Mobster Gotti takes the Big Sleep

Sunday, June 16, 2002

NEW YORK -- A decade after Gambino mob boss John Gotti lost his long battle with prosecutors and was sentenced to life behind bars, the "Dapper Don" was laid to rest Saturday in a cemetery that holds other infamous mobsters.

The private service at a funeral home in Queens followed a two-day wake that featured larger-than-life floral arrangements for the man who schemed and murdered his way to the top of the Gambino crime family, then was brought down on charges of murder and racketeering.

Gotti died June 10 of cancer at a federal prison hospital.

After the service, a procession of more than 100 cars led by Gotti's hearse drove past his family home and his mob crew's headquarters, the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club.

When Gotti took over the Gambino mob, it was the biggest and most powerful of the city's five Mafia families. As recently as this month, 17 alleged members and associates of the gang were indicted on 68 counts including racketeering, extortion, gambling, money laundering and witness tampering.

Still, many of the estimated 450 people who gathered outside the Roman Catholic St. John's Cemetery said they had admired the notorious mobster -- nicknamed the "Teflon Don" for his longtime ability to avoid conviction and the "Dapper Don" for the expensive suits he wore around the city.

"There's a lot worse out there," spectator David Fitzgerald said outside the cemetery. "I've always enjoyed the man. He was a great character. He stood up against everyone and everything."

"He was sincere. He was genuine. He was remarkable," Gotti lawyer Bruce Cutler said outside the funeral home.

Gotti's brothers, Peter and Gene, and his son, John, did not attend the send-off. All three were in jail.

The funeral service was not a Mass of Christian Burial, as the family had hoped. Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Daily, head of the Diocese of Brooklyn, ruled that Gotti was not entitled to a funeral Mass.

At issue was a church precept called "scandal" -- the idea that the wrong message would be sent to the church faithful by granting a funeral Mass to someone who lived outside church teachings.

Daily did allow Gotti's burial in the Catholic cemetery, where a who's who of 20th century Mafiosi are buried. Some, like Carlo Gambino and Joseph Profaci, died of natural causes. Others, like Carmine Galante and Joe Colombo, were victims of their lifestyles -- both shot to death. Infamous mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who died in exile in Sicily, also is buried there.

Gotti's final resting place is a family crypt inside an imposing mausoleum, next to his son, Frank, who died at age 12 when he was struck by a neighbor's car near his home. Though ruled blameless by police, the neighbor was abducted weeks later and never seen again. No charges were ever brought.

Gotti was a street capo running a gang out of the Bergin club until he orchestrated the 1985 murder of his predecessor, "Big Paul" Castellano, gunned down outside a Manhattan restaurant. Within two years, he had captured public attention like no mobster since Al Capone.

An Andy Warhol portrait of Gotti appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He wore $1,800 designer suits, with hand-painted ties and a pinky ring. He dined at fine restaurants, and thumbed his nose at the FBI agents who considered him public enemy No. 1.

Associated Press Writer Ted Shaffrey contributed to this report.

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