Decades have passed since the era when the notorious John J. Gotti strutted around Manhattan and the Gambino family virtually dominated New York City’s organized crime world.
In the years since, the organization’s power has declined, and apart from a few relatives starring in reality television shows, Gambino bosses have kept a relatively low profile.
But on Wednesday, the family was vaulted into the spotlight after its reputed boss, Francesco Cali, was fatally shot outside in his home on Staten Island.
The killing was striking for how it seemed to connect Mr. Cali, a publicity-shy don, with the ill-fated ends of past Mafia bosses.
To understand how, you’ll need to know the history of the Gambino family.
How did the Gambino family get its name?
Though the crime organization in question had been operating for decades, the Gambino family’s name came from Carlo Gambino, who was the family’s boss from 1957 to his death in 1976.
The five major families who controlled organized crime in New York came to prominent attention because of hearings on Capitol Hill during that time. All five Mafia families were named after their leaders, and those names — the others are Bonanno, Colombo, Genovese and Lucchese — have stuck since.
How are Mafia families structured?
American Mafia families generally have similar structures. At the top is a boss who runs the show. His second-in-command is known as an underboss. He also has a consigliere, a counselor or adviser.
Underneath all of them are capos, or captains, who run crews of soldiers. Soldiers are the lowest formal members of a Mafia family, but they have usually proven themselves and have taken an oath to the organization.
So, what happened to Mr. Gambino?
He died of natural causes at age 74.
Natural causes? Or “natural causes?”
Mr. Gambino had been suffering from a serious heart condition for years before he died. Law enforcement officials at the time didn’t suspect foul play in his death.
But it’s a fair question, considering the fates that met other mob bosses — including the man who took over for him, Paul Castellano.
What happened to Mr. Castellano?
He was murdered outside a Manhattan steak house.
Mr. Castellano, Mr. Gambino’s brother-in-law, took the reins of the Gambino family in 1976. By then, it was one of the largest and most powerful crime organizations in the United States. He held the position for nine years, until he was gunned down outside Sparks Steak House in Midtown.
Mr. Castellano’s killing — which, before Mr. Cali’s death, was the last time a Mafia boss was killed in New York City — was said to be a power grab orchestrated by Mr. Gotti.
So, how was Mr. Gotti involved?
Unlike the heads of families past, John J. Gotti courted publicity and flaunted his power from the time he took control of the Gambino family in 1985 to his imprisonment in 1992.
In the tabloids, Mr. Gotti was given the name the “Dapper Don.” He often appeared in smart suits with luxe silk ties and was known for lavish spending.
His other moniker, “Teflon Don,” came from how often he managed to avoid prosecution. He was acquitted in three high-profile trials during his first five years as the Gambino boss.
But Mr. Gotti’s notoriety also came from his ruthlessness. He was known for having a furious temper and for ordering the killings of people he suspected were informants.
It was an informer who would prove his undoing. Salvatore Gravano, Mr. Gotti’s underboss, testified as a government witness at Mr. Gotti’s fourth trial on murder-racketeering charges.
Mr. Gravano, also known as “Sammy the Bull,” testified about Mr. Gotti’s involvement in Mr. Castellano’s murder, as well as in other crimes.
Ultimately, Mr. Gotti was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Who took over next?
Federal prosecutors said at the time that Mr. Gotti had appointed his eldest son, John A. Gotti, as the acting boss. But the younger Mr. Gotti went to prison in 1999, after pleading guilty to extortion. He has since said that he quit the mob around that time.
Investigators later said that they believed John J. Gotti was still controlling the Gambino family — acting through his older brother, Peter — until his death in prison in 2002.
Peter Gotti, who is now 79, was reputed to have become the official boss of the family after his brother’s death. He went to federal prison in 2004, serving sentences for racketeering, money laundering, extortion and plotting to kill Mr. Gravano.
With Peter Gotti in prison, the Gottis were seemingly no longer running the daily operations.
What happened with the Gambino family?
Besides John J. Gotti, the leaders of the Gambino family generally kept a low profile. The next time the family came to widespread media attention was 2008, when law enforcement arrested 62 people on federal racketeering charges.
The indictment filed by federal prosecutors said the reputed acting boss was John “Jackie” D’Amico.
He was succeeded by Domenico Cefalù, according to a report from The New York Daily News in 2011. He ran the family until Mr. Cali took control.
With Mr. Cali’s murder, it was not clear who would take the reins of the Gambino family.
Why do I still hear the name Gotti?
The family has retained its fame. In 2004, John J. Gotti’s daughter Victoria, and her family, starred in a reality television show called “Growing Up Gotti.” The show ran for three seasons before it was canceled.
Ms. Gotti later competed on “The Celebrity Apprentice” and made appearances on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” and VH1’s “Mob Wives.”
She’s not the only Gambino-adjacent woman on reality shows. Karen Gravano, the daughter of the man who helped send Ms. Gotti’s father to prison, also appeared on “Mob Wives.”
Ms. Gravano went on to become an executive producer on another reality show, MTV’s “Made in Staten Island,” which starred her daughter, Karina Seabrook. The show was met with outcry from city officials, and MTV pulled it from the air after three episodes.
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