Son of John Gotti
February 14, 2011
I hereby celebrate avoiding every commercial during the Super Bowl between the wildcard Green Bay Packers and the hardscrabble Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn’t have to dodge any pitches during the first third of the game since I overslept as I battled sinusitis. Joining the showdown with the Pack leading fourteen to three, I thereafter held the remote ready to switch when play stopped, viewing bits of shows I wouldn’t otherwise have watched but that were less irksome than fatuous sales barrages to which millions evidently respond. Late in the game, with the Pack up by a tenuous six points and the Steelers, behind Big Ben Rothlisberger, poised to march for a game-winning touchdown, I used a break to switch to CBS to see what the finest show in television history, 60 Minutes, would be offering. A stocky guy I didn’t recognize was New-York talking about organized crime and discussing his father John Gotti, the Dapper Don, once head of the Gambino crime family and an usually brutal man even by standards of La Cosa Nostra.
Once verifying that laser-armed Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay had prevailed, I forsook the post-game trophy ceremonies and committed myself to John A. Gotti, also called Junior Gotti. I remembered him from the late 1980s when his hair, now a salt and pepper crew cut, was black and a little longer and he wore tank tops highlighting muscular arms as he swaggered down sidewalks, accompanied by shorter and also grimacing thugs. Junior must have diligently searched for the smaller guys since he’s only about five-foot-six. The media delighted in portraying him as a steroid-popping dunce. I don’t know how he enhanced his weightlifting program but during this interview I needed only a minute to determine that Junior’s charming and a good storyteller, qualities his legal team doubtless wants the public, and authorities, to appreciate.
His father looked dashing in tailored suits and had the allure of a star but most publicly-released recordings of him reveal an angry and profane man who frequently threatened to intimidate, maim, or kill multitudes of people. Even after the Teflon Don, who’d strutted out of several trials, was convicted of multiple murders in 1992 and sentenced to life without parole in federal prison, he picked up the phone in the visitor’s booth and threatened to give his grandson an ass-whipping he’d never forget. He also railed at his daughter Victoria for not sending him a family photo. “I got nothing,” he kept saying.
Junior, advised by his father from prison, had allegedly taken over leadership of the Gambino clan. And in 1999 he was convicted of fraud, extortion, bribery, and gambling, and also imprisoned. Junior soon announced he was leaving crime so he could someday be free to care for his wife and five children. Federal authorities permitted him to travel to the maximum security facility in Marion, Illinois to tell his father, who’d been ravaged by throat cancer and surgeries that removed portions of his face and neck. On film the dying don rebuked his eldest son for abandoning the code of the streets: no one quits until he’s either imprisoned or killed. John Gotti died in 2002 and his corpse was flown to New York and chauffeured around the old Howard’s Beach neighborhood in Queens. Two years later, shortly before being released, Junior faced a slew of new charges that included plotting to kidnap Curtis Sliwa, a radio talk show host and founder of the independent law and order group The Guardian Angels. Sliwa had called Junior’s departed father “Public Enemy Number One.”
Three trials failed to result in a conviction, though on two counts jurors voted guilty eleven to one and ten to two. Teflon Jr. appeared to be forever free until the early morning in August 2008 authorities swooped onto his Long Island estate, arrested him, and charged him with racketeering and multiple murders from the late 1980s and early 1990s. When Steve Croft of 60 Minutes asked Junior if he had ever killed anyone, he replied that first of all it was a ridiculous question and, secondly, according to the government, who didn’t he murder. This audacious non-answer, delivered in a pleasant tone by a guy who talked like he was Croft’s buddy, probably satisfied most of the viewers. It also satisfied some of the jurors in 2009 when they failed to reach a verdict. The government, undercut by the faulty testimony of confessed murderers, was likewise content and announced it wasn’t going to try Gotti any more.
The critical issue for John A. Gotti will henceforth be whether he’s content to enjoy his large family, which now includes six children as well as numerous nieces and nephews, and the “legitimate” income flowing in from real estate and other investments. Or, will he again be drawn to the streets he still loves and which were ruled by the man he so adores. Junior showed Croft a portrait of his father and said, “Handsome as ever,” and was joyous saying, “Wherever he was, I wanted to be,” and recalling his youth and all the time he spent with his father as the latter played pool and talked tough with the boys. Like an addictive drug the magnetism of the father could still lure Junior back to the streets, where this time he’d either die or do something that would return him to prison for life.
I may be a sucker for a personable guy with a cool New York street accent, but I’m betting Junior’s a modern man who plans to survive. He understands, for example, that the old ways of keeping women pigeonholed and inferior have passed, noting he no longer pesters his wife to avoid talking to men, and instead deal with a secretary or some other woman, when she makes business contacts regarding family and home. Men who don’t oppress women generally live longer. And it may be helpful that last month Junior flew to Hollywood to have dinner at an Italian restaurant with John Travolta and discuss the actor’s planned portrayal of the Dapper Don in a Gotti-produced biopic. Junior will just need to remember he’s not watching an adventure; he’s watching a tragedy.