Feature Articles

May 2000

As The Underworld Turns........

The continuing heart wrenching saga of the mobs first family

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

Get out your handkerchiefs and call your agents, those zany Gotti's are at it again.

In our last episode, Papa John Gotti, the mob father who never saw a camera he didn't like, was doing life in the can for, well....being John Gotti. Then, in a blatant case of "Monkey see, Monkey do" John Gotti Jr. went to jail on a five-year stretch for racketeering, extortion and other charges. Prosecutors said accuse young Gotti of being a gangster in training, but he denies it.

From his lonely, oh so lonely, eight x 10 foot prison cell in upstate New York, Gotti Jr. penned a fiery four page letter to the editors of the New York Post, attacking the recently arrested Mr. Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, and the Federal prosecutors who cut a deal with him. Mr. Gravano is currently a guest of the state of Arizona penal system.

In his letter, which did not come with drawings, but did include many words with two syllables or more, young Gotti referred to Gravano as "a person both small in stature and in heart," and an "animal" and a "coward."

"Make no mistake about Sam Gravano, this person, is not the tough guy he depicts himself to be......once his freedom was actually taken, he realized he couldn't handle it"

Then, in a dazzling display of rhetoric vaguely reminiscent of Aristotle, our young author asks "Why did these individual's sing this rodent's praise?" a subtle reference to federal prosecutors who once called Gravano a hero. This was followed up by a lightening-like literary attack that would make Mailer grit his teeth in envy, if in fact, he were to ever open a copy of the Post. "Because the government needed to sell this piece of garbage to the American public....[Snitches know], no matter what crimes you've committed, you can always "testi-lie' out of any problem,"

Relentlessly, Gotti then ripped into the Holiest of Holy's in the underworld....Gravano's moniker "The Bull", stating that Gravano's nick name came, not as he claims, local wiseguys who saw him tough it out in a street fight, but from the Bulls Head section of Staten Island he once haunted.

Will Sammy the Bull retaliate with a poison pen reply to the Prince of the Bergen Hunt and Fish Club in a Sicilian message that could spark a war of words resembling the Gore Videl-Norman Mailer blood bath of yesteryear? Is the New Yorker magazine ready for this? Is Carlo Gambino rolling in his grave?

Well, right now it looks like Sammy the Bull might have plenty of time on his quick little hands to compose a counter attack in the years ahead.

The Bull was locked up recently in Phoenix on drug charges along with his estranged wife, son, daughter, and son- in-law. The complaint by prosecutors, who, as Al Capone once noted, are forever complaining about something, alleges that Gravano transported Ecstasy pills into Arizona and possessed them for sale.

If that's not enough, like everyone else related to this on going tale of misery and deception, the Bull has women troubles. It seems that Mrs. Bull, Debra, and her daughter Little Karen Bull, allegedly discussed drug sales and money laundering over the telephone, probably not a good idea in the best of homes, but a terrible concept in the Bull residence. Besides, the cops had a tap on the line at the time.

For those of you who have forgotten the media hype that made Sammy the Bull a jail house hold name, the 5 foot, 5 inch Gravano, who admitted to having participated in 19 gangland style slaying's, including the murder of his own brother-in- law, testified against John Gotti and others, including the Pajama Don of the Genovese family, Vincent (the Chin) Gigante, who is a soap opera unto himself. The Bull did less than five years in federal prison and was released in March of 1995. Two years later, he appeared on television for two consecutive nights with Diane Sawyer to promote his book.

Speaking of which, on the brighter side of things, for Gravano anyway and dozens of other gangsters with writing ambitions, he did have some good news in March, when the New York Court of Appeals decided that the gangster didn't have to forfeit any book or movie earnings to New York State. In a 3-2 decision, the court ruled that Gravano's 1991 federal conviction put him out of the reach of the Son of Sam law, a well-intended statute that prohibits criminals convicted under state law from profiting from their crimes. The suit was filed by the daughter of one of Gravano's murder victims.

Gravano testified in federal court that year that he received a $250,000 advance from his publisher, but, sources close to the deal insist that the former mobster made at least a cool million from the book. The film version of the Bull's life, which could earn him mega-dollars, had been on ice, but will probably come into production in the next few years.

However, Sammy shouldn't rush off to the bank just yet, if in fact a guy in leg manacles can rush anywhere. New York's no-nonsense Pataki administration is reviewing the case and considering taking it to the state's highest court.

The Bull is also charged with illegal possession of a handgun. In Gravano's apartment, which he keeps separate from his wife's mansion, police found a loaded Ruger .357 and a .38 Smith & Wesson and a Walther PPK .380. Two of the guns were loaded. Police also found a phone voice changer and a blue bulletproof vest. In his wife's mansion they found six handguns, a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun and a .44 magnum rifle, a .38 Smith & Wesson, and a 9-mm semiautomatic.

Sammy apparently has trust and security issues overshadowed only by Gotti Juniors displaced anger.

Gravano's arrest should have absolutely no bearing in John Gotti's conviction, but, remember this, Sammy is facing a minimum of twenty years in the slammer if convicted. He's already served his time on the federal charges. He is a desperate man and desperate men are unpredictable. There's nothing stopping Gravano from reneging his testimony about Gotti if the Feds refuse to help him out of this one as well.

There's also two details that should be remembered. The Bull's lawyers say that cops violated Gravano's due-process rights by arresting him without a warrant and keeping him from seeing his lawyer for hours after he was in custody. The state admits that at least half of that is true and won't comment the other half, which speaks volumes. Also, discussion over Gravano's $5 million dollar bail were held behind closed doors, so Gravano's past cooperation with Federal prosecutors could be discussed off the record.

Back in New York, despite the rumors that the Gotti clan were at each other's throats, no small thing considering the players. Alleged Mafia member, Carmine Angelo, husband to Victoria Gotti, Papa John's daughter, also has women troubles.

Victoria has published a best-selling novel and is reported to have made a million-dollar advance from the book, which, if underworld rumor is true, had no effect on Angelo because the word is that Angelo's marriage to the Dons daughter is on the rocks because of an alleged affair Agnello had with an employee of his scrap-metal business.

Reports are that Agnello's hair-trigger temper, and leaps to violence have also marred the marriage, even though he is currently taking medication to control the outbursts. Agnello says its due to a chemical imbalance. Prosecutors deny it. They say Agnello's temper tantrums is a weapon that he has used to threaten to break the fingers of a debt collector and promising to beat up a stockbroker with a hammer after the broker lost $500,000 of Agnello's money.

Surprisingly, Agnello's style isn't appreciated by his fathers' in-law, who referred to his son-in-law as a moron. "He's gonna get indicted any day, this moron," Gotti told Victoria in 1998, during a recorded jailhouse conversation. "He's built himself a gallows. He's bought the noose. ... There's no question of my love for him, [but] he needs me out there. He needs me like white on rice."

Some said the marriage was over, but, as Mafia murderers from the Bronx to the Brooklyn bridge fought back tears, love triumphed as Victoria put up her mansion to bail Angelo out of jail. The Gotti estates are estimated to be worth a total of about $6 million dollars, which includes Victoria Gotti's half-share in the couple's $4 million Old Westbury, Long Island estate, and the million-dollar home of John, Jr. Agnello, 38, and six others are charged with racketeering, extortion, arson and tax fraud. Most of the charges stem from Agnello's alleged strong arm bid to take over a scrap-metal business operated by undercover police officers in Willets Point, Queens.

But the six million is a drop in the bucket when compared to Agnello's real estate holdings, some 29 properties in all estimated to be worth between $20 to $40 million. Agnello appeared in court for the hearing, at one point loudly cracking his knuckles, and offering to agree to stringent conditions in the bail offer, including house arrest, electronic monitoring and limits on visitors.

However, Federal prosecutors not only argued that Agnello, should be kept behind bars until after his trial has ended, but they also want to have the court seize Agnello's properties under federal forfeiture laws. And what a coup that would be. Agnello's company, the New York Shredding Corporation worth an estimated $40 to 50 million dollars, has made this alleged gangster one of the biggest players in the New York-New Jersey area's enormous scrap metal industry. He is also reported to own scores of commercial and residential properties around the Queens' area, which have an estimated total value of $65 million. He also has business interest in concrete, waste, auto repair and junkyard's.

The feds say that Agnello's astounding success in capturing the Queens scrap metal business comes from his connections within the Gambino crime family which used extortion, arson and threats against competitors.

Agnello denies it, and not surprisingly, so do his lawyers.

But the cops appear to have proof. They say that in January of 1999, the New York City Police Department decided to do something about the mobs strangle hold on the Big Apple's scrap iron market, so they set up a sting by opening a dummy scrap yard, called Stadium Scrap Metals in Queens.

Over a three-month period, undercover detectives brought in scores of dead car suppliers by paying top dollar, which caused a shortage of scrap for Agnello's business. That problem brought a visit from Agnello and his childhood pal, 390 pound Joe "Jumbo" Burger. According to the Police, when they set up the sting, they weren't fishing for Agnello, rather, it was a trap he walked into.

According to police, Agnello and Burger told the undercover cops at Stadium Scrap that he wanted them bring their business to his company, New York Shredding, saying "I'm sure I can do business with you, or I can just run you out of business," The undercover officers refused by telling Agnello they didn't want to pay the bridge tolls to send their cars from Queens to the Bronx. Shortly after Agnello's visit, a man was caught by police, trying to break into Stadium Scrap. The man agreed to cooperate and told the cops that Mark LoMonaco, a friend of Agnello's, had promised to pay him $2,000 to burn down Stadium Scrap and that Agnello's had told him to toss ten gasoline filled bottles into the yard.

The police helped the informant set a controlled fire that burned parts of Stadium Scraps office. Several days later undercover cops went to Agnello and agreed to work with him. A few days later he was arrested.

Meanwhile, Papa John Gotti is locked away for life in a federal prison in Marion, Illinois. The question is, is he writing is memoirs? Does he have an agent? And what about subsidiary right? Will John Gotti Jr. learn to deal with his displaced anger? Will somebody please take the pen from him? Will Sammy the Bull ever learn to deal with his trust issues?

Stay tuned.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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