John Gotti, the high-profile boss of New York City’s Gambino crime family, nicknamed the “Teflon Don” based on his numerous courtroom acquittals, came very close to being the “Dead Don” on a spring day in April of 1986 when he narrowly avoided being murdered on a Brooklyn, New York street at the hands of rival gangsters.
Gotti, who orchestrated the midtown Manhattan assassination of his predecessor and boss, Paul Castellano, and Castellano’s driver/bodyguard, Tommy Bilotti, in December of 1985, apparently violated a Mafia tradition and rule that says a boss of a Mafia family cannot be murdered without the full consent and approval of the Mafia Commission, which is a sort of governing, regulating body of the Italian- American Mafia made up of the heads of all five organized crime families in New York. John Gotti’s ascension to the head of the Gambino crime family was viewed as a renegade act by fellow mafiosi, a cardinal sin in the sordid world of the Mafia punishable by death. John Gotti had to be held accountable!
In the weeks following Gotti’s bold takeover of the Gambino family, all appeared to be running smoothly with no hint of dissension or ill-will. Gotti, as the new boss, contacted the key players and senior members within the family and pledged his desire to be a fair and generous boss; a boss that would be good for business and make his fellow gangsters proud to be, well, gangsters! The previous boss, Paul Castellano, was viewed as a sort of aloof and disconnected type of boss who had grown out-of-touch with the overall tone and rhyme of his family. He rarely ventured outside the walls of his Staten Island mansion, and he seemed more concerned with making money than on fostering good will amongst his men. And John Gotti used the ill-will towards Castellano towards his advantage.
Gotti, capitalizing on the derision that many in the Gambino Family held towards Castellano, made his bold move. As one of the more powerful and influential captains in the Gambino family, Gotti seemingly held the sway and influence over the rest of the family to not be directly challenged or rebuked for his violation of Mafia protocol. Yes, as the new year dawned, John Gotti was feeling secure and optimistic and he reveled in the attention and adoration that his role as Godfather conveyed. But a storm was indeed brewing! Unknown to Gotti and his inner circle, a plan, hatched almost immediately after Castellano’s slaying and Gotti’s coronation as Gambino boss, was put into motion to exact revenge on the wayward Gotti. And the architect of that plan was an old-school Mafia boss who was well-known for his cunning and treachery.
Vincent Gigante, often referred to as the “Oddfather” due to his habit of roaming through the streets of his Greenwhich Village neighborhood in ratty bathrobes, unshaven, and mumbling incoherently to nobody in particular, was a master of guile. He had spent many years perfecting his crazy act to fool and elude law enforcement. However, underneath the crazy act, there was a stone-cold gangster who believed wholeheartedly in the need to enforce discipline and tradition in the world of the Mafia. As the boss of the Genovese crime family of New York, Gigante was an old-school Mafia boss who believed in following the rigid rules and traditions that for centuries had governed Mafia protocol. Loose cannons like Gotti had to be checked; bold and brazen mob killings were not tolerated!
Unsanctioned killings and renegade actions were capital Mafia offenses; they were bad for business, and they set a bad precedent. If a boss could be murdered in an unsanctioned, cowboy-type of move by a renegade element, who’s to say that type of action wouldn’t spill over and infect other families? If a boss or other high-ranking mafioso could be so easily and cavalierly murdered by a subordinate, the discipline and structural integrity of the Mafia would be all but lost; it would be a free-for-all with no rhyme, no reason. No, the need for discipline and structure was of paramount importance for a criminal organization to function, and such blatant acts had to be punished.
Vincent Gigante had come of age during the Mafia’s heyday, he had followed a natural line of succession to the top of his Mafia family, first as a lowly associate, then as a made member or soldier, then on to a captain and then boss. Those were the rules, and they had to be enforced. John Gotti had disrespected and violated the New York Mafia as a whole, and that could not be tolerated. John Gotti and his second-in-command or underboss, Frank DeCicco, were marked for death.
Vincent Gigante, in collusion with the acting boss of the Luchese family, Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, set into motion a plan designed to rid the earth of John Gotti and his underboss, Frank DeCicco. As a high-profile boss who reveled in attention, Gotti was hard to miss. He loved attention, and he courted the adulation and praise of his fellow criminal brethren. Gotti was a very public boss; there would be no hiding in the shadows or cowering in the bushes for him. And as a result, the opportunities to make a move on Gotti appeared endless. And soon, the perfect opportunity presented itself.
Two captains in the Gambino family, Daniel Marino and Jimmy Faila, both of whom were aware of and supported the plot to get Gotti, sent word that Gotti and DeCicco would be making a scheduled stop at the Veterans and Friends Social Club in Bensonhurst, New York. At last a perfect opportunity to corner both prey at once. The murder plot was set into motion. A third man, Herbert Plate, a munitions expert with extensive military experience, was recruited by Gigante and Casso to manufacture an explosives device that was to be placed under the car that Gotti and DeCicco would be driving in, a device that would be detonated at the appropriate time by way of a remote control operated by Herbert Plate. Gotti and DeCicco’s days appeared to be numbered.
On April 13, 1986, Frank DeCicco’s Buick Electra was parked directly across the street from the Veteran’s and Friends Social Club. Assuming that Gotti was already inside the club, Herbert Plate, parked a few yards up the street, exited his car carrying what appeared to be a bag of groceries. As he passed DeCicco’s car, Plate appeared to accidentally drop his grocery bag on the ground next to the Buick, and as he bent down to pick it up, he placed a small bundle of wrapped C-4 explosives directly underneath DeCicco’s car. With the bomb firmly in place, Plate ambled around the block and returned to his car. There, by way of a specially devised remote control device, Plate would be able to detonate the bomb under DeCicco’s car. As the minutes ticked by, finally the door of the Veteran’s and Friend’s Social Club opened, and out walked Frank DeCicco and, from a distance, a man who appeared to be John Gotti. The time had come.
As the two men walked towards the parked Buick and opened the car doors to enter, Plate drove slowly by in his car and, just as he was passing his quarry, pushed the button on his remote-control device and the Buick Electra exploded into a fireball. Glass and debris went flying in all directions, and Frank DeCicco, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, was sent flying out of the car onto the sidewalk. The other man, presumably Gotti, was knocked several feet down the sidewalk. Both men were killed instantly, and the force of the explosion broke several store windows nearby and caused the street to fill with startled onlookers. The assignment appeared to have gone off without a hitch. But as the minutes ticked off into hours, and as the chaos surrounding the initial explosion subsided, it was obvious that a major error had occurred.
John Gotti was still alive. Unbeknownst to his would-be assassins, Gotti, for reasons unknown, changed his plans at the last minute that fateful morning and instead visited another social club a few miles from the site of his intended assassination. By changing his plans that morning, Gotti had unknowingly saved his own life, and foiled the intricate assassination plans of both Vincent Gigante and Anthony Casso. Gotti, who was soon notified of the bombing, was apparently shaken. He was overhead on a wiretap discussing how badly burned the car was and how unbelievable the whole occurrence was. However, as far as anyone knows, Gotti never learned who was responsible for the bombing, and he may not have even realized that he was intended to die that morning as well. By sheer luck, John Gotti cheated death that fateful April morning in 1986, and would continue to reign as boss of the Gambino family until June of 1992, when he was convicted of 13 felony charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole!