By Angela Montefinise
While the headlines cried out about the passing of the Dapper Don, residents of Ozone Park and Howard Beach cried in mourning over the man many of them regarded as a gentleman, a guardian angel, and a true godfather.
well-dressed, Gambino crime family head was a resident of 85th Street in
Howard Beach and a frequent visitor of 101st Avenue in Ozone Park, the
location of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club – the Bronx native’s small,
unmarked home base.
owners remember Gotti as a neighborhood boy who kept the streets safe,
protected local residents, patronized area stores, and carried himself with
charm and respect.
When word got around Gotti’s tightly-knit turf that the 61-year-old mobster died in a Missouri prison of cancer on June 9, residents who remembered Gotti expressed sadness and even tears for a man they called, “a nice guy.”
Ozone Park resident Thomas Giseppi stood across the street from the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club on June 9, looking at Gotti’s one-time hang-out and reminiscing about what the mob boss did for their neighborhood. Giseppi said, “He was a great man. I would see him around. He always smiled and said ‘hi’. “He was clean cut, and always a gentleman. He made this neighborhood great. Everyone had respect for each other. And he loved this neighborhood. Anything we heard about in the news, he didn’t bring it here.”
wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and by the morning of June 10,
dozens of roses, flags, candles, dollar bills, cards and letters were either
left in front of the small brick Bergin Hunt and Fish Club or taped to the
club’s plain red door in honor of Gotti.
sign, left by Linda and Joe Donofrio, read, “You were and always will be
the true heart and soul of Ozone Park and Howard Beach. Thank you for
everything.” Another, left by “Cookie and Larry,” read, “John Gotti
was the greatest. Without him we are going to be lost . . . God bless
Resident Michael Filippi agreed that Gotti was the heart and soul of the neighborhood as he walked his dog – appropriately named Capone – passed the Bergin Club on June 9. He remembered the “awesome” Fourth of July parties that Gotti used to throw on 101st Avenue, complete with a barbecue feast and fireworks. Mayor Rudy Giuliani stopped those parties and had the Bergin club watched at all times, something Filippi called, “So wrong.” He said, “Those parties were awesome. Everyone would come out. It was like the biggest thing. He took care of this place because he lived here and he loved it here. We were lucky to have him and he’ll be missed.”
midnight on June 11, local residents gathered outside of the Bergin Hunt and
Fish Club, lighting candles, placing notes and flowers near the door, and
trading tales of a “terrific guy.”
one knew him like we did,” said Falco Romano, 58, peering into the
brickface storefront where the walls are lined with photos of Gotti.
“He’s a real hometown hero, a man with a heart of gold.”
gathered outside the club remembered a Gotti who paid for a child’s
operation when his parents couldn’t, handed out cash to neighborhood folks
who had lost their jobs, and “made the people feel safe.”
Romano boasted proudly that he had “kissed Johnny,” and “slapped him fondly on the back” just days before he headed to a Midwest prison.
Monaco, the owner of Eichler’s Pharmacy on 101st Avenue, said Gotti knew
him by name, and would always patronize local stores. He said, “He would
shop all on this strip. He was always around. He used to come here and buy
deodorant, toothpaste, shaving cream, sometimes stupid stuff. He was a
regular guy who like to help out his neighbors.” He added, “He was such
a nice guy. He had real old world family values.”
once known as the Teflon Don because any charges brought against him never
stuck, was sent to prison on murder and racketeering charges in 1992 after
mob turncoat Salvatore Gravano ratted him out to authorities. Gotti was
given a life sentence, and sent to a maximum security Federal prison. In
1998, Gotti was diagnosed with head and neck cancer, and in 2000, was
transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Missouri. He lost
his voice to a tracheotomy in February after eight tumors hindered his
breathing, and his physical appearance was depleted. Authorities reported he
could barely walk, and was losing his hair from cancer medication.
said, “It’s a shame that a man like that had to die like a dog in a jail
cell in such pain. It’s terrible. And now everyone’s going to say bad
things about him. You know, let the man go in peace. He was a nice man, he
did his best in the community, now let it go.”
will be buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, next to his son
Frank, who was killed after being hit by a car in 1980.
The man who hit Frank – John Favara – mysteriously disappeared four months after the incident.
Gotti’s home in Howard Beach, surveillance cameras watched over the lawn,
keeping reporters away. Gotti’s wife Victoria and daughter Victoria were
both at the house when a Tribune reporter rang the bell – and was
quickly, but politely, asked to leave. Gotti also had two more sons
–Peter, and John – and another daughter, Angela.
Neighbors of “Johnny Boy” were reluctant to talk about Gotti, but one resident who lives nearby said, “Let me tell you, he was a first class gent. He was a great guy. A man of the people. I felt much safer knowing he was here, and I’m so upset he died the way he did. He was too good for that.”
shook his head as he smoked a cigarette and remembered Gotti, saying “The
neighborhood was a lot different when he was here.”
went on to say that there was less crime, more respect, and a safer
environment in Ozone Park and Howard Beach with the boss in the
neighborhood. He said, “Old women would feel safe walking down the street
at 1 a.m. when John was around. That’s not the case anymore. Now we have
to worry about sending our kids to the park.”
Felicia Trazo, an Ozone Park resident, think Gotti had everything to do with it, and said, “Who would mess with John Gotti’s neighborhood? No one I know. Criminals knew this was his turf and stayed away. Now, they come right in. It’s a shame. I’ve lived here for over 40 years, and I see how the place has changed since they locked John up. It’s horrible.”
character of Ozone Park and Howard Beach has changed over the past 10 years,
according to the 2000 Census, which documented Hispanics moving into the
areas at an extremely high rate. While whites are still the majority in the
area, Hispanics now comprise about 20 percent of the population.
of the new Ozone Park immigrants that the Tribune spoke to were
respectful of Gotti’s death, but unclear on who the mobster really was.
Jose Palingua, an immigrant from Panama, said, “I’ve heard his name. I know he was loved around here. But I don’t know much about him. I don’t even know what he looks like.”
Gotti will be buried in a Roman Catholic cemetery alongside his son, he will
be not be given a Mass of Christian Burial, according to the Catholic
Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, which announced on June 12 that Gotti, a
convicted killer, cannot have a Catholic funeral.
short announcement denying Gotti the right to a funeral mass was attributed
to Diocese Chancellor Reverend Andrew Vaccari, who said, “The Diocese has
decided that there can be a Mass for the Dead sometime after the burial of
Mass for the Dead, a Diocese spokesperson explained, is a mass dedicated to
a deceased Catholic, and it was unknown at presstime whether the Gotti
family planned on holding one.
the statement did not explain why Gotti is qualified to be buried in a
Catholic cemetery, it did explain that the church does not allow Catholic
funerals for people that could be considered “scandalous.” A Diocese
spokesperson stated that the denial of a funeral mass is not a judgment of a
deceased person’s lifestyle, because “only God could make that
Liz Goff contributed to this story
Obituary John Gotti, 61
era of the “Goodfella Glitz” came to a halt this week as John Gotti
61, died on June 10 at a Missouri prison hospital following a long battle
with throat cancer. Federal sources said Gotti, who was hospitalized since
January, died alone in a cell-like hospital room. “He was a shell of his
former self,” FBI sources said. “Almost bald, his weight down to nothing
– hooked up to machines that kept him alive.” Gotti had not been able to
talk for some time, sources said.
the New York City Police Department and the federal government, Gotti was a
thief, a murderer. He had the power to kill people, like some old-country
European king who chopped off the heads of the unfaithful. Like the old
monarchs, Gotti periodically saw to the assassination of his rivals. Just
ask those close to Paul Castellano.
alas, unlike Capone and company, who sought counsel from mob accountant
Meyer Lansky, Gotti turned to the likes of Sammy (the Bull) Gravano in times
of difficulty. And Sammy turned and ratted out Gotti to the feds.
prosecutors failed, again and again to convict the “Teflon Don” on
assault and racketeering charges, Gotti’s fans gathered outside the Bergin
Hunt & Fish Club waiting for his return.
of His Dapperness were also thrilled each summer when Gotti hosted his
highly illegal July Fourth fireworks extravaganza. For 20 years, Gotti
hosted the neighborhood outside and inside the Bergin Hunt & Fish Club
at 98-08 101st
Ave. Skies over the club lit up with red, white and blue explosions as
hundreds of people stood to cheer for “Johnny.” For years, Gotti ignored
warnings by the NYPD that they would shut down the
It went on, even while Johnny was in jail.
in 1994, New York City Mayor (and the former U. S. prosecutor who convicted
Gotti) Rudolph Giuliani sent in troops of New York’s Finest to battle the
big boom on Independence Day. Rudy lined the streets of Howard Beach with
crackdown worked, and they have been, ever since.
was born on Oct. 27, 1940 to Fannie and John, Sr., one of 12 brothers and
would grow up to be the first “modern” Capo – and the only crime
family head to grow up on Rock ‘n’ Roll.
who listed “plumbing salesman” as his official occupation, shared a
modest, two-story home at 160-11 85th St. in Howard Beach with his family.
He met Victoria Di Giorgio in 1960. The couple dated for two years before
they were married in March 1962 at a wedding “celebration” attended by
hundreds of friends and associates.
Gottis had five children: Angela, Victoria, John Jr., Frank and Peter.
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