Not since the days of Al Capone had America witnessed the manifestations of a true to life celebrity mobster. As the former Boss of the notoriously powerful Gambino Crime Family, John Gotti became a ‘Page 6’ part of American pop culture in large part because of his willingness to play the role of celebrity. By all accounts celebrity can be quite intoxicating, at times even to the level of personal destruction. John Gotti’s numerous appearances in both state and federal court were at times indistinguishable from a Hollywood Red Carpet. They were as much photo opportunity as the criminal proceedings that manifested the occasion(s). His penchant for beating numerous indictments were for a time quite notable, and soon reached the heights of legendary. His eventual conviction and whirlwind downfall marked the infamous beginning of the end for the most profitable criminal organization in the history of these United States of America. John Gotti was a complex mafia boss and quixotic public personality. Idiots Guide presents a look into the top 7 reasons John Gotti was the best and the worst mafia family boss…ever.
#7. JOHN GOTTI Oversaw an Organization that Generated Outrageous Amounts of Cash Money. An estimated $500 Million per year / Grade: OUTSTANDING
During his reign as Gambino Family Crime Boss, John Gotti oversaw a criminal empire that earned an estimated $400 closer to $500 Million illegal dollars per year. Those figures are remarkable for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is that these pre-taxed (If taxed at all) gross bottom line financial figures were in line with, and in some cases exceeded, the best earning ‘Fortune 500’ companies of the era. Perhaps nothing is more American pop culture relevant than admiring public personalities who earn serious money. Indeed, the perceptions, and question dealing with legality, is often an after thought, the pesky details about the genesis of said fortune are easily dismissed and/or disregarded. Especially when the celebrity in question is the congenial and affable, albeit mobster … John Gotti.
#6. John Gotti reveled in the Modern ‘Robin Hood’ persona that he was gifted by his Little Italy, New York Neighborhood / Grade: GOOD
It is a matter of historical record that John Gotti was in fact quite a beloved figure in his lower Manhattan Little Italy neighborhood. The Goodwill that he had amassed over the years came at a price of of being extraordinarily, even extravagantly generous with the locals in that neighborhood. The locals loved him for this. Gotti would often throw neighborhood block parties on his dime, as well as underwrite holiday giveaways and creatively ‘solve’ those annoying neighborhood ‘problems’. This all worked in Gotti’s favor whenever he got into trouble, which history tells us was quite often. In addition, and unlike a majority of Mob Bosses before him, John Gotti had a plethora of celebrity friends. To be sure throughout mob history there have been a select few notable bosses who very much enjoyed the company of Hollywood stars and club level entertainers. Chicago Don Sam Giancana immediately comes to mind. However, in consideration of John Gotti one would get a man naturally armed a notable form of pure magnetism that exuded from a larger than life persona. Many people were easily enchanted by Gotti and gravitated to him with unusual grace. In many cases people would not be shy about looking the other way when, and if ever confronted with the brutal reality behind the quick fuse tempered, abjectly violent mafioso side of his personality that loomed just under his celebrity facade. The extraordinarily large gatherings of his supporters became both a fixture outside of state and federal courthouses during his trials, as well as a major headache for security. In addition, Gotti played to news cameras and to all interested media outlets, much the same as many celebrities entertain on the regular.
#5. JOHN GOTTI Suffered from a World Legendary case of Hubris (Excessive Pride) / Grade: TERRIBLE
Any thoughtful mind would think that a mobster of Gotti’s stature, would at some point read the writing on the wall and count his blessings after beating four (4) State and Federal indictments in three (3) years. However, that simply wasn’t John Gotti. In fact, rather than adopt a careful, low profile in the face of law enforcement scrutiny, he remarkably doubled down on his tendency of flaunting with unchecked male bravado. John Gotti was brazen. He actually believed in his ‘Teflon Don’ media image, and would openly antagonize investigators. By refusing to take steps to protect himself and others in his organization, Gotti made a huge miscalculation, to the extent that there was a calculation made in the first place. His attitude was ‘I’m John Gotti, screw you.’ This was expressly the kind historical hubris that typically manifests itself before a great fall.
#4. JOHN GOTTI was Extremely Reckless/Careless / Grade: AWFUL
John Gotti was an extremely careless mob boss by comparison. Openly holding court on the street directly outside of his Ravenite Social Club hangout in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan. He demanded that all of his Capos (Captains) show up on a weekly basis to kiss his ring, putting all of them on FBI radar accompanied by photos to prove their criminal association. This would help the feds in any R.I.C.O case that they were building. John Gotti did a boat load of law enforcement work for them simply by behaving so recklessly. The same bravado that allowed for his rise to power came back to haunt him once he attained power. John Gotti either forgot or didn’t care to follow the rule about ‘Outlaws having to take precautions.’
#3. JOHN GOTTI was the Coolest Mobster since Al Capone / Grade: GOOD
Once John Gotti became boss of the Gambino family he immediately turned in his workmen type jeans, retired his black t-shirts, and tossed his sweatpants, in exchange for custom fitted $5,000 suits. He quickly became known as the ‘Dapper Don’ for his designer flair, expensive attire and obscene high dollar haircuts. Much like a film character armed with quick wit and arrogant attitude, John Gotti became for a time the coolest mobster in America. Not since the 1920’s and Al Capone had the public loved a mobster to this extent. He had legions of fans, many borne of his media attention, he played up to crowds and cameras every chance he got. Mind you that this behavior was a serious ‘no no’ for any mobster, let alone a family boss. Gotti seemed to care little for discretion or the fact that had always been the golden rule of the mob. He attracted media attention in a way that was unprecedented and he became America’s favorite anti-hero.
#2. JOHN GOTTI Trusted Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano / Grade: Terminal F
John Gotti’s relationship with his ‘Under Boss’ Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano was the prototypical ‘Deal with the Devil’ arrangement. Under Gotti, Sammy Gravano became a crime family sanctioned homicidal maniac. He is personally understood to have murdered upwards of 16 people. It was Gravano’s support that helped Gotti become family boss. It was Gravano’s violence and ruthlessness that helped Gotti enforce the rules of his throne. Unfortunately, it was also Gravano’s mouth that ultimately destroyed Gotti. By testifying in open court against Gotti and violating the mafia’s golden rule of ‘Omertà’ (Silence), he sunk Gotti’s ship, Armani life jackets and all. Gravano’s testimony all but guaranteed John Gotti’s conviction that got him life in federal prison with no parole. It is likely that Gotti would have eventually gone down without Gravano’s help, but he also never had a fighting chance at a defense due to his betrayal. The saying goes ‘If you sleep with dogs on the street, you wake up with fleas.‘ True indeed. The devil will always get his due.
#1. JOHN GOTTI Got Caught / Grade: Good, Bad, or Ugly. Depends who you ask.
There’s an old saying: ‘Everything is legal, unless you get caught.
John Gotti lived the life of a wise-guy from the late 1950’s until his downfall in 1991. The intervening years saw him rise from a knee capping thug to the highest rank in the mafia, family boss. Outside of a short prison stint in the 1970’s, Gotti managed to keep himself out of prison. In the 1980’s he made a cottage industry of beating state and federal indictments, earning him the media nickname ‘Teflon Don’. However, his once sterling luck ran out in the early 1990’s. A combination of the FBI being determined to put him behind bars and his careless flaunting, even daring of them to try, finally got him convicted. The FBI cleverly planted a bug in his ‘secret’ hideout and got Gotti on tape in legendary fashion. He talked and talked and talked as if he were in Catholic confession and the feds got it all. Gotti was sinking. When his ‘Under Boss’ Sammy Gravano turned state’s witness against him, he was officially sunk. It was as if a lifetime of criminal acts, several high profile murders, including that of former family boss Paul Castellano, all came back to bite Gotti in the ass in the worst possible way. The story of John Gotti came to an abrupt close on December 11, 1990 when the FBI raided the Ravenite and arrested Gotti, Gravano and several of his men. Defiant to the end, Gotti proclaimed “I bet ya 3 to 1 I beat this”. He didn’t beat it. The trial was a high drama media circus. On April 2nd of 1992 a jury found Gotti guilty on all charges detailed in the long and detailed federal indictment. It wasn’t pretty. Gotti supporters outside the courthouse started a riot upon news of his conviction. It was over. The true bottom line about John Gotti’s legacy is this, his indiscretions were directly tied to the convictions of dozens of Gambino family members. His incompetent behavior caused the ruination of the most powerful crime family in America, the Gambinos. His reputation as a modern day ‘Robin Hood’ was largely a myth. John Gotti died in federal prison in 2002 after serving 10 years in solitary confinement. No matter what your personal opinion of him might be, one thing is certain, John Gotti lived and died as a true gangster.
Former Gambino Boss Paul “Big Paul” Castellano lays Dead in Front of the infamous ‘Sparks Steak House’ in Manhattan on December 16th 1985. John Gotti was seated in a sedan just a few cars away, and across the street.