30 years is a long time, and on the street it is even longer. Things change fast in the criminal world. In 1985 the world was just starting to learn about Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel. When most people thought of the mafia, Don Corleone came to mind.
There soon would be another name that everyone would know. It was John Gotti, a gambling-addicted street thug from Queens, New York. Gotti was a capo in the Gambino crime family, having taken over the crew of the Fatico Brothers. The problem was, his brother Gene and his best friend Angelo Ruggiero were dealing heroin on a massive scale. They had inherited the business from Angelo’s brother Sal, who died in an airplane crash while on the run from the Feds.
The boss of the Gambino family was Paul Castellano, and he had a rule against dealing drugs. It is funny because he still gladly took the cash from Gotti’s crew and other heroin dealers in the family. Paul was more of a white collar criminal and had made millions with his legitimate businesses.
Gotti was strictly blue collar, a meat and potatoes street guy. He had been away for hijacking and murder. He had a huge gambling habit and his headquarters were the Bergin Hunt and Fish club on 101st Avenue Ozone park Queens. A small place that probably never saw a hunter of animals in its membership rolls. The truth was, Paul Castellano was afraid of John Gotti and what he represented. Paul was what the mafia should have been and Gotti was its past.
John Gotti had big plans and Paul Castellano was standing in the way. Paul was on trial and was facing a lot of time. Paul's underboss had died and he named his driver, Tommy Bilotti, as the new underboss. This did not sit well with Gotti and the family. So John Gotti put together a hit team that would deal with the Paul Castellano problem.
The hit team dressed in matching coats and Russian fur hats and as soon as Paul stepped out of his car they made their move. It was over in seconds with Paul Castellano and Tommy Bilotti lying dead in the street.
John Gotti was watching as they were gunned down. Thomas Gambino, a capo in the family and son of the late boss, watched as his cousin was gunned down in front of the steak house.
The hit changed everything for the mafia. They stopped being a mythical criminal enterprise and they became front page.
John Gotti soon held a meeting of all the capos and they voted him in as boss. He had broken every rule of the mafia by killing his boss. He did not have permission from the commission or any of the four other New York families.
The hit took place in Midtown Manhattan on a busy street as hundreds of people walked nearby the scene. This made Gotti a household name. It also pushed the FBI to make an all out push to take down the mafia.
They hit it hard and Gotti would die in prison. The other families were hit just as hard.
Things had to change or they would not survive.
Gotti had moved his headquarters from Queens to Little Italy. He held court daily in the Ravenite Social club.
I've spoken to guys in Nicky Corozzo’s crew and they used to disappear when Nicky went to the Ravenite. Nobody wanted the heat that came from a trip to the club. Gotti made it easy for the FBI. He had his capos come to the club on a weekly basis.
Today the Ravenite is no more. It is now a high end shoe store. Gotti died in prison and his son John Gotti Jr. went in and flapped his lips to the Feds when he was queen for a day.
The Bergin Hunt and Fish Club is vacant after a failed Italian Ice place took over.
The Gambino family is now run by secretive Sicilians that never meet at clubs.
The family uses diners at three in the morning for its meetings. You will no longer see guys in 2000 dollar suits. It's a jeans and t-shirt club that must stay secret if it is to survive.