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The Dumbest Don


The Feds don’t play fair,” says Eric Franz, whom Mikey Scars described as his “excellent” former attorney, before Scars became a cooperating witness. Franz illustrates his point:

“In 2002, when DiLeonardo was rearrested, they were holding him in the same Metropolitan Correctional Center cells where they’ve got Pete now. After four months of that, Mikey decides to cooperate, but he doesn’t tell me.

“All of a sudden, a compassionate two-weeks furlough I’d been trying for—Mikey’s mom was dying in the hospital—comes through! And Mike tries to use my office to set up a meeting [with Jo Jo Corozzo, now the Gambino consigliere] that the government wanted him to record . . . And I know nothing!”

The move could have put Franz’s life in danger—he’s a criminal lawyer who often represents alleged Mafia clients. Part of the Feds’ deal with Mikey was that he would try to tape gangsters he knew making the kinds of compromising comments John Gotti so infamously made in 1989 on a recording from a bugged apartment over the Ravenite Social Club, the Gambinos’ former Manhattan HQ on Mulberry Street. But Franz wouldn’t allow any meetings in his office, so Scars actually wore a wire at his dying mother’s hospital bedside, though nothing compelling resulted, and lawyers ended up playing the old ’89 Ravenite tapes again during the Gotti-Carbonaro trial. On those tapes, John Gotti, growling like a movie gangster, cursed Gravano’s greed and admitted ordering soldier Louis Di Bono’s murder: “I whacked him because he wouldn’t come in [to see the boss, a prime Mafia failure of “respect”]. He didn’t do nothin’ else wrong.”

The rationale for playing them was to impress on the jury who Pete Gotti’s blood relation was and to convict him of brand-name guilt. Prosecutors had begun their case against Pete by projecting a huge head shot of a scowling John Gotti on the courtroom screen.

“These guys know perfectly well that Pete and Junior are lightweights as mobsters,” says one mob attorney. “But the FBI and DOJ work on the same principles as Disney and Karl Rove do now—you get good publicity and funding by simplifying story lines and themes.”

The Gotti-Carbonaro scenario that the Department of Justice is retailing has Uncle Pete Gotti, seven years after his brother John was sent away for good, suddenly developing a lust to kill Sammy the Bull, at his business, Marathon Construction, a swimming-pool company in Phoenix, Arizona. According to a DOJ spokesman, Pete chose Huck Carbonaro to do the hit because he’d been in Sammy’s crew before Sammy flipped in 1991, and so was specially motivated to avenge John and clear any lingering doubts other Gambinos might have as to his loyalty, and chose “Fat Sal” Mangiavillano because he was a natural techno wizard, whose knowledge of computers and surveillance equipment would help Carbonaro track Sammy down.

“These guys know Pete and Junior are lightweights,” says a mob attorney. “But the FBI and DOJ work on the same principles as Disney and Karl Rove: You get good publicity by simplifying story lines.”

The trouble was, Sammy didn’t need tracking. He was living openly in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb, giving interviews to Arizona Republic reporter Dennis Wagner—he’d even hired a publicist and “had some work done,” referring to himself as “the youngest, best-looking turncoat in Mafia history”! “Marathon” was the same name he’d used for his construction company in Gravesend, Brooklyn, back in the day, a front for his mob activities and the occasional hit, so he was thumbing his nose at the law and his old gangster pals simultaneously.

And Fat Sal was a bank robber, a floater who did work for several New York crime families. He’d cased banks in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix on the same trip he and Huck took together in December 1999 and January 2000, when he was supposed to be “tracking” Sammy. But he’d never killed anyone: “I once shot at a ceiling in a club when I was 18,” he’d told the court fecklessly, during Bondy’s cross-examination in November, “but yeah, there was certainly others [on the scene] more qualified than me to kill people.”

My informants tell me that Carbonaro, on the other hand, had been considered “a cripple” in the Gambino family, a poor earner, but a very dangerous man. Mikey Scars said on the stand that Huck’s rep was as “a killer.” Huck and Fat Sal drove to Phoenix, spent four days, drove to L.A. for four more days, then flew back to New York. They never saw Sammy, who was arrested about that time on statewide ecstasy-distributing charges. He’d been working through a white-supremacist youth gang called the Devil Dogs.

Fat Sal has already received the same deal Mikey Scars hopes to get for his government testimony, a letter from the prosecutor to Judge Casey recommending leniency. He cheerfully testified to the plot to kill Gravano, such as it was, at one point volunteering that he and Huck had considered trying to kill Sammy with a letter bomb, but abandoned the idea as too problematic.

One of the few pieces of physical evidence the prosecutors presented to bolster their case was a receipt for a massage Huck got in a Phoenix tattoo parlor.

That’s why the ratting testimony of Mikey Scars was key. He told the court that he’d heard Pete Gotti complain about Huck and Fat Sal, and that he’d gotten nothing for an alleged $70,000 investment to have Gravano killed. And while Scars agreed with Bondy’s unique defense that Pete Gotti was too dumb to be the boss, he left no question that, indeed, Pete Gotti had been the boss. Further, Mikey Scars portrayed the Gottis as the real betrayers of Mafia honor and respect, having allowed the Gambino family to devolve into chaos.

Mikey Scars’s grandfather had been a “blackhand” shtarker (enforcer) a hundred years ago in New York, and his father had been a wiseguy, too: “It was a career path, counselor,” Mikey not quite sneered at Bondy during his last day’s testimony, “that I followed from the time I was 12, banging kids on the head with stickball bats, copping their lunch money . . . you learned the rules in our set, just like you mighta learned your ways in St. Paul’s or whatevuh.”

“Gangsterism was your way of life,” Bondy plodded, maddeningly. “You grew up in it.”

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