Victoria Gotti's new book, "This Family of Mine," sets the record straight on the many tabloid stories and speculations surrounding the Gotti family. The book details stories of her father's rise to power, her brother "Junior" Gotti and his trial, and an array of stories depicting the life of the mobster.
After reading the chapter below, head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
Chapter Seven: "Born to Be Wild"
Although less imposing in stature than my father, and certainly lacking my dad's inherent toughness, Uncle Angelo became a formidable mobster, largely due to his partnership with Dad. Over time the pair recruited a powerful crew, including such loyal members as my father's two brothers, Pete and Gene, and "Willie Boy" Johnson. Friends since their early teens when they ruled the Fulton-Rockaway Boys, this group boasted an uncommon closeness, and over time wielded considerable clout. They made their bones with petty crimes: stealing cars, running numbers, and hijacking trucks filled with cigarettes, liquor, and ladies' garments. This enabled my father and his crew to become what the elders in the Gambino Family called "good and impressionable earners," resulting in progressively favorable recognition. After Dad's arrest for hijacking the truck full of dresses, he was sentenced to only a few months in the county jail.
It was during this period that my father met a powerful mobster who would have a profound impact on his life: Aniello Dellacroce. Everyone—from underlings to close associates and friends— referred to him as "Neil" or "Mr. O'Neill." He was a brash, foul-mouthed, and brazen man who had his own headquarters at the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street in Manhattan's Little Italy. It was a two-story brick building, nearly windowless on the ground floor. Privacy, in Dellacroce's world, was paramount, as my father would come to learn.
For years Dellacroce had heard about John Gotti's exploits; he knew of the young man's reputation for being a good earner. Years later Dellacroce would acknowledge "keeping a close eye on Johnny Boy" as a means of recruiting him into Dellacroce's crew. He saw something special in my father, "an innate leadership quality." He also recognized a dark side to John Gotti—a wild and unbridled temper that couldn't be tamed and would later serve as an asset to the up-and-coming mobster. He figured Dad would rise quickly in the ranks and urged other elders to keep tabs on the kid from Fulton and Rockaway.
Now, with Dellacroce's help my dad was bringing in enough dough to rent a better, two-bedroom apartment. The task of finding a suitable place was assigned to my mother. Mom looked through the classified ads and found something she deemed appropriate, something in the right neighborhood geographically and economically.
"It was ideal when I read about it in the newspaper," Mom later explained with a chuckle. "So I took it—sight unseen. But I should have known something was amiss when the man on the phone agreed to personally move us in! That's right—after I spoke with him, he offered to send a truck to pick up our furniture the very next day. When I walked into that apartment, having arrived with everything we owned . . . well, I don't know what I expected—but the dungeon behind that old wooden door was definitely not it!
"When your father came home later that night, he was speechless—utterly speechless. Still, he was willing to make the best of it; there was nothing else we could do. We had no money left."
Dad continued to work and hustle, with inconsistent results. Once, for example, someone provided him with inside information about a shipment of television sets bound for Kennedy Airport. They were color television sets, no less, and for Dad this was a potentially huge score. Color TVs were a rare commodity. So, of course, my father was more than interested in the possibility of intercepting this shipment.
He gathered his crew together and went over the heist. They planned everything perfectly, right down to the last detail. It went off without a hitch—or so they thought. One of the television sets even came home with Dad. My mother, exhausted from trying to transform the dungeon into a castle, couldn't have been happier with the gift. Watching television was one of my mother's small pleasures, so when Dad walked in with a brand-new color TV to replace their old black-and-white one, she was ecstatic.
"It was as if we'd won the lottery," Mom recalled. "I became addicted to it after only one week."
As with any addiction, though, there was always the potential for withdrawal. Alas, the cops apparently had gotten wind of the heist and were well on their way to cracking the case by the time Mom got through the first episode of I Love Lucy. Dad, whose intuition and connections led him to believe that law enforcement officials might soon be knocking on their door, insisted Mom get rid of the new toy.
"I cried for days, as if the world was going to end," Mom said. "It wasn't so much that I was home alone and pregnant; but, having gotten the new color TV, I gave the old one to the landlady downstairs!"
Mom had traded the old black-and-white television for a nearly new radio. When Dad took back the color television, Mom came to rely on the small radio as a means of entertainment while home alone. Three days after Dad took away the TV, the radio broke. Apparently it was used, a rebuilt radio. The landlady pulled a scam on Mom. When Mom showed up on her doorstep, the landlady wouldn't open the door. In fact, she turned up the volume on the television to drown out Mom's voice. Mom left the radio in front of the landlady's apartment door with a note taped to it that said, "Here is the piece of junk you used to con me out of my television. Either give me back my TV or I'll send my husband down to speak to your husband."
The two women got into a heated argument. The landlady refused to give the television back. Now she had the broken radio and the black-and-white television—and Mom was furious! The women yelled until the landlady's husband came home from work. He was not a stupid man. He heard all about John Gotti and didn't want any trouble. So he insisted his wife give the TV back to Mom. The landlord's wife did so reluctantly. But, to be spiteful, she left the television on the ledge of the second-floor landing—knowing full well, Mom, being very pregnant at the time, couldn't carry it up two stories. Mom tried—when she got to the top of the third floor, huffing and puffing and utterly exhausted, she finally realized that she couldn't carry it up another floor. But rather than let the landlady win, Mom kicked the old TV with all her might and watched it bounce down the ten or eleven steps. She left it at the foot of the second landing and yelled down to the landlady, "Try and watch the TV now!" When Dad came home later that night, he found the broken television wedged between the second and third floor of the apartment building. It took him five minutes to climb around it in order to get to our apartment on the sixth floor.
Since few things upset my father more than seeing my mom distraught, Dad decided to go out and find her a color television the old-fashioned way: by paying for it.
Well, sort of.
He entered an all-night poker game, hoping his luck would change and he'd make some money. He did—nearly five hundred dollars. But instead of using it to buy fancy suits, or as a down payment on a new car, or even a security deposit for a nicer apartment to rent, he went out and bought Mom the biggest, most expensive color television he could find.
Dellacroce, who'd been at the poker match, had been duly impressed with Dad's success, which seemed fueled by equal parts luck and guts. Thus, Dellacroce often made unannounced visits to the Fulton Street Social Club. He wasn't thrilled with the location or the way it was so run-down. After a few of these visits, the club's headquarters was moved to a more discreet area in Ozone Park, Queens. The new club was a two-story building with a first-floor storefront; it was called the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, and was located near Kennedy Airport, in a small, close-knit neighborhood of Italian immigrants. The locals paid frequent visits to the social club; some were merely being cordial, while others understood the benefit of offering their respect to the new sheriff in town. If one had a gripe about something going on in the neighborhood, results were much more likely to be achieved by working through the social club than by going to the cops.
It wasn't long before the generous and eager-to-please John Gotti assumed the role of a modern-day Robin Hood in Ozone Park. When the law failed them, the locals often turned to Johnny Boy; if traditional justice was not forthcoming, then street justice would suffice. Ironically, the NYPD's 106th Precinct headquarters was just a few blocks away, but was of little assistance to the Italian immigrants, who were near the bottom rung of the social ladder, and absorbed nearly as much racism and hostility as the few African Americans who resided in the overwhelmingly white community.
My father became a staunch advocate for the folks who lived near the new social club. If a man had a meddlesome neighbor, Dad stepped in and brokered the peace. If a few neighborhood punks had graffitied a storefront, Dad forced them to scrub it clean. And if a house was robbed or vandalized, Dad hunted down whoever was responsible and forced them to make restitution. Dad was no fool, and understood early on the importance of currying favor with the community. Just as he needed respect from the elders in his world to achieve his goals, he also needed support from the rank-and-file—the men and women who would do business in his neighborhood.
Word of the new social club quickly spread. People came from up to ten miles away to meet their newly anointed street boss. Most of the people who dropped in were hoping for an audience with my father; if so inclined, he might be able to help them with some problem in their lives, whether personal or financial. No dispute was too small or too large; the boss had free reign to intervene. Often, as a sign of his gratitude, Dad also bought cases of groceries and expensive cuts of meats and distributed these goods to all the neighbors in Ozone Park. Aside from being generous and considerate, Dad also did his fair share of campaigning, which would help him later on as he rose up even higher in the life.
There were perks to the position, of course. At holiday time, men from the neighborhood would express their gratitude to my father by dropping by with homemade pies and other delicacies that their wives, girlfriends, or mothers had baked. In exchange for their support, my father would throw a party every July 4, with enough free food, amusement park rides, soda, cotton candy, and entertainment for thousands of people; neighbors would invite family and friends from as far away as Staten Island and Manhattan. This event grew larger with each passing year, and featured one of the most impressive displays of fireworks in the metropolitan area, no small accomplishment given the challenge of securing the proper permits. Somehow, though, this never presented a problem for my father, perhaps because so many of the local cops chose to look the other way. As a general rule, they were more than willing to turn a blind eye to activities at the social club, especially where my father was concerned.
The July 4 bash was the talk of the town, from Brooklyn to the Bronx, and from Staten Island to Central Park. The turnout of revelers and spectators, whose numbers often included FBI agents in unmarked cars, taking notes and snapping photos, was astounding.
At one such celebration in the late 1970s, the fireworks display went awry. A man stationed on a nearby rooftop had accidentally dropped a lit cigarette into a box of explosives, setting the roof on fire. Flames spread quickly to a neighboring building.
Thankfully, the fire department responded swiftly and doused the fire in short order. The show ended prematurely with ambulances and cop cars flooding the area. After the fire department deemed the rooftop safe again, the police ordered the crowd of party revelers to vacate the premises. Many of the local residents grew angry and began yelling at the cops. There were no serious injuries, but my father was enraged. He ordered all his men from the social club to clear the streets and get all the people out of harm's way. The neighbors were understandably disappointed that their spectacular block party was brought to a premature end. Something had to be done with all the leftover food, so hundreds of families went home that night with fresh meats, salads, and supplies to fill up their cupboards.
The people of Ozone Park lined the streets that night and cheered my father as a hero. It was a watershed event for John Gotti, in many ways the beginning of his rise to prominence in popular culture, and the first indication that he was destined to become a formidable figure in the brutal, often unforgiving world of the Mafia.