie Milito went missing. Linda Milito would cry foul in her book after Gravano testified he had not been the shooter in Louie Milito's murder; she said that a Gambino family member later informed her Gravano had shot and killed Louie Milito, contrary to what Gravano had told the FBI. Gravano, however, claims in his book Underboss that after Milito was killed, he finished the construction work Milito was having done on his home and continued to support Linda Milito and her family.
Despite Gravano's rise in status to consigliere, Gotti continued to use Gravano for the task of murder. In May 1988, Gravano and Robert Bisaccia, a New Jersey crime family soldier, murdered Francessco Oliverri for beating a Gambino family crew member to death. Bisaccia shot Oliverri to death while Gravano waited in a stolen get-away car. After Oliverri, John Gotti had finally got around to taking care of Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson. Johnson had been a childhood friend of Gotti's and a longtime crew member while Gotti was captain of the Bergin crew. However, at Gotti's RICO trial, Diane Giacalone, the head prosector, revealed the Johnson had been an informant for the FBI for years. Johnson refused to testify for the prosecution. In Underboss Gravano claims that Gotti met with Johnson during the trial and informed Johnson that as long as he never testified against Gotti, he and his family would not be harmed. Johnson would never be allowed to participate in mob matters again, however. Johnson asked Gotti to swear on his dead son, Frank Gotti, who had been killed in a tragic accident years ago. Gotti swore. Now Gotti was having second thoughts. "John discussed how it should go, using me to bounce off ideas about the best way to do it. That was my only involvement," Gravano explained. Johnson was shot while walking to his car to go to work in front of his house in May 1988. In 1990, Gravano was involved in two murders, the first of which was Eddie Garofalo, a demolition contractor who made the mistake of running afoul of the Gambinos. On August 9, 1990, Garofalo was shot to death in front of his home as arranged by Gravano.
The last murder to involve Gravano was the murder of Louie DiBono, the made man Gravano had threatened to kill. Gravano described the reasons for the murder in Underboss:
"He was still robbing the family and I asked for permission to take him out. But John had a meeting with DiBono, and DiBono told John that he had a billion dollars of drywall work that was coming out of the World Trade Center. John bit, hook, line and sinker, and refused my request. John said he would handle DiBono personally and become his partner. But DiBono was up to his old tricks double-dealing. He had obviously been bullshitting John. So when John called Louie in for meetings to discuss their new partnership, DiBono didn't show up. John was humiliated. This meant an automatic death penalty. John gave the contract to DiBono's captain, Pat Conte. Conte botched an ideal opportunity to kill DiBono. Then, as Gotti grew increasingly impatient, Conte explained that the problem now was trying to corner DiBono again. Whenever a meeting with him was arranged, DiBono never appeared. It was a joke, what was going on. I couldn't help laughing to myself. I told John why didn't Pat simplify everything. Just call Louie up and tell him to hang himself. Ten months went by. John looks like an asshole. He was too embarrassed even to ask me for help."
A construction associate of Gravano's unknowingly informed Gravano of DiBono's activities. Gravano informed Gotti and DiBono's body was found in his car in the parking lot of the World Trade Center in October 1990. Gravano's intentions for this murder would be called into question as it was suspected Gravano might have had different reasons for wanting DiBono dead due to his jealousy over DiBono's drywall business.
With Gotti's permission, Gravano set up the murders Tommy Spero, and several other Gambino associates. Eventually, Gotti would name Gravano his underboss, and move LoCascio to consigliere. When Gotti was tried for racketeering and assault charges in the winter of 1986-87, Gravano paid a juror to vote not guilty regardless of the evidence. It was this trial that allowed Gotti to make his reputation as "the Teflon Don."
Eventually, Gravano and several other members of the Gambino family became disenchanted with Gotti's lust for the media and high profile antics, feeling they brought too much heat. Several members of the family informed Gravano that Gotti's high profile and large gatherings of mob members at the Ravenite Social club were constant targets for the FBI and that the media attention put a large spotlight on the Gambinos. Many members of the family, according to Gravano, complained to him about Gotti's use of Gravano in murders despite Gravano's position as underboss of the family. Gotti had been going in and out of the courtroom like it was a revolving door. He was first tried for assaulting a refrigerator repair man over a parking space. Through witness intimidation, he was acquitted. Gravano had paid a juror in Gotti's second trial to vote in favor of an acquittal allowing Gotti to beat the RICO charges lodged against him. Gotti's third trial on state assault charges ended the same way. Gotti's ego began to bother Gravano as well as several other members of the family. Gotti was first known as the "Dapper Don" in the press for his Brioni suits and hand painted ties as well as his well combed hair and quick wit with reporters. Gotti required Gravano and Gambino consigliere Frank LoCascio to be at the Ravenite social club five days a week and all of his captains to make an appearance once a week. When Gravano warned Gotti about the negative attention from reporters as well as the constant surveillance from the FBI, Gotti instructed Gravano not to worry about it as Gotti knew what he was doing.
After being acquitted of the shooting of union official John O'Connor, Gotti received word from a mole that indictments were coming down for Gotti, Gravano, LoCascio, and captain Thomas Gambino. Gotti ordered Gravano to go on the lam to avoid arrest so that if Gotti was arrested, Gravano could run the family while on the run himself. Gravano hid out in various places on the east coast for two weeks before being ordered to return for a meeting at the Ravenite Social club in Little Italy. On the night of the meeting, Gotti, Gravano, and LoCascio were arrested by the FBI. In court proceedings Gravano heard FBI tapes of conversations in which Gotti disparaged him for being too greedy and "creating a family within a family." Gotti also discussed several murders in which Gravano was involved and worded it to sound like Gravano was a greedy "mad dog" killer. Gotti was heard on tapes questioning why everyone who went partners with Gravano kept winding up dead, with Gravano always having an excuse why they needed to be killed. Gravano also would make money every time a partner was killed.
Gravano had been consulting a hypnotist named Halpern to deal with fears he had, and Gotti's lawyers wanted to call Halpern as a witness, but the judge refused. Gravano had told Halpern he was deathly afraid of going to prison. Gotti informed Gravano he would not be allowed to converse with his lawyers unless Gotti was present. Gravano claimed Gotti's defense to consist of Gotti's lawyers portraying Gotti as a peace-loving boss falling all over himself to restrain the kill-crazy Gravano, resulting in a conviction for Gravano and an acquittal for Gotti.
In 1991 Gravano famously turn state's evidence|turned state's evidence (i.e., agreed to testify for the prosecution) and testified against Gotti in exchange for a reduced sentence. John Gotti received a sentence of life imprisonment. Gravano, who confessed to taking part in nineteen murders, was convicted of a token racketeering charge and sentenced to only 5 years. As part of Gravano's cooperation agreement, he would never be forced to testify against his former crew, which included Louis Vallario, Michael DiLeonardo, Frank Fappiano, Edward Garafola, Thomas Carbonaro, Joseph DeAngelo and many other career criminals and wiseguys.
Gravano was released early and then entered the U.S. federal Witness Protection Program, but he left it in 1995 and relocated to Arizona. Gravano began living very openly in Scottsdale, giving interviews to magazines and appearing in an interview with Diane Sawyer. He appeared on live TV after having had plastic surgery to hide his appearance from the mob. In one interview with Howard Blum, Gravano boasted: "They send a hit team down, I'll kill them. They better not miss, because even if they get me, there will still be a lot of body bags going back to New York. I'm not afraid. I don't have it in me. I'm too detached maybe. If it happens, fuck it. A bullet in the head is pretty quick. You go like that! It's better than cancer. I'm not meeting you in Montana on some fuckin' farm. I'm not sitting here like some jerk-off with a phony beard. I'll tell you something else: I'm a fuckin' pro. If someone comes to my house, I got a few little surprises for them. Even if they win, there might be surprises."
Gravano wrote a book called Underboss with author Peter Maas, which became the target of the families of his victims, who filed a $25 million dollar lawsuit against him for damages. Gravano even hired a publicist, despite the fact Gravano complained often about the publicity-seeking Gotti. During an interview Gravano gave to the Arizona Republic, Gravano claimed federal agents he had met after turning state's evidence had become his personal friends and stopped by his home when on vacation. By 1998, however he had resumed his life of crime and partnered with a local youth gang known as the "Devil Dogs" after his son became friends with the gang's 23-year-old leader Michael Papa. Gravano started a major ecstasy trafficking organization, selling over 25,000 tablets a week.
By February 2000, Sammy had re-engaged in criminal activity and he was convicted of possession and distribution of MDMA in October 2002. He is currently serving a 19-year sentence from Arizona courts at ADX Florence, an out-of-state prison. His son was also imprisoned for nine years for his role in the drug ring. His wife and daughter were also charged but were not imprisoned. Ironically, Gravano's downfall was due to informers among his own associates.
On February 24, 2003, New Jersey state prosecutors announced they would pursue murder charges against Gravano for allegedly ordering the hit by notorious killer Richard Kuklinski on decorated NYPD detective Peter Calabro on the night of March 14, 1980. Carlo, Philip The Ice Man, p. 257, St. Martin's Griffin, 2006. The charges were later dropped however, when Kuklinski, the star witness, died of a heart attack in prison before he could testify. Kuklinski's claims have been highly questioned as Gravano himself was an accomplished hitman and would therefore have no reason to hire Kuklinski to kill someone his crew was perfectly capable of killing. On top of this Kuklinski has also claimed responsibility for over 300 murders including Paul Castellano, Carmine Galante, Roy DeMeo, and Jimmy Hoffa, making his claims highly unbelievable. Federal inmates who served time with Gravano, however, say the mob turncoat privately admitted to his role in the 1980 killing of a New York cop. Inmates claimed Gravano bragged about killing many more than 19 people. Linda Milito claimed in her book Mafia Wife she had heard Gravano had smothered an elderly woman to death during a robbery gone wrong and that she was informed by Gravano's former crew members that Gravano had shot her husband Louie Milito twice in the back of the head and once under the chin, contradicting Gravano's former statements that he had simply been standing by the night Milito was shot. John Gotti's lawyers brought accusations that Gravano had been involved in the murders of two other individuals not disclosed to the FBI. However, these accusations were never proven. If proved that Gravano lied about how many people he killed, appeals by people he helped put in prison could follow.
Since Gravano's imprisonment on drug charges he has contracted Graves' Disease, a thyroid disorder which causes Fatigue (medical), weight loss with increased appetite, and hair loss. Gravano appeared at his drug trial missing hair on his head and eyebrows and appeared to have lost a good amount of weight. In Phillip Carlo's book Confessions of a Mafia Boss, based on the life of Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso; who is housed in the same Colorado Supermax facility as Gravano, claims that Gravano only ventures out of his cell to get food and that Casso has only seen him in the mess hall a couple of times.