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By @Entropy

The Life and Crimes of John Gotti

A Germinating Mobster

A crime empire is the province of an indolent mind. Its denizens are invariably misguided dupes seeking out the easiest conduit to an elusive paradise. Over 200 years ago Voltaire proclaimed: Indolence is sweet, its consequence bitter. The biography of John Gotti is compelling affirmation of this aphorism and luridly demonstrates the bitter consequences of unearned luxury. As a 15-year old street punk, he was vicious, violent and vindictive. Of his deadly sins, indolence reigned supreme. More than his inclination to violence was his all-consuming laziness. It compelled him aspire to life of unmerited ease which appealed to his sluggish intellect. By spurning the dignity of work, he naturally gravitated to a life of crime. He hung out in pool rooms, bars, bookie joints and racetracks. Nocturnally, he toured gambling dens, cheap dives and dance halls. In high school he became a bookmaker charging school-mates a quarter to place bets. With a seething temper, he envied anyone who superseded him. His insecurities were masked by being a school yard bully. At age 16, his impressive criminal record is one that only he could be proud of. Between 1957 and 1961, John Gotti engaged in petty street crimes. Arrested several times, the charges were either dismissed or was awarded probationary sentences. As with most of his mobster associates, he was a high-school dropout and an insanely conceited miscreant. Despite the lack of usable skills, he steadfastly declined legitimate work preferring instead to target easy money. The very notion of a truck-driver’s helper or coat presser offended his work ethic. Yet Gotti had a neurotic preoccupation for the more elegant things of life. He had a fixation for classy outfits. Even in his youth, he was known for his extravagant outfits. His sobriquet the Dapper Don was the result of his spiffy appearance and taste for high end suits. Whereas normal children idolize people of moral rectitude, Gotti’s role model was one of the most ruthless mobsters in US history, Albert Anastasia. He ran Murder Inc. Following in the footstep of his mobster idols, Gotti’s youthful crimes involved car theft for which he served a token jail sentence in 1963. Undeterred, in 1965, he was arrested for being in possession of book-making records. These minor criminal offences were preludes to an unending stream of more heinous activity. By 1966, he had graduated to more daring exploits and spent several months in jail for attempted theft. Emboldened by the token sentences, his life’s work was succinctly summed up in his own words. When asked his purpose at the Ravenite Social Club, Gotti chillingly replied when we are not shooting people, we play cards. He failed to mention some of his other criminal adventures such as drug trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling, pornography, union racketeering, robbery, business shakedowns, auto theft, and loan-sharking. As a serial offender, and in spite of his aberrant life history, he never served substantial jail time until 1968. With scant interest in honest effort he began hijacking freight trucks. In 1969, after a heist of $300,000 worth of women’s clothing, electrical equipment, and machine parts, he served three years in the maximum-security Federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. While the case was pending, he continued gambling, loan sharking, and fencing stolen goods. In Gotti’s philosophy of life only chumps engaged legitimate work. His release condition that he held valid employment was meaningless gabble. Without a bona fide job and no verifiable means employment, to comply with the terms of his release he became a nominal salesman for Arc Plumbing & Heating Corporation. When the president of Arc was quizzed about Gotti’s role in the company he famously quipped: What John does is point out locations.

Among Gotti’s mentors was caporegime (capo) Carmine Fatico. Under his tutelage Gotti became a professional at breaking heads, stealing, overseeing gambling operations and loan-sharking. His propensity to violence qualified him as an efficient loan-shark. A made man of the Gambino clan allowed him the opportunity to expand his sphere of activities. Apart from loan-sharking he was involved in kickbacks from unions representing garbage collectors, trucking, construction and garment manufacturing. Though never charged with drug offences, the evidence suggests that he was heavily involved. When busted, his men were found to be in possession of over 100 pounds of heroin.

The Storied Life of a Mafia Don

His obsessive need to gamble did cost him dearly. A perennial loser made him the butt of jokes among club members. According to Remo Franceschini, New York Police Department, Gotti’s personal gambling losses – up to $60,000 per dice game – were irretrievably siphoning off the gang’s profits. It stirred morose mutterings among band members. Yet it represented an irritable fraction compared to his other losses. Altogether, during a few short months of the 1981 football season, Gotti lost an astounding $200,000 on the games. In an illegal casino where the house never loses, Gotti did. Associates considered Gotti’s $30,000-a-night gambling habit counterproductive to mob operations. That was the least of his worries. His unrepressed predisposition to criminal activity did pique the curiosity of federal agents who, unbeknownst to him, installed eaves-dropping devices at the Bergin club. Undoubtedly, organized crime is lucrative business, in the short term. The efforts of John Gotti, or lack thereof, are ample evidence. Combined with the other insidious operations, the illicit wealth accumulated is staggering. Gotti saw mind-bending profits from his illegal operations. In 1981, he netted an amazing $300 million by siphoning off pennies-per-gallon on gas taxes and a further $8.0 million in kickbacks from concrete contracting firms alone. As the unchallenged monarch of the Gambino Empire, experts estimated a gross income of at least half-billion dollars yearly. It therefore becomes simple calculus to appreciate Gotti’s prodigal lifestyle. Arrogant and egotistic, he had a cultivated sense of entitlement and reveled in the regal life style. Typically, he rose well after mid-day. A gleaming Mercedes-Benz would roll into his driveway to collect an impeccably attired figure in a double-breasted suit with white shirt, matching silk tie and breast-pocket handkerchief. After a brief stopover at the Bergin Hunt and Fish, he proceeded to the city to conduct his grievous business. Though he had come a long way since his street punk days when he nurtured a taste for snazzy clothes, as a mafia don he visited the barber once weekly where he spruced up his regal persona with a $100 dollar power haircut. He was conspicuously the best dressed in any formal gathering. As mafia Don he envisioned himself deserving of papal respect: he imperially flashed the trappings of wealth associated with the ascendency to sovereign rank in his disreputable empire. To embroider his status in the clan, he moved into an upscale neighborhood and traded up his Lincoln Mark IV for a $60,000 high-performance Mercedes SEL with self-leveling hydro-pneumatic suspension. The Mercedes was a reward from his putative employer for his exhausting efforts at pointing out locations. Being a crime boss, most of the time was spent in major political maneuverings. Gotti had morphed into a Colossus; as such he was reluctant to mingle with underlings; it would have added weeds to his social landscape. The trivialities of the loan-sharking operations were therefore relegated to minions. He owned a house on Howard Beach and a condo in Montauk – a hamlet located in the upscale town of East Hampton in New York. Emblematic of his stature was his $3,000-diamond ring which he flashed like a papal insignia of authority over his fawning underlings. He had mutated into the Pontifex Maximus of the underworld, the subject of Time, People and The New York Times Magazine. The Don surrounded himself by a phalanx of body guards as he strutted New York City sampling the cuisine of the finest restaurants and night clubs; always sitting with his back against the wall. Altadonna was one of his favorite pastures. In such places, he would graze on stuffed clams, veal marsala, spaghetti carbonara and quaff $1,000-bottle Louis XIII de Rémy Martin. After a heist, he would celebrate by gambling, partying, or drinking at bars such as 101 Bar or Bullock’s Lounge. Other favorite hangouts were the Crystal Room – with its candlelit ambiance – and the Sinatra Club where he played cards till the predawn hours. For his regular weekly banquets at the Ravenite Club, Gotti would throw all-night parties replete with Italian staples where he would regale like-minded cronies with prosaic tales. Needless to say, he had it all: money, fancy cars, fine clothes, fame and lest we forget……… respect. Conspicuously symbolic of his anointment as crime Emperor, was his triad of chauffeurs and possession of a Cigarette speedboat – a powerboat capable of doing 150 km per hour – which he drove with maniacal zest. His daughter’s wedding was a lavish affair of more than 1,000 invited guests at Marina del Rey in the Bronx. So blessed was he that even his house was a gift from in-laws. He was an ardent patriot too. July 4 1987, he celebrated with evangelical fervor. Like the CEO of a multinational corporation he was always suitably dressed down to his monogrammed socks. Reporters frequently commented on his fashionable Brioni suits. However, as befits the character of the lazy, he was a chronic complainer and whined incessantly about colleagues, money difficulties, telephone bills and of course the grueling effort expended on pointing out locations. But easy come easy go is no tired old cliché: it is a time-tested universal truth moored on the infallible Law of Entropy. Hence, when the boa-constrictive forces of entropy begin irreversibly tightening its lethal embrace, there is no stay of execution. Gotti was no exception. Others of his ilk have amply demonstrated the universal applicability of this Law. 

His Tryst with Death

Sucked into this mucky vortex of criminality, his descent was as turbulent as his ascent.  On the night of May 22, 1973 James McBratney, an Irish American gangster was confronted by John Gotti and two of his minions. Following a brief scuffle, McBratney was executed. Gotti was overheard raving over his role in the slaughter. October 17, 1973 Gotti was indicted by a grand jury for his role in the homicide and was sentenced to four years for manslaughter but served only two at the maximum-security Green Haven Correctional Facility. But his perennial stream of good luck was rapidly drying up. Information gleaned from government wiretaps revealed the dapper Don was but cold-blooded felon. In December 1990, Gotti and several of his servile subordinates were arrested and charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, extortion, tax evasion and loan-sharking. Gotti was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1992. He spent about a quarter of his life experiencing the dank dungeons of prison where his wardrobe was a standard-issue of boxy-cut uniform. The natty suits had been traded for nasty attire and his veal marsala replaced by prison swill. His home away from home was not so sweet. Even for the Teflon Don, the benefits of crime were fleeting. His final ten years surpassed his worst nightmares. In the harsh confines of Marion, Illinois, he was placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day. One of the most punitive prisons, it serves as an ideal environment of retribution for irredeemably vile criminals. With nothing more than a small thirteen-inch black and white television set and a slab of concrete for bed, Gotti’s life was the embodiment of woe. His cell was described an above ground grave. While in prison, Gotti was severely thrashed by a fellow inmate. As to what was worse, the painful drubbing or his wounded ego we can only guess. Besides, the last four years of his life was wracked by excruciating side effects of chemo and radiation therapy for oral and throat cancer. Rotting away so painfully slow this unrepentant monster of death was overheard praying for the Angel of Death. He died of throat cancer on June 10 2002.  

Though he was overheard pleading for the mercy of death, death was unkind to him. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn refused to host a Requiem Mass in his honor. The funeral was held outside of the church. John Gotti’s elder brother Peter was locked away in a prison vault. In a final insult to Gotti, his leadership style and his character, none of the other New York mob families showed up to pay their final respects. As one writer observed, a life of crime induces a mental degeneration more profound than insanity. Moreover, in most of the insane, the primitive moral sense survives the wreck of their intelligence. For Gotti, his laziness wrecked his moral sense for which he paid the ultimate price – long term suffering and premature death.

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