Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia by Sal Polisi

 John Gotti with son John Jr.
John Gotti with son John Jr.
From the forthcoming book THE SINATRA CLUB by Sal Polisi and Steve Dougherty to be published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.

Johnny Dio did me a couple of favors in Lewisburg (federal penitentiary) when he got me out of the prison factory and onto the yard detail. Three years after I got out, Dio called in those favors. I don’t know if it was because I said something he didn’t like or I didn’t pay him respect or maybe he could sense that I thought he was a vicious prick. Whatever the reason, he gave me the kind of assignment you’d give your worse enemy. It made me wish I never heard of Johnny Dio.
He was inside the joint, but he still had power and influence in both the Lucchese and Gambino Families. The son of a capo in Florida was sleeping with the wife of another made guy. If the kid had been made himself, he would have been whacked for messing with the man’s wife. The old dons back in Sicily knew that’s how family feuds began. The Sicilians figured kill the guy right away and you’ll save yourself a lot of carnage. The Family involved — I don’t know if the capo’s kid and the guy whose wife he was f------ were in the same Family or not; I was never told and I knew better than to ask — they consulted Dio in prison and asked him what to do. He suggested they use the old Murder Incorporated punishment. Instead of killing the f-----, they should cut his balls off. Dio said he knew just the man for the job; an ex-con who owed him — me.
I’ll spare you and and me the details, but I did it. And after I did I wished I’d gotten the hell out of the Life before I did.
Things sicker even than that were going down that year. There was an orgy of off-the-books killings like the Mob had never seen before. Traditionally all Mob hits had to be approved by a boss, and approval was granted only if there was good reason to perform the murder. Killings to settle personal scores or those motivated purely by greed were forbidden. By the late 1970s, those rules were forgotten or ignored. Guys started doing unsanctioned hits over drugs and money left and right.

My own boss and friend Dominic Cataldo was one of the worst offenders. He’d been whacking drug business partners without permission for years. The richer he got, the more paranoid and bloodthirsty he got. Dom used to do hits on guys right in the back of his restaurant, the Villagio Italia (Ozone Park), then he put them in the trunk of his car and drove them up to Boot Hill. Now he started planting guys there faster than they could dig their own graves. Which was Dominic’s idea of a good joke.
Boot Hill was upstate off the Taconic Parkway near Beacon, New York. He told me how he got a guy to help take a body up there one day. He got the guy to dig the hole and they threw the body in. Then Dom said, Oh, s---, he forgot to see what the stiff had on him. So he got his helper to get down in the hole and see what he could find. The guy searched the body and handed a wallet, a wad of cash, a watch, a ring, and a gold chain up to Dom. Dom said, “Thanks,” and shot him in the head. Then he shoveled dirt on top of both dead guys.
Dom thought that was a f------ hoot.
He saw killing as the solution to every problem. He told me he was having trouble at home and his wife threatened to leave him. He said to her go ahead, get the f--- out, but if you do I’m going to kill your parents. That was Dom’s way to solve his domestic problems — whack the whole family.
Dom was just one of many homicidal maniacs in the Mob at the time. There was a total breakdown of order. The killings were not about power struggles between the families, weren’t turf wars, weren’t even about revenge. There was no plan or strategy. It was just a bloodbath. There was nothing like it before in the whole history of the Five Families. I guess it was the death throes of the Mob.
You had crews like Roy DeMeo’s that performed hits like Murder Incorporated, only they did them with or without contracts. DeMeo’s crew were Gambinos under Nino Gaggi. They did a lot of business with the (hit men John and Charles) Carneglias, whacking guys connected to their auto-exporting business and using Charles’s acid drums to get rid of the bodies. They also killed indiscriminately. They’d whack the guy delivering a pizza if he couldn’t break a $20.
They turned killing into some kind of blood orgy where they shot victims and drained the blood and stripped naked and cut up the bodies. They got naked so they didn’t get guts and brains and gore on their clothes. But a bunch of naked Mob guys drenched in blood? That’s some sick s---. It was during that time when the Mob was on a blood rampage that Dom started making noise that it was time I got my button. I think in his coke-eaten brain he was getting more and more paranoid and suspicious of everybody around him, counting me. He was starting to worry that I might flip on him or rip him off.
My entire career as a hoodlum, I expected that sooner or later I’d kill on order and get my button. By the time getting made became an issue, I wasn’t interested anymore. I had grown sick of the Life and sick of the death and the killing.
I think Dominic sensed that, because when he finally gave the order that would make my bones, it wasn’t to whack a guy but simply to participate in a murder. For my initiation into the Colombo Family, I was ordered to dig a grave. I drove out to the Hamptons and found a spot along a deserted stretch of beach. The soil was sandy, but it still took me most of the night to dig a hole six feet long, three feet wide, and six feet deep. I finished and went to meet Dominic back in Ozone Park. When I got there, he said the deal was off. The guy he was going to whack had won a reprieve. I drove back to the beach and filled in the hole before dawn.
Later that day I went to watch one of my sons’ Pop Warner games. I was standing on the sidelines, and I looked down and saw that I still had sand on my shoes from the grave digging. I stamped the sand off my feet. It felt like something filthy, that I had brought something from the world of death and violence there to the playing field where my son and all those other boys were playing.
It made me realize that I didn’t want any part of that world anymore. A friend had said to me that once you pull the trigger, you can’t stop the bullet, you can’t take it back. Burying a body wasn’t exactly pulling the trigger, but if I had done it, if Dominic had killed the guy and I had shoveled sand over the corpse, I wouldn’t have been able to take that back either.
I’d seen John Gotti a couple of months before at a Pop Warner football game. The coach had cut his son Frankie from the starting lineup because he was overweight. John drove out to the game and raised hell about it. It was hard to believe that the coach didn’t know who John was, but he didn’t back down. He said Frankie was a good player, but he was out of shape and huffing and puffing in practice. The coach said he’d put Frankie back in, but he needed to trim down first. The coach stuck to his guns and Frankie stayed on the bench.
John was furious. He pulled me aside and said he was going to take care of that f------ coach. He was dead serious. He wanted to whack the Pop Warner football coach. I realized he was just like Dominic. He thought whacking guys was the solution to any problem.
John was my friend, and in a way he was even my mentor. But what I learned from John in 1980 (after the neighbor who killed Frankie in a car accident disappeared, presumed murdered) was that I was finished. I was done with the madness and killing and death. I was done with the Mob.
That year I drove upstate, to a little town outside Port Jervis. I shopped around for a house and bought a big piece of property outside town. I started to fix it up so when the time was right I could move my family up there and get my kids as far away from the Life as I could go.



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