Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Target: Sammy Gravano, The Mission, Part II

Gravano watching his back....?

By Dennis Griffin

(Third in the three part series)

In December 1999, Thomas “Huck” Carbonaro, a made man of the Gambino crime family, and family associate Sal “fat Sal” Mangiavillano, were dispatched to Phoenix, Arizona to locate and kill the ultimate Mob traitor, Sammy “the Bull” Gravano.

The pair found their target and began doing the planning and research necessary to carry out a successful hit. One scenario was to do a traditional shooting, which would require the killers to be in close contact with their victim. Another option was for Sal to assemble a bomb to kill the very dangerous Gravano. Huck and Sal returned to New York City for the Christmas holiday and then got ready to finalize their plans.

The Mission – Part II

In late January 2000 the hit men flew back into Los Angeles and brought their surveillance and bomb-making equipment with them. After picking up their car they stopped at an Army surplus store and bought a folding military shovel called an entrenching tool. When Huck asked why they needed the shovel, Sal told him they might have to temporarily bury some of the bomb material until it was needed.

That explanation seemed to satisfy Huck. But it wasn’t completely true. In reality, Sal thought he might need the shovel to dig a grave for Huck. He knew that two people could keep a secret if one of them was dead. If they pulled off the Gravano hit the heat from the feds would be tremendous. Sal was prepared to make sure his partner’s lips were sealed permanently.

They picked up the guns they had purchased previously from the flea market and continued to Phoenix. Upon arriving they sought to rent a hotel suite with a kitchenette so they could eat in and keep out of the public as much as possible. Their first attempt turned out to be a bust. In a low conspiratorial tone, the female desk clerk said, “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but the FBI is in town having a convention and most of our rooms are booked. All we have left is a smoking room." Sal was a heavy smoker, so that didn’t bother him. But living with the FBI did. Huck was a known made man of the Gambino family and Sal was a known bank robber. It would be way too risky to hang around and possibly be spotted by an agent who knew them. They decided to get out of town for a few weeks and return after the feds cleared out.

Before leaving, they rented a storage unit to stash the weapons and electronic equipment. Then they drove to Las Vegas, stored the car and caught a flight back to New York. Their plan to return to Phoenix got put on hold, though, when the mother of Louie Vallaro, Huck’s crew boss, passed away. Huck had to stay around to attend the funeral for two reasons. The first was a matter of showing respect to his boss. The second was the fact that the FBI would undoubtedly do a surveillance of the funeral. If a guy in Huck’s position wasn’t there, it would be a red flag to the feds. When Gravano was killed, they’d quickly connect the dots.

On February 24, 2000, the day before they were going to leave for Phoenix, Sal was driving alone underneath FDR Drive in New York, when he heard over his car’s radio that Sammy Gravano had been arrested in Phoenix on state drug trafficking charges. Gravano, his wife, son, and daughter, were all alleged to be part of a criminal syndicate dealing the designer drug Ecstasy.

Shortly after the report aired, Sal’s special pager that only Huck had the number for went off. He pulled the car over and called Huck. Sal broke the news to his partner about Gravano’s arrest. They met at a Greenwich Village location an hour later to discuss the situation. The conclusion was that there were no options available to complete the hit. With Gravano back behind bars he was out of their reach. Their mission was over. The Arizona authorities very possibly had unknowingly saved the traitor’s life.

After all the planning and plotting, no one was injured or killed. Only a few people knew about the planned hit, and none of them had a reason to blab about it. So it appeared that all the involved parties would go on with their lives and the attempt to kill Gravano would never be mentioned again.

But things don’t always end up as they first appear.

 A Tale to Tell

The story of the plan to kill Gravano didn’t remain a secret for very long. A few months later, Peter Gotti let the cat out of the bag when he complained to Mob associate Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo that he had spent $70,000 on the Gravano hit and didn’t have a body to show for it. Gotti even questioned whether Carbonaro and Mangiavillano had actually gone to Arizona at all. 

And in June 2002, 16 months after Gravano’s arrest, it all became known to law enforcement. At that time, Sal was in jail awaiting an anticipated five to seven year sentence for his guilty plea in a federal racketeering case involving numerous bank burglaries throughout New York City. In addition, his December 2001 indictment under RICO for armed bank robbery and interstate transportation of stolen money was still pending. And besides facing some serious prison time, he was not at all happy with his gangster friends.

The incident that triggered Sal’s unhappiness occurred shortly after he was jailed on the December indictment and involved a Christmas card. The card Sal received was from Huck Carbonaro and contained a check that Sal could deposit in his jail commissary account. The check was in the amount of $50. To Sal, that was an insult. He’d made his organized crime associates lots of money over the years and would have done murder for them. But they had totally ignored him since his arrest. And now Carbonaro slapped him across the face with a $50 offering. “What a piece of garbage,” Sal said of the gift. “That fifty bucks was no more than lunch money.”

Time passed, but Sal’s anger lingered. His colleagues continued to treat him like a leper, increasing his resentment. Sal took stock of his situation, the amount of prison time he was facing and the level of support he was receiving from his colleagues. There was a lot of the former and almost nothing of the latter. The evaluation caused him to conclude that loyalty to the Mob was a one way street. Why should he take it on the chin to protect a bunch of guys who didn’t appreciate him? He decided to test the waters with prosecutors and see if they would be interested in making a deal.

Sal contacted his lawyer. After having refused to speak to the FBI on numerous occasions, he told the attorney he was now willing to be interviewed. At five o’clock the next morning there was a bang on Sal's cell door. "Mangiavillano, court," a guard shouted. Sal was taken to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, and then to an office where his lawyer, a federal prosecutor and two FBI agents were waiting.

“After some pleasantries, we got down to business,” Sal remembers. “The prosecutor said, ‘Sal, you’ve been in prison, you were deported and came back illegally. And you’ve been indicted and arrested again. Quite frankly, you have been out of the loop for a while and we doubt you have any information we need.’

“I said if that’s the way they felt to take me back to the jail. I got up from my chair to head for the door. The prosecutor and the agents chuckled and told me to sit back down. One of the agents asked me what type of information I had. I told him I could implicate Peter Gotti—John Gotti Senior's brother and the current Gambino family boss—in a murder plot. Were they feds interested in talking deal?”

They were. And what Sal had to say had not been heard by government ears before. He said that Peter Gotti had ordered the murder of the despised gangster-turned-snitch Sammy Gravano. He told agents that on Peter Gotti's orders, he and Huck Carbonaro had travelled to Phoenix in December 1999 to locate and plan the murder of Gravano.

Over several sessions, Sal talked and the feds listened intently. After getting the entire story, FBI agent Theodore Otto retraced the route Sal said he and Huck took westward from Brooklyn to Phoenix. Ted Otto had been one of the agents it attendance at the FBI convention in Phoenix that Huck and Sal had stumbled into. It all checked out, right down to the snowstorm near Amarillo. Another agent investigated Sal’s description of the Marathon Pool company office. He reported that every detail was accurate, including the color of the window frames on a building across the street. Prosecutors became convinced that Sal’s story was real and that he’d make a powerful witness.

Based in large part on Sal's information, federal prosecutors in Manhattan leveled new charges against Gotti and Carbonaro, both of whom were already under unrelated indictment in Brooklyn. The press release issued by the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York on August 18, 2003 announced the indictment of Gotti and Carbonaro for allegedly engaging in a conspiracy to murder Salvatore Gravano. This indictment merged the charges from the earlier indictment in which the two men, along with Louis Vallario, Frank Fappiano, Edward Garafola, and John Matera, had been accused of a wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy, including three murders, extortion, loansharking, bribery, witness tampering and illegal gambling.

Sal learned later that his decision to make a deal was a wise one. In addition to Peter Gotti spilling the beans about the Gravano caper to Michael DiLeonardo, Huck Carbonaro also had loose lips. Had Sal not gotten his foot in the door early, the government had located other people who would have implicated him in the conspiracy. Now those same witnesses would serve to corroborate his testimony.  

While waiting for the trial to begin Sal saw Garafola and Fappiano in the jail. He saw fear in their eyes. Perhaps the hard-boiled criminals were beginning to accept the possibility they had breathed their last free air. Huck Carbonaro sent a lawyer to see Sal. He wanted him to keep his mouth shut, plead guilty, and do his time. But Sal was having none of it. His deal with the government didn’t provide for any specific prison sentence to settle his outstanding charges. But regardless of how that worked out, he’d told prosecutors his complete criminal history. Once this ordeal was over his slate would be clean. He’d never again have to worry about someone ratting him out. He’d done that himself.

The trial got underway in November 2004. During his three days on the witness stand Sal told jurors a laundry list of every crime he’d committed since the age of 13. They ranged from auto theft to fraud, extortion, bank burglaries and robberies, assault and conspiracy to commit murder. And in great detail, he explained the plot to kill Gravano.

Under cross-examination, a defense attorney asked him, “You’re only cooperating with the government because you want to get out of jail soon. Isn’t that right?”

Sal answered, "I pray to God every night that freedom comes."

The lawyer followed with, “You want to get free so you can commit more crimes. And if you get caught for a burglary and get five years, you can do that time easy, can’t you?”

Sal said, “No. I’m sick and tired of being in jail.”

The lawyer took one more shot. “You’d lie to get out of jail, wouldn’t you?”

Sal stopped him cold. “You’re wrong. If I lie I won’t get out of prison. I’ll be in for seventy-five years. I can only get out by telling the truth. And that’s the easiest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

A few days after that testimony Sal’s prayers were answered. A Brooklyn judge released him to the federal Witness Protection Program.

On December 22, 2004, on the strength of testimony from Sal Mangiavillano, Michael DiLeonardo and two other mob turncoats, Gotti and Carbonaro were convicted of their roles in the plot to kill Gravano. Coupled with their convictions on other racketeering charges, both men are in effect serving life sentences.

The projected release date for the 71-year-old Gotti is May 5, 2032. The now 62-year-old Carbonaro is in even worse shape. He is scheduled for release on December 24, 2065.   

Dennis Griffin is the author of several mob related books, as well as a co-host on the popular radio show, Crime Wire. and his latest radio show on Crime Wire Radio, MOB TALK!


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