The Gambino crime family, under onetime cover boy and fashion plate John Gotti and his college-educated son, is in virtual free fall, plummeting like a limo full of capos going off the Brooklyn Bridge.
The swashbuckling Dapper Don, who thumbed his nose at the law after beating three indictments, has called jail his home since 1990 when he was nailed for five murders and assorted racketeering crimes, most of which he admitted while at one of his favorite meeting places -- which happened to be bugged by the FBI. His anointed successor, son John A., better known as Junior, is about to go to prison for up to seven years after pleading guilty to racketeering and lying on a mortgage application. And John (Jackie Nose) D'Amico, a longtime Gotti loyalist and Gambino capo, was sentenced last week to 20 months in prison, his first jail time in a life of crime.
Gotti's fall had a domino effect on the Gambinos. Frank (Frankie Loc) Locascio, who served as a capo, acting underboss, acting consigliere and Gotti's whipping boy and close confidante, was convicted with Gotti and got the same sentence, life without parole. Gotti's No. 2, his reprobate underboss, Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, saw the beginning of the inevitable end early on. The serial killer offered to cooperate with prosecutors and copped a plea, admitting roles in 19 murders. He then proceeded to testify against almost every mobster he knew, and got five years in prison and three years' probation.
Of the 21 Gambino capos (or captains) heading crews of soldiers and pursuing other gangster-type activities in 1991, only five have avoided prison or death: Thirteen have been convicted of state and/or federal crimes; one of them died in prison; and three others dropped dead before they could be prosecuted. Many key capos are still languishing in jail, including Thomas Gambino, the son of Carlo Gambino, the longtime boss for whom the family is named; their cousin, John Gambino; Carlo's former bodyguard/chauffeur James (Jimmy Brown) Failla, and Gotti's brother Gene. Some 35 made (inducted) members and countless more associates (cutthroats and gangsters who have not been formally inducted into the Mafia) are jailed, including three capos who succeeded some of those who were convicted and taken off the streets.
And to add insult to injury, the family is taking a beating in cyberspace. Melissa (Ravenna) Angelini, an unabashed Gotti supporter and creator of the "John Gotti Tribute Page," has thrown in the towel after four years of singing Gotti's praises on the Internet. "Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end," she wrote on July 6, saying she still supported Gotti but that the vagaries of her daily life now prevent her from updating the site.
The tribute page is still on the Web with its upbeat pictures and stories about Gotti, Junior, daughter Victoria and lawyer Bruce Cutler. But her followers can no longer send her e-mail or expect any gala holiday issues with Gotti decked out as Santa Claus, a Mayflower pilgrim or Yankee Doodle Dandy. T-shirt sales are down or there is a glut. The price of the official "Free John Gotti" T-shirt has been cut $3 -- to $16.95 plus shipping and handling.
Meanwhile, Junior is defending his father for calling him stupid during a videotaped, one-sided jailhouse conversation with sister Victoria and uncle Peter, one of the five capos still unencumbered by criminal charges. "My father was in solitary confinement for seven years," Junior said, wagging his finger at reporters at the White Plains, N.Y., Federal Court last week. "Don't you think he's entitled to a little frustration? Do you think that's fair, what you put in the paper? Listen to the whole conversation. Don't just print what they give you."
He failed to mention, of course, that neither he nor his father would ever in a blue moon give anybody a transcript of the damning jailhouse diatribe. On the positive side sort of -- Junior's lawyer Gerald Shargel managed to use his client's growing cash-flow problem to put off his sentencing until Sept. 3. As part of his plea bargain, Gotti was supposed to fork over $1 million 20 days before his sentencing date. Shargel told Judge Barrington Park that Junior was having trouble raising the fine money and asked for a postponement, pointing out that the government had more than enough to cover the amount in Gotti assets that have been frozen, if Junior failed to come up with the cash.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bart Van de Weghe objected to a delay, but when he confirmed for the judge that Shargel's remarks were correct, Parker asked the prosecutor rhetorically, "Why are you so insecure?" Then he rescheduled the sentencing for Sept. 3, telling Junior to come up with the dough by Aug. 18, or else.
By hook or by crook, we know he will.
The Gottis did some pretty dumb things to help the feds take them off the streets, but they don't have a monopoly on stupidity, especially among father-son teams in the Gambino crime family. Consider this meeting between Gregory, 67, and Craig DePalma, 33, who have both pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in Junior Gotti's case and are serving 70 and 87 months, respectively.
Craig told his father that he had just received several thousand dollars from an associate involved in several of their gambling, loan sharking and extortion rackets, according to a transcript recently filed by the feds. "What did he give you, all hundreds?" said Gregory.
"Yeah," said Craig.
"Where did he hand you the money?"
"In the car."
"Your car? You didn't say nothing, right?" said Gregory, concerned about a possible bug in the car, never dreaming that the state Organized Crime Task Force had planted one in the room in his home where he and his son always discussed their criminal activities and mob business.
"No," said Craig, explaining loudly and forcefully how he had made sure he wasn't overheard. "Then he started talking. I said, 'No, no. Come outside.'" He and his father went on to discuss other payoffs Craig had collected, "including $32,000 from Benny," and where Craig was going to meet Junior that night, ostensibly to give him his cut.
I guess even over at the DePalmas' the walls have ears.