And John Gotti Jr. wants people to believe his story.
After the federal government put him on trial four times in the last five years without getting a conviction, he agreed to sit down with "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft 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 is likely to be watching this story more closely than the FBI.
Full Segment: Gotti Jr. Part 1
Full Segment: Gotti Jr. Part 2
Web Extra: The Glamour of the Gotti Mob Life
Web Extra: Gotti, Tough Guy?
Web Extra: Gotti's Children's Book
Web Extra: Dating Gotti's Daughter
Web Extra: Parental Lessons, Gotti Style
Web Extra: Who Does Gotti Admire?
Web Extra: The United States vs. 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," Gotti told Kroft. "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. "Handsome as ever. Handsome as ever," he said, talking about his dad.
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. 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 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 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.
A friend of Gotti Sr. told Kroft there was nothing Gotti loved better than being a gangster.
Asked what his father loved about it, Gotti Jr. said, "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. "
Asked if that was more important than money, Gotti said, "He hated money. He used to say if a guy was saving money or puttin' 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?'"
"Is that the way he looked at life?" Kroft asked.
"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," Gotti explained.
It was part of the gangster ethos that permeated the working class Italian neighborhoods of New York 50 years ago, where John Jr. grew up with his brothers Frank and Peter and sisters Victoria and Angel. His father was absent for most of their childhood, serving a stretch at Lewisburg Penitentiary for cargo hijacking.
Junior was told his dad was off on business, but all the kids teased him that he didn't really have father, until one day in 1972 when his father came home from prison.
"Almost on cue, this brown Lincoln Continental Mach Four with smoked windows - at the time when nobody had smoked windows - comes rolling down the street. And it stops right by me. Then the window rolls down. And I turn, and I says, ''There's my father.' Everybody was in shock. He goes, 'Where's the house?' 'Cause he didn't know where we lived," Gotti remembered. "So I says, 'The second house with the corner with the green awning, Dad. I'll see you over there.' And he pulls away. He's got chocolate brown suit on with a chocolate brown overcoat and a cream colored mock neck. And he looks the part. He's beautiful. He looks beautiful. Everybody came out on the block to see him. And he turns down the block and gives like a regal wave, you know. Gives one of those waves, and he goes in, like he owned the place, like he always belonged there, like it was always was his."
Asked if his father talked about what he did for a living, Gotti said, "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."
"And he didn't have conversations like that with some of his friends?" Kroft asked.
"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 said.