Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano

Murder of Castellano

The indictment of three members of Gotti's crew on drug charges gave Castellano the opportunity he was looking for to break the man he considered to be nothing more than a street punk. Here the Mafia myth of not dealing in drugs surfaces. While there is said to be an unwritten law that made members were not to deal in narcotics, the policy in reality is more along the lines of not to get caught dealing in narcotics.

The fact that various crews were dealing in drugs was not a surprise to Castellano. A portion of the money made by selling drugs was kicked up to him. He certainly knew that Roy DeMeo, who ran a crew under capo Nino Gaggi, was involved in the drug trade. But Castellano was going to use this incident, fueled by his dislike of Gotti, to break John down to "soldier" status and disband his crew.

The one person that stood in Castellano's way was Dellacroce. Castellano needed the tapes to justify his move to Dellacroce and the other family capos. In addition, Castellano was bogged down with legal problems of his own. Despite ordering the murder of Roy DeMeo, Castellano found out he was going to be indicted with the other members of that crew on 78 charges, which included auto theft, cocaine dealing, extortion, prostitution, and 25 murders. As if this were not enough, Castellano would soon be indicted on RICO conspiracy charges in a case that would become famous as the "Commission Trial," prosecuted by then Manhattan United States District Attorney Rudolph Giuliani.

It was after this latest indictment that Castellano found out his home had been bugged and that the legal basis for installing the listening devices were the Ruggiero tapes. Castellano, now livid, demanded copies of the tapes again in June 1985. Dellacroce stalled once again. The struggle over the tapes was leading the family toward an internecine war and members were preparing to choose sides.

Gravano revealed his thoughts about the predicament saying, "I don't think John really gave a f*** about Angelo – or the tapes. I think he was looking to create a situation to capitalize on our other grievances about Paul." The basis for the "other grievances" was the fact that Castellano was never considered a street person. He ran the family like a business and didn't care if the members below him were starving.

In September 1985 Robert DiBernardo, a streetwise member of the family who operated without a crew, contacted Gravano. He handled the pornography business for the family and was known as a good earner. "DiB or DeeBee," as DiBernardo was known, brought a message to Gravano that Gotti and Ruggiero wanted to meet with him in Queens. When Gravano arrived only Ruggiero was present to speak to him.

Ruggiero told Gravano that he and Gotti were planning to murder Castellano and wanted to know if Sammy was with them. Gravano back peddled, wanting to know where Frank DeCicco stood on the matter. Gravano and DeCicco discussed the situation together for several hours. Their thoughts revolved around whether they were going to oppose the move or go along with it, and if they would be involved with the murder. According to Gravano, DeCicco claimed that with Castellano's current legal problems he was planning on making his nephew, Thomas Gambino, the acting boss and Bilotti the underboss if he were convicted and sent to prison. Neither of these men appealed to Gravano or DeCicco's sense of La Cosa Nostra leadership thus helping to confirm their decision.

After deciding to support the hit on Castellano, Gravano told DeCicco, "The only thing I want is that you become boss after this is over."

DeCicco's reply was, "John's f***ing ego is too big. I could be his underboss, but he couldn't be mine. Let's give him the shot."

Gotti and Ruggiero spoke to other members of the Gambino Family, feeling out whom they could trust. The next step was to get the backing of the other families. In doing so they received "tacit approval" from the Colombos and the Bonannos. In the Lucchese Family, Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo had been indicted in the Commission Trial with Castellano. The FBI had bugged the Jaguar of Corallo's driver and in the conversations recorded Tony Ducks had made several disparaging remarks about Castellano's leadership. Corallo would not be a problem, but DeCicco met with Lucchese acting boss Anthony "Gas Pipe" Casso wanting to solidify that family's support. A decision was made not to contact the Genovese Family due to boss Vincent "the Chin" Gigante's long time friendship with Castellano.

The plans to kill Castellano received their final boost on December 2, 1985 when Neil Dellacroce died of cancer. Castellano breached a long-standing mob protocol by not attending the wake. Author Peter Maas points out, "Holed up in his mansion every night consumed by his own judicial problems, he appeared to have no concept of the contempt he was being held in." This contempt spilled over into murder just two weeks later on December 16, when Castellano and Bilotti arrived at Sparks Steak House in midtown Manhattan.

DeCicco had received a message from Castellano that there would be a meeting at Sparks, which would include family captains Thomas Gambino, James "Jimmy Brown" Failla and Danny Marino. The day before the meeting the plans to assassinate Castellano were finalized. The shooters, the backups, the drivers and the routes they were to take were all laid out. The afternoon of the hit the participants met in a park on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Gravano states, "The shooters were there. The four of them wore long white trench coats and black fur Russian hats. You couldn't tell one guy from the other. I don't know whose idea that was. I guess John's. But I thought it was brilliant."

Castellano on a stretcher
Castellano on a stretcher (AP)

Gotti and Gravano arrived at Third Avenue and 46th Street shortly before 5:00 p.m. They circled around the block to get a better parking place and within minutes Castellano's Lincoln came along side them at a traffic light. The light changed and Bilotti drove down 46th Street and pulled into an open space directly in front of the restaurant. As the two men alighted from the car the shooters moved in and Castellano and Bilotti died instantly in a hail of gunfire.

John Gotti slowly piloted his Lincoln past the spread eagle corpse of Bilotti. Looking down at the body, Gravano told Gotti, "He's gone."

In his book Gravano points out how the bug was placed in Castellano's home. He writes: "Two other agents on Mouw's Gambino squad, assigned to keep tabs on Castellano, would later publish a book in which they describe participating in a derring-do midnight break-in to place the bug, complete with blackened faces and black clothes, knocking out the watchdogs with drugged meat and bypassing the alarm system with only seconds to spare before it went off." The book he refers to is Boss of Bosses: The Fall of the Godfather, The FBI and Paul Castellano, by former FBI agents Joseph F. O'Brien and Andris Kurins. Gravano claims their account is untrue and that two other agents were responsible for the bugs, which they installed under the nose of human watchdog Thomas Bilotti.

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