July 29, 1997
CHIN: DAZED, CONFUSED, GUILTY
By Jerry Capeci
I N the end, Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno was right!
When push came to shove, three decades of psychiatric hospitalizations couldn't save legendary Mafia boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante from a racketeering conviction and - most likely - spending the rest of his life in federal prison.
Salerno was off by a dozen years, but he had it right back on Feb. 6, 1985 when he was caught on an FBI bug at an East Harlem social club talking to Genovese mobster Joe Sabato about Gigante and the then-upcoming Commission case.
At the time, the men knew the feds were preparing a racketeering case and they expected Gigante to be nabbed with other members of the Commission, the Mafia's ruling body. "He's got to worry," said Salerno, (left) then-consigliere of the Genovese family. "If he gets pinched, all them years he spent in that fucking asylum (would be) for nothing."
But Gigante wasn't named in the Commission indictment. And when the FBI rounded up top gangsters from all five New York families on Feb. 19, 1985, Gigante knew exactly what to do: check into his favorite psychiatric ward for a week long "tune-up."
Last Friday, however, after 16 hours of deliberations over three days, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Gigante guilty of racketeering. The eight woman, four man panel - which had heard Salerno's prophetic words during the month-long trial - decided that federal prosecutors had proven that Gigante had taken part in two murder conspiracies and two lucrative labor racketeering conspiracies involving bid rigging and extortion in the window replacement industry in New York City housing projects.
"His criminal charade is over," said a jubilant assistant U.S. attorney George Stamboulidis, one of three prosecutors in the case.
Judge Jack Weinstein revoked Gigante's $1 million bail, but gave him 24 hours to report to a federal prison hospital in Butner, NC. Weinstein ordered Gigante to undergo extensive physical and mental evaluations, stressing however, that he had no "doubt of the competence of the defendant to stand trial and be sentenced."
The jury absolved Gigante of three gangland style slayings he was accused of ordering, and said it could not decide whether the 69-year-old crime boss had been responsible for four other murders committed more than 15 years ago.
But the government's failure to convict him of any of the seven murders listed in his racketeering indictment meant little to Gigante, or his many relatives among the daily spectators who heard the jury pronounce him guilty.
Even Rev. Louis Gigante, (right) the former City Councilman who had served as his brother's main apologist and cheerleader before and during the trial, left the courthouse without commenting, as did the dozens of other family members.
This left Gigante's cardiologist, Bernard Wechsler - who has handled Salerno's heart problems as well as those of other top Genovese mobsters during the last decade - to carry that tired, played out tune that had been rejected by the jury moments earlier. "He doesn't know what's going on," said Wechsler. "He had no reaction (when the verdict was announced.) He has no reaction now. People are crying all around him, and he doesn't know what's happening."
What happened was that the jury saw through his "crazy act" and held him accountable for just some of the crimes that he has had a hand in since he took over the crime family in 1981 when Salerno suffered a mild stroke.
From their verdict, it's apparant the jurors believed the testimony of the two Petes - Luchese capo Chiodo and Genovese associate Savino - about the two families' 13-year-long joint control over the city's replacement window industry.
Their testimony was corroborrated in large measure by 18 months' worth of taped talks Savino had with mobsters who shared in the scheme - including one conversation in which Genovese underboss Venero (Benny Eggs) Mangano shushed Savino when he mentioned Gigante's nickname - Chin.
"Don't mention that guy," said Mangano, echoing the testimony of several witnesses who said mobsters were instructed never to mention Gigante's name, but stroke their chins with their thumb, forefinger and middle finger when referring to him.
But Gigante couldn't control the words that rival gangsters like John Gotti (left) and Salvatore (Sammy Bull) Gravano, (right) and even some of his own men, including consigliere Louis (Bobby) Manna and Martin Casella, would utter on FBI bugs.
When Gotti was on trial for assault in January, 1990, he proudly told Gravano that Gigante had alerted him to be wary of turncoat Genovese mobster Vincent (Fish) Cafaro. "You know what this Chin did, ah, he sent me a message: Fish is going to testify against me. And he recommends that I get in touch with ..."
In 1987, in a Hoboken, NJ restaurant, an FBI bug picked up a snippet of a conversation in which Manna (left) is heard giving Casella instructions about a different kind of message he wanted to send Gotti.
Gigante's name was not mentioned in that brief passage, but Manna and his henchmen said it enough times that it backed up testimony from Gravano and others that Gigante had plotted to kill Gotti as retribution for his unsanctioned execution of Gambino boss Paul Castellano in 1985.
In addition to the tapes, and testimony of six mob turncoats, including former Luchese acting boss Alfonso (Little Al) D'Arco, FBI agents and detectives also told how they watched Gigante evade wiretaps and bugs by using public phones in the middle of the night and by whispering in the ears of his cohorts at late night gatherings at his paramour's upper East Side townhouse.
As the jury forewoman pronounced him guilty, Gigante rolled his eyes toward the jury box in seeming disbelief, a perfect symbol for the Mafia boss of the 1990's - dazed, confused, and on his way to jail.
THIS week, Andy answers a query from Pete "The Bull" Stathakis, who wants to know how the mob carves up territories. He asks: "Are there any territorial lines that are drawn up in which only members of one or more families can conduct their rackets?"
"Discussing rules about mob territories is very complicated because the situation varies depending on the area of the country and the era," says Andy. "Before the Commission was formed in 1931, there were endless conflicts over territory, especially over alcohol. Indeed, the battle between Al Capone (left) and the Chicago Cosa Nostra Family led by Joe Aiello was a territorial feud that escalated into the Castellammarese War involving numerous other families, especially in New York. The mob hoped that a new type of governing, a board of directors of seven Cosa Nostra Bosses, the Commission, would prevent this madness, which, in the end, was bad for business.
"For the next 30 years the system appeared to work quite well since there were no cataclysmic outbreaks of violence between families. In internal family disputes between soldiers and\or associates of the same family, what usually happened then, and happens today, is the feuding parties are called to a "sitdown." Often, a capo presides over the meeting, especially if both parties are members of his crew. However, if the dispute involves two different crews, both capos may get involved. A more serious problem might even require the presence of the boss. Whomever presides listens to both sides of the story and quickly renders a verdict. You might want to read pages 77-78 of Joe Bonanno's autobiography to see his account of one such "sitdown." Often the "verdict" depended on who had the better connections rather than what the "truth" was.
"Unlike cities like Detroit and Chicago which have only one Cosa Nostra Family, the New York area has seven families jockeying for position. While there are established "territories" - Staten Island, for example, is considered a Gambino area - real life is much murkier. This often happens when a loanshark victim ends up owing money to soldiers in two different families. If one mobster beat him up, he might run to the other for protection. A sitdown would then occur to settle the dispute. You might want to read Mob Star, page 117, which details a real life sitdown involving John Gotti overpowering Colombo soldier, Michael Franzese. Franzese gives an alternate version in his own book, Quitting the Mob, pages 111-113.
"Territorial disputes involving bosses in not unknown either. In 1959, an FBI bug overheard Chicago Boss, Sam Giancanna, reporting on his first Commission meeting to mob power Tony Accardo. When Giancanna related that Joe Bonanno, (left) a Cosa Nostra boss in New York, had taken up residence in Arizona, Accardo was livid. To Accardo, Bonanno was unilaterally expanding his "territory" and Accardo didn't like it. A few years later, another bug overheard the Buffalo boss complain about Bonanno's activities in Canada. Montreal was considered Bonanno territory, but some of Bonanno's Montreal men were meeting with Toronto gangsters. This angered the Buffalo boss since Toronto was considered his territory and he felt Bonanno had designs on it. Ultimately, the Commission "settled" the disputes by deposing Bonanno as boss of his family. Bonanno resisted and a number of Cosa Nostra members were killed before Bonanno retired to Arizona.
"There are "open" territories as well. Las Vegas is the best example of this. Any Cosa Nostra Family was free to operate here as long as they didn't interfere with others. At one time, bosses from New England, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Chicago and New York had interests in casinos there. Numerous negotiations were necessary to keep things running smoothly and to stay ahead of the Nevada Gaming Commission.
"In conclusion let me just add that even though there were and are various ways of resolving conflict in Cosa Nostra, the reality of this life is "might is right". The person with the power ultimately gets to decide what is right and wrong no matter what the facts are."
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