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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.