AP photo by Louis Lanzano|
Victoria Gotti, mother of John Gotti Jr., exits Manhattan federal court in September 2005. John Jr. was on trial for racketeering. Mrs. Gotti offered her $715,000 home for her son’s bail.
Happy Mother’s Day, mob moms
Holiday most important Sunday on organized crime calendar
By Larry McShane
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK — Each and every Mother’s Day until he landed behind bars, mobster Jimmy “The Gent” Burke performed a sacrosanct ritual.
Burke, the mastermind behind the $5.8 million Lufthansa heist immortalized in “Goodfellas,” dropped a few C-notes on dozens of red roses from a Rockaway Boulevard florist. He then toured the homes of his jailed Luchese crime family pals, providing their mothers with a bouquet and a kiss.
He never missed a year, or a mom.
Taking break from homicides
Burke’s gesture was no surprise to his fellow hoodlums: Mother’s Day was the most important Sunday on the organized crime calendar, when homicide took a holiday and racketeering gave way to reminiscing — often over a plate of Mom’s pasta and gravy.
“These guys, they do have a love for their mothers,” said Joe Pistone, the FBI undercover agent who spent six Mother’s Days inside the Bonanno family as jewel thief Donnie Brasco. “They thought nothing of killing. But the respect for their mothers? It was amazing.”
So amazing, Pistone recalled, that Bonanno member Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero once told him that the Mafia — like a suburban Jersey mall shuttered by blue laws — closed for business when Mother’s Day arrived each May.
Gift baskets, candy
No vendettas or broken bones. Just gift baskets and boxes of candy.
“Absolutely,” said mob informant Henry Hill, who described his old friend Burke’s annual rite. “It’s Mother’s Day, you know?”
The bond between gangsters and their mothers is more sacred than the oath of omerta and more complex than anything imagined by Oedipus. Pistone watched stone murderers suddenly grow misty when discussing their moms — or her meals.
“They’re not embarrassed to say how much they love their mother,” said Pistone, author of the new mob memoir “Unfinished Business.”
“I can remember guys talking about how their moms made the best braciole, or ‘my mom taught me how to make this sauce.’ ”
No surprise there: The way to a made man’s heart was often through his stomach, as many mob moms knew long before their sons moved from finger paints to fingerprints.
Mob heavyweight Al Capone — a man who never needed a restaurant reservation during his Roaring ’20s reign atop the Chicago underworld — preferred his mother’s spaghetti with meat sauce, heavy on the cheese.
(Capone’s sentimentality didn’t extend to other holidays. On Feb. 14, 1929, he orchestrated the submachine-gun slayings of seven rival bootleggers in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.)
Capone wasn’t alone in his mismatched emotions: warm, maternal love and cold, homicidal rage. Genovese family boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante shared a Greenwich Village apartment with his ninetysomething mother, Yolanda, even as he ruthlessly directed the nation’s most powerful organized crime operation during the ’80s and ’90s. New England capo Vincent “The Animal” Ferrara did a 16-year prison stretch for racketeering, getting out of prison just two years ago. His first trip as a free man: a visit to see his 90-year-old mom.
But gangland mother-son ties transcend more than just generations; they cross ethnic lines.
Abe Reles, a Jewish hit man of the ’30s, was known to contemporaries as “Kid Twist” for his preferred method of execution — he would wrap his thick fingers around a victim’s neck for one final snap.
Despite 42 arrests (and 11 admitted murders), the “Kid” remained his mother’s loving son. And he showed up at her apartment each Friday night for a traditional Sabbath meal of gefilte fish, chicken soup and boiled chicken.
One Friday, Reles showed up with a guest. The three shared a meal before the Kid’s mother left for a movie. By the time the film was finished, her son — assisted by a mob associate — had bludgeoned and strangled their guest before disposing of the body.
Mrs. Reles returned to share a cup of tea and a piece of honey cake with her boy, according to Robert A. Rockaway’s mob tome “But He Was Good To His Mother” — a history of loving Jewish sons turned heartless killers.
Blinded by love
Those mobbed-up kids often had their affection reciprocated from mothers blinded by love to mounting evidence of their offspring’s larcenous lifestyles.
Philadelphia gangster Angelo “Buddha” Lutz was arrested in 2001 on racketeering charges — and released on $150,000 bail when his mom put up her house as collateral. (She was later free to visit him in prison, where he was sentenced to serve nine years.)
Mob matriarch Victoria Gotti went even further for her son, John A. “Junior” Gotti, offering her $715,000 home up for his bail. When Junior went on trial three times in the last two years for racketeering, Victoria appeared in court each time — even as defense lawyers admitted that he once headed the Gambino crime family.
“If you’re the president or a gangster, that has nothing to do with a mother’s love,” said Pistone. “I think that’s one of the main reasons for their bond.”
When authorities last year dropped the charges against Junior, the mob scion — his father was the late “Dapper Don” John Gotti — repaid his mom’s devotion. Gotti spent Thanksgiving Day at Victoria’s hospital bedside after she suffered a stroke.
For some, like Robert Spinelli, love of Mom complicated their chosen profession. Spinelli served as the getaway driver after his brother and a second man tried to kill the sister of mob informant “Big Pete” Chiodo, but he was stricken with guilt over the shooting.
At his 1999 sentencing, Spinelli stood with tears streaming down his face when recounting the botched hit against Patricia Capozzalo, who had just dropped her two children off at school. “She reminded me of my mother,” the weepy gangster confessed before getting a 10-year jail term.
For Hill, his beloved mother provided a passport — Italian — into the Mafia back in the 1950s.
Young Henry was a mob wannabe, hanging around the taxi stand that served as the business office for Luchese capo Paulie Vario. When the mobsters discovered the kid with the Irish surname was half-Sicilian, on mother Carmela’s side, he was greeted like a paisano.
Hill recalled that Jimmy Burke attached particular importance to Mother’s Day because he was abandoned by his own parents at age 2. Hill also recalled how his hot-tempered pal wasn’t so dewy-eyed one day later.
“He’d kiss all the mothers on Sunday,” said Hill. “And then the next day, he’d kill their husbands.”
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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