John "Junior" Gotti joined the Mafia in 1988, became the youngest capo in Gambino family history by the time he was 26, took over as acting boss in 1991 — and then walked away from it all.
The name John Gotti, even decades after his imprisonment and death, is still notorious to anyone who knows anything about the Mob. And John “Junior” Gotti, the son of the infamous mob boss who made headlines throughout the 1980s and ’90s, knows this better than anyone.
In fact, John Angelo Gotti (technically John Gotti III but widely known as “Junior”) once followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the family business — until he decided it was time to give it up and walk away.
This is the story of John Gotti’s son and the life of crime he left behind.
Growing Up As The Son Of John Gotti
John Gotti Jr. was born February 14, 1964, in Queens, New York. He may not have seen his father much when he was a kid, but what he did see certainly left an impression. When Gotti Jr. was just five — by which point his dad had already been in trouble with the law many times — John Gotti began a three-year prison sentence in Pennsylvania after pleading guilty to cargo hijacking charges.
Gotti Jr.’s friends didn’t even believe he had a father. One day in 1972, they were teasing young Gotti about not having a dad. Gotti Jr. said his father was away on business, but his friends only scoffed.
But then a car pulled up. As Gotti Jr. remembered in an interview with 60 Minutes:
“Almost on cue, this brown Lincoln Continental Mark IV 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. So I says, ‘The second house with the corner with the green awning, Dad. I’ll see you over there.'”
Only three years later, Gotti Jr.’s father was back in prison for a two-year term on attempted manslaughter charges. And though John Gotti Jr. loved his dad despite these absences, he always knew that his father put the mob lifestyle ahead of everything else.
“There was nothing he didn’t like about [his life]. My father lived that life 24/7,” Gotti Jr. later said. “In fact, his wife and kids were second to the streets. He loved it. He loved the code. He loved the action.”
And “action” sometimes meant violence. On May 18, 1980, when he was 16, a neighbor accidentally ran over his younger brother, 12-year-old Frankie Gotti, while he was riding his bike outside the house.
John Gotti never showed much emotion about the tragedy in public, but things were different behind closed doors. Gotti Jr. later recounted, “[I]n my bedroom the vent was attached to his den, and I would hear him cry.”
“My mother was inconsolable,” he continued. “She was upstairs on tranquilizers.”
John Favara, the neighbor who’d accidentally killed Frankie, vanished after he was abducted by several men four months later. Gotti Jr. later acknowledged that his father was probably involved in that disappearance.
Whatever innocence John Gotti Jr. may have still had about his father’s life surely vanished after that point. Now, the infamous John Gotti’s son was on the verge of becoming a man himself — and for him, that meant joining the family business.
Life In The Mob As John Gotti’s Son
In 1985, John Gotti became the leader of the Gambino crime family upon executing a plan to kill the current boss, Paul Castellano. With his father’s power now cemented, Junior Gotti became a rising star in the New York underworld.
Authorities believe that Gotti Jr. became an official member of the Gambino family in 1988 and became the youngest capo (captain) in the family’s history just two years later when he was still in his mid-20s. He’d already been learning the ropes in the various rackets — including gambling and loansharking — since 1982, but now he was a mobster himself.
As Gotti Jr. later said of his induction into the Gambino family and his father’s reaction to it:
“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 the proudest moment of my life because I was slowly becoming like him.”
But not long after John Gotti’s son was inducted into the Mob, the elder Gotti’s life on the streets ended.
Gotti Jr. said that his father’s credo was simple: “At the end of the day, you gotta die or go to jail.” And that’s precisely what happened to John Gotti when he was convicted of racketeering and murder charges in 1992 thanks to the turncoat testimony of Mob killer Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and sentenced to life in prison.
According to authorities, Junior Gotti began acting as the Gambino family’s head of operations after his father went to prison. As an immediate family member, Gotti Jr. was allowed to visit his father in prison — and he relayed his messages and orders to his criminal associates on the outside.
By all accounts, Gotti Jr. ran the family business throughout the 1990s — until the law caught up with him, too. In 1998, federal authorities charged him with a broad range of crimes, including loansharking, bookmaking, and extortion.
Faced with a mountain of evidence, John Gotti Jr. accepted a plea deal to serve nearly seven years in prison. Just before doing so, he met with his father, who tried to convince him to fight the charges and remain a proud member of the Mob.
It was the last time the two would ever see each other. The elder Gotti died of throat cancer not long after, on June 10, 2002.
And despite his father’s wishes, Junior Gotti accepted the plea deal and began a decade-long process of extricating himself from the criminal life he’d been born into.
Why John Gotti Jr. Finally Left The Mafia Behind
During that final conversation, John Gotti did try to convince his son to fight the charges — but he ultimately relented.
“John, if this is what you want to do, you’re your own, man,” the elder Gotti said. “But they will never leave you alone. The government will never accept it. You think they’re going to stop if you plead guilty? They’ll just bring another case. And another case.”
That’s precisely what happened. Even after Gotti Jr. served time for the plea deal (getting out early in 2002), authorities indicted him repeatedly for old crimes ranging from drug trafficking to racketeering and murder. These charges included a plan to kill radio host Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels volunteer crime prevention group, for bad-mouthing his father on air.
However, prosecutors were never able to secure a conviction. John Gotti Jr. spent most of the 2000s fighting legal battles — and he beat the charges each time. Finally, in 2009, the latest in a string of mistrials related to Gotti Jr.’s racketeering charges convinced authorities to give up the fight and let the man walk free.
Since then, Junior Gotti has said that all he wants is to be a dad to his six kids and a husband to his wife, Kimberly.
The Quiet Life Of Junior Gotti Today
Despite still being widely known as both John Gotti’s son and a former mobster himself, John Gotti Jr. has indeed been living the relatively quiet life of a family man since his 2009 trial. Nevertheless, he put himself back in the spotlight with his 2015 memoir Shadow of My Father, a film version of which was released in 2018.
Gotti Jr. has voiced his dislike of the film, saying that it didn’t capture the whole story, but he still took part in the promotional tour. In addition to giving a plethora of interviews about his former life in the Mafia, Gotti Jr. has filled his Instagram profile with images of him with celebrities like John Travolta and Kelly Preston (who respectively played his father and mother in the film).
Even for a man who left criminal infamy behind, John Gotti Jr., much like his father, still seems to enjoy the spotlight. In that respect, the Gotti legacy certainly lives on.
After this look at John Gotti’s son, John “Junior” Gotti, discover the secret life of John Connolly, the FBI agent who partnered with mob boss Whitey Bulger. Then, learn how Joey Merlino became the “John Gotti of Philadelphia.”