The Philadelphia Inquirer
January 17, 1992
For Gotti, jail
has much in common with old club
NEW YORK - John Gotti's current
residence at a Manhattan federal prison is similar in some respects to the
Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy, where the Dapper Don held court each
day before his arrest 13 months ago.
The Metropolitan Correction Center, where America's most recognizable
Mafia figure awaits the start of yet another criminal trial next week, is
an uninviting brick edifice with tiny windows that seem designed to defeat
the prying eyes of passers-by.
So is the Ravenite Social Club.
The prison is unadorned except for an American flag outside. So is
Gotti's hangout on Mulberry Street, except for a handful of yellow ribbons
hanging from the windows in anticipation of his return.
Both establishments have exclusive memberships aggressively guarded by
And both have bugged telephones.
Nevertheless, the Teflon Don - so named because he has won acquittals
in three high-profile trials - does not necessarily feel at home in his
8-by-10-foot cell of beige concrete.
"He's treated no differently than any of the 920 other detainees
we have," said David Schaff, a spokesman for the prison, commonly
Life in the slammer for the reputed head of the Gambino crime family is
hardly the stuff of Hollywood mobsters. He does not cook meals in his cell
like the characters in the mob movie GoodFellas. The only appliance he is
allowed is a small stereo cassette player. He must make do on a starchy
diet. MCC does not permit outside catering. Not even Dominos has cracked
this captive market.
"It would start a riot down here if the other prisoners saw that
we were allowing them to bring pasta in to Mr. Gotti," said U.S.
Marshal Charles E. Healey, who will supervise security during the trial.
"That sort of thing just doesn't exist these days."
In fact, Gotti, 51, last year complained to U.S. District Judge I. Leo
Glasser that his jailers were being particularly mean to him and were
keeping him in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. The judge agreed and
ordered the warden to lighten up.
Still, the Spartan life of a federal prisoner must be tedious for a man
about town known for good grooming, silk suits and handing hundred-dollar
bills to waifs and maitre d's.
The party animal who used to keep late hours at swank New York clubs
now rises with the rest of the jailhouse population at 6:30 a.m. for a
breakfast of cereal, juice and coffee. Guards come by an hour later to
inspect the cells for tidiness.
During the day, Gotti can watch television, make telephone calls or
read in MCC's law library - although he hardly needs to do his own legal
research; Gotti complained in one secretly recorded conversation about
paying his attorneys hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.
Gotti's cell is sparsely furnished with a bunk, a toilet and a sink
with a light above it. Prisoners have a small bulletin board on which they
can tape photographs.
The Don shared his cell with Salvatore "The Bull" Gravano,
his onetime underboss and co-defendant. That didn't work out so well. In
November Gravano was spirited out of prison and into the federal witness
protection program after he agreed to testify against his cellmate in the
Gotti's wardrobe is limited to an orange cotton jumpsuit and two pairs
of sweat pants. For his trial next week, Gotti's associates can deliver up
to two of his sleek, pressed suits to MCC officials.
Gotti will dress before he is shackled and then driven across the
Brooklyn Bridge to the U.S. District Courthouse in Brooklyn.
During the day at the courthouse, Gotti will eat his meals in a holding
"It's just like flying first class," said Healey. "You
have a choice of three sandwiches on the menu - tuna fish, ham and cheese
and maybe peanut butter and jelly."
Federal officials say Gotti still has plenty of lethal power outside
In their effort to show that Gotti is the head of a massive, criminal
enterprise - he is charged with ordering five murders - prosecutors have
presented evidence showing that Gotti has even ordered assassinations
In one 1990 conversation that an FBI bug picked up at the Ravenite
club, Gotti boasts that he was behind bars when he ordered a mob associate
silenced. "I was in jail when I whacked him," he said.
Federal investigators say that Gotti now issues commands through his
son, John Gotti Jr. And he has not always been careful in his chats on
MCC's telephone, which prisoners are warned is bugged. Prosecutors said
they may use one business call he had with an associate last February as
evidence in the trial.
Even though he has spent two Christmases locked away from the public
view, Gotti still has a wide network of admirers. Some mailed form letters
to the court protesting the judge's decision to hold Gotti without bail.
Federal prosecutors are worried about finding an impartial jury in the
face of such admiration. In a 1987 federal racketeering trial, the
attorneys went through a pool of 640 prospective jurors before empaneling
a jury. They acquitted Gotti after a seven-month trial.
This time, the trial is expected to last three months.
Jury members will be sequestered in a hotel. Not even Judge Glasser
will know their names.
And this time around federal officials believe their evidence is
The taped conversations from the Ravenite club - the FBI even bugged
the sidewalk outside the club - are clearer and more incriminating than
the fuzzy tapes that state prosecutors used without success in Gotti's
1990 trial for assaulting a union leader.
What's more, the government has arranged for a choir of turncoat
mobsters - including Nicodemo Scarfo's former underboss Philip Leonetti -
to testify that Gotti bragged of arranging the 1985 assassination of
Gambino family boss Paul Castellano. Prosecutors say that killing cleared
the way for Gotti's ascension to head the Gambinos.
If all goes as the prosecutors plan, Gotti will trade his temporary
quarters at MCC for a lifetime address at a federal penitentiary.
was convicted in April, 1992, and sentenced to life in prison.