Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

Relentless Pursuit

In the three trials since 1986, the New York Police Department, the US Attorney's office in Brooklyn and the state's Organized Crime Task Force had all taken a shot at John Gotti.  All had failed. The FBI was next. Special Agent Jules J. Bonavolonta, who was in charge of the bureau's organized crime and narcotics division in New York, was quick to point out that the FBI had not been involved in the three cases which led to acquittals and earned Gotti the title of the "Teflon Don."

"We have not yet brought a case against John Gotti," Bonavolonta stated. "When we do, he can take all the bets he wants, but he's going to prison."

This bold statement was made the day following Gotti's latest acquittal. The fact that law enforcement was 0 and 3 against the popular Mafia godfather was no reason for them to stop trying. The verdict in the O'Connor trial came on a Friday. As Gotti was planning a Florida vacation that weekend, federal and state prosecutors had already planned to meet the following Tuesday to discuss a strategy to indict Gotti for the murder of his predecessor, Paul Castellano.

From day one, Gotti had been the main suspect in the murder of Castellano. With recent information from Philip Leonetti, the former underboss of the Philadelphia crime family (whose testimony helped put his uncle, Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, behind bars for life), law enforcement was set to strike again. This time they would be patient in putting the finishing touches on an airtight case.

In Gotti: Rise and Fall the authors discuss a meeting held a week after the O'Connor verdict:

"The meeting was called by Jules Bonavolonta, Mouw's boss; newly confident that Gotti was a goner because of the Ravenite tapes, he wanted every official and agency interested in Gotti to set aside ego and institutional pride and endorse a single RICO case against the Gambino administration."

With talk of another indictment of Gotti in the aftermath of the O'Connor acquittal, both of the mob boss's attorneys had comments for the media. Gerald Shargel stated, "They don't prosecute John Gotti with evidence, but with theories." Meanwhile, Cutler called the continued investigation vendettas and witch-hunts. Cutler had represented Gotti at all three trials. In the Piecyk trial the victim was too scared to testify; in the Giacalone RICO case a juror had been bought off; and in the latest acquittal John O'Connor testified for the defense after being threatened. Despite the real reasons behind the acquittals, the arrogant Cutler selfishly took credit for everything. The onetime prosecutor became so enamored of Gotti that he began dressing like the popular mob boss and taking on his mannerisms.

John Gotti knew it would only be a matter of time before law enforcement would indict him on new charges. Following his acquittal in the O'Connor trial, Gotti took time out to enjoy the wedding of his son, Junior, to Kim Albanese in an ornate ceremony in April 1990.

Over that summer, Gotti prepared his crime family for the next encounter, which he knew could find him behind bars for a year or more before a verdict would be reached. His inner circle was dwindling. Robert DiBernardo was murdered by Gravano's men in June 1986. The killing of "DiB" was ordered by Gotti, probably at the insistence of Angelo Ruggiero, who owed DiBernardo a large sum of money and convinced John that his friend was talking "subversive" behind his back. In December 1987, Joseph "Piney" Armone and Joseph N. Gallo were convicted, along with two others in the "Hierarchy" case. Both were sentenced to long prison terms. In 1992, Armone died at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri.

Also gone were Gene Gotti and John Carneglia. After two mistrials they were finally found guilty of drug charges in a case dating back to 1983. On May 23, 1989, after a bizarre day of deliberations, both men were found guilty of running a multi-million dollar heroin ring. Said to be one of the oldest cases on the Federal dockets, a few hours before the verdict was reached a juror was dismissed after claiming he had been threatened in his driveway and feared for his and his family's lives. The jury continued with only eleven members. When they reached a decision, they walked back to the courtroom, only to be told by Judge John R. Bartels to go back and continue deliberations. This highly unusual move surprised both prosecutors and the defense counsel. On July 7, Gene Gotti and John Carneglia were sentenced to 50 years in prison and were each fined $75,000. A final appeal for the two men was turned down in March 1991.

Finally in December 1989, Angelo Ruggiero died of cancer. Gravano reported that during the last months of Ruggiero's life both Sammy and Gene Gotti urged John to visit his dying pal. Gotti refused to see his once loyal sidekick because he was still angry about all the grief he had caused by being caught on tape. Gravano claimed he nearly had to drag Gotti to the wake.

Meanwhile, despite the efforts of Jules Bonavolonta, a rift arose between three agencies wanting to prosecute the Teflon Don. Andrew Maloney, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York won out over Otto Obermaier, who represented the Southern District, and the Manhattan District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, who wanted a second shot at Gotti in the wake of the O'Connor failure. The decision came from Washington, D.C. in November 1990.


We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'