Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano

Career Choices

Returning to Brooklyn Gravano found that his parents had retired and moved to their cottage on Long Island. Renting a small apartment in Bensonhurst, Gravano had to decide whether to marry his long time girlfriend and settle down, or take the next step with his street gang. While considering his decision, he was nearly killed one night after stealing a car with a Ramper pal. The two gang members had stolen the car to perform a robbery. The owner saw the pair and gave chase with some friends in another vehicle. The victimized owner fired a rifle shot at the would-be auto thieves. The bullet ripped through the back of the passenger side seat severely wounding Gravanos companion. The next shot tore a chunk out of Gravanos skull, above and behind his right ear. Although Gravano crashed the car, he and his partner-in-crime got away. The accomplice lost his spleen due to the wound.

While recovering from the shooting, Gravano actually learned a legitimate trade how to cut hair. Not surprisingly, it was part of a scam. Gravano, as an ex-soldier, was entitled to learn a trade at the governments expense. His employer was well aware of this and collected the money while Gravano came and went as he pleased, sampling the many women who attended the predominantly female classes. With the help of his sister, Frannie, Gravano passed the state board exam.

At the age of 23, Gravano was ready to graduate from the Rampers and move onto the next phase of his criminal career. He realized that to be successful in this next step he needed to be connected to the right people. In 1968 the door opened for Gravano to move into organized crime. Tommy Spero, a fellow Ramper, told Gravano his uncle had heard of his reputation and was anxious to meet him. The uncle, of the same name, was a mid-level member of the Colombo Crime Family. Gravano accepted the invitation.

Thomas Shorty Spero had a brief speech for Gravano. Ive had my eye on you. Why not come with me? Youre a tough guy, but you cant keep doing things your own way. You cant live your whole life on your own. Sooner or later, youre going to get in real trouble or get killed. Ill give you a different relationship, where you can be somebody.

Gravano needed no further sales pitch. He readily accepted Speros proposal. He was then introduced to Shortys capo, Carmine the Snake Persico, Jr., the future boss of the Colombo Family, who gave Gravano a warm welcome.

Joseph Colombo Snr
Joseph Colombo Snr

Ironically, Gravano had already met the family boss, Joseph Colombo, some time earlier. In Underboss, Gravano describes the incident:

I beat up both his sons one time. In a movie house. We had this argument and I got in a fight with Joseph Junior, who was younger than me, and I broke his ass. He went and got his big brother, Anthony, who comes and its the same result. Ill never forget it. Joe Colombo sent for me, he called me down. He looks at me and says, You beat up both my sons? You must be pretty tough. Did you know they were my sons?

By being merciful and not giving the brothers a savage beating Gravano had avoided Colombos wrath. When Joe Colombo started his crusade against the FBI, which culminated in the formation of the Italian-American Civil Rights Defense League, Gravano spent time on the picket line in front of the governments New York office.

Gravano was welcomed into the family by Colombo and was assigned to Shorty Speros crew. One of the first incidents he was involved in was a robbery at a clothing store after which a witness identified him from a mug shot. He was arrested and charged with a felony. When it turned out that the storeowner was a friend of a member of New Jerseys DeCavalcante Family, the witness was persuaded not to identify Gravano in court and the case was dismissed.

This was followed by a similar incident in which Gravano was identified after a bank robbery attempt. This time a bank guard, who happened to know Carmine Persicos cousin, decided that for $10,000 he could develop a faulty memory. Persico paid off the bribe, but Gravano was saddled with paying back the capo $300 a week plus interest.

The next bout of trouble Gravano found himself in was inside the family. Gravano bought into an after-hours joint on 17th Avenue and 62nd Street. Gravano, who had accumulated some construction experience over the years, helped finish the club and spent a lot of time there making sure things operated smoothly. However, one of the part owners was Matty Gambino, a nephew of the revered Carlo Gambino. Matty liked to play the role of gangster and throw his weight around, but did little in the way of actual work at the club. One night after coming in Matty suggested to Gravano that the money count didnt seem right. Gravano flew into a rage insulting Matty Gambino, calling him a fucking greaseball, and threatening to knock his head in if the conversation continued. After a sit-down between Colombo and Gambino hierarchy, Gravano was cleared.

Gravano opened a club of his own in Bensonhurst and started a loansharking business around the same time. Part of the money Gravano earned from the operations was kicked up to the family higher-ups who looked out for him. In addition, money was also paid to the police to look the other way. Still, Gravano claims he was pulling in $2,000 a week. But this was just a taste of the money that could be made and Gravano wanted more.

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