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

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vincent "The Chin" Gigante's daughter tells all in her new book The Godfather's Daughter

Rita Gigante was 16 years old before she found out she was a Mafia princess. Life with father, as she describes it in her new memoir “The Godfather’s Daughter: An Unlikely Story of Love, Healing and Redemption,” was far more rough than royal. Vincent Gigante famously wandered Greenwich Village in his bathrobe, passing himself off as a paranoid schizophrenic to fool the Feds. They knew him for what he was, the boss of the Genovese crime family, the reputed head of the Five Families of New York. Sentenced to 12 years, he died in jail in 2005. Here Rita tells of her own violent awakening to the truth and how she was forced to join the masquerade.


I was now a 16-year-old tenth grader at Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan and in no mood to hear that Tina, a popular girl — famous for her acid-washed jeans and over-gelled hair — was spreading rumors about my family. My best friend had heard her big mouth from down the hall.

“Tina’s talkin’ s--- again,” Madison told me during chemistry class. “She’s down the hall and is going around the whole school calling you — get this — a Mafia princess!”

Madison continued, breathlessly, “Tina’s telling everybody that your family is . . . connected.”

Something inside of me snapped. Maybe, I later imagined, it was Dad’s paranoid schizophrenia finally kicking in and taking over.

“Where is she?” I asked Madison.

“She always goes into the bathroom with her friends.”

I hatched my plan in seconds.

“Okay. I’m going to follow them into the bathroom, and you’re going to stay outside and keep watch. Don’t let anybody in,” I instructed. “I need to straighten her out. I’ve had enough of this s---.”

My voice had a chilling finality to it that I’d heard in my father’s voice many times before, and it made me shiver. We waited outside the bathroom door until only Tina and her friends were inside. I went in, positioning myself against the sink, arms crossed.

Tina’s two friends came out from the stalls first, armed with lip gloss and making their way to the mirror.

“Get out,” I said, glaring at them. “Now.”

They scurried out without a word, so quick to betray their leader.

A minute later I heard a flush and Tina cracked open the stall door an inch, her eyes darting around as she searched for her minions.

“They’re gone,” I told her.

Tina opened the door wider and made a move to slip by me.

“Let me ask you something, Tina,” I said, stepping in her way. “How many f------ times do you have to talk about me and my family?”

She rubbed her sweaty palms across her acid-washed jeans.

“I mean, who the hell do you think you are?!”

“I . . . I . . .”

As soon as the poor girl opened her mouth to speak, I grabbed a chunk of her stiff tresses. In one swift move, I wrapped her hair around my hand and yanked her head toward the sink, slamming it hard against the porcelain. I heard a crack, like the sound when my bat hit the ball perfectly, and a second later I saw blood everywhere. Exactly where it was spouting from, I wasn’t sure. Did I break her nose?

Tina fell to the floor in a heap and whimpered. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. She didn’t fight back and she didn’t say anything — I think she was in shock.

“Don’t ever . . . ever . . . let me hear you talk about my family again,” I said, giving her a last kick in the ribs as she lay crumpled on the floor. I left Tina on the floor and joined Madison in the hall. I was in and out in all of five minutes ...

After a stern talking to, the principal ordered us to get out of his office and march our sorry, delinquent asses home.

But home wasn’t where I went.

Instead, I hopped on my bike and gripped the handlebars. I had blood on my hands — Tina’s blood. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by doubt. What had I done? I had told myself that Tina was a liar and she had to go down. But a creeping, sick knowing now boiled up from deep in my gut until it formed actual words that I said aloud: “What if she’s not lying?”

I had stayed ignorant about my father for years because I'd been told to. And at some point, I got weary of asking questions and not getting answers, so I had stopped asking them. With all this secrecy about Dad, and the way his friends treated him — with the reverence of a king — it had occurred to me that maybe he was in charge of something shady. I had left well enough alone and pushed it out of my mind. I couldn't push it anymore. I needed answers; I wanted to know who my father was.

I sped toward the only person I hoped would give me an honest, clear, direct answer. I skidded into the driveway of a close family friend.

I burst into her house, flushed and out of breath.

“What happened to you?” she asked, startled. She eyed my T-shirt, speckled with Tina’s blood.

“I’m hearing all this s--- at school about my father,” I said, talking at a rapid-fire pace, “and I need to know the truth. No one in my family will tell me. Please, I need you to tell me!”

“What is it exactly that you want to know, Rita?” she asked.

“Please, tell me. What exactly does my dad do?”

“You don’t know who he is or how far his hand reaches?”

“What? Oh for God’s sake . . . just . . .”

“All right.” She slid her chair closer and lowered her voice. “Rita, you know how there are five families in organized crime in New York?”


I sat there, dazed, as she explained the five clans of the Mafia — Lucchese, Genovese, Gambino, Bonanno, and Colombo.

“From what I’ve been told, your father is the boss of the Genovese crime family.”

My jaw dropped. “The boss?”

“And that’s not all.”

God, there’s more?

“He’s not just the head of the family,” she continued, “he might be the head of the commission.”

“What does that mean?”

“The head of the commission is the boss of all five families. It means he’d have power over the entire organization. If anyone wants to do anything big, they’d need your father’s permission.”

Could it be that my father was the most powerful Mafia boss in the country? It sounded ridiculous, and yet it made perfect sense. In that instant, little fragments of my life that never added up suddenly snapped into place like pieces of a puzzle. So that’s why Dad doesn’t live with us. So that’s why all those men come to the apartment. So that’s why some kids weren’t allowed to come to my house to play. That’s why the scribbled notes, the back doors, the whispers, the fear and admiration in people’s eyes .

“Rita, you are never to repeat these words to anyone — ever. You understand?”

"The Chin" relaxes by his family's backyard pool in Old Tappan, N.J.

I was a pro at following that instruction, having perfected it over the last 16 years. The only difference now was that I knew the whole truth — or so I thought. There was one last piece of the puzzle still missing.

“But how does he do all this when he’s so sick? His delusions, his schizophrenia?”

She sighed, and looked at me with sympathy.

“Rita, he’s been faking the mental illness all these years.”

My father, I soon came to learn, was a brilliant actor. And now that I was privy to two of his big secrets — that he was a Mafia boss who pretended he had paranoid schizophrenia — I was soon swept into his dramatic world. I had a new supporting role to play: I was his reluctant but devoted co-star.

On Sunday afternoons in September 1983, the scene would start like this: Dad would be sitting at the dining-room table, silently drinking coffee, and I’d be lying on that creaky old couch 20 feet away in the living room, watching football. He would have barely said a word to me all day, but then I’d suddenly be summoned for an all-important task.

“Rita,” he’d whisper, “walk with me.”

I’d nod and get up. I knew he wasn’t asking me to go for a leisurely stroll with him through the park. When my father ordered me to walk with him, it meant that he had to go to the café to do some business or play cards, and he needed to put on a good show during the one-block walk to get there.

Even though I’d found out the truth about Dad, we never talked about it. I’m not even sure if he knew that I understood he was pretending to be ill so he could use it as a defense if he ever went to court.

I was amazed to see the lengths he would go to, delivering an Oscar-worthy performance for any FBI agents who might be lurking outside the apartment and watching his every move from their dark, nondescript sedans. Dad knew he was under surveillance and that law-enforcement agents were videotaping and photographing him, looking for evidence to nab him at something. So he took his role as a disheveled, deranged outpatient seriously, and with the commitment of a professional thespian. His meticulous mental and physical preparation to get into character would have put Sir Laurence Olivier to shame.

Take the wardrobe, for instance. Dad’s home “uniform” of casual slacks and a shirt, which was later revised to underwear and a T-shirt, had now morphed into an updated version that worked both in the apartment and on the street: a pair of powder blue pajamas with navy trim, and a dark robe.

After he’d inform me about our impending walk, he’d put on his pajamas, slide his feet into his slippers, and top off the ensemble with his worn-out, black velour bathrobe from the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas.

Before leaving the apartment, Dad would run his fingers through his hair and muss it up a little, check his unshaven face, and pull the hood of his robe over the newsboy cap on his head. Sometimes he’d tie the robe with a belt, sometimes he wouldn't — that part he’d ad-lib. Then, as we walked from Gram’s front door down the long hallway to the front of the apartment building, I’d see the rest of his transformation take place. Dad’s head would drop so low that half his face was covered by the hood. He’d stoop his body over and let his arms fall heavy and limp at his sides, and then he’d start shuffling his feet. Before my eyes, my powerful, in-charge dad had become a fragile, senile old man.

“Take my arm here — make like you’re holding me,” he’d say, before we went out the door, onto the world’s stage.

As I slowly led him along Sullivan Street, my father would stay silent unless he needed to mumble a few more orders, like “Hold me closer to you” or “Walk slower.” I never said a word; I just listened carefully and did what he told me to do. I didn’t have any definitive lines in this play, anyway. I had to keep alert in case he wanted to improvise.

Sometimes as we walked, he’d teeter as if he couldn’t hold himself up and was about to tip over. That’s when I’d take his cue and pretend to catch him. Other times, he’d abruptly stop and point and start mumbling gibberish. If he thought for sure that he was being taped or filmed by the feds, he’d really lay it on thick and stop in front of a parking meter and stare at it for a long time, silent, wide-eyed. And then . . .

“We’re going for a walk, parking meter,” he'd say to it. “Wanna come?”

It took all my restraint not to laugh when he did that.

Vincent "The Chin" Gigante and his wife, Olympia, after his acquittal in the Frank Costello shooting.

We looked strange, even to New Yorkers, who are used to seeing freaks talk to parking meters and p--- on the streets all the time. Still, everybody and their mother would watch us from the restaurants and on the stoops because we were such an odd pair: Dad, practically drooling; and me, half his size, holding him up defiantly.

I mostly kept my head down to avoid the stares. As we walked, I'd feel a combination of embarrassment, protectiveness, and anger, depending on what kind of day I was having. Every so often I looked at Dad hobbling along and, even though I knew he was putting on an act, my heart believed him a little bit. I'd be overcome with a fierce feeling of family loyalty and want to shield him from the world.

Now that's f----- up.

All of these conflicting feelings would culminate into a big, fat lump in my throat of: Oh God, this is bulls---. I don't want to be involved in this crap! What's he doing? What am I doing?

But there was no way out of it for me; I was in it until the end. I could never tell him “No, Dad, I don’t really feel like going. Can you go by yourself?”

The amazing thing about my father’s sense of himself was that even though he looked like an unkempt Alzheimer’s patient as we walked, he still gave off that feeling that if he snapped his fingers at you, you had to jump. For those who recognized him, it was like seeing a local celebrity. People in the neighborhood knew who he was way before I did, thanks to word of mouth. They’d look at Dad with a mixture of fear, awe, and excitement. Those were the very rare moments around my father where I felt a sense of protection. Wow, this is cool! Nobody’s ever gonna bother me when I’m with Dad.



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