Clawing Up Through the Ranks

Carlo Gambino died of a heart attack in October of 1976, while watching the New York Yankees in the World Series. He had named Paul Castellano to succeed him. Castellano was adept at managing the family's white-collar crimes, which Gambino realized were the wave of the future. Aniello Del-lacroce's feelings were hurt. And when a sensitive mobster's feathers are ruffled, the fur usually flies.

Boss in Training

Gotti had been consolidating his power base and rising within the ranks. The McBratney murder had granted him the exalted position of “made” man. The heists crew that operated out of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club were his guys now, loyal to the up-and-coming capo. The boss, Paul Castel-lano, did not have as high an opinion of Gotti. That in itself thwarted Gotti's ambitions. Gotti in turn did not like or respect Castellano.

A week before John Gotti's death, his brother, Peter, acting head of the Gambino crime family, and several others were indicted on sixty-eight counts of racketeering, including another brother and a nephew, both named Richard. It was yet another blow to the Gotti era of the Gambino crime family.

Much of Gotti's success occurred because he violated an old Mafia rule: no involvement in drugs. Castellano eschewed the drug scene and ordered his men to stop. But there was a lot of money to be made in the drug trade. Other criminal organizations were deeply involved in drug trafficking, and the Mafia was notorious for wanting a cut of someone else's profits.

Paul Castellano

Courtesy of AP Images/Mario Suriani

Paul Castellano, known as “Big Paul,” sixty-nine, arrives at federal court in Manhattan for his arraignment on Feb. 28, 1985. Castellano is the reputed head of the Gambino crime family and described by law enforcement officials as the most powerful man in organized crime.

The rules were bending in that it eventually came down from Castellano that anyone caught dealing in drugs would be killed, emphasis on the “if they were caught” loophole. Eventually the old dons turned a blind eye to drug dealing when they saw the vast wealth that filled the family coffers.

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