|Birth Day:||March 12, 1945|
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When he was 13 years old, he joined a street gang known as the Rampers in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
Salvatore Gravano was born on March 12, 1945, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York to Giorlando "Gerry" and Caterina "Kay" Gravano. He was the youngest of three children, having two sisters. Both of Gravano's parents hailed from Sicily; his mother was brought to the U.S. as a child, while his father had been on the crew of a freighter when he jumped ship in Canada and entered the U.S. illegally. Gravano's father ran a small dress factory and maintained a good standard of living for the family. Early on, one of Gravano's relatives remarked that he looked like his uncle Sammy. From that point on, everyone called Gravano "Sammy" instead of "Salvatore" or "Sal."
The next step was smoothing over the planned hit with the other families. It has long been a hard and fast rule in the Mafia that killing a boss is forbidden without the support of a majority of the Commission. Indeed, Gotti's planned hit would have been the first off-the-record hit on a boss since Frank Costello was nearly killed in 1957. Knowing it would be too risky to approach the other four bosses directly, the conspirators got the support of several important mobsters of their generation in the Lucchese, Colombo and Bonanno families. Gotti and Ruggiero then sought and obtained the approval of key figures from the Colombos and Bonannos, while DeCicco secured the backing of top mobsters aligned with the Luccheses. They did not even consider approaching the Genoveses; Castellano had especially close ties with Genovese boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante, and approaching any major Genovese figure, even one of their generation, could have been a tipoff. Gotti could thus claim he had the support of "off-the-record contacts" from three out of five families. With Neil Dellacroce's death on December 2, 1985, the final constraint on a move by Gotti or Castellano against the other was removed. Gotti, enraged that Castellano chose not to attend his mentor's wake, wasted little time in striking.
In 1964, Gravano was drafted into the United States Army and served in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. While an enlisted man, Gravano mainly worked as a mess hall cook. He rose to the rank of corporal and was granted an honorable discharge after two years.
The Mafia had a longstanding presence in Bensonhurst via the Profaci family, which evolved into the Colombo family. Despite his father's attempts to dissuade him, Gravano, like many of his Ramper colleagues, drifted into the Cosa Nostra. He first became associated with the Cosa Nostra in 1968 through Anthony Spero, whose uncle Shorty was an associate of the Colombo family under future boss, Carmine "The Snake" Persico. Gravano was initially involved in crimes such as larceny, hijacking, and armed robbery. He quickly moved into racketeering, loansharking, and running a lucrative poker game in the back room of an after-hours club, of which he was part owner.
In 1970, Gravano committed his first murder—that of Joseph Colucci, a fellow Spero associate with whose wife Tommy Spero was having an affair. Gravano described the experience thus:
In 1971, Gravano married Debra Scibetta; they had two children. His daughter Karen Gravano appeared on the VH1 reality series, Mob Wives beginning in 2011, and released a book in 2013 titled Mob Daughter: The Mafia, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, and Me!.
Gravano's robbery spree impressed Aurello, who proposed him for membership in the Gambino family soon after the membership books were reopened. In 1976, Gravano was formally initiated into the Gambino family as a made man.
In 1978, boss Paul Castellano allegedly ordered the murder of Gambino associate Nicholas Scibetta. A cocaine and alcohol user, Scibetta participated in several public fights and insulted the daughter of George DeCicco. Since Scibetta was Gravano's brother-in-law, Castellano asked Frank DeCicco to first notify Gravano of the impending hit. When advised of Scibetta's fate, a furious Gravano said he would kill Castellano first. However, Gravano was eventually calmed by DeCicco and accepted Scibetta's death as the punishment earned by his behavior. Another part of the motive for the murder was that Scibetta was suspected of being gay. Gravano later said, "I chose against Nicky. I took an oath that Cosa Nostra came before everything." Scibetta was dismembered and his body was never found other than an arm.
Gravano further ingratiated himself to Castellano when he interceded in a civil war that had erupted within the Philadelphia crime family. In March 1980, longtime Philadelphia boss, Angelo Bruno, was assassinated by his consigliere, Antonio Caponigro, without authorization from The Commission. The Commission summoned Caponigro to New York, where it sentenced him to death for his transgression. After Caponigro was tortured and killed, Philip Testa was installed as the new Philadelphia boss and Nicky Scarfo as consigliere. The Commission subsequently placed contracts on Caponigro's co-conspirators, including John "Johnny Keys" Simone, who also happened to be Bruno's cousin. The Simone contract was given to Gravano.
In 1982, Frank Fiala, a wealthy businessman and drug trafficker, paid Gravano $40,000 to rent the Plaza Suite for a birthday party he was throwing himself. Two days after the party, Gravano accepted a $1,000,000 offer from Fiala to buy the establishment, which Gravano had only valued at $200,000. The deal was structured to include $100,000 cash as a down payment, $650,000 in gold bullion under the table, and a $250,000 payment at the real estate closing.
During this time, the FBI had intensified its efforts against the Gambino family and in August 1983, three members of Gotti's crew – Angelo Ruggiero, John Carneglia, and Gene Gotti – were indicted for heroin trafficking. Castellano was against anyone in the family dealing narcotics. Castellano planned to kill Gene Gotti and Ruggiero if he believed they were drug traffickers. Castellano asked Ruggiero for a copy of the government surveillance tapes that had Ruggiero's conversations. To save Gene Gotti and Ruggiero, Dellacroce stalled the demand. Eventually, one of the reasons for Gotti's killing Castellano was to save his brother and Ruggiero. The FBI had bugged Ruggiero's house and telephone, and Castellano decided he needed copies of the tapes to justify his impending move to Dellacroce and the family's other capos.
When Castellano was indicted for both his connection to Roy DeMeo's stolen car ring and as part of the Mafia Commission Trial, he learned his own house had been bugged on the basis of evidence from the Ruggiero tapes and he became livid. In June 1985, he again demanded that Dellacroce get him the tapes. Both Dellacroce and Gotti tried to convince Ruggiero to comply if Castellano explained beforehand how he intended to use the tapes, but Ruggiero refused, fearing he would endanger good friends.
Not suspecting the plot against him, Castellano invited DeCicco to a meeting on December 16, 1985, with fellow capos Thomas Gambino, James Failla, and Danny Marino at Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. The conspirators considered the restaurant a prime location for the hit because the area would be packed with bustling crowds of holiday shoppers, making it easier for the assassins to blend in and escape. The plans for the assassination were finalized on December 15, and the next afternoon, the conspirators met for a final time on the Lower East Side. At Gotti's suggestion, the shooters wore long white trench coats and black fur Russian hats, which Gravano considered a "brilliant" idea.
After Castellano's death, Gallo–the only surviving member of the hierarchy–convened a three-man committee to temporarily run the family, comprising himself, Gotti and DeCicco. However, it was an open secret that Gotti was acting boss in all but name, and nearly all of the family's capos knew he had been the one behind the hit. Gotti was formally acclaimed as the new boss of the Gambino family at a meeting of 20 capos held on January 15, 1986. Gotti, in turn, selected DeCicco as his underboss and elevated Gravano to capo after Toddo Aurello announced his desire to step down.
On April 13, 1986, DeCicco was killed when his car was bombed following a visit to Castellano loyalist James Failla. The bombing was carried out by Victor Amuso and Anthony Casso of the Lucchese family, under orders of Vincent Gigante and Lucchese boss Anthony Corallo, to avenge Castellano and Bilotti by killing their successors; Gotti also planned to visit Failla that day, but canceled, and the bomb was detonated after a soldier who rode with DeCicco was mistaken for the boss. Bombs had long been banned by the Mafia out of concern that it would put innocent people in harm's way, leading the Gambinos to initially suspect that "zips"—Sicilian mafiosi working in the U.S.—were behind it; zips were well known for using bombs.
Gotti was imprisoned in May 1986 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York, while awaiting trial on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges. He was forced to rely heavily on Gravano, Angelo Ruggiero, and Joseph "Piney" Armone to manage the family's day-to-day affairs while he called the major shots from his jail cell.
With Gotti's permission, Gravano set up the murders of Tommy Spero and several other Gambino associates. Eventually, Gotti would name Gravano his underboss, and move Locascio to consigliere. In 1986, Gotti underwent a racketeering trial. Jury selection for the racketeering case began again in August 1986, with Gotti standing trial alongside his brother Gene "Willie Boy" Johnson (who, despite being exposed as an informant, refused to turn state's evidence), Leonard DiMaria, Tony Rampino, Nicholas Corozzo and John Carneglia. At this point, the Gambinos were able to compromise the case when George Pape hid his friendship with Boško Radonjić and was empaneled as juror No. 11. Through Radonjić, Pape contacted Gravano and agreed to sell his vote on the jury for $60,000. On March 13, 1987, they acquitted Gotti and his codefendants of all charges. In the face of previous Mafia convictions, particularly the success of the Mafia Commission Trial, Gotti's acquittal was a major upset that further added to his reputation. The American media dubbed Gotti "The Teflon Don" in reference to the failure of any charges to "stick."
Gotti's trial ultimately ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury and the boss was freed from jail. Gravano's specific position within the family varied during 1986 and 1987. He started out as co-underboss with Ruggiero and later was shifted to co-consigliere with Armone. When Joseph N. Gallo and Armone were convicted on racketeering charges in 1987, Gotti turned to Gravano to help fill the void, promoting him to official consigliere and making Frank Locascio acting underboss. By this time, Gravano was regarded as a "rising force" in the construction industry and often mingled with executives from major construction firms and union officials at his popular Bensonhurst restaurant, Tali's.
On December 11, 1990, FBI agents and NYPD detectives raided the Ravenite Social Club, arresting Gravano, Gotti and Locascio. Gravano pleaded guilty to a superseding racketeering charge, and Gotti charged with five murders (Castellano, Bilotti, DiBernardo, Liborio Milito and Louis Dibono), conspiracy to murder Gaetano Vastola, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion. Based on tapes from FBI bugs played at pretrial hearings, the Gambino administration was denied bail. At the same time, attorneys Bruce Cutler and Gerald Shargel were disqualified from defending Gotti and Gravano after prosecutors successfully contended they were "part of the evidence" and thus liable to be called as witnesses. Prosecutors argued that Cutler and Shargel not only knew about potential criminal activity, but had worked as "in-house counsel" for the Gambino family. Gotti subsequently hired Albert Krieger, a Miami attorney who had worked with Joseph Bonanno, to replace Cutler.
The tapes also created a rift between Gotti and Gravano, showing the Gambino boss describing his newly appointed underboss as too greedy and attempting to frame Gravano as the main force behind the murders of DiBernardo, Milito and Dibono. Gotti's attempt at reconciliation failed, leaving Gravano disillusioned with the mob and doubtful on his chances of winning his case without Shargel, his former attorney. Gravano ultimately opted to turn state's evidence, formally agreeing to testify on November 13, 1991. He was the first member of the hierarchy of a New York crime family to turn informer, and the second confessed underboss in the history of the American Mafia to do so after the Philadelphia crime family's Phil Leonetti.
Gotti and Locascio were tried in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York before District Judge I. Leo Glasser. Jury selection began in January 1992 with an anonymous jury and, for the first time in a Brooklyn federal case, fully sequestered during the trial due to Gotti's reputation for jury tampering. The trial commenced with the prosecution's opening statements on February 12; prosecutors Andrew Maloney and John Gleeson began their case by playing tapes showing Gotti discussing Gambino family business, including murders he approved, and confirming the animosity between Gotti and Castellano to establish the former's motive to kill his boss. After calling an eyewitness of the Sparks hit who identified Carneglia as one of the men who shot Bilotti, they then brought Gravano to testify on March 2. On the stand, Gravano confirmed Gotti's place in the structure of the Gambino family and described in detail the conspiracy to assassinate Castellano, giving a full description of the hit and its aftermath. Gravano confessed to 19 murders, implicating Gotti in four of them. Krieger, and Locascio's attorney, Anthony Cardinale, proved unable to shake Gravano during cross-examination. After additional testimony and tapes, the government rested its case on March 24. Among other outbursts, Gotti called Gravano a junkie while his attorneys sought to discuss his past steroid use.
On June 23, 1992, Glasser sentenced Gotti and Locascio to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and a $250,000 fine. Gotti surrendered to federal authorities to serve his prison time on December 14, 1992. On September 26, 1994, a federal judge sentenced Gravano to five years in prison. However, since Gravano had already served four years, the sentence amounted to less than one year.
Later in 1994, Gravano was released early and entered the U.S. federal Witness Protection Program. The government moved him to Tempe, Arizona, where he assumed the name Jimmy Moran and started a swimming pool installation company.
However, in 1995, Gravano left Witness Protection and relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona. A Federal prosecutor later said that Gravano did not like the constraints of the program. Gravano began living very openly, giving interviews to magazines and appearing in a nationally televised interview with television journalist Diane Sawyer. It was reported that he had undergone plastic surgery to his face. In 1996, his wife Debra divorced him.
In 1997, Gravano was consulted several times for the 1997 biographical book about his life, Underboss by author Peter Maas. In it, Gravano claimed that he became a government witness after Gotti attempted to defame him at their trial. Gravano finally realized that the Cosa Nostra code of honor was a sham. At this time, Gravano also hired a publicist, despite the fact Gravano complained often about the publicity-seeking Gotti. After the publication of Underboss, several families of Gravano's victims filed a $25 million lawsuit against him. Also in 1997, New York State took legal action to seize Gravano's profits from the book.
In the aftermath of the Fiala murder, Gravano continued to focus on his construction business, branching out into the lucrative concrete paving industry. New York City's cement industry was controlled by four of the Five Families, which made millions of dollars by manipulating bids and steering contracts. Gravano said in 1998, "I literally controlled Manhattan, literally. You want concrete poured in Manhattan? That was me. Tishman, Donald Trump, all these guys—they couldn't build a building without me."
During an interview Gravano had with the newspaper The Arizona Republic, he claimed federal agents he had met after becoming a government witness had become his personal friends and even visited him in Arizona while on vacation. Gravano later claimed that he didn't want The Republic to publish the story, but relented after the paper allegedly threatened to reveal that his family was living with him in Phoenix. The story so incensed his former mob compatriots that they forced the Gambinos to put a murder contract on him. The FBI alleged that Peter Gotti ordered two Gambino soldiers, Thomas "Huck" Carbonaro and Eddie Garafola, to murder Gravano in Arizona in 1999.
In February 2000, Gravano and nearly 40 other ring members—including his ex-wife Debra, daughter Karen, and Gerard—were arrested on federal and state drug charges. Gravano was implicated by informants in his own drug ring, as well as by recorded conversations in which he discussed drug profits with Debra and Karen.
On May 25, 2001, Gravano pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to drug trafficking charges. On June 29, 2001, Gravano pleaded guilty in Phoenix to the state charges.
In 2002, Gravano was diagnosed with Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder that can cause fatigue, weight loss with increased appetite, and hair loss.
On September 7, 2002, after numerous delays, Gravano was sentenced in New York to 20 years in prison. A month later, he was also sentenced in Arizona to 19 years in prison to run concurrently. Gravano served his sentence at ADX Florence, part of it being in solitary confinement. Gerard Gravano received nine years in prison in October 2002. Debra and Karen Gravano also pleaded guilty and received several years on probation. In November 2003, Sammy and Karen were ordered to pay $805,713.41 as reimbursement for court costs and investigative expenses relating to an earlier drug ring judgment.
On February 24, 2003, New Jersey state prosecutors announced Gravano's indictment for ordering the 1980 murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro by contract killer Richard Kuklinski. Gravano denied any involvement in Calabro's death and rejected a plea deal, under which he would have received no additional jail time if he confessed to the crime and implicated all his accomplices. Gravano reportedly told detectives that if he had wanted to kill Calabro, he would have "whacked him myself". Gravano's lawyer claimed that Kuklinski had tried to use the allegation to extort $200,000 from Gravano, which was later confirmed by the FBI. The charges against Gravano were dropped after Kuklinski's death in 2006.
In 2013, National Geographic Channel dramatized Gravano's ecstasy ring in a scene in the Banged Up Abroad episode "Raving Arizona", televised worldwide. The episode told the story of ecstasy dealer "English" Shaun Attwood, who was Gravano's main competitor in the Arizona ecstasy market.
In August 2015, Gravano's request to leave prison early was denied for reasons citing his "longstanding reputation for extreme violence".
Gravano was listed as being in the Arizona state prison system at a CO Special Services unit. He was initially scheduled to be released in March 2019, however, was released early on September 18, 2017.
Currently, Sammy Gravano is 78 years, 0 months and 10 days old. Sammy Gravano will celebrate 79th birthday on a Tuesday 12th of March 2024.
Find out about Sammy Gravano birthday activities in timeline view here.