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Former Mob Hit Man Pleads Guilty to Role in Ecstasy Ring

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Mafia hit man and turncoat Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, who had pledged to federal authorities to go straight and live a quiet life in the Witness Protection Program, pleaded guilty Friday to state drug and racketeering charges in Phoenix for his role as mastermind of Arizona’s largest ecstasy drug ring.

Gravano, 56, the former underboss of New York’s Gambino crime family, pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts, including drug dealing, money laundering, participating in a criminal syndicate and weapon violations. He was sentenced to 20 years without parole.

Dressed in black-and-white striped prison-issue clothes, the5-foot-6 Gravano simply answered “guilty” when Judge Steven Sheldon asked him to enter a plea. His somber demeanor in court was in stark contrast to the loquacious Gravano, whose sizzling testimony brought down mob boss John Gotti.

Prosecutors dismissed lesser charges in the plea bargain and agreed that he could serve his state prison sentence concurrent with his federal sentence. Gravano pleaded guilty a month ago to federal drug charges stemming from the Arizona case, which could bring up to 15 years in prison.

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His lucrative Arizona criminal enterprise was a family affair: His wife and two adult children were also involved and made plea agreements in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Gravano’s son Gerard, 25, pleaded guilty on two drug-related counts and faces nine years in prison, along with a federal sentence. Gravano and his son are to be sentenced Sept. 28. Gravano’s wife, Debra, 48, and daughter, Karen, 29, each pleaded guilty to one felony count, which could bring them probation or possible jail time. Their sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 31.

The Gravanos are the last of 46 defendants who were indicted in March in a massive multi-agency drug bust. Extensive wiretaps were used during the investigation, and authorities intercepted about 16,000 calls, which indicated that Gravano’s syndicate was putting as many as 30,000 pills a week onto the street.

Arizona Atty. Gen. Janet Napolitano said 37 of the defendants involved in the drug ring have pleaded guilty. “It’s one of the largest and most successful drug prosecutions in our history,” Napolitano said.

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She said that officials have not yet determined where Gravano will serve his time.

Gravano admitted to committing 19 murders while working for the Gambino crime family. It was his sensational testimony in a 1992 trial that allowed federal officials to finally convict mobster Gotti, who in three previous trials had gained acquittals and had gained the nickname “The Teflon Don.”

Gravano cut a dashing if somewhat brutal figure and managed to charm many in law enforcement. In return for his testimony, Gravano made a deal with prosecutors that allowed him to serve just five years in prison for racketeering. During his sentencing, the federal judge noted positive comments from federal officials regarding Gravano’s cooperation and concluded that the former hit man had “irrevocably broken with his past.”

Gravano was relocated to the Phoenix suburb of Tempe as part of his involvement in the FBI’s Witness Protection Program. He was given the name Jimmy Moran, a new face via plastic surgery and a new profession, construction contractor. But he voluntarily left the program in the late 1990s.

Gravano also had an Italian restaurant, Uncle Sal’s, in Scottsdale, which was run by his wife. Daughter Karen and son Gerard worked at the family’s pool-building business, Creative Pools.

According to authorities, it was Gerard Gravano who introduced his father to Michael Papa, a former New Yorker who was already running an ecstasy ring. Gravano eventually took over the operation, enlarging it and making it more profitable. The drug ring brought in as much as $500,000 a week, fueled by Phoenix’s burgeoning rave scene.

Gravano told about his days as a hit man in “Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano’s Story of Life in the Mafia,” chronicling his real-life rise in the Mafia, murders he said he had no remorse over and the reason he ultimately turned against Gotti.


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