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John Gotti: The Teflon Don

Updated on April 17, 2008

John Gotti, the high-profile and sharp-dressing Mafia don who beat three criminal cases against him to earn the nickname "Teflon Don," died in a prison hospital in June of 2002 in Springfield, Missouri, while serving multiple life sentences. Gotti, after his 1992 conviction, was quickly shipped out to the maximum-security Marion Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, where he was destined to serve out his prison sentence. Gotti's 1992 conviction, which included his being convicted of five murders as well as an assortment of racketeering charges, capped the end of a short but spectacular reign for Gotti as the boss of the Gambino crime family, one of New York City's five fabled Italian American crime families.

Gotti's Rise to the Top

In a bold, reckless, and daring move, John Gotti orchestrated the public assassination of his boss and predecessor, Paul Castellano, along with Castellano's driver/bodyguard, Thomas Bilotti. In a gangland-style execution that is the stuff of Mafia legend, six shooters descended upon Castellano and Bilotti as they parked and exited their car in front of Spark's Steakhouse in midtown Manhattan on a cold and blustery December night in 1985. Castellano and Bilotti were both hit numerous times and killed almost instantly; Castellano falling in a grotesque manner with his head cantilevering against the open car door and curb. The victims were arriving to attend a Mafia meeting with associates over a succulent prime rib and a glass of merlot; little did they know that their last supper was not to be.

John Gotti, a powerful and influential captain or "capo" in the Gambino family, had recently fallen out of favor with the boss Castellano over the issue of drug dealing and various other offenses as committed by Gotti and his crew. And Castellano, who was viewed by many in the family, including John Gotti, as a greedy, aloof, and out-of-touch boss, further infuriated Gotti by not attending the wake and funeral of Aniello Dellacroce, who happened to be both Paul Castellano's second-in command and John Gotti's mentor. As tensions mounted between the two, there were rumors that Paul Castellano was planning to either whack(murder) John Gotti or demote him in rank, down from a captain to a lowly soldier. And Gotti, sensing that his immediate future appeared tenuous at best, and believing that his own demise might be close at hand, launched a preemptive strike that boldly elevated him to the top position within the family - that of capo di tutti capi or boss of bosses.

Gotti's Coronation and Shocking Downfall

After assuming the mantle of "boss" of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti was at the apex of his powers. Never a shy or reticent man, Gotti loved attention. Impeccably dressed in his two-thousand-dollar double-breasted Brioni suits, his hand-painted silk ties, and with his silvery mane of well-coiffed hair, John Gotti was dubbed the "Dapper Don" by an adoring press who never tired of chasing a Gotti story. Not since the heyday of Chicago's Al Capone had their been such a high profile and ostentatious gangster. When he wasn't conducting "business" at his base of operations - the Ravenite Social Club in New York's Little Italy - Gotti was a man about town. Chauffeured about in his black Mercedes Benz with the headlight wipers, Gotti might hit a trendy nightclub and then stop in at one of his favorite restaurants - Regine's or Taormina's - and then off for a night of carousing and/or gambling with the fellas. Gotti was not the typical reclusive mobster. And that was his downfall!

Gotti loved to talk, and he loved to boast! He had come from humble beginnings, from a dirt poor family that barely had enough food to spread around for John and his twelve other siblings. As boss of a major organized crime family, Gotti had achieved a perverted slice of the American Dream. He wasn't about to hide in the shadows or run from anybody or anything. He taunted the government and prosecutors; he made them look foolish when he beat three criminal cases against him - two state and one federal. Gotti would emerge victorious from each case and smirk and smile as the frustrated government and law enforcement officials vowed to bring this guy down. And in the end, Gotti's demise had more to do with his own carelessness and stupidity than anything else.

Tipped off by an informant in Gotti's crime family about a small apartment that Gotti would routinely use to hold high level Mafia meetings, the FBI managed to gain entry to the apartment and plant several concealed electronic listening devices. Unaware that his inner sanctum had been breached, Gotti continued his habit of venturing to his "secret" meeting place above his Ravenite Social Club to discuss Mafia business. And thanks to Gotti's insatiable need to talk, brag, and boast, the listening FBI agents were given a lengthy description of Gotti's crimes and the inner workings of his crime family. Gotti was recorded admitting to his role in at least five organized crime murders, as well as to a plethora of racketeering and loan sharking operations. The more Gotti talked, the deeper the hole became that he was digging for himself.

Armed with such powerful incriminating evidence, the FBI moved in on John Gotti and arrested him on the night of December 11th, 1990. Little did Gotti know that that would be his last night of freedom; he would never walk the earth as a free man again. And things only got worse for the Dapper Don; his second-in-command, or underboss, Sammy Gravano, realizing the dire straights that he was in thanks to Gotti's loose talk, decided to switch to the side of the government and testify against his former boss. Armed with Gotti's recorded admissions of his own guilt, along with the testimony of his second-in-command, Sammy Gravano, John Gotti didn't have a chance.

The damning testimony of Sammy Gravano combined with Gotti's own recorded voice talking about and admitting to a treasure trove of assorted mayhem made the government's case impregnable. The verdict handed down was a mere formality: guilty on all counts. Thirteen counts in all, and Gotti went down on every one of them. The Dapper Don era was over. The Brioni suit was exchanged for an orange prison jumpsuit. John Gotti was sentenced to life in prison, and he was immediately transferred to the toughest, most restrictive penal institution in the federal system, Marion Federal Penitentiary. There, confined to his eight-by-ten cell for an average of twenty-three hours per day, John Gotti would remain until the ravages of throat cancer necessitated his transfer to a federal prison hospital, where he would die in June of 2002 at the age of 61.

John Gotti

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