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July 22, 1999
By Jerry Capeci
Sammy Bull Home on The Range
Sammy Bull GravanoSalvatore (Sammy Bull) Gravano, the turncoat underboss who decided eight years ago to save himself by turning his back on the mob and cooperating with the feds, has to be worried about his future.

After living relatively anonymously for the last five years, Gravano was outed Sunday by the Arizona Republic, whose reporter portrayed him as a legitimate businessman who works 12 hour days and lives in a modest bachelor bungalow with a "life-size dummy used for a punching bag" and a little dog that "growls and sniffs at strangers."

The Republic, in a main story and sidebar totaling a massive 2800 words, reported that after his release from an Arizona federal prison, Gravano rented an apartment in the Phoenix Metropolitan area and began running a construction company like the one he ran in Brooklyn until his arrest in 1990. This time, though, he was operating without the backing of the Gambino crime family or the aid of extortion or other labor racketeering schemes.

"For a guy with the threat of a bullet in the head, life was tolerable. Until two weeks ago," wrote reporter Dennis Wagner triumphantly: "The secret died at his construction office amid junkyards and vacant lots."

Wagner, 46 and a 23-year veteran newspaperman, said Gravano, his lawyer, a publicist and a New York FBI agent pleaded with him not to print the story, arguably one of the biggest in his 15 years at the Phoenix-based paper.

Sammy Bull Gravano"What would be so interesting about me?" asked Gravano. "Running a legitimate business. Being monitored by the government... I think it's boring."

Wagner said Gravano told him he was more concerned about the media than the mob, worrying that an article could trigger an outpouring of reporters from New York. Gravano downplayed the danger, noting that the Mafia probably knew where he is anyway. He said that despite his decision to drop out of the Witness Protection Program, he has lots of FBI and U.S. Marshal buddies now, and a sort or sixth sense about people, estimating that perhaps 300 people in and around Phoenix know his real identity.

But those around him -- and in New York -- are very concerned about Mafia hitmen, who favor small-caliber .22's and .380's as tools of their trade, instead of laptop computers and tape recorders.

"In the mob," said Gravano, "anytime anybody flips, there's an open contract on him." In a phone call from New York, FBI supervisor George Gabriel told Wagner that blowing Gravano's cover meant one thing: "He's a dead man."

Faced with the disclosure of his identity, his company name and information the paper had acquired about family members, Gravano made a deal, not quite as good as the one that got him five years for a life of crime that included 19 murders. He agreed to be interviewed if the paper agreed to withhold those details. The paper, with daily circulation of less than 500,000, in turn, magnanimously agreed, as along as it did not discover that Gravano had done anything corrupt or naughty in Arizona.

The pint-sized, former hit man was nostalgic and witty and waxed poetic.

About plastic surgery that didn't change his appearance, he said: "I asked the doctor if I could look like Robert Redford, but he said no."
"I was the smartest, best-looking, most charismatic of the underbosses who flipped," he winked.

He said he was offered, and turned down a role as a hit man in the HBO hit cable television series about the vagaries of mob life, The Sopronos.

John GottiHe even threw out a line used by his former Mafia boss John Gotti, the onetime Dapper Don who burst on the scene after they engineered the 1985 assassination of their boss, Paul Castellano. Gotti used it when he showed up at court a few days after Castellano was gunned down and asked by reporters about FBI reports that he was the new boss of the Gambino family.

"I'm extremely happy right now," Gravano told Wagner. "I'm a boss. Of my family. Of my friends. Of my own life."

At least for now, Sammy, at least for now.  

Family Garbage
You could call these guys trash terrorists or garbage gangsters or just plain criminals.

A jailed Luchese mobster, his son and son-in-law have been charged with racketeering for conducting a 15-year reign of terror in an attempt to keep the lucrative private sanitation industry on Long Island a family affair.

Salvatore AvellinoCapo Salvatore Avellino, 63, imprisoned since 1993 on similar charges, allegedly got another Luchese mobster to try to kill a rival carter in 1997 and used his son and son-in-law to set fire to rivals' garbage trucks and buildings from 1983 until last year.

Michael Avellino, 35, and his brother-in-law, Michael Malena, 40, allegedly also started fires at companies which hired other garbage haulers to pick up their trash.

The 15-count indictment also seeks forfeiture of $50 million in assets from the Avellinos, who sold their companies for $20 million two years ago, and from co-defendant Frank Notarantonio, 53, who owns three companies named in the indictment.

Salvatore Avellino, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder two private carters killed in 1989 after they cooperated with authorities, ran the Luchese family's Long Island garbage rackets since 1979, the indictment said.

Jody CalbreseFrom 1983 until last November, the Avellinos, Malena and Notarantino burned 12 buildings of competitors or their customers, conspired to kill a rival carter in 1993, and ordered the shooting of a salesman for a rival company in 1997. Mobster Jody Calabrese (left) pleaded guilty to pumping five bullets into the salesman and got 10 years in prison.

Notarantonio even set fire to his own property twice to deflect suspicion from himself and collect insurance.

Michael Avellino is also charged with arson and mail fraud for burning a Smithtown, L.I. bagel store in an insurance scam. Four others, including a husband and wife team who worked for Notarantonio, were also hit with arson related insurance scams.

All the defendants pleaded innocent except Salvatore Avellino, who is serving time at a federal prison in Pennsylvania, and not due out until 2002.

Who's The Dumb Son
Robert SpinelliRobert Spinelli, 36, (right) may not be so dumb after all.  Certainly not as dumb as his IQ of 63 may indicate. 

Robert drove the "switch car" during the attempted murder of Patricia Capozzalo, a sister of a turncoat mob capo in March 1992 -- a same month that was probably the lowpoint for the Mafia in this century because that's when Sammy Gravano became the first mob underboss to take the witness stand against his boss. Robert was certainly much smarter at his sentencing than older brother Michael (Baldy Mike) was at his.

Michael showed not even a trace of remorse at his sentencing and took the proceeding into the Twilight Zone when he said he hoped it would bring closure to both his family and the Capozzalo family, who had both suffered enough.

Robert told Brooklyn Federal Judge Raymond Dearie he was sorry he listened to his brother and drove Michael and trigger man Dino Basciano to safety after they ditched the stolen van used in the rubout attempt.

Baldy Mike SpinelliWith tears streaming down his cheeks, Robert said he felt terrible at his trial last fall, when Capozzalo testified about being shot after dropping two of her children at school. "She reminded me of my mother," he said. "I wanted to cry. Please forgive me."

Dearie, who sentenced Michael to 19 years and seven months, gave Robert 10 years, four years less than the minimum called for by the sentencing guidelines because of his minimal role in the shooting and his diminished mental capacity.

Gravano was involved in 19 murders and got five years. Spinelli chauffeured his brother to safety after a botched hit and got 10 years. And Hollywood still glamorizes the mob. Go figure.

 

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Copyright, Jerry Capeci, 1999
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