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Feature Articles


June 2002

The "Last Don" and the "New Media"


The death of Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti

By James Ridgway de Szigethy


      Whether the death of Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti indeed marks the "end of an era," as some pundits have claimed, is a subject for debate. However, the funeral of Gotti can also be viewed as a barometer gauging how the ‘mainstream Media’ has changed in recent years in regards to it’s coverage of major news stories.

      It has been only 4 short years since an obscure Internet reporter named Matt Drudge forever re-wrote the rules of journalism after publishing on his website the story the mainstream Media was sitting on; that of the attempted cover-up of the affair between White House Intern Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton. ‘Traditional journalism’ has since faced intense competition from both the Internet and the new cable TV news networks, MSNBC and the Fox Network being just two examples. The response to this competition has been an unprecedented aggressiveness in reporting stories, one result being the mainstream Media does not now investigate a rumor or allegation before throwing it out to the public. Whether or not substantial numbers of the public actually want "all-Monica, all-the-time," is open to question.

      John Gotti loved Media attention and cultivated it to his advantage, playing to his "public" through the Media as if he were a rock star. Thus, while many journalists expected the demise and funeral of Gotti to become a ‘Media circus,’ few would have predicted the degree to which the Media would react to the death of a man who was in fact a convicted murderer and racketeer.

      On the day after the Godfather’s death, the New York Post devoted the first 13 pages exclusively to the Gotti story. Buried on page 14 was a story the Post regarded as secondary in importance, that of the arrest of an American charged with plotting with Islamic terrorists to detonate a ‘dirty nuclear bomb’ over Washington, D.C, an event which would cause unprecedented social and economic upheaval. (Note: an earlier plot by Islamic terrorists to detonate a similar device over New York, a story which also received little attention, is to be found in the 1998 report ‘MOB WAR!’ by this author in the Feature Archives of this website.)

      The Post and other Media outlets in New York also paid little attention to another public figure who died on the same day as Gotti, Benjamin Ward, the Police Commissioner of New York City during the time that Gotti was running the Family back in the 1980s.

      Even the full staff of reporters for the New York Post and the New York Daily News was deemed insufficient to whet the perceived appetite of the public for news on Gotti. Thus, both publications featured daily exclusives by Jerry Capeci, who runs the acclaimed Mafia website GANGLAND, and his partner Gene Mustain. The News ran excerpts from the duos’ book GOTTI: RISE AND FALL, while the Post featured exclusive excerpts from their book MOB STAR.

      This event is significant in revealing the changed nature of the Media in the United States in recent years. The New York Daily News, a left-of-center publication, and the New York Post, which is right-of-center, are two papers at odds with each other in pursuit of the millions of New Yorkers who, for whatever reasons, do not read the New York Times. Rarely a week goes by that reporters for the News, (derisively referred to by Post reporters as the "Snooze,") and the Post do not criticize each other in print. For many years Jerry Capeci was one of the Daily News reporters and in 1999 Capeci was quoted in a front-page story of the New York Observer criticizing Post reporter Al Guart over alleged information leaking involving the case of John "Junior" Gotti.

      Thus, for the Post to print Exclusive excerpts from Post critic Jerry Capeci is a telling indication of how in the age of the "new Media" old rivalries are ignored when it comes to giving the public a temporary fix of "all-Gotti, all-the-time!" The decision to run Capeci’s exclusives by the Post is even more remarkable given that Al Guart, along with reporter Peter Fearon, is also publishing a book on Gotti, HARD TIME: THE LAST DAYS OF JOHN GOTTI. And, if bringing in Capeci and Mustain wasn’t enough, the Post also has on their staff Gotti’s daughter Victoria, the best-selling novelist who writes a weekly column on topics she finds of interest.

      Many New Yorkers found the intense coverage of the Gotti death and funeral nothing less than outrageous, especially given that many of the stories reported featured Gotti as a folk hero. Two members of the Media who have been the most outspoken in condemning this are attorney Ron Kuby and Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the anti-crime activist group Guardian Angels. Both men are the anchors of one of America’s most popular call-in radio talk shows, the Curtis and Kuby Show, syndicated nationwide on WABC. Both, it should be noted, have an ax to grind in regards to the Gambino Family; Sliwa was once shot with a gun on the streets of New York and publicly blamed an Associate of John "Junior" Gotti for the shooting; in 2000, it was revealed that former Gambino Family Underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano was allegedly involved in a scheme to have Kuby murdered.

      On their daily radio talk show, the two unlikely partners gave a voice to those Americans who were outraged by the Media coverage of the Gotti story. Sliwa at one point invited his listeners to "wrap a dead fish in a copy of the New York Post and send it to Steve Dunleavy!" Dunleavy, the Post columnist renown for his pro-law enforcement stance, had in the weeks before Gotti’s death outraged many Post readers by his championing of Michael Skakel, the Kennedy Family relation then on trial for the brutal murder of 15 year old Martha Moxley, a crime for which he was convicted. Normally loyal Post readers expressed their outrage over Dunleavy’s actions in letters to the Editor published by the Post. An identical response was unleashed regarding Dunleavy’s reporting on Gotti. Callers into the Curtis and Kuby program expressed the same sentiment that the Media was going overboard in its coverage and making Gotti out to be a hero. What listeners to the program received was a reminder that Gotti was the head of a vicious crime Family involved in drug dealing, child pornography, and murder.

      The role of the Gambino Family in the production and distribution of child pornography has received little attention by the Media, due perhaps in part to the perception by many that the market for such a product is very small and thus such an operation is not lucrative. However, recent and on-going scandals emerging within the Roman Catholic Church reveal that the interest in adult/child sex abuse is shared by a much larger segment of the population than previously thought, and that many of these perverts have the monetary means to secure that product which interests them. Pedophile Priests, however, pose more than a threat to our Nation’s children; such men, because of their illegal practices, are prime candidates for blackmail by members of the Mafia, who could use such ‘leverage’ against such Priests to turn what would seem to be a humble community Church into a vehicle for the laundering of money obtained from the Mafia’s illegal gambling and drug trafficking operations. Such sinister scenarios are not to be found in the numerous motion pictures produced by Hollywood, which portray a romanticized version of the historical ties between members of the Mafia and the Roman Catholic Church.

      In regards to this reporter’s take on the Gotti death story, it was hoped that John Gotti might experience on his deathbed some sort of conversion and confession which might cast light on some of the many un-solved crimes associated with the Gambino Family during the last two decades. While rare, such confessions do sometimes occur, such as the deathbed confession of Gregg Scarpa, the bi-sexual hitman for the Colombo Family who avoided prison for decades because of his status as an FBI Informant. Just before his death to AIDS in 1993 Scarpa issued a sworn Affidavit stating that acting Colombo Family Godfather "Allie Boy" Persico was not involved in the Mob War that raged during the early 1990s, which left 11 people dead, including one innocent bystander. Persico’s attorney told the jury in his racketeering trial that Scarpa would clear Persico "from the grave!" He was right; Allie Boy was acquitted with the help of Scarpa’s dying words. Jurors in subsequent Colombo Family trials would tell the Media that they believed it was Scarpa who was responsible for the war, with help from an FBI agent.

      Of the many unsolved crimes still on the books of law enforcement, two unusual cases remain that Gotti may have had information regarding; the 1991 murder of Joey Naples in Youngstown, Ohio and the 1983 murder in San Francisco of Gambino Family money launderer Paul Morasca.

      Joey Naples was an Associate of the Pittsburgh Mafia Family who ran extensive gambling operations in Youngstown, Ohio. In 1980 Naples, along with other Pittsburgh Associates gave a bribe of $65,000 to James Traficant, a popular local former athlete who was running for County Sheriff. Charlie "The Crab" Carabbia, who ran gambling operations for the Cleveland Mafia Family, gave Traficant a $98,000 bribe to ensure Traficant did not interfere with his own operations in Youngstown should Traficant get elected Sheriff. Traficant won the election and met with Carabbia to discuss what Traficant would do as Sheriff.

      Carabbia decided to secretly tape record Traficant so as to have something to blackmail him with should the Sheriff renege on his promised protection. On the tapes, later recovered by the FBI, Carabbia stuns Traficant by revealing he is blackmailing Traficant’s friend Ed Flask, the son of a prominent politician, with "compromising photographs that would ensure his silence!" The tape shows that Traficant is deeply troubled by Carabbia’s blackmail revelation, and just days later Naples and his associates abducted Carabbia and murdered him.

      With Carabbia dead Naples and his Associates were able to take over all the Mafia operations in Youngstown. One business the Mafia had an interest in was one owned by a man named Bruce Zoldan, whose company distributed fireworks nationwide. Just before the 4th of July 1982, Zoldan’s most profitable time of the year, Sheriff Traficant and his Deputy Phil Chance raided Zoldan’s business, shutting it down. The raid was illegal, and Zoldan fought back in the Courts and won. Still, the Mafia was not finished with their plans for Zoldan’s business.

      The Carabbia tapes were used to indict Traficant on Federal bribery charges in 1983, which he beat and afterwards successfully ran for Congress. Eventually Phil Chance was elected Sheriff but when Chance went on trial in 1999 on Federal bribery charges Bruce Zoldan testified against him with a remarkable tale. Zoldan claimed that Chance shook him down for kickbacks, and that he also had to pay $200,000 in kickbacks to the Gambino Family for the right to sell fireworks in New York. During the 1980s and early 90s John Gotti celebrated the Fourth of July each year with an elaborate block party outside his Bergin Fish and Hunt Club headquarters in his Queens neighborhood. The event was capped by a huge – and illegal – fireworks display that was a testament to Gotti’s power and ability to flaunt the law.

      Joey Naples was implicated in the shakedown of Zoldan that went on for years. In July 2000 the Cleveland Plain Dealer published another story that shed light on Naples. Former Youngstown Mayor Patrick Ungaro told the Plain Dealer that on numerous occasions he was offered bribes by Father Joseph Iati, Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Youngstown. Ungaro believed the money was coming from Joey Naples, a close associate of Father Iati’s. In 1986, Father Iati was found dead of a gunshot wound to his head, an alleged suicide.

      Joey Naples was murdered in a most unusual way in 1991; a sniper shot him from a long distance away with a high-powered rifle. Naples’ associate Lenny Strollo later became a co-operating witness for the Feds and confessed to his role in several crimes, including the murder of Charlie the Crab. But one crime Strollo could not shed light on was that of Naples; Strollo says he was not involved in that murder and does not know who was. The possibility that Naples’ murder was related to the extortion of Zoldan by the Gambinos remains a scenario considered by those following this case.

      Another unusual unsolved murder involving the Gambinos regards money launderer Paul Morasca. Back in the 1970s Gambino Family Godfather Paul Castellano began to lose control of crews within the Family. If anyone was a real "last Don," it was Castellano, who was opposed to drug trafficking. Not so John Gotti and his associates, including his brother Gene, who is currently serving a 50-year sentence for heroin trafficking. Profits from drugs were enormous, and it was only a matter of time before Gotti and his crew decided Castellano had to go, orchestrating the infamous murder of the Don outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan.

      One lucrative drug ring run by Gambino members operated in California, far from the influence of Castellano a Continent away. Part of this ring was money launderer Paul Morasca. On January 13, 1982, Michael Riconosciuto, a scientist whose brilliant mind was ruined by drugs, entered the San Francisco apartment of his friend Morasca. Morasca was dead, having been bound with wire in a murder technique popular with the ‘Yakuza’, the Japanese Mafia, that causes the victim to slowly asphyxiate. Instead of calling the cops, Riconosciuto hopped in his car and drove 500 miles south to the Cabazon Indian Reservation outside Palm Springs, California. There Riconosciuto informed the Reservation’s Manager, Dr. John Phillip Nichols, that Morasca had been murdered.

      A few years earlier, Dr. Nichols had convinced the impoverished Cabazon Indians to hire him as their Administrator, after which Nichols brought in a gambling casino to generate income. As Indian Reservations are "sovereign terrority," State and Federal laws against gambling do not apply. The Cabazon experience with gambling, upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court, would soon become common on Indian Reservations nationwide, with the Italian Mafia usually involved. The Cabazon operation became the object of scrutiny in 1981 when three Cabazons opposed to the gambling were found murdered in nearby Rancho Mirage. In March 1985, the FBI arrested Dr. Nichols, charging he tried to hire a hit man to murder 5 people. Nichols accepted a plea bargain that only required him to spend one year in jail. Riconosciuto was prosecuted for conspiracy to traffick drugs and is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence.

      As to who murdered Morasca one report had three suspicious men seen near the apartment that night, one of whom appeared to be an American Indian. If John Gotti had any knowledge of this murder, as well as the murder of Joey Naples, he apparently took such knowledge with him to his grave.

      As to who will eventually succeed Gotti as Gambino Godfather, it is not yet clear, as the Family is in disarray. Gotti’s son "Junior" is in prison. Just days before Gotti’s death, several candidates to succeed him were arrested, including his brothers Peter and Richard, charged with extortion, gambling, racketeering, and loan sharking. Also arrested on labor racketeering charges was Red Scollo, the President of Local 1814 of the Longshoremen’s Union in Brooklyn, and Gambino captain Sonny Ciccone and Julius Nasso, who were charged with extorting money from actor Steven Seagal.

      Seagal is on of the more interesting characters in the ongoing Gambino saga. As a young man Seagal studied the martial arts while living in Japan. After becoming an action movie star he became a favorite on the talk show circuit, telling stories of having worked for the CIA, although never actually mentioning what he did for the intelligence community. Seagal is, however, a close associate of the Dali Lama, who has assisted the U. S. for many years in the fight against the Communist Chinese. Seagal, who at one time was known to wear American Indian attire, is now deeply involved in the Bhudist religion. Like the characters he plays in his movies, Seagal has in real life stood up against the Mob, in this case, the Gambinos, a Family that became one of the most powerful and ruthless Mafia organizations in America under the leadership of Godfather John Gotti.

Mr. de Szigethy can be reached by writing to JAMESDE@prodigy.net


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