Appearing on ABC some years ago, former Mafia capo Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano told an interviewer about the time he was eating in a New York restaurant with Gambino crime family boss John Gotti.
A nearby couple was staring and whispering and Gotti grumbled. Gravano asked Gotti if he wanted him to handle it.
"No," Gotti told his underboss sternly. "This is my public."
Gravano said he was taken aback. They were both members of La Cosa Nostra, a secret criminal society. And here was a boss who believed he had a "public." Gravano said Gotti's ego and need for public attention led to his downfall.
In George Anastasia's Gotti's Rules, John Alite, an associate member of the Gotti crime family, outlines other Gotti shortcomings, such as rapacity, disloyalty, hypocrisy, and treachery.
As for Alite, Anastasia introduces him to the reader this way: "John Alite was a murderer, drug dealer and thug." For 25 years, Anastasia writes, Alite brutalized people. He stabbed them, shot them, and beat them with pipes, blackjacks, and baseball bats.
"He's not proud of that, but he doesn't try to hide from it, either," Anastasia writes. "It's who he was. But not who he is." Alite's years with the Gotti family ended when he testified in court against John Gotti's son, "Junior."
As the grandson of Albanian immigrants, Alite could not become a "made" member of the Italians-only criminal organization, but he could, and admits he did, commit murder and other violent acts on their behalf. He also made a good deal of money for the Gotti family and for himself.
Anastasia, a veteran organized crime reporter and author of Blood and Honor and The Last Gangster, covered the mob for The Inquirer for more than 30 years. For this story, he ventured north from his usual South Philadelphia/South Jersey beat to cover the mob in the Queens section of New York City. But there is a South Philly and South Jersey connection.
Alite, who currently lives in South Jersey, says he also operated in the Philadelphia area, attempting, for example, to corner the parking valet business on Columbus Boulevard, and pursuing other business with local wiseguys. He says he was even asked by the Turra South Philly drug gang to "whack" Joey Merlino during a dispute between the independent drug dealers and the local mob. He declined the offer.
But most of the story takes place in Queens, where Alite became friends with Junior Gotti. He later committed crimes both with and for him. Alite also admits to committing crimes for the senior Gotti. The book also covers Alite's fugitive years overseas, where he ended up in a Brazilian prison before extradition to the United States to stand trial.
Alite said he was more than Junior Gotti's best friend; he was his babysitter. The elder Gotti told Alite to look out for and work with his son.
Called "Urkel" by the wiseguys, Junior Gotti was not respected. Alite says Junior had a sense of entitlement similar to that of spoiled sons of other famous and rich fathers. He was also not particularly smart or tough, but he had Alite for muscle and money-making brains. Many years later, after the elder Gotti died in prison, Junior was put on "the shelf" - kicked out of the mob.
Drawn to the life by the action and so-called glamour, Alite realized years later that it was all a facade, that the honor, loyalty, camaraderie, and brotherhood the mobsters often preached was meaningless. He saw the Gottis routinely violate their own rules, and he came to realize he had been used and abused.
In addition to extensive interviews with Alite, Anastasia consults his own sources, FBI reports, and court documents. He says he didn't attempt to interview anyone in the Gotti camp, as that would have simply turned into a he said/she said situation. Gotti's Rules is Alite's side of the story. Take it or leave it, believe it or not.
Like Anastasia's previous books on organized crime, Gotti's Rules is a fast-paced and compelling story that reads like a crime thriller.
The Story of John Alite, Junior Gotti, and the Demise of the American Mafia
By George Anastasia
HarperCollins. 336 pages. $27.99
nolead ends nolead begins
Reviewed by Paul Davis