Not since the days of Al Capone had America witnessed a celebrity mobster. As former Boss of the powerful Gambino crime family, John Gotti became part of pop culture lore in large part because of his willingness to be a celebrity. His numerous appearances in both state and federal court were as much photo opportunity as criminal proceedings. His penchant for beating numerous indictments were for a time, legendary. His eventual conviction and downfall marked the infamous beginning of the end for the most profitable criminal organization in United States history. 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. He Made a lot of Money / Good
During his reign as Gambino Family Crime Boss, John Gotti oversaw a criminal empire that earned an estimated $400-$500 Million dollars per year. Gross financial figures that dwarfed even the best earning ‘Fortune 500’ companies at the time. Nothing is more American than admiring people who make serious money. The legality of it is often an after thought, especially when considering affable mobsters like John Gotti.
#6. He had a ‘Robin Hood’ Persona / Good
John Gotti was a beloved figure in his Little Italy neighborhood in Manhattan. Goodwill that he earned over the years by being extraordinarily generous with the neighborhood and the people who lived in it. Gotti had a plethora of celebrity friends. He had a magnetic larger than life persona that people easily gravitated to, often looking the other way when confronted with the reality of the violent mafioso side of his personality. He would often throw neighborhood block parties on his dime, as well as underwrite holiday giveaways and ‘solve’ neighborhood problems. This all worked in his favor whenever he got into trouble, which was often. Large gatherings of his supporters were a fixture outside of state and federal courthouses during his trials, as well as media interests which he played up like any true celebrity would.
#5. Suffered from Excessive Hubris (Pride) / Bad
You would think that any mobster would read the writing on the wall and count his blessings after beating four state and federal indictments in three years. That wasn’t John Gotti. Rather than adopt a low profile in the face of law enforcement scrutiny, he doubled down on flaunting his bravado. Gotti was brazen. He actually believed in his ‘Teflon Don’ media image, openly antagonizing investigators. Refusing to take steps to protect himself and others in his organization. His attitude was ‘I’m John Gotti, screw you.’ This was the historical hubris that typically manifests itself before a great fall.
#4. He was Reckless / Bad
John Gotti was careless. 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 and Gotti did a boat load of their work for them 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. He was the Coolest Mobster since Al Capone / Good
Once John Gotti became boss of the Gambino family he immediately turned in his jeans, black t-shirts and sweatpants for custom fitted $5,000 suits. He quickly became known as the ‘Dapper Don’ for his designer flair, expensive attire and high dollar haircuts. Much like a film character armed with quick wit and arrogant attitude, 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. He Trusted Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano / Bad
John Gotti’s relationship with his ‘Under Boss’ Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano was the prototypical ‘Deal with the Devil’ arrangement. Under Gotti, Gravano became a family sanctioned homicidal maniac. He is understood to have murdered upwards of 16 people. It was Gravano’s support that helped Gotti become the boss. It was Gravano’s violence and ruthlessness that helped Gotti enforce the rules of his throne. Unfortnuately, 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 never had a fighting chance 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. He Got Caught / Bad or Good, Depending on whom you ask.
There’s an old saying that goes ‘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.