Sammy "The Bull" Gravano rolled on John Gotti after he heard "The Teflon Don" trying to blame him for several murders.
If you decide to go into a life of organized crime, you agree to a certain set of rules. Most importantly, you do not talk to the authorities. But Sammy Gravano did just that.
The Mafia calls this code of silence “omertà,” and the penalty for breaking it is death.
For decades, the American Mafia has ruthlessly enforced this unwritten law. And when a made man decides to turn against the Mafia, they can usually expect not to live much longer. But Salvatore “Sammy The Bull” Gravano not only crossed one of the most powerful mob bosses in the country by breaking the code of silence, he actually lived to talk about it.
Born in Brooklyn in 1945, Gravano fell into crime at an early age, beginning with some minor shoplifting. He first came to the attention of the Mafia at just 13, when local gangsters watched him get into a fight with several bullies who had stolen his bike. One of the gangsters remarked that Gravano had “fought like a bull,” and the nickname that he would keep for the rest of his life was coined.
Gravano left school at 16. And after a stint in the Armed Forces, he returned to New York to officially join up with the Mafia. Gravano made a reputation as a good earner and a man who was prepared to brutally murder anyone he was asked to. In 1976, he officially became a made man in the Gambino family.
Sammy Gravano’s loyalty was put to the test when the family decided to kill his brother-in-law, Nicholas Scibetta, who had developed a serious drug problem. The Mafia has a complicated relationship with drugs. But members are generally expected to avoid becoming dependent on them. Becoming a drug addict meant the Mafia couldn’t trust Scibetta to keep his mouth shut.
And that meant he had to go.
Gravano tried to protect his brother-in-law in a strange way. Rather than murder him, he gave him a savage beating. He hoped this would be enough for the bosses and spare Scibetta’s life. But the hit went on as planned. A single hand was all of Scibetta’s body that was ever recovered.
Sammy Gravano’s relationship with his boss, Paul Castellano, was further strained after an ugly incident at a club Gravano owned. Gravano arranged to sell the club to Frank Fiala, a local drug dealer who promised to pay him in gold bullion. But before the deal was even closed, he began knocking out the wall of Gravano’s office to begin remodeling.
Gravano was understandably upset by this and confronted Fiala, who flashed an uzi submachine gun and threatened Gravano. Gravano then retreated outside the club, and when Fiala exited the building, one of Gravano’s crew shot him in the head. Gravano claims that he then personally urinated into Fiala’s open mouth.
Castellano was upset by this unsanctioned killing, and Gravano was now at risk of ending up on the wrong end of a hit himself. Luckily, he managed to talk his way out of it. But he still called a meeting with his crew. Gravano wanted to make sure, that if it ever became necessary, they would help him kill Castellano.
As luck would have it, it became necessary just three years later. In 1985, another Gambino mobster, John Gotti, arranged a meeting with Gravano. Gotti had never liked Castellano as don of the family. And with the news that Castellano was planning to kill his brother over a drug deal, Gotti decided the time had come for a change in leadership.
Gravano and Gotti arranged a hit on Castellano, who was famously gunned down while entering a Manhattan restaurant. Within a month, Gotti was the new head of the Gambino family. Gravano, meanwhile, was eventually promoted to the position of consigliere. For years Gravano served as Gotti’s muscle, brutally murdering anyone who crossed him.
But Gotti soon attracted the attention of police. With bribes and simple intimidation of jurors, he managed to escape conviction in several trials, earning him the nickname of “the Teflon Don.” But few escape justice forever, and both Gotti and Gravano eventually found themselves headed to trials they couldn’t bribe their way out of.
Gotti tried to pin many of the hits he ordered on Gravano, claiming that the Bull was a mad dog who killed for his own benefit. Sensing an opportunity, the FBI played tapes of these conversations for Gravano. Feeling betrayed, he agreed to testify against Gotti in exchange for a reduced sentence.
In 1992 Gotti was sentenced to life in prison for murder, racketeering, and tax evasion, among other charges. Gravano was released after just five years. Gotti died in prison in 2002.
But Sammy Gravano was by no means safe. Fearing for his life, he agreed to enter the Witness Protection Program and began a new life in Arizona as a smalltime businessman named Jimmy Moran. However, Gravano disliked this new quiet life. And just a year later, he left the program.
Despite criticizing Gotti for his frequent media appearances, Gravano gave television interviews under his real name. When asked if he worried about whether this made him a target, Gravano replied that if he ran into any mob hitmen, they would be the ones going home in body bags:
“They send a hit team down, I’ll kill them. They better not miss, because even if they get me, there will still be a lot of body bags going back to New York. I’m not afraid. I don’t have it in me. I’m too detached maybe. If it happens, fuck it. A bullet in the head is pretty quick. You go like that! It’s better than cancer. I’m not meeting you in Montana on some fuckin’ farm. I’m not sitting here like some jerk-off with a phony beard. I’ll tell you something else: I’m a fuckin’ pro. If someone comes to my house, I got a few little surprises for them. Even if they win, there might be surprises.”
But Gravano, like many former gangsters, found it impossible to stay away from crime. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to leading a massive illegal drug operation in Arizona. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released early in 2017.
Gravano is now free, and unlike John Gotti, is still alive. With the betrayed John Gotti dead, Sammy Gravano stands a chance at being one of the few people to rat out a boss and lived to old age.
Enjoy this article about Sammy Gravano? Next, learn about Richard Kuklinski, the most prolific hitman in the American Mafia’s history. Then, check out these 33 photos of Murder Inc., the mob’s most brutal hit squad.