SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - He’s one of the most notorious mobsters in the history of organized crime. Salvatore "Sammy The Bull" Gravano earned the name at 10, when some older bullies stole his bike.
He fought them with such ferocity that some mobsters watching marveled that he went after them "like a bull." The name stuck.
Gravano eventually rose to second in command of the Gambino crime family, committed 19 mob murders, and in 1991, facing life in prison, he turned on his boss, John Gotti, and cooperated with the feds, sending Gotti to prison for life.
In exchange for his cooperation, Sammy got five years.
At 75, after two stints in prison, he’s now our neighbor. He lives here in the Valley. Starting a new life, ready to tell his story.
"People have been talking about me for years and I’ve never opened my mouth until recently. I want them to know who I really am and what I did. The truth," said Gravano.
The truth is complicated.
"The mafia is a secret society and a brotherhood. It’s been like that for a hundred years. Cosa Nostra to me was family. There’s a lot of really good sides to the mafia, there’s bad sides to it and there’s very ugly sides to it."
Like killing people — even your closest friends.
"It’s your [expletive] friends who kill you. I still have that in me to say you’re a [expletive.] You knew you could die for this and you just kept doing it and look at the position you put me in by doing this."
Hook: "How much remorse after a hit would you feel conflicted about having just ended someone’s life?"
Gravano: "Yes, there’s a lot of times I felt for them. Especially when I had to go to a funeral and I’m part of that murder or I’m the actual killer. But when you break the rules in this life, you die. There’s nothing I can do about it. I mean, that’s just the way it is."
Hook: "Did you ever have a perfect hit?"
Gravano: "I think I had 19 of them."
Paul Castellano hit
Perhaps none more skillful then the brazen 1985 hit on mob boss Paul Castellano.
Gravano: "I planned that entire hit."
Gravano: "Yes. There’s never been a hit like this ever done."
Hook: "Would this be weeks of planning a hit?"
Gravano: "This took more than weeks, this took months."
The location and timing could not have been bolder. Gravano chose bustling Manhattan at Christmas time.
Gravano: "Paul Castellano was going to a meeting in Sparks Steak House. We knew about that in advance. I thought that amount of people, that amount of confusion, it could be done quickly and the confusion and nobody would know what’s going on. Wow when the guns start blazing, tens of thousands of people running in every direction would give the team plenty of room to slide through and get away."
A team of 11 men carried it out.
Gravano: "In the Castellano hit, there were four shooters because we wanted Tommy Bilotti and Castellano hit. They both got out of the car at the same time.
Hook: "Did it matter in your mind, a hit whether you were pulling the trigger or not?"
Gravano: "No, no that never mattered to me. It’s a team. Everybody has a job, you have a job."
Gravano wasn’t the shooter that night. He was parked across the street, directing the team by walkie-talkie.
Hook: "You’ve got drivers, a trigger man, look out people, you’ve got a crash car. What’s the crash car for?"
Gravano: "The crash car is if a police car comes or a car to interfere with it, he crashes into them. Now he shouldn’t have a gun, he should have his own car with his license and everything in his pocket so he can crash into the car."
Hook: "Just an accident?"
Gravano: "Just an accident. Everybody has a job. There’s nothing like a team. This is not a gang. These are professional hitmen."
And they carried out their mission with deadly precision. Castellano and his driver died in a hail of bullets and the entire hit team vanished in the night.
With Castellano out of the way, John Gotti rose to be the Gambino crime family boss. Gravano would eventually become Gotti’s number two — the underboss. But Gotti’s flamboyant style attracted a lot of attention — too much attention.
Gravano: "The problem is that John.. after this was over, fell in love with himself, fell in love with the media and the attention."
A rift was developing that would eventually lead Gravano to do the unthinkable: turn on his boss.
'Now if that isn’t a rat move, I don’t know what is.'
Gravano says he’s left the life, but you never really retire from Cosa Nostra. It’s a blood oath for life until the day you die.
"Nobody wanted me in the mob. My father asked me, ‘Are you going in that life?’ I said no, I’m good. My mother asked me one time. ‘You gotta worry about this..’ Listen, ma, I’m good.. I don’t have to worry about nothing."
Hook: You didn’t want to worry them?
Gravano: "No, of course not. I didn’t want them to think I was in the life. It wasn’t something they would’ve been proud of."
His hard working parents from Italy could never have imagined their dyslexic son would one day become underboss of the Gambino crime family. Gravano became Gotti’s right hand man by doing what he was told, and then some.
Hook: "You actually got to a juror in one of his trials, didn’t you?"
Gravano: "I got to every trial he ever had. Either I got to jurors or I got to witnesses in every one of his trials."
Hook: "You paid off jurors?"
Gravano: "Paid off jurors, threatened people.. everything under the sun."
Blind loyalty, expected under the rules of Cosa Nostra, in service to his boss, John Gotti.
Gravano: "Rigging juries and killing people on his orders. Imagine you giving every inch of your fiber of your life. You’re ready to give your life for somebody, your wife, or me, whoever the [expletive] it may be and then she or me betray you beyond your imagination. It [expletive] me up beyond my imagination."
The betrayal began when Gotti and Gravano were arrested in 1990. The FBI had bugged their hangout in Manhattan. There were hours of incriminating conversations that could put both of them behind bars for life, but Gotti wanted Gravano to take the fall.
Gravano: "I would go away and he would get out. Now if that isn’t a rat move, I don’t know what is."
Hook: "He said to you, you’re gonna have to take the fall? That’s just the way it is?"
Gravano: "Yeah, I’m the boss. The streets need the boss and I’m the boss. This is the way it’s gonna be. And I said, are you sure you want to do this.. you want this to happen? ‘That’s the way it’s gotta be Sammy.’ I said, okay, then let’s do it. Let’s do it to me means I got in touch with the government. [Expletive] you all and I’m out. I’m done."
Gravano went to the feds.
"The FBI in their wildest imagination couldn’t believe that I was going to cooperate."
Hook: "You had to break all those rules, right? To cooperate with the government? All the rules you lived under?"
Gravano: "I didn’t have to do anything, but he broke my [expletive] heart. He betrayed me. I gave him everything. It was one of the worst days of my life.. that that was the end of me. I’m done. I’m finished and I’ll probably get killed. I didn’t give a [expletive] no more. Who’s over my shoulder? Who’s gonna shoot me? Who’s gonna do what? I didn’t care."
Gravano’s cooperation put Gotti away for life. Gravano got five years, a new identity, a new face, and a new home in Scottsdale.
"When I was done and I was getting out in 1995, the government asked me to go into the witness protection program. I had plenty of money. I didn’t want to go into the program."
He lasted eight months and quit.
"You can’t have your own family. You can’t have anything. You have to start your life over with a different name. I didn’t want to do that."
Hook: "You brought down the most powerful crime family in the country and there were a lot of people who would want you dead."
Hook: "Were you always worried someone was going to come and try to whack you?"
Gravano: "I’m aware of things. I’m a professional hit man. I can see things that normal people don’t look for. As far as looking over my shoulder, everytime I see a good looking woman pass me, I probably look over my shoulder, but other than that, I really don’t look over my shoulder."
Gravano had a fresh start, but within five years, he was in trouble again. This time for financing an ecstasy drug ring with his son.
Hook: "After all the stuff you did, heavy stuff, and you’ve got a whole new lease on life, and you have to go to prison for 20 years. Were you just kicking yourself that you had gotten through all this stuff, started a new life down here, and you ended up back in the same deal?"
Gravano: "I wasn’t kicking myself multiple times because the first time I kicked myself, I couldn’t get my foot out of my [expletive] for about three years."
The bull was back in the pen. Inmates knew who he was, but he survived it the only way he knew how.
Gravano: "One thing I think they knew I made it clear. If you’re gonna [expletive] with me, kill me because I’m not a big man. There’s guys much bigger, stronger, younger, but I will [expletive] kill you. I will make a shank and I will stick it up into your [expletive] throat when you’re asleep. I’m the last beating you’re ever gonna give out and they knew that. It was loud and clear."
He was a model prisoner and was released in 2017 after serving 17.5 years.
Hook: "Do you feel like you walked away from the criminal stuff? Is there a freedom, a weight off your shoulders, something that’s changed?"
Gravano: "I think that’s perfect words. A weight off my shoulders. I’m happy about it. I’m having fun. I enjoy what I’m doing right now. Legitimate people I’m working with. There’s no killing, there’s no stealing, we’re making a buck."
He’s created a podcast called "Our Thing," revealing the stories of his mob life. His interviews on YouTube have made him a sensation.
"I want them to really understand and know the mafia."
Hook: "You’re selling Sammy?"
Gravano: "Yes, and I intend to if God wants and if I live that long, I intend to do a scripted show, something similar to ‘The Sopranos.’"
Hook: "You loved the life, didn’t you?"
Gravano: "Absolutely. I still do."
Hook: "You still do?"
He’s 75 now and wants to set the record straight.
Hook: "You believe in God?"
Gravano: "Of course I believe in God."
Hook: "How do you think you’ll be judged?"
Gravano: "I think I’ll be judged very good. God makes all of us.. I think I’m gonna be able to talk back and I’m gonna say you made me, you had to know that there’s lions and deer. I’m a lion. There’s no question about it, but why didn’t you kill me early in life? You did it your way. You gave me free will, you had to know who I am. God knows, you may be at the back of the line. Now if meaning at the back of the line is you go this way instead of this way and if down here is strip clubs, gambling and drinking and all kinds of [expletive], I’m gonna say, woah, hold that bus, I’m gonna go with that freak. I’m gonna go down there."
John Gotti died in prison from cancer in 2002.
Sammy the Bull’s "Our Thing" podcast: https://www.sammythebull.com
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