Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

Problems for 'Big Paulie'

Nearly six years would pass before a conviction would occur as a result of the indictments issued against Angelo Ruggiero, Gene Gotti and the others. By that time Paul Castellano was long gone and John Gotti had become the "Teflon Don."

Castellano's problems had begun to mount in the early 1980s, as the government set their sights on the mob bosses of New York City's five organized crime families. With the recent drug indictments of members of Gotti's crew, Castellano felt he needed to act. To calm the situation, Ruggiero convinced Aniello Dellacroce to approach the irritated boss with a contrived story that they were only sorting out Angelo's brother's affairs. Salvatore was neither a member nor an associate of the Gambino Family, and, not being a subordinate to Castellano, could not be held accountable for disobeying any family rules. This plan would hold Castellano at bay until the actual FBI tapes could be handed over to defense attorneys.

Castellano did not realize that the information Ruggiero spread across the telephone lines, recorded by FBI phone taps, provided the government with enough probable cause to enter and bug his palatial estate. By early 1984, the Gambino Family boss was facing an indictment as the result of an investigation into another crew, that of former capo Roy "the Killing Machine" DeMeo. Despite the fact that Castellano had DeMeo killed, when the indictment was issued, the boss and DeMeo crewmembers were facing charges of "murder for hire, drug dealing, an international car-theft operation, child pornography, and prostitution."

In addition, Castellano's attorneys informed him he was also facing indictment in two other RICO cases. The first was referred to as the "hierarchy" case, which would eventually result in the convictions of Gambino Family underboss Joseph "Piney" Armone and one-time consigliere Joseph N. Gallo. The second case was known as the "Commission" case, for which Castellano would be indicted.

It wasn't just Castellano who was under siege in the spring of 1985, it was the entire Gambino Crime Family. In addition to the "hierarchy" case, indictments were issued against John and Gene Gotti, Neil Dellacroce and his son Armond, John Carneglia, Willie Boy Johnson, Anthony "Tony Roach" Rampino, and several others. Using the RICO statute, the mobsters were indicted for crimes ranging from murder to loansharking. The indictments were the culmination of several years of work by assistant United States attorney Diane Giacalone, who represented the Eastern District of New York. Described in Mob Star as "outspoken, strong-willed and occasionally tempestuous," the 31 year-old former tax attorney had grown up in the Ozone Park neighborhood, and while attending school, had passed by the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club daily.

One of the things Giacalone discovered was that Willie Boy Johnson was a confidential FBI informant. She quickly tried to convince Johnson to become a government witness and to testify against his long-time friend John Gotti and his Bergin crewmates. Johnson was in fear for his life, as well as the safety of his family. "I'll be killed," he told the prosecutor. "My family will be slaughtered." Gotti was soon made aware of Johnson's treachery. In Gotti: Rise and Fall, Capeci and Mustain reveal his reaction:

'"I'm gonna give you a pass, and I give you my word no one will bother you," Gotti told Willie Boy. "After we win this case, you won't be able to be in the life again. But you'll get a job, you'll have your family, and you'll be all right.'"

Despite Johnson's plea to be granted bail with the others, Giacalone convinced the judge to keep Willie Boy in protective custody, where he would remain for over a year before the case came to trial. Meanwhile, government informant William Battista found out that Giacalone was looking to bring him into the case. Battista responded by grabbing his wife and fleeing the area, and they have not been seen since.

In the spring of 1985, Paul Castellano turned 70. He would not see 71. Still demanding to hear the Ruggiero tapes, the aging leader backed off again when it was revealed that Neil Dellacroce was dying of cancer. Castellano figured that when Dellacroce died, he could press for the tapes without incurring the wrath of his underboss. When Castellano finally got to hear the tapes during the late summer of 1985, he formulated a plan of action, but still held off while Dellacroce remained alive.

John Gotti with bodyguards
John Gotti with bodyguards

Thinking that Castellano would have them killed Gotti and Ruggiero began plotting "Big Paulie's" demise. They first lined up support in their own family from Gravano, DeCicco, Armone and Robert DiBernardo---an independent operator without his own crew, who was a good earner for the family. The conspirators then "reached out" to the Bonanno, Colombo and Lucchese Families. The Genovese Family, led by long-time Castellano ally Vincent "the Chin" Gigante, was not included in the Gambino Family's restructuring plan.

When Neil Dellacroce died on December 2, 1985, Castellano refused to go to the wake, claiming he wanted to avoid government surveillance. This breach of mob family etiquette only strengthened resistance against him. Castellano then named his driver/body guard, Thomas Bilotti, to the position of underboss. Castellano announced he was going to close Dellacroce's Ravenite social club and reassign the old Fatico Bergin members to other crews.

Castellano's reorganization plans would meet a swift and deadly response.


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