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Goodbye To Gotti:
Dapper Don Missed On His Old Turf

By Angela Montefinise

While the headlines cried out about the passing of the Dapper Don, residents of Ozone Park and Howard Beach cried in mourning over the man many of them regarded as a gentleman, a guardian angel, and a true godfather.


Mob boss John Gotti died at a federal prison hospital this week following a long battle with throat cancer. He was 61.

The well-dressed, Gambino crime family head was a resident of 85th Street in Howard Beach and a frequent visitor of 101st Avenue in Ozone Park, the location of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club – the Bronx native’s small, unmarked home base.

Store owners remember Gotti as a neighborhood boy who kept the streets safe, protected local residents, patronized area stores, and carried himself with charm and respect.

When word got around Gotti’s tightly-knit turf that the 61-year-old mobster died in a Missouri prison of cancer on June 9, residents who remembered Gotti expressed sadness and even tears for a man they called, “a nice guy.”

The Heart and Soul of The Neighborhood

Ozone Park resident Thomas Giseppi stood across the street from the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club on June 9, looking at Gotti’s one-time hang-out and reminiscing about what the mob boss did for their neighborhood. Giseppi said, “He was a great man. I would see him around. He always smiled and said ‘hi’. “He was clean cut, and always a gentleman. He made this neighborhood great. Everyone had respect for each other. And he loved this neighborhood. Anything we heard about in the news, he didn’t bring it here.”


Tributes of flowers and notes grew outside the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Ozone Park as the news that Gotti had died spread through the neighborhood.
Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen

Giseppi wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and by the morning of June 10, dozens of roses, flags, candles, dollar bills, cards and letters were either left in front of the small brick Bergin Hunt and Fish Club or taped to the club’s plain red door in honor of Gotti.

One sign, left by Linda and Joe Donofrio, read, “You were and always will be the true heart and soul of Ozone Park and Howard Beach. Thank you for everything.” Another, left by “Cookie and Larry,” read, “John Gotti was the greatest. Without him we are going to be lost . . . God bless you.”

Resident Michael Filippi agreed that Gotti was the heart and soul of the neighborhood as he walked his dog – appropriately named Capone – passed the Bergin Club on June 9. He remembered the “awesome” Fourth of July parties that Gotti used to throw on 101st Avenue, complete with a barbecue feast and fireworks. Mayor Rudy Giuliani stopped those parties and had the Bergin club watched at all times, something Filippi called, “So wrong.” He said, “Those parties were awesome. Everyone would come out. It was like the biggest thing. He took care of this place because he lived here and he loved it here. We were lucky to have him and he’ll be missed.”

Midnight Vigil

After midnight on June 11, local residents gathered outside of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, lighting candles, placing notes and flowers near the door, and trading tales of a “terrific guy.”

“No one knew him like we did,” said Falco Romano, 58, peering into the brickface storefront where the walls are lined with photos of Gotti. “He’s a real hometown hero, a man with a heart of gold.”

Those gathered outside the club remembered a Gotti who paid for a child’s operation when his parents couldn’t, handed out cash to neighborhood folks who had lost their jobs, and “made the people feel safe.”

Romano boasted proudly that he had “kissed Johnny,” and “slapped him fondly on the back” just days before he headed to a Midwest prison.

Thank You, Come Again

Al Monaco, the owner of Eichler’s Pharmacy on 101st Avenue, said Gotti knew him by name, and would always patronize local stores. He said, “He would shop all on this strip. He was always around. He used to come here and buy deodorant, toothpaste, shaving cream, sometimes stupid stuff. He was a regular guy who like to help out his neighbors.” He added, “He was such a nice guy. He had real old world family values.”

Gotti, once known as the Teflon Don because any charges brought against him never stuck, was sent to prison on murder and racketeering charges in 1992 after mob turncoat Salvatore Gravano ratted him out to authorities. Gotti was given a life sentence, and sent to a maximum security Federal prison. In 1998, Gotti was diagnosed with head and neck cancer, and in 2000, was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Missouri. He lost his voice to a tracheotomy in February after eight tumors hindered his breathing, and his physical appearance was depleted. Authorities reported he could barely walk, and was losing his hair from cancer medication.

Monaco said, “It’s a shame that a man like that had to die like a dog in a jail cell in such pain. It’s terrible. And now everyone’s going to say bad things about him. You know, let the man go in peace. He was a nice man, he did his best in the community, now let it go.”

Gotti will be buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, next to his son Frank, who was killed after being hit by a car in 1980.

The man who hit Frank – John Favara – mysteriously disappeared four months after the incident.

Home Sweet Home

At Gotti’s home in Howard Beach, surveillance cameras watched over the lawn, keeping reporters away. Gotti’s wife Victoria and daughter Victoria were both at the house when a Tribune reporter rang the bell – and was quickly, but politely, asked to leave. Gotti also had two more sons –Peter, and John – and another daughter, Angela.

Neighbors of “Johnny Boy” were reluctant to talk about Gotti, but one resident who lives nearby said, “Let me tell you, he was a first class gent. He was a great guy. A man of the people. I felt much safer knowing he was here, and I’m so upset he died the way he did. He was too good for that.”

Keeping Everyone In Line

Monaco shook his head as he smoked a cigarette and remembered Gotti, saying “The neighborhood was a lot different when he was here.”

He went on to say that there was less crime, more respect, and a safer environment in Ozone Park and Howard Beach with the boss in the neighborhood. He said, “Old women would feel safe walking down the street at 1 a.m. when John was around. That’s not the case anymore. Now we have to worry about sending our kids to the park.”

Felicia Trazo, an Ozone Park resident, think Gotti had everything to do with it, and said, “Who would mess with John Gotti’s neighborhood? No one I know. Criminals knew this was his turf and stayed away. Now, they come right in. It’s a shame. I’ve lived here for over 40 years, and I see how the place has changed since they locked John up. It’s horrible.”

Gotti Who?

The character of Ozone Park and Howard Beach has changed over the past 10 years, according to the 2000 Census, which documented Hispanics moving into the areas at an extremely high rate. While whites are still the majority in the area, Hispanics now comprise about 20 percent of the population.

Some of the new Ozone Park immigrants that the Tribune spoke to were respectful of Gotti’s death, but unclear on who the mobster really was.

Jose Palingua, an immigrant from Panama, said, “I’ve heard his name. I know he was loved around here. But I don’t know much about him. I don’t even know what he looks like.”

Rest In Peace?

While Gotti will be buried in a Roman Catholic cemetery alongside his son, he will be not be given a Mass of Christian Burial, according to the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, which announced on June 12 that Gotti, a convicted killer, cannot have a Catholic funeral. 

The short announcement denying Gotti the right to a funeral mass was attributed to Diocese Chancellor Reverend Andrew Vaccari, who said, “The Diocese has decided that there can be a Mass for the Dead sometime after the burial of John Gotti.”

A Mass for the Dead, a Diocese spokesperson explained, is a mass dedicated to a deceased Catholic, and it was unknown at presstime whether the Gotti family planned on holding one. 

While the statement did not explain why Gotti is qualified to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, it did explain that the church does not allow Catholic funerals for people that could be considered “scandalous.” A Diocese spokesperson stated that the denial of a funeral mass is not a judgment of a deceased person’s lifestyle, because “only God could make that determination.”

— Liz Goff contributed to this story

Obituary John Gotti, 61 

By Liz Goff

The era of the “Goodfella Glitz” came to a halt this week as John Gotti passed away.

Gotti, 61, died on June 10 at a Missouri prison hospital following a long battle with throat cancer. Federal sources said Gotti, who was hospitalized since January, died alone in a cell-like hospital room. “He was a shell of his former self,” FBI sources said. “Almost bald, his weight down to nothing – hooked up to machines that kept him alive.” Gotti had not been able to talk for some time, sources said.

To the New York City Police Department and the federal government, Gotti was a thief, a murderer. He had the power to kill people, like some old-country European king who chopped off the heads of the unfaithful. Like the old monarchs, Gotti periodically saw to the assassination of his rivals. Just ask those close to Paul Castellano.

But alas, unlike Capone and company, who sought counsel from mob accountant Meyer Lansky, Gotti turned to the likes of Sammy (the Bull) Gravano in times of difficulty. And Sammy turned and ratted out Gotti to the feds.

When prosecutors failed, again and again to convict the “Teflon Don” on assault and racketeering charges, Gotti’s fans gathered outside the Bergin Hunt & Fish Club waiting for his return.

Neighbors of His Dapperness were also thrilled each summer when Gotti hosted his highly illegal July Fourth fireworks extravaganza. For 20 years, Gotti hosted the neighborhood outside and inside the Bergin Hunt & Fish Club at 98-08 101st Ave. Skies over the club lit up with red, white and blue explosions as hundreds of people stood to cheer for “Johnny.” For years, Gotti ignored warnings by the NYPD that they would shut down the

show. It went on, even while Johnny was in jail.

But in 1994, New York City Mayor (and the former U. S. prosecutor who convicted Gotti) Rudolph Giuliani sent in troops of New York’s Finest to battle the big boom on Independence Day. Rudy lined the streets of Howard Beach with cops.

The crackdown worked, and they have been, ever since.

He was born on Oct. 27, 1940 to Fannie and John, Sr., one of 12 brothers and sisters.

Gotti would grow up to be the first “modern” Capo – and the only crime family head to grow up on Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Gotti, who listed “plumbing salesman” as his official occupation, shared a modest, two-story home at 160-11 85th St. in Howard Beach with his family. He met Victoria Di Giorgio in 1960. The couple dated for two years before they were married in March 1962 at a wedding “celebration” attended by hundreds of friends and associates.

The Gottis had five children: Angela, Victoria, John Jr., Frank and Peter.