The following is a script from "60 Minutes Presents: Mob Stories" which aired on Dec. 27, 2015.
Good evening. I'm Steve Kroft. Tonight, tales of murder, mayhem and the Mafia: 60 Minutes Presents Mob Stories.
We begin with Charlie and Carol Gasko. They were an elderly couple who moved to Santa Monica, California, sometime in early 1997 to begin a new phase of their life. For the next 14 years, they did almost nothing that was memorable. And, as we first reported back in 2013, they would be of absolutely no interest if it weren't for the fact that Charlie Gasko turned out to be James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious Boston gangster and longtime fugitive who is now in prison serving two lifetime sentences.
Carol Gasko was actually Catherine Greig, Whitey's longtime girlfriend and caregiver. The story of how they managed to elude an international manhunt for so long while hiding in plain sight is interesting. And tonight, you'll hear about it from the Gaskos' neighbors and from federal agents who finally unraveled the case, with the help of a boob job and an alley cat.
If you were forced into retirement, with a comfortable nest egg, and a desire to be left completely alone there is no place better place than Santa Monica, Calif. This low key, seaside suburb of L.A. is shared by transients and tourists, hippies and hedonists, celebrities and lots of senior citizens attracted to the climate and an abundance of inexpensive rent-controlled apartments, just a few blocks from the ocean. Places like the Princess Eugenia on Third St., which is where Charlie and Carol Gasko, a childless couple from Chicago, lived for 14 years without attracting much attention from long time neighbors or landlords. Josh Bond is the building manager
Steve Kroft: What were they like?
Josh Bond: They were-- like, the nice retired old couple that lived in the apartment next to me.
Steve Kroft: Good tenants?
Josh Bond: Excellent tenants. Never complained. Always paid rent on time.
Steve Kroft: In cash.
Josh Bond: In cash.
Janus Goodwin lived down the hall.
Janus Goodwin: They had nothing. And they never went out. They never had food delivered. She never dressed nicely.
Steve Kroft: You thought they were poor?
Janus Goodwin: Yes, without a doubt.
The one thing everyone remembers about the Gaskos is that they loved animals and always made a fuss over the ones in the neighborhood. Barbara Gluck remembers that Carol Gasko always fed a stray cat, after its owner had died.
Barbara Gluck: She would pet it, you know, and be sweet to it and she put a plate of food like out here.
Steve Kroft: And what about Charlie Gasko?
Barbara Gluck: You know, he always had a hat on and dark glasses. I have to say it was mysterious to me why such a lovely woman like that was hanging out with that guy, that old grumpy man. I could never figure that one out. Until I heard they had 800,000 something dollars in the wall. And then I went, "Oh, OK" you know?
Money wasn't the only thing found in the Gaskos' apartment on June 22, 2011, when the FBI stopped by and ended what it called the most extensive manhunt in the bureau's history.
Scott Garriola: Weapons-- weapons all over the apartment. I mean, weapons by his nightstand, weapons under the windowsill. Shotguns, Mini-Rugers, rifles.
What had started out as a routine day for Special Agent Scott Garriola -- who was in charge of hunting fugitives in LA -- would turn into one of the most interesting days of his career. After getting a call to stake out a building in Santa Monica, he notified his backup team with the LAPD.
Scott Garriola: I had four guys working that day and we got a tip on Whitey Bulger and "I'll see you there in about an hour." And invariably the--texts return, "Who's Whitey Bulger," so.
Steve Kroft: Really?
Scott Garriola: Yeah, a few of 'em. So I had to remind 'em-- gently remind 'em who Whitey Bulger was.
Steve Kroft: That he was No. 1 of the FBI's Most Wanted List--
Scott Garriola: No.1, yeah. Big ea-- big East Coast figure but-- so on the West Coast not so much.
The cops in LA were focused on gang bangers and cartel members, not some retired Irish mobster, who hadn't been spotted in 16 years, but then few mobsters have ever been as infamous in a city as Whitey Bulger was in Boston, and his reputation was for more than just being grumpy.
Besides extortion and flooding the city with cocaine, Bulger routinely performed or ordered executions, some at close range, some with a hail of bullets, and at least one by strangulation after which it's been said he took a nap. Special Agent Rich Teahan who ran the FBI's Whitey Bulger fugitive task force had heard it all.
Rich Teahan: Bulger was charged with 19 counts of murder. He was charged with other crimes. He was a scorch to the society in South Boston, his own community.
He was also a scourge to the FBI, and a great source of embarrassment to Teahan, Special Agent Phil Torsney and others on the task force. Years earlier, Whitey Bulger had infiltrated the Boston office of the FBI and bought off agents who protected him and plied him with information including the tip that allowed Bulger to flee just days before he was to be indicted.
Phil Torsney: We really had to catch this guy to establish credibility after all the other issues. And it was just a matter of bringing this guy back to Boston.
When Torsney -- now retired -- and Agent Tommy MacDonald joined the Bulger task force in 2009, the joke was Bulger was on the FBI's least wanted list. There hadn't been a credible lead in more than a decade. And their efforts in Bulger's old neighborhood of South Boston were met with mistrust and ridicule.
Phil Torsney: Some people, they told us right out front, "You guys aren't looking for that guy." People just made the assumption we had him stashed somewhere. I mean, people really thought that kinda thing.
Tommy MacDonald: Despite that mindset that "we're not gonna help you" the FBI still got it done.
Steve Kroft: Took 16 years.
Tommy MacDonald: Took 16 years. Yeah, this was not a typical fugitive.
The FBI says Bulger had planned his getaway years in advance, with money set aside and a fake identity for a Thomas Baxter. During his first two years on the lam, Bulger was in touch with friends and family shuttling between New York, Chicago and the resort town of Grand Isle, La., where he rented a house until his identity was compromised. After that it seemed as if Bulger had disappeared from the face of the Earth except for alleged sightings from all over the world.
Steve Kroft: How many of these tips do you think mighta been true?
Phil Torsney: Boy there was thousands and thousands of tips. And I think -- I don't think that any of 'em were true.
One of the obstacles were there were really no good photographs of Bulger or his longtime live-in girlfriend Catherine Greig, a former dental hygienist. The FBI often noted the couple shared a love of animals, especially dogs and cats, and asked veterinarians to be on the lookout. There were reports that Greig once had breast implants and other plastic surgery in Boston, so the task force reached out to physicians. Eventually they got a call from a Dr. Matthias Donelan, who had located her files in storage.
Tommy MacDonald: I was trying to leave the office a little early to catch one of my kids' ballgames. And I said, "Well, listen-- I'm gonna swing by in the morning and pick those up." And they said to me-- "Do you want the photos too?" And I said, "You have photos?" And they said, "Yeah, we have photos." I said, "We'll be there in 15 minutes."
The breast implant lead produced a treasure trove of high resolution Catherine Greig photographs that would help crack the case. The FBI decided to switch strategies, going after the girlfriend in order to catch the gangster.
[PSA: This is an announcement by the FBI...]
The FBI on created this public service announcement.
[PSA: 60-year-old Greig is the girlfriend of 81-year-old Bulger...]
It ran it in 14 markets on daytime talk shows--aimed at women.
[PSA: Call the tip line at 1-800-Call-FBI.]
And it didn't take long. The very next morning the Bulger task force got three messages from someone that used to live in Santa Monica and was 100 percent certain that Charlie and Carol Gasko, apartment 303 at the Princess Eugenia apartments were the people they were looking for. The descriptions and the age difference matched and Deputy U.S. Marshall Neil Sullivan who handled the lead said there was another piece of tantalizing information.
Neil Sullivan: The tipster specifically described that they were caring for this cat and their love for this cat. So that was just one piece of the puzzle on the tip that added up to saying "if this isn't them it's something we better check out immediately because it sure sounds like them."
A search of the FBI's computer database for the Gaskos raised another red flag, not for what it found, but for what it didn't.
Neil Sullivan: Basically like they were ghosts.
Steve Kroft: No driver's license--
Neil Sullivan: Exactly. No driver's license, no California ID, like they didn't exist.
Steve Kroft: That's the apartment.
Scott Garriola: Right, that corner on the third floor.
Steve Kroft: On the right-hand side?
Scott Garriola: Yup.
By early afternoon FBI Agent Scott Gariolla had set up a number of surveillance posts, and had already met with apartment manager Josh Bond to talk about his tenants.
Josh Bond: He closed the door, threw down a folder and opened it up and said, "Are these the people that live in Apartment 303?"
Steve Kroft: Did you say anything when you saw the pictures?
Josh Bond: Yeah. I mean, my (LAUGH) initial reaction was, "Holy s**t."
Steve Kroft: You're livin' next door to a gangster.
Josh Bond: Well I still didn't really know who he was
But it didn't take him long to figure it out. While the FBI was mulling its options, Bond logged on to Bulger's Wikipedia page.
Josh Bond: And I'm kinda scrolling down. It's like, "Oh wow, this guy's serious." It's, like, murders and extortion. And then I get to the bottom and there's this-- this thing. It's like--from one of his old, you know, people saying, "Well, the last time I saw him, he said, you know, when he goes out he's gonna have guns and he's gonna be ready to take people with him." I was like, "Oooh, maybe I shouldn't be involved in this."
Bond told the FBI he wasn't going to knock on the Gasko's door because there was a note posted expressly asking people not to bother them. Carol had told the neighbors that Charlie was showing signs of dementia.
Scott Garriola: We were back there...
So Garriola devised a ruse involving the Gaskos' storage locker in the garage.
Scott Garriola: It had the name Gasko across it and Apartment 303.
He had the manager call and tell them their locker had been broken into and that he needed someone to come down to see if anything was missing, Carol Gasko said her husband would be right down.
Scott Garriola: We just rushed him.
Steve Kroft: You mean, guns out? "FBI--
Scott Garriola: Sure.
Steve Kroft: --don't move."
Scott Garriola: --gave the words, "Hey, FBI, you know, get your hands up." He turned around and hands went up right away. And then at that moment we told him get down on his knees and he gave us-- (laugh) yeah, he gave us a, "I ain't gettin' down on my f'ing knees."
Steve Kroft: Didn't wanna get his pants dirty.
Scott Garriola: Didn't wanna get his pants dirty. You know, wearing white and seeing the oil on the ground I guess he didn't want get down in oil.
Even at 81, this was a man used to being in control.
Scott Garriola: I asked him to identify himself and that didn't go over well. He asked me to f'ing identify myself and then he said, "Well, you know who I am." And I asked him, I said, "Are you Whitey Bulger?" He said, "Yes."
Scott Garriola: Just about that moment, someone catches my attention from a few feet away by the elevator shaft.
It was Janus Goodwin from the third floor, going to do her laundry.
Janus Goodwin: And I said, "Excuse me. I think I can help you. This man has dementia, so if he's acting oddly, you know-- that could be why."
Scott Garriola: Immediately what flashed through my mind is, "Oh, my God, I just arrested an 81-year-old man with Alzheimer's who thinks he's Whitey Bulger. What is he gonna tell me next, he's Elvis?" So I said, "Do me a favor, this woman over here says you have a touch of Alzheimer's" and he said, "Don't listen to her, she's f-ing nuts." He says--"I'm James Bulger."
A few minutes later he affirmed it by signing a consent form allowing the FBI to search his apartment.
Scott Garriola: I did ask him, I said, "Hey, Whitey," I said, "Aren't you relieved that you don't have to look over your shoulder anymore and, you know, it's-- it's come to an end?" And he said, "Are you f****n' nuts?"
But in some ways Whitey Bulger and Catherine Greig had already been prisoners in apartment 303, which appeared to be a mixture of the murderous and the mundane. Alongside the weapons and all the money, they had stockpiled a lifetime supply of cleansers, creams, and detergents. The FBI took special interest a collection of 64-ounce bottles with white socks stretched over the top.
"I did ask him, I said, 'Hey, Whitey,' I said, 'Aren't you relieved that you don't have to look over your shoulder anymore and, you know, it's come to an end?' And he said, 'Are you f****n' nuts?'"
Scott Garriola: I said, "Hey Whitey, what are these? Are these some kind of Molotov cocktail you're making?" He goes, "No," he said, "I buy tube socks from the 99 Cents Store and they're too tight on my calves and that's the way I stretch 'em out." I said, "Why you shopping at the 99 Cents Store? You have-- half a million dollars under your bed." He goes, "I had to make the money last."
Its been said that one of the reasons it took so long to catch Whitey Bulger, is that people were looking for a gangster, and Bulger, whether he liked it or not, had ceased to be one.
Phil Torsney: He said it was hard to keep up that mindset of a criminal. And that's part of the reason he came down to that garage. It was hard to stay on that edge, that criminal edge, after being on the lam as a regular citizen for 15 years.
The master manipulator gave credit to Catherine Greig for keeping him crime-free, hoping it would mitigate her sentence. She is now serving eight years for harboring a fugitive. On the long plane ride back to Boston, Bulger told his captors he became obsessed with not getting caught, and would do anything to avoid it, even if it meant obeying the law. Whitey Bulger's biggest fear, they said, was being discovered dead in his apartment - and he had a plan to avoid it.
Phil Torsney: If he became ill and knew he was on his deathbed. He'd go down to Arizona, crawl down in the bottom of one of these mines, and die and decompose. And hope that we would never find him and still be lookin'-- lookin' for him forever.
As for all that money that was seized from Whitey Bulger's apartment, federal prosecutors are preparing to distribute nearly $822,000 to the families of his murder victims and three men who were extorted by the gangster.
For nearly three decades, the name "Gotti" has been synonymous with organized crime in America. According to the federal government, John Gotti, Sr., and later his son, John Jr., ran the Gambino crime family, the largest, most influential Mafia family in the country. Gotti Sr., who died in prison 13 years ago, was a ruthless gangster who craved celebrity; the son, if you are to believe his story, wanted out and John Gotti, Jr., wants people to believe his story.
After the federal government put him on trial four times in five years without getting a conviction, he agreed to sit down with us in 2010, and talk about his family saga, in his first extended television interview. He wanted to be the only person we talked to on camera for this story and to have his lawyer by his side to make sure he didn't say anything that could be used to indict him again, because no one was more likely to be watching this story more closely than the FBI.
John Gotti, Jr: My father was my cause. If my father wasn't in that life, I probably wouldn't have been in the street life, either. Whatever he was is what I wanted to be. And if he decided the next day, "You know what? I don't like this anymore. I'm gonna be a butcher," I would tell him, "I hope you have a smock for me." That's the way I feel. That's the way I felt.
You can tell he still worships his father.
John Gotti, Jr: Handsome as ever. Handsome as ever.
Not just with the love of a son -- but with some of the same misguided romanticism that has long drawn the news media and the public to the mob culture and John Gotti, Sr., was the most famous mobster of his generation. He ascended to the top of the Gambino crime family by organizing the assassination of his predecessor Paul Castellano outside a popular Manhattan steak house.
It was a stylistic statement that Gotti Sr. would accentuate with $2,000 Italian suits and hand-painted ties, earning him a certain brand of celebrity and a nickname, "The Dapper Don." In New York, a city that worships power of any kind, Gotti's reached beyond gambling and loan-sharking into the garment center, the garbage business and the construction industry. And he wanted everyone to know what he did as long as they couldn't prove it.
Steve Kroft: Now a friend of your father's told me there is nothing he loved better than being a gangster.
John Gotti, Jr: Nothing. Nothing.
Steve Kroft: What did he love about it?
John Gotti, Jr: Everything. There was nothing he didn't like about it. My father lived that life 24/7. 24/7. In fact, his wife and kids were second to the streets.He loved it. He loved the code. He loved the action. He loved the chase.
Steve Kroft: Was that more important than money?
John Gotti, Jr: He hated money. He used to say if a guy was saving money or putting money away, and he was a street guy, he would say, "What's on his mind? What has he got planned? You know, at the end of the day, we're all going to jail. What's he gonna do with that money?"
Steve Kroft: Is that the way he looked at life?
John Gotti, Jr: He felt that anybody who really truly lived in the streets, not the fringe players, not the frauds, not the pretenders if you really, truly lived it like John did, at the end of the day, you gotta die or go to jail. That's the rules. That's the way it was.
Steve Kroft: Did he talk about what he did for a living?
John Gotti, Jr: No, he didn't sit at the table and say, "You know, by the way, my take from the numbers rackets are up this week." You know? It didn't go like that.
Steve Kroft: And he didn't have conversations like that with the-- with some of his friends.
John Gotti, Jr: No. Other than my father being away from home. You know, being incarcerated. And the hours that he kept. Our house was a pretty normal house.
Gotti says it wasn't until he was 14 -- when he was shipped off to boarding school at the New York Military Academy -- that he found out exactly who his father was and what he did. And he learned it while watching a news program with his fellow cadets.
Steve Kroft: What was the reaction of your classmates?
John Gotti, Jr: I guess-- maybe some of them were intimidated. But most of them thought it was pretty cool. "Does your father-- " they said, "Your father kill people? Does your father beat people up?" "Not around the house."
Steve Kroft: At some point you must have come to the realization that he did, outside of the house.
John Gotti, Jr: Probably. But in front of me? No.
Steve Kroft: How did you-- how do you, as a young man, react to that?
John Gotti, Jr: I'm Howard Beach. I'm from Howard Beach. Pretty much we're taught, from a young age, that you don't call the cops for nothing. We take care of our own problems. And pretty much all your uncles, cousins, friends, father, they're all bouncing around the streets, in one shape or form. And this is the way it is. As 14-year-old kids, 15-year-old kids, we'd go up to the boulevard where we hung out, and we'd talk about, "Hey, tough break, you know. Tony just got 10 years. He's going to jail. Having a big party for him over there. Oh, yeah, good, good, good." And his sons are, you know, sitting next to you. It's just-- it was normal conversation for us.
Steve Kroft: You knew people were breaking the law.
John Gotti, Jr: Sure. Sure.
Steve Kroft: And what you're saying is that wasn't considered necessarily a bad thing?
John Gotti, Jr: No. No. Not at all.
Steve Kroft: Because?
John Gotti, Jr: Because everybody did it. You know what? The guy next to you was a car thief. The guy next to you on your left hand side, he was a book maker. That's everybody.
It was the summer after he graduated from military school that Gotti discovered what he thought was his calling, hanging around his father's headquarters at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club.
John Gotti, Jr: I'd go to the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club all the time. I wanted to be around him. And he had that kind of personality. And I would just watch. So you're sitting around the social club, and they'd be playing cards. And they're hanging out. And they're breaking balls, and cooking, and laughing, and commiserating. And everything's going on. And you're right there. And you're saying, "This is where I belong."
Steve Kroft: When you became a made man, when you were formally inducted into La Cosa Nostra, was that a big deal for him?
John Gotti, Jr: You like the way that word sounds, La Cosa Nostra, how it flows on your tongue?
Steve Kroft: No, I d-- I d-- I-- I'm tryin' to find another word. You-- you don't like "mob." You don't like "Mafia."
John Gotti, Jr: I was a street guy. I was in the streets.
Steve Kroft: OK.
John Gotti, Jr: And you know, when my father embraced me, put his arm around me, and looked at me as a street guy, as a knock-around guy, a bounce-around guy like himself, proudest moment of my life. Was proudest moment of my life-- because I was slowly becoming like him.
Steve Kroft: Obviously he spent a lot of time in prison for murder. How do you justify that?
John Gotti, Jr: I don't know if you can ever justify murder. I don't know if you can justify it. But I can make-- I can make some type of an argument. You want to hear it?
Steve Kroft: Sure.
John Gotti, Jr: John was a part of the streets. He swore that that was his life. He swore, "I'm gonna live and die by the rules of the streets. The code of the streets." And everybody that John's accused of killing or may have killed or wanted to kill or tried to kill was a part of that same street. That was a part of the same world, same code. And my father was always said, in his mind, "You break rules. You end up in a dumpster." "If I break rules," meaning himself, "they're gonna put two in my hat and put me in a dumpster. That's the way it works." So, am I justifying it? No, I'm explaining it.
Steve Kroft: And you were comfortable living in that world?
John Gotti, Jr: When you don't know much else, yeah. Yeah, I guess so. I guess so. When you don't know much else, I guess so.
Steve Kroft: You thought you were capable of killing somebody?
John Gotti, Jr: I don't think anybody-- I-- I don't know if anybody ever thinks of themselves as capable of killing anybody. Until they're put into that position.
Steve Kroft: You know, I want to ask you, "Have you ever killed anybody?" But you're not gonna answer that question, are you?
John Gotti, Jr: First of all, it's a ridiculous question. Second off-- if you go by the government, who didn't I kill?
By the late 1990s, he learned that the federal government was preparing to file charges against him for racketeering, and he began to wonder whether he had the stomach for the job.
Steve Kroft: I mean, there was a lot of treachery.
John Gotti, Jr: Oh, absolutely. There's treachery in every-- there's treachery in the corporate world. Equally I have to say-- I can't say more so. Equally so in the streets.
Steve Kroft: Still, it was dealt with a little differently on the streets, though?
John Gotti, Jr: Careers are made and broken. Guys are bankrupted. Yeah, I can see where you're going with this.
Steve Kroft: Did you ever worry about getting whacked?
John Gotti, Jr: Every day. Every day. That's a possibility. It's a possibility that something could happen to you every day of your life. And you know something, when you hang out in the streets you're hanging with a different type of a person. You know, you don't know what's gonna happen. You know, you can be with-- Tony's here today, then Tony's doing 10 years tomorrow. Billy's here today, and then you never see him again. Who knows? Anything's possible. It's a volatile existence.
Today, Gotti is a free man and back living in his family's two-acre compound, with a swimming pool and stables, in the fashionable village of Oyster Bay, Long Island.
Steve Kroft: This is a very nice piece of property.
John Gotti, Jr: Thank you.
He claims the property was purchased with income from legitimate businesses, and the government has been unable to prove otherwise. He says it is heavily mortgaged and he is deeply in debt after spending millions on his legal bills. He says the family is getting by on a modest income from commercial real estate properties.
John Gotti, Jr: This little guy was born on the first day of jury selection in my third trial.
Gotti is now 51, married with six children, ranging in age from eight to 24. He says he is still trying to acclimate himself to normal family life.
John Gotti, Jr: I was in the life. I was active in the life. I embraced the life and everything that went with it. But a lot of what you've heard and seen about me is fiction. There's fact and there's fiction. And a lot of it is fiction.
Steve Kroft: Was there anything about the life other than your father that you liked and enjoyed?
John Gotti, Jr: There's a lot to like about the streets. There's a lot of glamour there. You know, there's a lot of-- what you believe to be camaraderie.
Steve Kroft: The glamour part. Tell me about the glamour part?
John Gotti, Jr: Well, there's the suits, there's the cars. There's the restaurants. There's the attention. The deference you're given, no matter where you go. You know. It means a lot. You feel like you're a special kind of guy.
Gotti says he's explored the possibility of leaving the New York-area for North Carolina or Florida, but some of his children are resisting. He says he's interested in writing a book about his life.
John Gotti, Jr: I've been writing for several years. Exploring a literary career.
Steve Kroft: You wrote a children's book.
John Gotti, Jr: I did. I did, while I was in Ray Brook. Sure. It was fun. It was fun. It was fun, 'cause it-- the fact that I had written it, and my cellmate, who was doing 17 years for bank robbery, Brian Linderman, sweetheart of a kid-- he was-- he's somewhat of an artist, so he did all the illustrations. And I couldn't get it published. I couldn't get it published 'cause everywhere we went, they wanted my life. "No, we want to know about the juicy stuff, and then we'll do that." And I wasn't interested in doing it. So, basically, it went nowhere.
In the years since we conducted that interview, John Gotti did end up self-publishing an autobiography called "Shadow Of My Father." He's been working on a movie version that he says will star John Travolta playing his dad. It's scheduled to be shot in 2016.
John Gotti, Jr: I'm blessed. Blessed.
Steve Kroft: Why do you feel that way? You're alive...
John Gotti, Jr: I'm alive. I'm free. My children are healthy, which is most important. I have the liberty to get up every morning and embrace my children, spend time with my family. I'm blessed. If tomorrow morning, I walked in and saw an oncologist and he told me, "You have terminal cancer," I'm ahead of the game. I can't complain. I won't complain.
The FBI's Wiseguy
Few institutions protect their secrets as passionately -- and more violently -- than the Mafia. Being accepted into the inner sanctum of the mob demands from its members, a blood oath of loyalty known as omerta. Imagine then what it was like when a Cuban-American FBI agent infiltrated the most-feared crime family in America posing as an Italian gangster.
Back in 2008, that agent, Jack Garcia, came out from undercover for the first time and told Armen Keteyian how he did it. How he was able to fool the wisest of the wise guys -- delivering an acting performance that was more believable than anything Hollywood could produce.
Jack Garcia: I always played the big role. I mean, my mantra was, you know, "think big, be big." And I was able to be the type of guy that never in a million years would somebody suspect that I was an agent.
"The fact that they allowed an FBI agent to infiltrate their organization, and add to that the fact that I'm a Cuban-born playing an Italian who was able to fool them, it's an amazing insult to them."
Joaquin "Jack" Garcia may be the most unlikely law enforcement figure in history, all 390 pounds of him, whose performance was so convincing that he was offered the Mafia's highest honor: to become a made man in the mob.
Jack Garcia: In the mob culture, that is the Holy Grail. For an associate to be proposed for membership into La Cosa Nostra is what these criminals aspire to.
Armen Keteyian: To become a made man.
Jack Garcia: To become a made man. The fact that they allowed an FBI agent to infiltrate their organization, and add to that the fact that I'm a Cuban-born playing an Italian who was able to fool them, it's an amazing insult to them.
For Garcia, his invitation to enter the mob capped a career working a staggering 100 major undercover cases, but none compared with Jack Falcone, the character he created in 2002 to get inside the Gambino crime family, playing the role of an investor in a strip club that the Gambinos and one of their ruthless leaders, Greg DePalma, were muscling in on.
Jack Garcia: Jack Falcone entered the scene in the Bronx, New York. He was a guy who was a jewel thief, and he was a guy who was an extortionist and a hijacker.
Jack Garcia: I drove a fancy car. I mean, I had the Rolex president's watch. I had the obligatory three-carat diamond pinky. I had the cross. Then, of course, suits, all got to be Italian silk. You know, you've got to get your Brionis, you've got to get your Zegna. Lucky guy my size, there's not too many Zegnas or Brionis in my size. So it's this package that you want to create. You don't play the role of this big money launderer and you show up in a Yugo.
Garcia was the complete package: 20 years experience as an FBI agent combined with a style and charm that mobsters could not resist.
Jack Garcia: I was this big guy with a lot of cash who everybody wanted to be around. So I would disarm the person by always being nice. "Hey, you're looking great today. Where'd you get those nice threads, man? Look at you, you look like a million dollars." "Oh, yeah, I look good." "Oh, yeah, yeah, boy, look at this. I love those blue shoes." Everybody loves a happy guy.
Armen Keteyian: Happy Jack.
Jack Garcia: Happy Jack. Worked for me.
New York FBI agent Nat Parisi handpicked Garcia for the job, becoming his handler in the case, his sole lifeline to the outside world during the two-and-a-half year investigation.
Nat Parisi: When he enters a room full of wiseguys, they're all going to want to know, `Who is that man?'
Armen Keteyian: How do you train a Cuban-American to become an Italian-American and pass the wiseguy test?
Nat Parisi: I'm an Italian-American, and I shared with Jack, you know, my experiences growing up, but he and I were convinced that he could pull it off.
Jack Garcia: So Nat decided to come up with this school that we called it the mob school, where he...
Armen Keteyian: Excuse me?
Jack Garcia: Yes, it was called the mob school.
A form of higher education that included, of all things, a trip to the grocery store, where Garcia learned one of the mob's golden rules: never carry your cash in a wallet. Wrap it in a rubber band pulled from a head of broccoli.
Jack Garcia: You would take this off.
Armen Keteyian: Yeah.
Jack Garcia: As you can see. And then you would just wrap it up. Here you are. This is the way you operated with your money. Everybody just simply carries a wad of cash.
Armen Keteyian: With the broccoli band?
Jack Garcia: With the broccoli band. That was one of those little things that could be big things down the line if you didn't--if you didn't prepare right for your role. Because unlike, like I said, in "The Sopranos," where there were multiple takes, there was only one take and that was it and it had to be a good one.
The training also required Garcia to spend countless hours in front of the television.
Armen Keteyian: Do I have this right? You actually watched the Food Channel?
Jack Garcia: Yes. You pick up little phrases there, you know, tuto bene, you know, and all these little things. And I would watch the way the food was prepared. What are the ingredients that went in, the pronunciation of the ingredient. Because all--a lot of conversations all dealt with "Hey, how's your food? How's your pasta e fagiole?" "Eh, it's good. You could add a little more of this, a little bit of that." And it was always like there were-- everybody was a food critic in the mob. "Oh, forget about it. Let's go down the block. This guy makes it better than this guy." Being Cuban, I got caught up sometimes... Like I would say "manicotti"; it's not manicotti, it's "mani-cote."
Armen Keteyian: For you, a single mispronunciation, a single misstep, wrong word at the-- at the wrong time, the alarm bells go off.
Jack Garcia: Exactly. And I couldn't afford having alarm bells going off. I wanted things to constantly be without any suspicion.
Garcia left nothing to chance out of respect and fear for the man at the center of his investigation, Gambino capo Greg DePalma, head of the family's operations in New York's affluent Westchester County. At 72, DePalma had a reputation as an old school mobster with a hair-trigger temper.
Jack Garcia: Greg DePalma, I would best describe him as the devil incarnate. Very evil man, very evil man.
Armen Keteyian: Correct me if I'm wrong, who once used a power tool on someone's head?
Jack Garcia: Yes. That is correct.
Armen Keteyian: Who he thought was stealing from him?
Jack Garcia: Yes.
Armen Keteyian: A man not given to subtlety.
Jack Garcia: He just didn't care, and he took his oath and he really lived by it, where the family came first. That if your child was dying, laying in bed with few minutes to live, or seconds, and the boss calls you, you better leave that child and go see the boss because that's your real family.
Before long, Jack Falcone won over DePalma, first by giving him cartons of counterfeit cigarettes for his birthday and then by offering him what became an endless stream of luxury goods, all supplied to Jack by the FBI.
Armen Keteyian: There's a word for the kind of guy you were in the Mafia, you're a--you're an earner.
Jack Garcia: I'm an earner.
Armen Keteyian: Meaning-- go ahead.
Jack Garcia: Well, being an earner is a very important thing. An earner is a kind of guy who makes money not only for himself and his skipper, but also for the family. And Greg DePalma saw me as an earner.
For two years, Falcone wore a wire taped to his chest and, for good measure, gave DePalma this cell phone with a bugging device that allowed the FBI to track DePalma's location and listen in on his conversations, even when the phone was turned off. Falcone became like a son to DePalma, at his side while he and other mobsters concocted schemes to extort businesses, sell fake sports memorabilia and collected tax on nearly every union-construction site in New York.
Jack Garcia: Greg DePalma told me that in New York City, two percent of all construction goes to the mob.
Armen Keteyian: You're talking, what, tens...
Jack Garcia: You want to do business...
Armen Keteyian: ...of millions of dollars?
Jack Garcia: That's the mob tax, it's called.
In building their case against the Gambinos, Garcia and his handler, Nat Parisi, would meet up to five times a day, often in public places like this Home Depot, exchanging evidence and information.
Jack Garcia: I would come in with an envelope that would contain all the recording devices, which I wore.
Nat Parisi: I'd also brief him on what we knew, the intelligence that we were gathering, so that he can be safer and do his job out there better.
But for all the information they exchanged, there was one extraordinary conversation captured on tape, an offer from DePalma to make Falcone a made member of the mob.
Greg DePalma: There's only one thing I'm pushing to do ASAP, is you. F*** everything else.
Jack Garcia: Well, I appreciate that, buddy.
Greg DePalma: That would be the second guy. I mean, you want it, right?
Jack Garcia: Yeah, of course. I'm honored for that. I'm even honored that, you know--you know, I will never let you down, either.
Armen Keteyian: What's going through your mind when you hear those words, you're going to become a made man?
Jack Garcia: I couldn't believe it. And I feel, I said, wow, we're here. We've really come a long way. Here I am, an FBI agent. He's trusted me so much that he would propose me, considering that this is a seasoned hardcore mobster.
Armen Keteyian: There had to be some sort of escape plan. If things went wrong, if you were asked to kill somebody, what was the out?
Jack Garcia: The scenario I set up, if I was ever going to be involved, "Let's take a ride, Jack. We're going to go take care of this guy," I was going to have a heart attack. So picture this. All of a sudden I've got to go do somebody, I'm going to start wailing like on the ground. They're going to stop what they're doing, they're going to try to take me to the doctor and I would do it. So I had this all programmed in my mind.
But in February 2005, Garcia's life as Jack Falcone unraveled inside this Bloomingdale's department store, when he acted more like a cop than a criminal. It happened in the housewares section, when he watched a Gambino capo named Robert Vaccaro attack another capo known as "Petey Chops" with a heavy crystal candlestick.
Jack Garcia: He takes it, cracks him on the head, and you hear like a melon breaking, just pop, and then blood starts gushing. He dropped straight down. I'm sitting there going, "I don't believe what's going on. I just saw an assault going on here."
Armen Keteyian: In the housewares section.
Jack Garcia: In the housewares section, President's Day at Bloomingdale's, White Plains.
Armen Keteyian: Doesn't Mafia law dictate that you get in on this beating?
Jack Garcia: You're right. I'm saying, "OK, now, I think I messed up royally here." Because, number one, I didn't take any licks at this guy, Petey Chops. I should've been, you know, kicking him, banging him, some way of something, I slap him around. I didn't do that. I didn't.
Armen Keteyian: Potential fatal mistake for you?
Jack Garcia: I thought that that incident, they looked at me after that, a little--a little different.
The FBI was so concerned that Garcia had blown his cover and was about to be killed that it pulled the plug on the investigation. But by now the bureau had gathered enough evidence to take down the hierarchy of the Gambino crime family, including Greg DePalma and 31 other associates.
All plead guilty except DePalma, who insisted on going to trial. In the courtroom, the man he trusted as Jack Falcone turned right before his eyes into FBI agent Jack Garcia.
Describe the look on Greg DePalma's face when you're testifying against him in court.
Jack Garcia: It was classic. He's looking at me. You know, you could tell, like, if he could just come get his hands around my neck, you know, he'd just take me out. And I'm walking out of the courtroom. I had to pass by his table, and he just looked at me and he said to me and I'm a--you know, you're going to have to probably block this out because, `You (censored by network).' You know? So I just walked away and, you know, just...
Armen Keteyian: From the bottom of his heart.
Jack Garcia: From the bottom of his heart.
DePalma was sentenced to 12 years in prison. And while Garcia says he is proud of the outcome of the case, he's angry over the decision to end the investigation, a decision that kept him from being the first law enforcement agent in history to become a made member of the mob.
But Mark Mershon, then the head of the FBI's New York office, says it was critical to protect one of their own.
Mark Mershon: There is a risk-reward relationship that we're simply not willing to take on. But I will tell you that, by anybody's estimate, Jack Garcia was one of just a handful in the entire 100-year history of the FBI to be both so successful and so prolific.
Armen Keteyian: He was that good.
Mark Mershon:: He was truly, truly outstanding.
Retired from the FBI in 2008 after 26 years, Garcia wrote a bestselling book, published by a CBS sister company. He came out of the shadows, defiant in the face of the risk to his life.
Why in the world do this interview on 60 Minutes? Why put yourself out in the public this way?
Jack Garcia: Why should I be walking around hiding as to who I am? And I now there's these safety issues and all that. But you know what? It's just--I equate this to, like, bullies when you're growing up. Bullies will pick on the weak. If I hide myself from the camera, walk around with these silly glasses and a hat and the blot out face, you know what? I'm afraid of them? I'm not the bad guy here. I'm the good guy.
Armen Keteyian: You had more than enough people that wanted you dead.
Jack Garcia: That is true. Could it happen? Absolutely. But you know what? Somebody comes after me, they better come in numbers because I'm ready for them.