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Gotti Jr. on Living and Leaving a Life of Crime

Gotti Jr. Part 1 18:11

For nearly three decades, the name "Gotti" has been synonymous with organized crime in America. According to the federal government, John Gotti Senior, and later his son, John Junior, ran the Gambino crime family - the largest, most influential mafia family in the country. Gotti Sr., who died in prison eight 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 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.

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.

"And I remember, was 1979. And we're watching a show," he remembered. "And they're saying, 'This man's a captain in the Gambino family, and this, that and the other thing.' And they're talking about him. And I'm mortified. I'm in the back row, and I'm watching this. I'm not saying nothing. And they says, 'John Gotti,' and they're talking. So now, suddenly, the other cadets start turning to look at me. Say, 'He's got the same name as you.' 'Yeah, he certainly does.' Another kid says, 'Hey wait a minute. That guy was here last week.' And at that point…it's there. You know, there. Now it's all on the table, you know."

What was the reaction of his classmates?

"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,'" he recalled, laughing.

"At some point you must have come to the realization that he did, outside of the house," Kroft remarked

"Probably. But in front of me? No," Gotti replied.

Asked how as a young man he reacted to that, Gotti said, "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 nuthin'. We take care of our own problems. And pretty much all your uncles, cousins, friends, father, they're all bouncing around the streets, in shape or form. And this is the way it is."

Gotti told Kroft he knew people were breaking the law.

"And what you're saying is that wasn't considered necessarily a bad thing?" Kroft asked.

"No. Not at all," Gotti replied. "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.

"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," Gotti remembered. "And I would just watch. So you're sittin' 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.'"

But it wasn't all pinochle and pasta, and as prison videos show, John Gotti Sr. had a sadistic streak, even when dealing with his ten-year-old grandson, who he thought had showed him disrespect.

"You will get an ass kicking from me. I ain't your father or mother. I know how to raise children. From me you'll get an ass-kicking you'll never … You will never forget the ass kicking you will get from me," he told his grandson.

Another video shows Gotti Sr. telling his daughter how he would have dealt with an incident involving a neighbor. "You should [have] went there and told the mother, 'Listen, you want me to tell my father, you want him to handle it his way? Do you want to wake up in the morning and not see your son no more? Is that what you desire? Do you want us to cut his tongue out of his mouth?'"

And you had the sense he could do it.

Gotti said his father had a "volcanic" temped. Asked if it was ever directed at him, he told Kroft, "When I got in trouble as a kid, once or twice, he'd give me a swift kick in the backside or a nice crack. Yeah, sure."

By 1982, John Jr. could dish it out as well as take it. According to law enforcement, he served a six-year apprenticeship learning the various rackets - shakedowns, illegal gambling, loan-sharking, eventually drawing the attention of FBI surveillance cameras.

In 1988, with the encouragement and strong endorsement of his father, John Jr. would become a "made man" in the Gambino crime family.

"When you became a 'made man,' when you were formally inducted into La Cosa Nostra, was that a big deal for him?" Kroft asked.

"You like the way that word sounds, La Cosa Nostra, how it flows on your tongue?" Gotti asked.

"No, I'm tryin' to find another word. You don't like 'mob.' You don't like 'mafia,'" Kroft remarked.

"I was a street guy. I was in the streets," Gotti said. "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."

"So when you were finally made, he was happy?" Kroft asked.

"I think he was very happy. I think he was as proud as a father would be if his son just made All-American," Gotti said.

He would soon trade in his T-shirts for suits, and graduate from the mob rank of soldier to captain, according to the FBI, in charge of his own crew. The only person unhappy with his new career was his mother.

"She didn't talk to my father for a couple of years as a result of that. She looked at it as I left a son in the street. You know, my son Frankie died in my arms at 12 years old. She took it personal," Gotti explained.

The death of Junior's younger brother Frank in a traffic accident was considered the most traumatic event in the family's history and it would have serious consequences for the neighbor who killed him.

"He was riding a mini-bike. Unfortunately he jetted out into the street, coming off the Belt Parkway. And a car hit him. Car hit him and killed him," Gotti remembered.

Asked what the effect was on his father, Gotti said, "He didn't show much emotion. But my bedroom, the vent was attached to his den. And I would hear him cry. I would hear him cry."

The person that was driving the car disappeared. Asked if he thinks his father was involved with the disappearance of the driver, Gotti said, "Probably. Knowing John and how he was and how he felt about a lotta things, especially regarding his own children, he probably was. Do I know with certainty? No, I don't know. He'd never discuss that with me, never discussed it with me. But knowin' my father, there's no way you're gonna hurt one of his without him hurtin' you. It's just not gonna happen. There's just no way. It's not gonna happen."

It would not have been the first or the last time that John Gotti Sr. had someone killed, but it took a long time for someone to prove it. Despite years of video and audio surveillance, the FBI needed the testimony of Gotti's underboss, mob rat Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, to finally put the Dapper Don away for five gangland slayings.

"Obviously he spent a lot of time in prison for murder," Kroft remarked. "How do you justify that?"

"I don't know if you can ever justify murder. I don't know if you can justify it. But I can make some type of an argument. You want to hear it?" Gotti asked. "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."

"And you were comfortable living in that world?" Kroft asked.

"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," Gotti said.

Asked if he thought he was capable of killing someone, Gotti said, "I don't think anybody, I don't know if anybody ever thinks of themselves as capable of killing anybody. Until they're put into that position."

"You know, I want to ask you, 'Have you ever killed anybody?' But you're not gonna answer that question, are you?" Kroft asked.

"First of all, it's a ridiculous question. Second off, if you go by the government, who didn't I kill?" Gotti replied.

With his father in prison for life, federal investigators turned their attention to Junior, who they say became the acting boss and de facto head of the Gambino family, a title and characterization that Gotti and his lawyer Charles Carnesi quibble with.

"I was my father's son, I'd be his eyes and ears. I'd handle the lawyers, I'd handle the monetary issues to a point," Gotti explained.

"Would it be incorrect to say that you were the acting head or the head of the Gambino family after your father went to prison?" Kroft asked.

"I don't think that that's the title that John ever accepted. I think that's sumpin' that law enforcement may [have] been suggesting. I think it may have been at one point in time his father's desire for him to succeed him," Carnesi said.

"I more or less call myself a loyal son. That's my title. That's a title I like," Gotti said.

It is a fine but important linguistic distinction under federal racketeering law. If John Gotti Jr. were to acknowledge that he had responsibility for running a criminal enterprise like La Cosa Nostra, he could be prosecuted for any criminal act committed by that group during his tenure, regardless of whether he was directly involved.

"Did you ever talk to him about any of this stuff?" Kroft asked.

"No. No. My father tried his best to shelter me from certain things," Gotti said.

"I mean, that seems kinda hard to believe," Kroft remarked.

"There was no communication between my father and I regarding that. There was none," Gotti said.

"In part because the conversation would have been recorded?" Kroft asked.

"Absolutely. Absolutely," Gotti acknowledged.

Gotti says all of his business conversations with his father were relayed through emissaries. Whatever you call that "loyal son period," which lasted for seven years, it did not go smoothly. When authorities found $358,000 in the basement of his home along with a list of recently inducted mafia members, his father was taped calling his son an imbecile, and the New York tabloid press had a field day.

"They used to make fun of you, that they used to say that you weren't ready for the job. People were unhappy with you. That you were kind of the Dopey Don. Did any of that get to you?" Kroft asked.

"Not at all. First of all, every time the Gottis were in the tabloids on the front page, the [newspaper] sales would go up about eight percent, I believe. And that's proven. It was eight or ten percent increase in sales," Gotti said. "So, it made good read. Who cares? Dopey Don. Who cares?"

But over time, Gotti says, he began to have second thoughts about the life he had chosen.

Asked when he began to sour on this whole thing, Gotti told Kroft, "Before I had my children, I really didn't care if I died in jail. But then once you have children, your perspective completely changes. Now you live your life for them. And I looked at my son. And I looked at my daughter. I looked at my other son, all my children. And I would say to myself, 'Wow, if I'm gone, what are they gonna do?'"

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.

Gotti acknowledges there was a lot of treachery. "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."

"Still, it was dealt with a little differently on the streets, though?" Kroft asked.

"Careers are made and broken. Guys are bankrupted. Yeah, I can see where you're going with this," Gotti replied.

Asked if he ever worried about getting killed, Gotti said, "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 ten years tomorrow. Billy's here today, and then you never see him again. Who knows? Anything's possible. It's a volatile existence."

In 1998, Gotti Jr. was indicted by a grand jury and arrested by FBI agents on federal racketeering charges stemming from his role as the acting head of the Gambino crime family. After a series of negotiations with the government and nine months in jail, Gotti Jr. decided he wanted to enter a guilty plea, serve his time, and hopefully retire from a life in organized crime.

But to do so he felt like he needed the blessing of his dying father, Gotti Sr., who was serving a life sentence for murder. He received permission from a federal judge to travel to the U.S. Medical Center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Mo., for a face-to-face meeting with his ailing father.

It was taped by prison officials and would be the last time the two would ever see each other.

The extraordinary meeting took place in a prison conference room, with the father, badly disfigured by surgery for throat, neck and mouth cancer, sitting directly across the table from his son who wanted to turn his back on a life his father had pulled him into.

"And my father starts off by saying 'I received a message that John wants closure.' And I looked at my father, and again, we're being monitored, so we have to be very careful how we communicate," Gotti remembered.

He says the agenda had been discussed with his father in advance by family attorney Joe Corrazo, and that closure meant not just pleading guilty but quitting the mob. The Don responded by making fun of the word.

"Joseph told me John wants closure. I said, 'Joseph, that word is not in my son's vocabulary. That's overeducated, under-intelligent m***********, that word closure. It's a new 90's word that I don't like," Gotti Sr. said.

For Gotti Sr. the idea of giving in went against everything he believed in.

"He's, you know, fight, fight, fight. If you accuse me robbing the church, and the steeple's sticking out of my backside, I'm gonna deny it. And I can't reach him. And not only that, with the closure, he talked me out of the plea," Gotti told Kroft.

Gotti Jr. left the prison and returned to New York where he told his attorney to begin preparing a defense. "And then, last minute, the day we're picking the jury, I sat there. I left the house that morning, getting ready for trial. And I saw my wife, and I saw my kids, and I saw my whole family, and I says, 'I got to try to end this. I got to try to end this.' And I went and spoke to my lawyers. I told them, 'I'll take the plea.'"

Gotti said he plead guilty to racketeering. "I believe it was extortion in the construction industry. Gambling. Taxes. Loan sharking," he explained.

"All things you did?" Kroft asked.

"Things I did do, yes. Correct. I was a loan shark. The fact that most of my customers joined WITSEC [Witness Security Program] pretty much bankrupted me in the loan-sharking business," Gotti said. "Chased me out of that industry but quick."

Gotti took the plea, believing the government would leave him alone once he had paid his debt to society, and that he would be able to quit the Gambino family and get on with his life.

"Well, first of all, did you think you could get out? Did you think people would let you out?" Kroft asked.

"Sure. Why not? Sure. Why couldn't I?" Gotti asked.

"Well, because there's this old saw. I mean, it was part of one of your trials, that you can't get out of the mob. You can't get out of the life," Kroft remarked.

"Who said?" Gotti asked.

"All the movies. It's all the lore," Kroft replied, laughing.

"Yeah, the movies. It makes great reading," Gotti remarked.

"The federal government," Kroft said.

"And what makes them an authority on this?" Gotti asked.

Gotti was serving his six and a half year sentence at the Ray Brook Prison in upstate New York, much of it in solitary confinement, when his father died. When he had the opportunity to make phone calls, they went to his wife and children in Long Island, and not his Gambino family. He even arranged for regular parent-teacher conferences with his son's school.

"I made them, in chains, drag me out of my cell every Friday. And they put me in a room, belly chained and handcuffed, and I had a conference, a parent-teacher conference every Friday at 2:00 with my son Frankie's school, every Friday. And it's the only time they ever heard me. If they forgot me to come get me for that call, that's the only time I bucked. I would buck in jail when I did that. Otherwise, I was a model inmate," Gotti told Kroft.

But his deal with the federal government didn't work out the way he had intended.

When he got out, he thought he was a free man, but it didn't turn out that way. "It was several weeks before I was supposed to get released and they indicted me again," Gotti explained.

The new racketeering charges alleged that John Jr. had ordered an attack 12 years earlier on Curtis Sliwa, a talk show host and anti-crime crusader who had railed against his father. Sliwa was shot in a New York taxi cab and seriously wounded, but survived. Gotti denied any involvement. The case was tried three times, each one ending in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked.

"After I wasn't convicted, that's where it should have ended. Then it just kept on. So now everyone is putting a target on my back. And everyone was gunning for me. Didn't matter how it was gonna happen, but it had to happen," Gotti said.

Last year he was indicted again, this time for allegedly participating in or authorizing three murders, all committed before 1992. Gotti was held in jail for 16 months without bail awaiting trial on a case that was based almost exclusively on the word of former mafia associates who received sentence reductions or favorable considerations in exchange for their testimony.

Chief among them was John Alite, a drug dealer and confessed killer, who said he had murdered three people on orders from Gotti.

There was a courtroom confrontation with Alite.

"After he testified he got off the stand, and he walked towards me, and he smiled, and laughed. And that's when I called him a punk and a dog. He always was a punk and a dog. He was a junkie. He was all of those things. Miscreant. He was a trash pail then, he's a trash pail now, and he'll always be a trash pail," Gotti said.

That trial also ended with a hopelessly deadlocked jury.

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.

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.

At age 46, he is married with six children, ranging in age from three to nineteen, and trying to acclimate himself to normal family life.

Asked if he's a strict father, Gotti said, "It's not easy to be a father of an 18-year-old daughter. Notice I threw 'daughter' in. Son, I can some, like, grab him by the arm and say, 'Come here. Let me tell you sumthin'. Let me read you the riot act,'" Gotti said. "A daughter? What do you do? I don't know what to do. I can't grab her by the arm read her riot act. So I look at her and she tells me, she says, 'Mind your own business.' If a guy told me that, I wouldn't 'a taken a backward step. So, I guess my parenting skills leave a lot to be desired in that respect."

"What do you think it's like for the boys that are going out with your daughter?" Kroft asked.

"She doesn't have any boyfriends," Gotti replied.

Asked if people are afraid to ask her out, Gotti said, "Yes, it's awkward. And my daughter says she keeps blaming it on me. 'Me? What did I do wrong? I just got here. What did I do wrong?' She says, 'Well, it's the reputation. They read the newspapers.' 'Sweetie, I can't help that. I don't print those newspapers. I don't know what to tell ya. I don't know what you want me to do.'"

"There are reasons to not want to get in trouble with this family, cross this family," Kroft remarked.

"Maybe in the past for what we were, yeah. Now? Yeah. You had to treat the women in our family a certain way, okay? I would never disrespect a man's daughter. I expect the same. That's the way it has to be. And if you don't, well, then you'll see a side of me that you hope never saw," Gotti said.

He admitted he has this "other side."

"I was never known to take a backward step in throwin' his hands. I don't think that's changed. I still got my temper, unfortunately," Gotti said.

Gotti has explored the possibility of leaving the New York area for North Carolina or Florida, but some of his children are resisting. He has been working for several years on a book about his life, but don't expect him to bad-mouth the mob or the people who were loyal to him and his father. They know where he lives and he says they were happy to let him go just like he knew they would. It's more money for them.

"I'm blessed. Blessed," Gotti said.

Asked why he feels that way, he told Kroft, "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 wit' 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."

Produced by Ira Rosen

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