Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, described by prosecutors as “the most significant witness in the history of organized crime in the United States” and whose testimony played a decisive role in incarcerating Mafia chieftain John Gotti for life, was sentenced Monday to five years in prison--even though he was implicated in 19 murders.
The sentence imposed by federal Judge I. Leo Glasser, who presided at Gotti’s trial in 1992 for racketeering and murder, means that counting time already served and credit for good behavior Gravano could be free in five months. He will remain in the federal witness protection program.
“There has never been so important a defendant in organized crime who has made the leap from one social planet to another,” Glasser said before imposing sentence. “His stature in organized crime is so unique. His unprecedented decision to cooperate encouraged others to cooperate.”
Prosecutors and federal agents urged a highly lenient sentence for Gravano, who not only helped destroy the nation’s best-known organized crime boss, but whose testimony at six subsequent trials helped convict 36 other Mafia figures. His cooperation is continuing, prosecutors said, and he has created a “domino effect” of other informants coming forth.
“He has rendered extraordinary, unprecedented, historic assistance to the government,” Assistant U.S. Atty. John Gleeson, a key member of the team that prosecuted Gotti, told Glasser in federal court in Brooklyn.
“Gravano has been the most significant witness in the history of organized crime in the United States. Part of the reason he has been so valuable is the position he occupied before he chose to cooperate,” Gleeson and other prosecutors said in a memorandum they submitted to the judge. “As the under boss of the Gambino Family of La Cosa Nostra, Gravano participated in or otherwise obtained knowledge of a truly astounding array of criminal activity.
“Simply put, Gravano’s cooperation has been the signal event in the government’s decades-long fight against the Mafia.”
When he decided to turn government witness, Gravano--who was indicted with Gotti--was spirited at night from his cell to a safehouse. He pleaded guilty to racketeering charges that could have carried a maximum term of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
When he first approached the government about a deal, prosecutors were fearful it was a trap. But the conscientiousness of his cooperation and the quality of the information he provided quickly erased any doubts.
Gravano’s defection was a devastating blow for Gotti, who had escaped conviction at three previous trials, earning a reputation as the “Teflon Don.” After Gravano’s testimony, Gotti was found guilty of five murders--including masterminding the assassination of his predecessor, Paul Castellano, as head of the Gambino crime family, the most important of New York City’s five Mafia organizations.
In riveting testimony, Gravano told of sitting in a car in mid-town Manhattan with Gotti as a team of hit men gunned down Castellano and an associate. Gotti and Gravano then drove slowly past their bloody bodies on the street.
Gleeson told Glasser that Gravano’s testimony was so helpful that prosecutors, who earlier had introduced tape recordings of Gotti discussing major crimes, made a key decision.
“When Salvatore Gravano got off the stand, it was the prosecution team’s judgment we should end the trial quickly because he was such an effective witness,” Gleeson said.
The government said in its memorandum: “Gravano was of such a stature in that environment that his decision to cooperate has caused some members of organized crime to believe that there must be something wrong with the Mafia.
” . . . The list of defectors from organized crime since November, 1991, when Gravano began cooperating, is striking: In the Colombo Family alone, 10 people, including the consigliere and two captains, have cooperated; there are three significant new witnesses from the Luchese Family, including its under boss. Many of these witnesses had known Gravano personally, and his defection to the government helped to pave the way for their decision to cooperate.”
Gravano, 49, earned his nickname because of his compact, muscular stature and his considerable ability with his fists.
Gravano, dressed conservatively in a dark suit, had little to say during his sentencing. He declined to address Glasser.
The judge said that while Gravano was accused of 19 murders, he had only actually committed one killing. Glasser said that Gravano would face the risk of retribution by the mob for the rest of his life.