John Joseph Gotti, Jr., the future head of the Gambino crime family and a man later nicknamed “the Dapper Don” due to his polished appearance and expensive suits, is born in the Bronx, New York. Gotti, the grandson of Italian immigrants, was raised in a poor family with 13 children. Growing up, he did errands for mobsters in his East New York neighborhood, joined a gang called the Fulton-Rockaway Boys and quit school at age 16. He racked up a series of arrests for petty crimes, but escaped real jail time until 1968, when he pled guilty to hijacking trucks near New York’s Kennedy International Airport (then called Idlewild Airport). He served three years in prison.
In 1974, Gotti was arrested for the revenge slaying of a man who had kidnapped and killed the nephew of crime family boss Carlo Gambino. Gotti was sentenced to four years; however, as a result of bribes to prison officials, he was allowed out to visit his family and associates. After Gotti was officially released from prison in 1977, he was promoted to captain in the Bergin crew of the Gambino family, the nation’s biggest and most powerful organized crime group. In December 1985, Gotti grabbed control of the Gambino family after ordering the murder of then-boss Paul Castellano outside a Manhattan steak house.
In 1985, the federal government, which had been wiretapping Gotti and his associates, accumulated enough evidence to indict him on federal racketeering charges. The subsequent trial, in 1986, resulted in an acquittal for Gotti, who the media dubbed “the Teflon Don” for his ability to avoid conviction. The jury foreman in the case was later convicted of accepting a large bribe to vote for the mob boss’s acquittal.
As head of the Gambino family, Gotti’s swagger and colorful style made him a tabloid press favorite and he raked in millions of dollars from criminal activities, all the while claiming to be a hard-working plumbing salesman. Government wiretaps revealed that behind the showy public image, he was a ruthless figure who wouldn’t tolerate disrespect from anyone. In December 1990, Gotti and several co-horts were arrested on a variety of charges at the Ravenite Social Club in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood. Mobster Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano eventually made a deal with the government to testify against his boss and in April 1992, a jury found Gotti guilty of 13 counts, including murder and racketeering. He was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, where he was locked in a cell 23 hours a day.
On June 10, 2002, Gotti died of throat cancer at age 61 at a medical center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.