The “Teflon Don” goes to jail

On June 23, 1992, the swaggering, tough talking leader of the Gambino crime family was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

In a bizarre incident after John Gotti’s sentence was announced, about 800 Gotti supporters who had gathered in a park across the street from the Brooklyn courthouse stormed the building. Chanting, “set Gotti free” they smashed and overturned cars and pelted police with wood ripped from barricades.

Many of the protestors arrived on seven chartered buses from New Jersey, Queens and the Bronx. They argued that the trial had been a travesty, calling it a kangaroo court. It’s believed that Gotti’s son, John Gotti Jr. organized the protest.

Don Gotti, earned the nickname the “Teflon Don” after escaping unscathed from three high profile trials between 1985 and 1990.

But the law finally caught up to him in 1992 when he was found guilty in connection with the assination of mob boss Paul Castellano and his bodyguard outside a Manhattan steakhouse in December 1985.

The murder was believed to be a power grab by Gotti who became the leader of the Gambino crime family after Castellano was gunned down.

Between 1985 and 1990 Gotti rapidly expanded the Gambino criminal empire and it grew into the nation’s most powerful Mafia family. The family was especially known for drugs, gambling and car theft and had links to New York City construction, labour unions and the garment industry.

Gotti who was known for his ruthlessness and furious temper, was also known for his colorful way of dressing which earned him a second nickname, the “Dapper Don.” And unlike other mob bosses who shunned the spotlight as much as possible, Gotti courted publicity.

Despite wide publicity of his criminal activities, Gotti managed to avoid jail several times, usually through witness intimidation. But then the FBI bugged his social club and other places where mob leaders held private meetings and got enough evidence on tape to indict Gotti in the murder of Castellano. At the trial, Gotti’s close colleague Sammy “the Bull” Gravano testified against him in exchange for a reduced sentenced.

Sammy “the Bull” Gravano

With Gotti behind bars, his son John Gotti Jr took over until he too was sent to prison in 1999 and then quit the mob altogether. After that Gotti Sr. reportedly ran the crime family from prison until he died from throat cancer in 2004.

Following Gotti’s death his daughter Victoria and her family starred in a reality show called “Growing up Gotti” which ran from 2004 to 2007. She also competed on “Celebrity Apprentice” and made appearances on Bravo’s ”Housewives of New Jersey” and VH1’s “Mob Wives.” In a weird twist of fate, Karen Gravano, the daughter of Sammy Gravano who helped convict John Gotti also appeared on “Mob Wives.”

Victoria Gotti and her sons arrive at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards.

Other than these reality shows, the Gambino family has mostly kept a low profile since the 1990’s and its power has also declined. They were, however, back in the news in 2019, when the family’s reputed boss Francesco Cali was shot and killed outside his home in Staten Island.

For more stories from the 1990s make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at

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