NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Tuesday, December 15, 2015, 8:46 PM
Thirty years ago Wednesday, shots rang out in front of Sparks Steak House in Midtown, leaving then-Gambino crime boss Paul Castellano dead in the gutter, and signaling the rise to power of John Gotti who would soon become the most famous gangster in America.
It was also a development, according to mob experts, that ultimately speeded up the demise of the five mob families in New York City.
“It was one of the most singular acts that altered the existence of the New York Mafia,” said Phil Scala the retired head of the FBI squad that investigated the Gambino family.
“John Gotti took the La Cosa Nostra rulebook and shot it full of holes on East 46th St. and Third Ave.,” Scala said.
John Gotti (c.) died while incarcerated at a federal prison in Marion, Ill.
Gotti and his crew of hand-picked assassins wearing Russian-type fur hats, were carrying out the ultimate power play — killing the boss of their family — without the permission or blessing of the heads of the Genovese, Colombo, Luchese, and Bonanno families.
Castellano, 70, was on trial at the time in federal court fighting a racketeering case, when he left his lawyer James LaRossa’s office and headed to Sparks with his underboss, Thomas Bilotti, where they were going to have dinner with capo Thomas Gambino. Castellano and Bilotti were gunned down as they stepped out of their Lincoln sedan.
“The killing of Paul was ridiculous,” said a former Gambino made man now in the witness protection program who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Paul was going to jail anyway, he didn’t have to die.”
But Gotti and his crew feared they were going to be crushed by Castellano for defying his orders not to peddle heroin. It was Castellano and Bilotti — or them.
Jerry Capeci, author of the online column ganglandnews.com, said the rubout was Gotti’s crowning achievement. “And while it made Gotti a household word and propelled him to the top of the mob heap, it was also his undoing,” Capeci said.
Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano is serving time in prison for drug charges.
“Gotti died behind bars and three of the Gambino family’s toughest mobsters (Frank DeCicco, Eddie Lino, Bartolomeo Borriello), all close pals of the Dapper Don, were whacked in retaliation for Big Paul’s murder by the Luchese and Genovese families,” Capeci pointed out.
Gotti’s designated underboss, Salvatore (Sammy Bull) Gravano, became a rat and his testimony put Gotti and scores of other mobsters away for life.
Bruce Mouw, who was head of the FBI’s Gambino squad when Castellano was hit, recalled getting a call on his kitchen phone from Scala — no cell phones then — alerting him to the shocking development. Mouw said within two days the feds knew who was responsible.
Paul Castellano (body on sidewalk) and Thomas Bilotti (body in street ), lie dead in front of Sparks Steak House.
“I don’t think you can blame John Gotti for everything that has happened to the mob since then,” Mouw said. “But John Gotti expedited the demise.”
In 1985, the five families controlled lucrative rackets in the construction industry, the waterfront and labor unions. All that control — and cash — is gone today. Mob murders are unheard of because there are so many snitches and the penalty for murder in aid of racketeering is death or life in prison.
The Gambino family is controlled by Sicilian mobsters who don’t relish the spotlight like Gotti did, said Famed defense lawyer Ben Brafman was representing Anthony Senter, a co-defendant of Castellano’s at the trial, who was found not guilty.
“The day before Costellano was murdered, I sat next to him in federal court for 6 hours as I had for the preceding 6 weeks of trial,” Brafman said. “I got to know Paul as a soft spoken intelligent man, not as the head of a crime family and accordingly, I was both shocked and saddened by his death. I have always considered that one of my best acquittals, given the drama that surrounded the case after his violent execution.”