Life Behind Bars
By Clarence Walker, Organized Crime Journalist - Houston, Texas
John Gotti, the Gambino crime boss was once known as the most powerful famous gangster in America since Al Capone. Gotti took full control of the Gambinos when (himself) along with mob associate Sammy ‘Bull’ Gravano murdered the reigning Gambino boss Paul Castellano in front of Spark’s Steak House on December 16th 1985 in Manhattan, New York. Following Castellano’s murder the Gambino Family voted Gotti to become head boss while Gravano became underboss. Frank Locascio was chosen as Gotti’s consigliere. Federal Authorities estimated the Gambino operation raked in over $500 million annually under Gotti’s control through racketeering, gambling, drugs and other illegal enterprises. Nicknamed ‘Dapper Don’ no other mobster captivated the American public like the handsome, extravagant John Gotti. He was later ‘dubbed’ Teflon Don by law enforcement after the feds failed repeatedly to convict him during the late 1980’s for major crimes. He became a folks hero. While many hated and feared him—others loved him. Law enforcement considers Gotti nothing more than a ruthless killer who thrived upon power and control to get whatever he wanted.
Now serving life without parole in Federal Prison John Gotti has been diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Doctors reported the former mobster is near death while other associates admits he is very ill but still surviving well despite battling cancer. Throughout Gotti’s career he never spoke publicly or gave interviews about the Mafia nor revealed details about life behind bars. Yet sometimes silence is broken. In 1998 the FBI obtained surveillance tapes from the prison’s visiting area – tapes made during Gotti’s visit with family members and later provided to news media organizations.
Among several audio and videotaped interviews between Gotti and relatives - excerpts from an interview made (1-30-98) is as close anyone can say that John Gotti violated the Mafia’s code of silence. On tape he spoke about secretive things he never shared with anyone outside the inner circle of the Gambino Family – important things mentioned which mafia members would consider an act of betrayal. He criticized his fellow mafiosos, speaking about their failures and stupidity to operate an organized crime enterprise. In fact, Gotti speaks openly about prison life, family members, life in the Mafia, and how much people from across the world still loves and respect him. Authorities said nine years of prison confinement hasn’t changed Gotti’s attitude. He remains the same ‘cocky, arrogant unremorseful criminal. During family visits Gotti realized every word spoken was recorded yet he unabashfully provides a rare insight into his mind, heart and soul; explaining the reason for the downfall of the Gambino family because he wasn’t around to keep everyone in line. Gotti insists the reason the family is torn apart because the majority became their own boss, defining their own moral code. On prison tapes while daughter Victoria Gotti–Agnello and brother Peter looking on, Gotti appears obsessed with his notorious image. He boasted: "You"ll never see another guy like me if you live 5000 years!"
DESTINED FOR TROUBLE
John Joseph Gotti Jr, the fifth of 13 children, was born into poverty in Bronx, New York --on October 27 1940 – the third of seven brothers and sisters. A tough street fighter Gotti experienced the first glimpse of the Mafioso lifestyle in a section of New York called the Italian Harlem. Mafia Kingpin, Albert Anastasia, a gangster admired by Gotti, dominated this era. Joining a street gang in 1956 called the Fulton-Rockaway boys. Gotti soon became a leader running gambling bets for bookies, using bare fists to collect money for loan sharks. Arrested for burglaries, grand larceny, robbery including auto thefts during the late 1950’s and 1960’s – Gotti’s first taste of prison came in 1969 after pleading guilty to a federal hijacking charge stemming from an FBI sting at Kennedy Airport in New York. He served three Years in federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Paroled in 1972 more trouble followed . In 1973 authorities indicted Gotti after Irish mobster James McBratney was murdered by Gotti’s associate named Ralph Wiggs in a bar room fight. Pleading guilty to attempted manslaughter in McBratney’s case Gotti served two years at Green Haven state prison. Released in July, 1977 Gotti was initiated into the Gambino Mafia. He lived by a primitive code: an eye for an eye – and the Mafia credo of "honor, respect and obedience."
PUBLIC ENEMY #1 ---- A RISING STAR ----A MAFIA ICON
During the late 1980’s the American Public watched a handsome John Gotti, the silver-hair meticulously swept back, stylishly decked in $2000.00 Armani suits, surrounded by bodyguards and T.V. cameras, signing autographs like a movie star—after winning three sensational acquittals in federal court on charges of extortion and racketeering. Flashing a devious (can-you-catch) me smile, Gotti and his entourage would drive off in a shiny limousine to celebrate victory at Ravenite club in Little Italy—while the Feds who worked so hard to convict him was soundly defeated. Winning an unheard of three Federal jury trials-Teflon Don seemed untouchable. At least this is what many people believed including Gotti but Federal agents wouldn’t stop until they could drive a nail into his coffin. Determined to put the cocky, arrogant Gotti away the FBI bugged the apartment he owned with sophisticated recording devices located above the Ravenite club in Brooklyn, New York. On tape Gotti was heard confessing to several murders. On December 12, 1990 a 13– count Rico indictment alleging a series of racketeering and conspiracy charges including a conspiracy to murder former crime boss Paul Castellano was filed against Gotti, under boss Gravano and consigliere Frank Locascio. Facing life without parole Gravano betrayed the Mafia code of silence. He became a government informant against Gotti and Locascio. When trial began on January 21 1992 Gravano testified Gotti ordered Castellano and other mob associates murdered. Although Gravano confessed to 19 murders he received only five years in prison and three years of probation. On June 23 1992 Gotti and Locascio were sentenced to life in Federal prison without parole. Confined (23 hours daily) in Marion Illinois Federal penitentiary – considered one of the nation’s toughest prisons, Gotti’s appeal to win a new trial has failed.
PRISON LIFE: GOTTI SPEAKS
During inmate visitation hours on (1-30-98) Gotti visited with daughter Victoria, brother Peter and Victoria’s son. A (five-foot-ten) 200 pounder Gotti sits calmly behind a glass-partitioned cubicle. Speaking into a phone he greeted them pleasantly. Expressing how grateful to receive a letter from a 14-year-old Idaho girl. He read the letter: "Listen," to this, he said. "I don’t know if you know it …there are millions of people who loves you, adore you and respect you. I guess you [and] America was whatever it meant to be." "This is a 14-year-old kid!" My relatives never write like that." Obviously flattered over tons of mail Gotti stated: "I appreciate people that try. You understand. It’s a beautiful thing. "Got mail from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand—mail from everywhere." "You know what I’m saying … you won’t believe all this mail." He continued. "A million people would come here, crying, just to see me." As the Mafioso rambled on about the happenings with family and the Gambinos he minced no words ridiculing the arrest of his son John Jr. who became the new Gambino head boss after the elder Gotti was sent to prison. Gotti said " that junior and codefendants should not be in jail, instead be put into an insane asylum for stupidity." Junior Gotti and 40 associates were indicted on federal racketeering and extortion charges. Gotti complained that Junior's amateurish mistakes made things easy for police to nail him. Referring to himself, Gotti proudly said, "It took them $80 million in three lying cases and seven rats that killed 100 people in the witness protection program to finally frame me." Gotti also reflected upon the frustration of prison life, solitary confinement, limited contact with people and prison food. He further mentions trading places with others. He explains, "I will say, let me tell you something. I’ll take all your troubles. Everything. How that sounds?" For Gotti the prison food is a joke. "Last night we had, I guess you call it, a taco or a burrito. It looked like mud, you know." "Give me some prosciutto with mozarrella…to have one of them sandwiches…I’d be like a baby. During a verbal exchange with Peter, Gotti recalled one day a guard complained about having to deal with a prison job. "I told him… I will accept death if I could spend whatever time left as a free man." On tape its clear the famous mobster accepts reality behind bars. "You know where I am? I’m on the G-Unit, the most secure unit on this planet. No contact, nothing that ain’t monitored," he said.
GOTTI SR. VILIFIES JOHN GOTTI JR. AND SON-IN-LAW CARMINE AGELLO
When Gotti Sr. commented about the 1998 arrest of his son John Gotti Jr. on federal racketeering charges and the arrest of his daughter’s husband, Carmine Agnello, on similar charges in 1999, he referred to Gotti Jr. as one ‘stupid’ Mafioso. He characterized Agnello as a criminal who should’ve been charged with--‘possession of a brain intending to use it.’ Speaking in a harsh tone, Gotti Sr. called Gotti Jr. an imbecile, asshole, as well as other degrading names. He question how stupid can someone be (like his son) to leave behind evidence for police to connect him to criminal activity such as $358,000.00 in wedding gifts-– two guns hid behind a sealed wall including a list of names for introductions into the Mafia. "This is stupidity down the line," Gotti said. Referring to names indicted along with his son, the elder boss barked, "I can’t identify two people in the indictment. Where do these creatures come from? "All I know is --- I don’t think--- I’ll ever find myself in a position where I’ll put my wedding money—whatever it is—in the basement with a bunch of old jewelry." As Gotti criticized errors which befelled his son – his daughter Victoria agreed. She also agreed that "Whoever put guns behind a sealed wall had to be an idiot." Wagging a pointed finger Gotti told Victoria, A best selling author, that her husband Carmine Agnello, a rich scrap yard dealer would soon be indicted because he was married to a Gotti family member. "Look, he said to brother Peter. You want a prediction? Her husband will be indicted by June, said Gotti as he pointed to Victoria. And every dime he’s got will be tied up." He was right. Although nothing happen in June but in April 1999 authorities nabbed Agnello on state racketeering, extortion, and several other related charges for threatening to terrorize police officers who’d set up a salvage yard near Agnello’s businesses to nab car thieves and insurance scams. The salvage yard operated by the Queens New York auto crime division was called Stadium Scrap. To nab thieves they purchased stolen vehicles, crushed them up, and resold the vehicles to a metal processor for higher prices than what they originally paid. Many customers bypassed Agenello’s scrap yards, a $30 million dollars per-year businesses, for higher prices paid by the cops. This is where trouble began. When undercover officers twice refused Agnello’s demand to sell him auto parts for half-price he retaliated. But the mobster didn’t realize when he and his associates firebombed the officers scrap yard they were caught red-handed on video camera! Held on $25 million dollars bond Agnello pled not guilty. Like Gotti Sr. predicted: the prosecutors frozed millions of dollars in assets owned by Agnello. Heaping scorn upon his son-in-law for having a petty rap sheet which prevented Agnello from visiting him Gotti remarked. "He’s an imbecile, and you gotta see the charges. "Malicious mopery. stolen bumper, hubcaps". At one point, he asked Victoria: "What’s the story with Carmine?" "What do you mean?" She asked. Gotti responded. "Is he not feeling good? Has his medication increased or decreased? Does he get into the backseat of the car and think someone stole the steering wheel?" He also berated Victoria. "Vicki, how many times I’ve told you that I don’t read murder mysteries?" " A lot," she replied. Do you think I’m a liar?" As the interview continued Victoria’s son experienced Grandpa’s wrath. Asking the young kid about future plans Gotti suggested he become a lawyer. In response the kid said he wanted to become a basketball or baseball player. Gotti snapped. "You ain’t going to be one. To be a good ball player, first, you got to be a good liar, a lowlife and take steroids." When the kid said, "I’ll be a crook." Gotti blew apart. "I don’t care if you be nothing!" You don’t sass me. I will put my foot up your butt!" In a somber mood Gotti reflects upon the gangster life he once lived—a life of crimes which has led him to never see the free world again. "I know where I made mistakes. Its to late to rationalize everything away. My life dictated the course I took. What can I say?" As if he’d already know his legacy will forever be remembered, Gotti lamented, "I’ll always be me until the day I die."
Diagnosed with throat cancer in September 1998, Gotti was transferred to a U.S. medical prisoner facility where doctors removed a cancerous neck tumor. Following surgery and radiation treatments, the veteran mobster was sent back to solitary lock up in Marion, Illinois. Subsequent test later revealed Gott’s cancer had resurfaced, spreading rapidly. On September 13, 2000, he was transferred to a hospital in Springfield, Missouri for more treatments. Newspapers reported Gotti was near death. Attorney Joseph Corozzo told reporters that John was a brave man. "He’s forced to be in a wheelchair," the attorney stated, but Gotti "insists on having no assistance. He is defiant to the end." A replay of Gotti’s life shows him as America’s quintessential gangster. From Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger to Pretty ‘Boy’ Floyd—Gotti’s popularity surpassed them all. His guiding philosophy of power was epitomized by the words of the 16th century philosopher Niccolo Machiavell: --‘the ends justify the means.’ Although he admits making mistakes in life Gotti has never spoken or showed remorse for the trail of dead bodies he left behind. Yet while facing the harshest penalty for his crimes he fought bravely to win freedom but when he lost he accepted punishment like a man. Lying near death in a prison hospital undoubtedly John Gotti will accept fate as it comes. Gotti’s legacy as a Mafia icon will forever hold memories in the annals of American history.
U.S. Medical Center for prisoners
1900 W. Sunshine st.
Springfield, Missouri 65808-4000
Footnote: John Gotti Jr. received six years in Federal prison on April 6 1999 for extortion, loansharking, mortgage fraud and tax evasion. Former Mafia hitman Sammy ‘Bull" Gravano who helped federal authorities to convict John Gotti Sr. was sentenced on June 30 2001 to 20 years in prison without parole as the master mind of Arizona’s largest ecstasy drug ring. Gotti’s son-in-law Carmine Agnello received 9 years in prison on October 27 2001 on racketeering and tax evasion charges stemming from the police scrap yard sting. He was barred for life from the metal industry during sentencing in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York.
Any comments? Online readers can email Journalist Clarence Walker at: email@example.com
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