The Mafia’s Teflon Don, John Gotti, on Trial

U.S. v. Gotti, 634 F. Supp. 877 (E.D.N.Y. 1986)

The Mafia hierarchy works like this: at the bottom are associates. They’re “connected” but not “made”—meaning they haven’t yet been entrusted with carrying out a hit. Above them are soldiers, then captains, then an advisor, and then an underboss. Above all of them sits the boss. If a captain wants to unseat the boss by “whacking” him, he is supposed to go in front of the Mafia Commission and present a case to get the action approved.

John Gotti did not follow these conventions. He consolidated his power by winning the allegiance of a few Gambino captains, along with a couple of bosses from other crews. On December 16, 1985, he sent four assassins to Sparks Steak House in Manhattan to gun down acting boss Paul Castellano during peak traffic hours. Undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone considered this to be one of the most brazen and best organized hits in the history of the mob.

Gotti was nicknamed “The Dapper Don” for his expensive taste in suits, and later “The Teflon Don” for three high-profile trials that failed to make any charges stick. For example, in 1986, prosecutor Diane F. Giacalone tried Gotti on racketeering charges. But a jury member sold his vote and persuaded other jurors, through intimidation, to acquit.

In 1992, Gotti was found guilty of a laundry list of crimes and sentenced to life. “The don is covered with Velcro,” said James Fox, director of the New York City FBI, “and all the charges stuck.” Gotti died in prison ten years later.