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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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
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.