One is an old-school Mafioso, a contemporary of mob legends such as Joe Valachi and Vito Genovese. Cops call him “The Chin.” Nowadays he wanders the streets near home in slippers, pajamas and bathrobe, mumbling to friends.
The other’s nickname is “Junior,” the youngest of the city’s reputed Mafia bosses. He’s a sort of capo di tutti kiddie who spent his formative years not in jail but in military school, suburban discos and health clubs.
For all their differences, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante and John A. “Junior” Gotti are linked by their celebrated positions.
They are the reputed leaders of the two most powerful Mafia crime families in America.
First Gigante, boss of the Genovese crime family. He has an impeccable gangland pedigree. Mob historians record that back in 1957, when Vito Genovese wanted to take Frank Costello’s place as boss, Vito turned to a burly prizefighter from the Bronx, a guy with a big chin.
On the night of May 2, when Costello walked into the lobby of his apartment house on Central Park West, The Chin was waiting.
“This is for you, Frank,” Gigante said, and fired. The shot grazed Costello’s scalp.
“Frank” took the hint and retired in favor of Gigante’s employer; at Gigante’s trial, Costello said he’d never laid eyes on the defendant.
Now, at 69, The Chin is either the cagiest mobster in the world, or the craziest. His claims of mental illness, first raised in 1971 to beat a conspiracy rap, have kept him out of jail. But he is under indictment for racketeering and confined by court order to a 10-block area near his apartment.
“God is my lawyer,” Gigante recently told a psychiatrist. “He will defend me.”
As for Junior Gotti, at 31 the youngest (by 21 years) of the city’s five Mafia family bosses, he had a less perilous path to the pinnacle of mobdom. Authorities describe him as an iron-pumping dumbfella who sits atop the Gambino crime family only because of his infamous daddy, the imprisoned John J. Gotti.
“You’re not talking about a brain surgeon,” an FBI official once said of Junior. Gotti the younger lists his occupation as head of a trucking business.
The son’s ascension followed his father’s detention. When John Gotti--a Time cover boy and underworld fashion plate--was sentenced to life four years ago for murder and racketeering, Junior was his handpicked successor.
While Junior has presided over the decline of the once-mighty Gambinos’ power, prestige and income, The Chin has achieved unparalleled success since taking over for the jailed “Fat Tony” Salerno in 1987.
“The Chin is the No. 1 show in the country, without question,” said Lewis Schiliro, FBI special agent in charge of the criminal division in Manhattan.
The mismatched pair represent their families on the New York mob’s ruling commission, but they have little else in common, FBI officials said.
“The Genovese people won’t even meet with Junior, which is a tremendous insult,” Schiliro said. “He’s a laughingstock to the people outside the family.”
The Gotti-Genovese animosity predates Junior’s rise.
Over the last eight years, the FBI says, The Chin has approved the slayings of three Gambino men and put out a contract on the elder Gotti.
Chin, agents say, wanted to punish the Dapper Don for his unsanctioned murder in 1985 of then-Gambino boss “Big Paul” Castellano. According to mob tradition, a boss dies only if all the other bosses agree.
Law officers claim that Gigante now is so powerful that the city’s other four families quietly acquiesced when he ordered a moratorium on new mob recruits, authorities say. Only in 1995, when the Genoveses were firmly entrenched as No. 1, did he agree to “open the books,” Schiliro said.
For all his clout, Gigante is known as “The Oddfather.” He wanders the streets of his native Greenwich Village like a shabby, demented old man. FBI agents arriving with a subpoena once found him in the shower, standing beneath an open umbrella.
But authorities say his wardrobe and behavior are designed to keep him out of jail, his mumblings a way to frustrate electronic eavesdropping.
With the reputed godfather approaching 70, however, some in law enforcement wonder if his alleged act has become reality.
“Some of the guys I talk to seem to think the whole thing was an act originally, but now he probably does have something debilitating,” said Jim Fox, former head of the FBI’s New York office. Gigante’s family and his lawyer have long described him as a sick old man.
A federal judge must decide if Gigante is competent to stand trial on racketeering charges. Psychiatrists have testified that Gigante is delusional and hears voices. One voice carried this uplifting message: “God told me that they’ll find out the truth.”
Young Gotti is a John A.-come-lately. His main job is ferrying his father’s orders east from the federal prison in Marion, Ill.--a rich messenger boy.
Unlike his father, the muscular Junior prefers jogging suits to designer clothes, and he displays no affinity for sipping cappuccino in stuffy social clubs.
But make no mistake, authorities say: Junior Gotti is his father’s son.
He allegedly became a made man in a Christmas 1988 ceremony at his dad’s Little Italy home-away-from-home, the Ravenite Social Club. Two years later, his father promoted him to capo, a position usually reserved for more experienced veterans.
With the Dapper Don’s conviction, Junior became acting boss before turning 30. He still collects a cash tribute from all the Gambino crews, although his uncle Peter, along with Nicholas “Little Nick” Corozzo and Jackie “The Nose” D’Amico, handle the day-to-day family business.
Business is not as good as it once was.
Since Gotti’s conviction, the family has lost 11 of its 21 crews, including one headed by Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. The former underboss collected $1.2 million annually in construction kickbacks before becoming a witness against Gotti.
Monitoring of the garment district appears to have cost the Gambinos an illicit 7% tax on every item shipped there; the Gambino garbage-carting monopoly appears doomed by new, city-backed competition; and the city has clamped down on mob cash-skimming at Little Italy’s San Gennaro festival.
Young Gotti’s survival despite these problems is another sign of the Gambinos’ diminished significance, said Ronald Goldstock, a former state organized crime prosecutor who now works for Kroll Associates.
“The fact that he’s still around doesn’t say a great deal for the Gambino family,” Goldstock said. “It shows the depths to which the family has fallen.”
Bruce Cutler, attorney for the Gottis, has defended Junior as “a totally legitimate businessman” who spends 14 hours a day at his trucking business and who has been targeted because of his surname.
Whatever its cause, the attention paid young Gotti by law enforcement makes him a pariah to other mobsters. Lucchese underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso once complained that if you threw in with Junior, “hundreds of people will know.”
But the kid must be doing something right.
The internal Gambino war that was predicted after his father’s incarceration never came to pass. And despite the scrutiny Junior has stayed far from jail, although two alleged members of his crew recently were convicted of torching a Long Island tavern.
He also has avoided his father’s fatal errors: the high profile, which egged on prosecutors, and the big mouth, which gave FBI eavesdroppers all the evidence they needed.
“Junior’s not out there in the spotlight, making himself visible,” Schiliro said. “He’s smarter than that. . . . He learned a lot from watching what happened at his father’s trial.”