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The Dumbest Don

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Exotic look again: “Geez, counselor, I thought I was bein’ clear. You ever been in Bensonhurst? Tough nabe. We all grew up that way. Huck. Sammy. John Gotti Junior. I loved that life. I would rather they killed me than what they did.”

“Which was what, Mr. DiLeonardo?”

“They put me on the shelf. They broke me, soon after I was arrested. All of a sudden, I stop getting my share of the construction and Wall Street money. Who’s gonna take care of my family, my girlfriend? Huck comes to me in the MCC: ‘You’re onna shelf,’ he says. ‘Don’t expect nothin’ from us—no help with lawyers. Nothing.’ ”

Pete Gotti had found out that Mikey Scars had not reported members of his crew who’d been skimming money from payoffs. Huck had also skimmed and stinted tribute. A few times, DiLeonardo himself had held out on Gotti, like when he needed to make improvements on his Staten Island mansion. So did Mikey: “If I’d admitted any of this, counselor, I woulda got those guys killed [and himself as well]. In this life, there’s a lotta hypocrisy that you just learn to live with—like there’s a rule against dealing drugs, and Gene Gotti [another Gotti brother], is doin’ a long bit for that; you’re not supposed to go with other goodfellas’ wives—happens all the time; you’re not allowed to kill a big boss without the other families’ permission—John Gotti and Sammy whacked Nasabeak [Beak-nose Paul Castellano] and almost started a war.

“And you gotta remember: I was turnin’ in between $40,000 and $250,000 a month to this Pete anyway, counselor. This is gangster life.”

“And you still consider yourself a gangster, don’t you, Mr. DiLeonardo?” Joe Bondy plodded.

“Nah, sir. I ain’t no gangster. Ask Pete.”

But he really was a gangster, like Pete and Huck and the sprinkling of authentic tough guys who’d come to court to either show a little vestigial support for old Gotti or report back to their crew captains on what was being said in testimony and in the halls during recesses. Pete Gotti, former “acting boss,” a man who’d fallen off a dump truck in 1979 and collected a city Sanitation pension (as well as payoff graft) until he got convicted last year, came across as he always had (“My client was considered a dope by his own brother!” Bondy had proclaimed in his opening statement). Pete looked like a dangerous Art Carney, a big, white-haired uncle-ish mook, given to inappropriate asides. During a trial in the early nineties, I remember him telling wiseguy Frank Fappiano, sitting in the “blue-card” gangster spectators’ section before the jury came in: “Don’t forget the cannolis!” It echoed a line from The Godfather.

During his time as acting boss, roughly 1998 to the spring of 2003, Uncle Pete’s rep among his fellow Gambino leaders festered. Danny Marino, who’d been close to the assassinated Paul Castellano and whom the Gottis feared as a potential rival and unsuccessfully tried to have killed in prison, returned to Brooklyn in 2000 and, though on probation, quietly reemerged as an anti-Gotti force; Joe Arcuri and Jimmy Failla, though old and semi-retired for part of his “administration,” treated Pete with contempt, not even bothering to invite him to important “trash” meetings, sit-downs with other families, or talks on Brooklyn waterfront scams. Before he died, Joe “Butch” Corrao, a lower Manhattan captain and former favorite of John, reportedly showed Pete the same contempt his brother had. And other important capos and soldiers, like Big Lou Vallario, Frankie Fap, and Mikey Scars, though welded to the Gotti faction of the Gambino family, were “loyal” to the spirit of mob code, but not its letter.

They held out on tribute payments to the acting boss, made disparaging jokes about Pete and Junior (“They get in the back seats of their cars and wonder where the steering wheel is!”). Junior himself disobeyed his father and uncle in 1999 and cut the plea-bargain deal he was supposed to be concluding when the Feds indicted him again last summer. Discipline and respect had crumbled to street-gang level. The Teflon Don’s daughter, Victoria, was starring in a reality-TV show about trying to raise her teenage sons with the cursed Gotti name.

When Pete got hit with the racketeering rap in 2003 that he’s currently serving time for, he received minimal legal or financial support to fight the case, which wouldn’t indicate that his crime family feared or revered him much. Mikey Scars confirmed that impression on the stand. “When Pete offered me the consigliere job in 1998, I turned him down,” Mikey testified. “I didn’t think he had the qualifications [to be a boss]. Good skipper [capo], but the [bigger] management skills weren’t there.”


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