Reporter's Notebook: Gotti, a Mob Icon

ByABC News
August 16, 2001, 3:47 PM

N E W  Y O R K, June 10 -- It was Dec. 16, 1985. No one had ever heard of a mid-level hood named John Gotti.

Big Paul Castellano moved in his lumbering way through the Madison Avenue law offices of his mouthpiece, Jimmy LaRossa. Big Paul, the boss of the Gambino crime family, was doling out Christmas presents to his lawyer's secretaries. Each got a small trinket or a bottle of expensive perfume.

Paul had reason to be nice. He was counting on the legal team to help him beat the rap in a Mafia conspiracy case that could of put him away long past his life expectancy. Of course, he was far too optimistic. He actually had less than an hour to live.

Just after 5:30, Castellano rode in a shiny black Lincoln Town Car down East 46th Street. His driver, Tommy Bilotti, stopped at the light at the corner of Third Avenue. In the next car, Sammy "the Bull" Gravano nudged John Gotti. "That's him," Gravano said.

At the same moment, Gravano picked up a walkie-talkie and signaled the team of men who were waiting outside Sparks Steak House. Bilotti pulled the Town Car into a parking space just west of Sparks' front door. As Castellano hauled his huge frame up and out of the passenger side, Bilotti was exiting the driver's side. Half a dozen men, dressed in matching white trench coats and Russian style fur hats, came at both men shooting.

Big Paul went down on the sidewalk in a huge, bleeding heap. His hand slipped just underneath the car door, surrounded by shell casings from the bullets. Bilotti was face up, in the middle of East 46th Street in a widening pool of blood.

Gottis Handiwork Earns Him Boss Title

On the other side of the intersection, the light had changed. John Gotti drove through the intersection, slowing to admire his dark handiwork. Gravano looked out the passenger side window and said simply, "He's gone." The men in the trench coats disappeared into the evening chill. Carols played over a loud-speaker mounted just across the street.

It was nine days before Christmas and John Gotti had given himself an early present: The title of "Boss" of the Gambino Crime Family.

The next morning I was staked out in front of a red brick storefront that was known as the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club. New York police and the FBI were quick to agree that a man named John Gotti had been behind the Castellano hit.