Yearly archives "2016"

4 Articles

Sammy “The Bull” Gravano: The Wiseguy who destroyed the Mob

“Sammy the Bull” Gravano  is know for being a mob boss, construction magnate and astone cold killer. What he is infamous for is being the highest ranking mafia member to ever testimony against his boss and crime family, in their eyes betraying the highest code of honour, “The Omerta”. Why would a multi millionaire at the height of his power become a“Rat” and cooperate with the FBI, directly causing the demise of the biggest organized crime family in New York City?

Salvatore Gravano was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 1945. It was a working-class area, and in that time considered the main “Little Italy” of Brooklyn, and a mafia haven. Gravano suffered from dyslexia and did not perform good in school, rather focusing his attention towards petty crime. He earned the nickname “Sammy the Bull” for his strength and fighting ability on the streets of Brooklyn. At 21 years old he was drafted to the United States Army and rose to the rank of corporal. Sammy enjoyed the rules and tradition of the Army, but unlike many of the other drafted at the time, he was not sent to fight in the VietnamWar. After being granted an honorable discharge, Gravano fell back into his old ways.

The Bull started to work for the Colombo crime family, participating in racketeering, loansharking, and gambling schemes. In 1970 he committed his first murder, earning the respect of his boss. Some people became jealous of Gravano’s rise in the hierarchy and he wastransferred to the Gambino Family to avoid trouble. He continued to do well, and in 1976 he was sworn in as a “made guy” of the Cosa Nostra, by the boss Paul “Big Paul” Castellano. Just two years later, his loyalty to his personal family and crime organization was tested. Gravano’sbrother-in-law was killed for bringing unwanted attention to the organization, and Sammy liedto his wife Debra, that he had no knowledge of the murder.

Frank Sinatra with Gambino crime family leaders like Carlo Gambino and Paul Castellano

It was in this time period around the late 1970’s and early 80’s that Gravano became a prolific killer and a construction magnate. The Bull became one of Castellano’s favourite hitmen for taking out an enemy or an internal threat. The Boss also took a liking to Sammy because of hisability to earn money in a clean and legal way. Gravano controlled much of the construction and trucking business in New York City and became a multi millionaire. He opened up the legendary disco “The Plaza Suite”  in Brooklyn, and bought a mansion in rural New Jersey. Like many of the other “foot soldiers” of the Gambino Family, Sammy felt Castellano was too greedy and kept too much of the profits for himself, and also disagreeing with the Bosses’ prohibition when it came to selling drugs. In 1985 he aligned with John Gotti to assassinate Paul Castellano,making Gotti the new Don, and Gravano the Co-underboss and later “consigliere” (The Main Adviser of the family).

Gotti and Gravano outside the Ravenite Social Club

The great success of the Gambino family in the late 1980’s drew a lot of attention as thegovernment focused its efforts on cracking down on organized crime. Gotti used to gather his underbosses in the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street, and he seemed to thrive in themedia’s spotlight, with his designer suits and outspoken personality. Gravano was thecomplete opposite to the flamboyant Gotti, wearing his jeans and wanting to keep the business away from the public eye. Gotti was acquitted in 3 high-profile trials due to threats and bribes, and became known as the “Teflon Don”. Ignoring Gravano’s warnings that his actions were drawing too much heat, Gotti continued in his way, until they were arrested by government agents in 1991. The FBI had bugged their headquarters at the Ravenite Social Club and had taped conversations that heavily connected them to organized crime and murders. When Sammy was presented with tapes of Gotti badmouthing him, calling him greedy and linking him to several murders he felt shocked and betrayed by his boss. After 10 months in prisoned he turned on his former friend, and became a government witness.

Gotti sending Gravano “Happy Thoughts” in court

Sammy Gravano became the highest ranked mafioso to ever break the Omerta, and cooperate with the government. Why did he do the unthinkable? As we have already seen, he was afraid of being played out by John Gotti, and that the Boss would pin the murders on him, in order to save his own skin. Sammy was also angry at John for talking about him behind his back and for calling him greedy and selfish. Gravano was also terrified of going into jail.Unlike Gotti, he had only done a little time, and he knew that if he was found guilty, he would spend the rest of his life in prison. Due to Gravano’s testimony, Gotti was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and the New York underworld was turned upside down. The Judges declared: “There has never been a defendant whose impact on organized crime has been so important and so extensive. After being released in 1994, Gravano entered the Witness Protection Program together with his family. He was given the name Jimmy Moran and relocated to a small city in Arizona. John Gotti allegedly put a 2 million dollar price on his head!

There has been a lot of discussion on what the legacy of Sammy the Bull should be. Was he apsychopathic murderer who killed at least 19 people, or was he a guy who got rid of thestrongest organized crime family in America. Many ordinary people think it was unheard of, and people see him as a “Rat” while glorifying John Gotti. Others point out that Gravano wasbetrayed first, and he did what every man with a family would do. Even to this day, his name is used in popular culture, mostly negative and in the form of snitch.

PS! Gravano and his family left the Witness Protection Program after just one year. He started to seek out the spotlight he had warned John against, doing interviews and writing a book. It turned out old habits were hard to change, and he came back into the world of crime, concentrating on drug trafficking. In 2002 he was locked up in a supermax prison inColorado, and will not be eligible for release before 2022.

Putin’s Secret Fortune!

Although the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has an official salary of 100 000 dollars, it is obvious to everyone that his real net worth is a whole lot more than the average businessman. Here is a look at the secret fortune of Russia’s Iron Man, and some of theluxuries and privileges he enjoys. 

The luxurious lifestyle of Vladimir Putin, is enough to impress even the richest of Middle Eastern Oil Sheiks. The Russian President has roof over his head all over the world, ranging from villas, resorts and even castles. When it comes to transportation he is able to maneuverby air, land and sea. To make sure he looks the part, he has the most expensive suits, jewelry and watches that money can buy. Millions of dollars are also placed in offshoreaccounts around the globe, so his retirement should be just as splendid. Not shabby indeed, but I guess that’s the way it is when you are Top Dog at the Kremlin.

A place to chill at Lake Valdai for the President

Putin has 20 extravagant residences just in Russia. His castle in Gelendzhik near the Black Sea for example is worth a staggering billion dollars. On Lake Valdai he possesses a home on one of the islands that has its own cinema, restaurants and bowling alley. To help him move around, Putin has a fleet of 43 airplanes, 15 helicopters and 3 yachts. One of them isRussia’s version of “Air Force One” called “IL 96-300PU” that cost 18 million dollars just to furnish, and it contains a bedroom, office, jacuzzi, cinema and a gym!

Inside Putin’s Presidential Plane

Owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovitch, is among his generous friends, donating a 57 meter long yacht, worth 50 million dollars, to his fellow countryman. Vladimir’s bullettproof Mecedez Benz s600 Guard Pullman also gets the job done, so he shouldn’t be too uncomfortable while cruising around in it. The 11 luxury watches in Putin’s possession also tell us of a guy that earns more than 100 000 dollars. His handmadeA.Lange and Søhne Tourboraph Pour le Merite is worth half a million $ alone. The modern Tsar’s 5 Blancpain watches (his favourite brand) are also not the cheapest in the store : ). Putin’s secret fortune is not so secret at all, but I doubt his lifestyle hurts his image severely. According to many, he just lives the life that someone who is the Boss in Russia should live…

Cite Soleil: The Most Dangerous Place in the World!

Cité Soleil is the most infamous and most violent slum of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. The United Nations has declared it the most dangerous place in the world many times, and their peacekeepers are unable to patrol the streets of the ghetto. Extreme poverty, armed gangs, rape, AIDS and unemployment plague the community,  and the people in the“Sun City” have to live with virtually no sewers and electricity.

The neighbourhood was originally constructed in the 1950s to house sugar workers and their families, but as jobs in agriculture began to disappear, and more and more people from the countryside moved to find work in the city, the community of Cité Soleil grew rapidly. Due to political turmoil and a coup d’état in 1991, which led to a boycott of Haitian products, theindustrial sector was also given a crushing blow. Since then, chaos has been the norm for the almost 400,000 inhabitants of one of the world’s poorest and most dangerous areas. Sevenout of ten Haitians live on less than US$ 2 a day, and the situation is  even worse in the “Sun City”.

Since the 90s, more than 30 opposing factions have continued to terrorize the neighbourhood.Armed gangs control every block and murder, rape, kidnapping, looting and outrightlynchings are common. There is no presence of law enforcement in this large community, and the gangs bring their kidnapped victims into the ghetto. Cité Soleil has become a separate community and to leave the slum you have to go through armed checkpoints. Other importantpublic services are also non-existent, and clean drinking water is hard to come by. Red Cross has called the ghetto “a microcosm of all the ills in Haitian society”. Unemploymentand illiteracy only makes the complex situation even more hopeless, for a slum where most of the residents are children or young adults. All this is happening just a 2 hour flight from theidyllic coast of Florida.

Armed Gangs Roam the Streets of Cité Soleil

When the enormous 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Cité Soleil was not one of the parts that was hit the hardest. But since UN forces and relief workers had a hard time breaking into the slum though, the repercussions were severe. The people of the slum were mostly neglected and left to survive on their own, which only increased the anti Westernsentiment that was already strong. 4000 prisoners also escaped from the ruins of Haiti’s main prison after the earthquake. Many of them were gang members that returned back to the ghetto, and the crime rate rose even more. Since then there have been some improvements in the everyday life for the inhabitants of one of the biggest slums in the world. When thepolitical situation became more stable, the gangs and even death squads that roamed the streets lost some of their power. Border towns like Ciudad Juárez in Mexico and Mogadishu, Somalia are now considered more dangerous than Cité Soleil, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a long way to go. The fact that law enforcement has been able to establish some sort of presence in the ghetto and that the international community is investing millions to better the conditions, gives some hope for the future though.

Young people make up most of the slum’s population

There is a documentary from 2006 called Ghosts of Cité Soleil that shows how the gangsused to rule the slum, and how the political elite supplied these criminals with weapons to maintain their political power. We follow 2Pac and Bily, two brothers who are each in charge of two of the most powerful gangs in the ghetto, and how their chimeres (ghosts) control the“Sun City”. The inside look shows us the sense of hopelessness and despair that a news broadcast cannot give us. Some have criticized the movie for being a propaganda work forPresident Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his reign, when the criminals had free hands to do whatever they wanted as long as they supported him. I won’t say I highly recommend the movie, but if you are interested you can check out the trailer here.

Amazing Sand Art!

Most of us have been in the sandbox or on the beach trying to build our own castle or sand sculpture, or more realistically, just playing with a bucket and making a mess. There are some people who are blessed with talent though, and they are capable of making the most incrediblethings out of sand. Here are a couple of photos that show how amazing these artists are.