By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
Being in the mob isn't all beer and skittles.
Created in 1970, the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, by 1985, had been used almost one thousand times, to bring criminal and civil cases. RICO was one of the legal weapons the cops and the Feds based used as their yardstick to track and measure their success fighting, what at times, seemed an endless battle against the New York Mafia.
What everyone now called Cosa Nostra, since Joe Valachi brought the word into the public lexicon during the 1963 Senate investigation. Every law enforcement agent was after them, day and night. Lot of pressure. Lot of stress and aggravation.
“Shorty” of the Gambino crime family
One of the guys they were chasing was Anthony J. Mascuzzio (left), part of perhaps, the most prominent Mafia clan in America, the Gambinos. His nickname was “Shorty,” for fairly obvious reasons. Solid, tough, and violent when required, he was a classic example of a Mafia foot-soldier.
He was aware that they were watching him, just waiting for a mistake. A wrong turn on a one-way street, spitting on the sidewalk, hustling his associates, looking for a breach. The FBI had a special unit called “C-16, the Gambino Squad,” to investigate people like him.
That was the easy part. The hard part was the “Goth”.
Gotti didn't do any shooting himself; he sat in a car, a hundred yards away, and watched his killers do their job. Big Paul and his bodyguard, Tommy, hit in the head, multiple times, outside a posh steak restaurant on Manhattan’s East Side, the week before Xmas, 1985. They never got their topside, rare.
Gotti and his side-kick, Sammy “Bull” Gravano, sitting in a Lincoln Town Car, tinted windows, watching the show of all shows. That year, at least.
After the shooting, Gotti drove his car slowly through the intersection, past the carnage. “Tommy’s down,” said Gravano, referring to Bilotti, Castellano’s driver and bodyguard, sprawled like a religious figure, arms and legs outstretched on the road, leaking blood.
Most powerful Mafia boss in America
For Gotti (right), it was a beginning but also an end, although that was a few years away. In 1988, he was, arguably, the most powerful Mafia boss in America. Without any doubt the most publicized. At the time of Castellano’s murder Gotti was being tried in a Brooklyn Federal court under a RICO indictment.
His surname, in Italian, derives from “Goth” after the wild, barbaric hordes who swept down into Italy, from what is now, Germany. In the sixth century, they overran the country and settled in various areas, including Campania, which is where Gotti’s grandparents lived before emigrating to America.
The media would come to call John Gotti by many handles, referring to him mostly as “The Teflon Don.”
Mascuzzio knew him best as “Black John,” his moods being, at least, uncertain. He was not an easy guy as a boss. Although he claimed, “I never lie because I don’t fear anyone.” It’s possible he was driven by the fear of being left behind and becoming a tragedy. Mobsters lived lives that were more than quiet desperation, earning each day to stay in the game and watching their backs against friends, as well as enemies.
Gotti paid “Shorty” $500 a week to be his driver and bodyguard. The theory being: keep him hungry, make him work harder.
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Better than many others, this soldier who was close to the boss, knew the kind of man he was - bombastic, flamboyant, narcissistic, a tyrant with a hair-trigger temper. His son once stated, “He had a volcanic temper. He would bite your head off.”
The first media Don, perhaps the only one, his public flamboyance, swagger, and ability to avoid trial convictions became legendary. High greed veneered over high style. Not so much a velvet fist as a designer glove.
Ronald Goldstock, head of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force once described him:
“You know what he’s like? He’s like the last piton on the mountain. All the little mob guys are hanging on to him for dear life.”
Pornography, strippers, robbery and gambling
If John Gotti was no angel, neither was Mascuzzio. It’s been alleged he was involved in the Gambino Family's pornography business which was an endless money-machine. As a soldier in the crew of capo Bobby Boriello he operated illegal bookmaking, shy-locking, and of course, extortion, the stuff the mob lives on. He was screwing $700 a week out of Steve Kaplan, who would one day become owner of the infamous Gold Club of Atlanta, which provided some of America’s top professional athletes with women and sexual favors.
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“Shorty” had his 15 minutes of fame during another Gotti trial in 1987, when the media discovered him delivering appetizers and hero sandwiches to the crowds outside the courthouse. These came from an Italian deli he owned, or had taken over, called The Gelato Cafe on Court Street, in Cobble Hill, now one of the most expensive areas to live in New York. His address was listed as 81 Warren Street in the same area. When Gotti was released, he met him, shaking his hand on the way to their limo.
With a build and temperament like a hot baloney, his bad-ass attitude would contribute to him getting dead. What finished him was greed, a not uncommon trait in the people who run Cosa Nostra.
It was a disco that killed him.
Pea Nuts in Hell’s Kitchen
Al Roth opened his club, Pea Nuts, later, changing its name to Better Days, at 316 West 49th Street, in 1972. Right in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, one of the least salubrious districts of Manhattan, an area known then mainly for its strip clubs and rat infestation. Hookers on every corner, addicts wandering in their dreams. Playing a crucial role in establishing house music in New York, the club catered mostly to black people and was packed at weekends.
The cover fee was $3, there was a bar, a disc-jockey booth at one side, and 85% of the area was a dance floor. Some nights, especially Sundays, as many as 1500 people crowded in to listen to the music and dance until they dropped. Mick Jagger, Grace Jones, and other celebrities would visit to let their hair down when visiting the city.
Bruce Forest, a DeeJay who worked there for seven years, remembered when the owner told him, sometime in 1987, that he was changing his name. The little, pork-barrel of a man, who strutted around the club like Jimmy Cagney, said he was now calling himself David Fisher.
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“I’m like, “Dude, I’ve seen your license!”
He goes, ‘If anybody asks you, that fuck Al Roth is dead.’
Okay.… One night in 1988, pretty early in the night, I saw a bunch of guys with suits come into the office to talk to Al. When they left, I went in there, because it just seemed a little weird. And he was sitting in a pool of sweat. I asked if he was okay, and he said, “Yeah, talk to me when the night’s over.” So the night ends, I go back into the office and ask, “Who the fuck were they?” He says, “Those were John Gotti’s guys. I think I was just bought out.” **
Although never identified, the men in suits could have been Mascuzzio, Frank DeCicco, the underboss of the family, and Gravano. Maybe Mike Napolitano, another guy who drove Gotti around, was one of them. Whoever they were, Mascuzzio was the pick-up man for the family, collecting rent for providing their protection, which the club had never needed in its sixteen years existence.
In Sicily, they call it “wetting the beak,” in New York, they would collect “the envelope.” Fancy names for extortion, the holy grail of Cosa Nostra.
Murder on the dancefloor
Following their visit, the Gambinos tried repositioning the club from a gay disco into a trendy, yuppy place, catering for the young and restless from Brooklyn and Queens, re-naming it Bedrox Disco, until the Hanna-Barbara corporation sued for trademark infringement, and it was gone by 1990.
In the early morning hours of Friday, June 17, 1988, Mascuzzio arrived at the club to pick up the envelope. Packed, as usual, full of musical noise and the screams and yelling of hundreds of young party-goers, the place was pumping like crazy as the weekend was taking off. Maybe in the final moments of his life, the mobster stood at the crowded bar and had a drink; free of course.
The police arrived a little after 2:30 am. They had been called in to investigate a shooting in the basement office of the club. There, they found Fisher severely injured, and Mascuzzio lying on the floor. He had been shot twice, once in the neck and once in the body. He was very dead.
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It was one of gangland’s more unique scenarios when a mobster, gun in hand, was outplayed by his victim.
Mascuzzio, when he died, was wearing a gold Rolex watch, the real kind, not an Asian knock-off. It would re-surface twenty years later on a different wrist, but in the same family and again, in a scene of turmoil.
Some sources claim Fisher had been pistol-whipped by Mascuzzio because the envelope wasn’t ready. He was carrying a small .32 caliber handgun, which is why Fisher survived the beating. Big, heavy gun might have killed him.
Defending himself, with his own .38 Colt Cobra revolver, he had shot the hoodlum in self-defense. It was also reported, the club owner suffered a heart attack. Either way, he was rushed to Bellevue Hospital, two miles to the south in Kips Bay. He was never convicted of the killing of Mascuzzio.
The mobster was buried with all the usual pomp and ceremony gangsters seem to expect, for reasons known only to their own weird tribes, from The Church of Sacred Hearts of St. Steven, on Hicks Street, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
On his eighteenth birthday, Anthony, son of Anthony, was given a beautiful Rolex gold watch by his mother. The one his late father had worn the night he died. Anthony Junior wore it proudly as he made his way, step by step through the world of organized crime. He graduated into the Gambinos as an associate, a made man in waiting. His pedigree was perfect. Another generation wiseguy in the making.
In September 2010, arrested on a DUI charge, at the NYPD 62nd Precinct, he was injured struggling with police officers over custody of the watch; he later sued the city for $2 million in damages.
Four months later, he was again arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for drug trafficking. Released from custody, in July 2016, he was once more arrested as part of a burglary ring operating in Brooklyn and Queens accused of stealing $5 million, and is currently serving a seven-year sentence.
In the Mafia orchard, the apple is never far from the ground.
“Tough guys don’t dance”
Better Days is gone; in its place, a Brazilian steak-house. People go there now to sit and get full of meat instead of dancing around getting full of drugs. Gotti went to prison wearing his traditional smirk and came out in a coffin.
Arrested in 1990, he died in a federal medical facility in Missouri in 2002. While in prison at Marion, Illinois, he had been beaten to a pulp by a black man whose race he had insulted. It’s claimed this led to the throat and mouth cancer that would finally claim him as he lay handcuffed to a hospital bed.
Frank Costello, a real mobster, of the old school, once said, “Tough guys don’t dance.” Perhaps Mascuzzio should have been aware of that the night he walked into a building filled with dancing.
Some sources claim David Fisher committed suicide. Maybe he did, or perhaps he still lives in Monsey, Rockland County, upstate New York, where his address was listed in newspaper reports. He was 53 the night of the shooting, so if he’s still around, he’s getting on.
The Gambino Crime Family is still around. It has been in one form or another, for a hundred years or more. While there is a demand, there is always a supply. As a result, there will be a never-ending reservoir to tap of mob stories in the years to come.
Get the latest on organized crime and the Mafia at Gangsters Inc.'s news section.
Copyright © Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc.