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Thomas Bilotti

Tommaso (Thomas) Bilotti (March 23, 1940 - December 16,1985) was a New York mobster who served as a driver and then Underboss for the reputed Boss of the Gambino crime family, Paul Castellano. In the 1996 made for television movie Gotti, Thomas is portrayed as "Tommy Bilotti" by actor Ron Gabriel.

Biography

Bilotti, also known as "The Wig", "The Doberman" and "Tommy", was born to first generation Italian-American immigrants Mr. Bilotti from Rome, Italy and Mrs. Gheraldi from Lombardy in Milan, Italy on March 23, 1940 in New York City, New York. Thomas was the middle child three brothers, James Bilotti and Joseph V. Bilotti (July 23, 1942 - March 20, 2006) who also followed Thomas into a life of organized crime with the Gambino crime family. His brother James was a Gambino crime family member who worked for Frank Sinatra as a bodyguard in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the paternal uncle of twenty-seven children, for his brothers James and Joseph both fathered nine children over his lifetime including nine children of his own, the youngest who was six-week old son at the time of his murder. He is not to be mistaken as a distant maternal relative of Italian actress Cesarina Gheraldi, although Thomas' mother has the exact same birth surname.

Early years

As a young hood, the Bilotti brothers came up in the Staten Island-based crew of Gambino crime family capo Michael D'Alessio. Bilotti also spent time as Alexander DeBrizzi's chauffeur and bodyguard. He became a criminal associate of John "Johnny Dee" D'Alessio, brother of Michael, Matthew Cuomo, father of Ralph (Raffie) Cuomo and Joseph Armone. In 1970, D'Alessio recruited Tommy and his older brother Joseph to murder his daugther's boyfriend Tommy Ernst, but the muerder contract was botched and D'Alessio's own daughter who was armed, returned shots at the Bilotti brothers. However, a few months later, Ernst was murdered leaving D'Alessio's Staten Island home. Bilotti had a reputation for being "tough guy," feared by street level thugs on both sides of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In one incident, Tommy Bilotti knocked out Colombo associate Robert Pate, whose brother was Colombo solider (and future stoolpigeon) John Pate.

Castellano protegé

Thomas was a long-time protegé of Paul Castellano who worked as a bodyguard, chauffeur, aide-de-camp and confidante. Over the years he also became a close and personal friend of Paul Castellano, his wife Nina, daughter Corrine, son Joseph Castellano and Castellano's maternal nephew Thomas Gambino and John Gambino. This earned him recognition and responsibility when Castellano became the boss of the Gambino crime family in 1976. Among Castellano's top legitimate financial advisors who he hired from all over the country to work with him, the brash and abrasive Bilotti was considered an outsider. Thomas did not have conversational finesse, distinguishing himself by spluttering inarticulate words. He had a fat pugnacious face and stood at 5'7" with a stubby build and pit bull neck and weighed a rock-solid 220 pounds and small, almost dainty feet. His fingers were stubby and thick, armored with wrinkles and had talon-like fingernails that seemed designed for clawing out eyes. He had a tattoo on his upper right arm.

Suspected Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Thomas had a physically large mouth full of crooked teeth and piggish eyes that were too close together. This suggests that Thomas suffered from Fetal alcohol syndrome which is a disorder or permanent birth defects that occur in women when they consume alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol can also damage neurons and brain structures, and cause physical, mental and behavioral problems. which is caused from the narrowing of the palpebral fissures. It also creates an array of primary cognitive and functional disabilities including impulsive behavior, attention defecits and poor cause-effect reasoning which Thomas displayed signs of. One of the physical telltale signs of fetal alcohol syndrome is that the eyes may seem visually too close together. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Joseph O'Brien would state that Thomas was unfortunate to not "escape the telltale signs of inbreeding- the piggish eyes, the sloping brow, the blotched skin that went with hypertension that made Thomas and other mobsters into caricatures of thugishness".

Staten Island construction business

He had a no-show job as an official at Paul Castellano's company, Scara-Mix Incorporated located at 2537 Richmond Terrace in Staten Island run by Paul Castellano's sons Paul Jr. and Phillip as a "union official". Thomas was involved in labor racketeering, extortion and loansharking. He spoke in a high, reedy tenor that contrasted drolly with his squat and bullish frame, it had also been described as "sudden and squeaky,like an ill-played clarinet." He wore a ill-fitting horribly designed toupée that had shelves where it joined his own hair on the sides, overhanging like a miniature version of a Stahlhelm. He suffered from severe anger management and low self esteem problems about his hair loss.

Thomas came to the conclusion that Special FBI Agent Joseph O'Brien told everyone that Bilotti wore a toupée, and that nobody had noticed it before O'Brien had mentioned it, which infuriated Bilotti. Although it was well known in mob and law enforcement circles that Thomas wore a toupée. Fellow associates were overheard on FBI wiretaps referring to Bilotti as "The Wig." His toupee gleamed like a soaked cat, and the color was not a perfect match. He constantly stank of aftershave. FBI Special Agent Joseph O'Brien would later say in retrospect of Bilotti, "was vigilant, hardworking, fearless, and, above all loyal."

Underboss

In time, Castellano promoted Bilotti to underboss on December 5th 1985 following his promotion to boss of the Gambino crime family following his cousin and brother-in-law's death, an unpopular move in the family. His capacity for devotion had been stretched over the years by certain excruciating events in his personal life. His first wife, Catherine, died a slow death from cancer in her mid-thirties, Bilotti had been forced to watch her fade away. By 1985 he was remarried to a beautician and hairdresser named Donna, but still brought flowers diligently to Catherine's grave site. His wife Donna owned a beauty parlor in Brownsville, Brooklyn. With his first wife Catherine he fathered a severely autistic son and namesake, Thomas C. Bilotti born on March 30, 1974 who was institutionalized when he reached the age of a toddler. Thomas was said to have loved his son dearly and visited him regularly, though he never spoke of him publicly. His son and namesake Thomas C. Bilotti passed away on September 16, 2003 in Port Jefferson, New York at the age of twenty-nine.

It is thought by Agent O'Brien that "either he felt the disorder somehow reflecting badly on his manhood, or he dimly perceived some unbearable irony in his own violent nature being passed down on to his child in the form of a compulsion toward self-inflicted hurt. Maybe he just found the subject too painful to discuss... Bilotti hid those very few things that called forth tenderness in him." He was a member of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and was given a parking placard.

He was a first cousin to Mrs. Angelina Gheraldi who is a councilwoman and of the New York City Department of Education, charity worker and maternal uncle to Richard Gheraldi, a truck driver for Scara-Mix Cement Corporation. Thomas is also the uncle of nine known children fathered from his brother Joseph. Over the years, Tommy's small social circle of close companions and associates diminished, Tommy became evermore dedicated to Paul Castellano. O'Brien would say, "He defended him with a stoic solitude, and would almost certainly have sacrificed his own life to save him. He was programmed not for malice, exactly, but for combat-readiness. He did not seem to connect violence with a reason for violence." Organized crime historian Allan May would say about Thomas, "Listening to the transcripts of the tape-recorded conversations from Castellano's Todt Hill mansion on Staten Island and from the encounters with FBI Agent O'Brien, it is easy to envision Bilotti as a Joe Pesci-type-mob-character (Anthony Spilotro in Casino, Tommy DeSimone in Goodfellas). Short, ruthless, excitable and, if possible, more foul-mouthed than Pesci.

Transcripts revealed that practically all of Bilotti's comments were peppered with the word "fuck". He was a aide-de-camp, chief confidant and chauffeur who would later be elevated to the position of underboss of the Gambino crime family. Being the underboss he was a regular visitor to the Todt Hill, Staten Island mansion where Paul lived and became a close friend of the family.

When Paul began having an affair with his live-in maid Gloria Orlate he respected Castellano's privacy and kept it a secret from his wife and children. Although, the affair was eventually discovered which led to the breakup between Paul and Nina Castellano. When Castellano faced a conviction and jail time in an upcoming 1985 Mafia trial, he planned to have Thomas Gambino, his nephew and son of Carlo Gambino, take over for Paul as "acting boss" and Bilotti would continue to serve as underboss.

Reputation on the streets

Bilotti was considered Paul Castellano's "darling", and even among Castellano's own ranks it was considered bizarre. FBI Special Agent Joseph O'Brien says about Thomas that, "He was basically a pit bull with shoes on. If he had any business ability beyond choreographing a shakedown or calculating the interest owed on shylock loans, it didn't show." Sammy Gravano would say that along with Paul Castellano's sons, he helped overlook the Gambino crime family's participation in the bid rigging of concrete pouring contracts through his employment at Scara-Mix Concrete Corporation in which no work could begin on any contract in New York worth more than two million without Castellano's approval and the crime family's hold over various locals of the building trade unions, including the cement mixers, painters, carpenters, laborers, mason tendors, plasterers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. FBI Special Agent Joseph O'Brien would also comment that, "He had no tact, no charm, no sense of humor." Bruce Muow would later warn FBI Agent Joseph O'Brien, "Don't ever talk to Tommy Bilotti alone. He doesn't play by the rules. He's monstrously strong and he'll go after anybody. Very short fuse. Always keeps a baseball bat underneath the front seat of his car. Ends conversations by breaking things. Heads and legs, usually."

On wire taps at fellow Gambino crime family Angelo Ruggiero's Cedarhurst, New York home, Angelo was heard on the phone by the FBI complaining constantly about Paul Castellano's high-handed manner with Thomas at his side. To his friends he conjured up images of Castellano and Bilotti spending their evenings together in his mansion on Todt Hill "whacking off" (performing mutual masturbation).

O'Brien would later say, "Once a certain threshold was reached, the process just fed on itself, the voltage increasing exponentially until the fuel was all used up and everything within a certain radius had been leveled. His voice got louder and louder, he made less and less sense. Soon he would just be spitting out curses wrapped in random phrases, his face purple, his nostrils distended, ropy veins standing out on his pit bull neck. His pupils would shrink to pinpoints of black light, and pulsing blood seemed to make his forehead crawl." As long as he waited on Castellano, he was deferential, subdued, watchful yet calm, O'Brien likened him to, "a dog on a rug."

His self-esteem was derived from adoration of Castellano, and he could afford to be well behaved. Problems occurred, however, when Thomas was sent to perform errands independently. When not under supervision of Castellano, he became rambunctious. He tried to play the big shot; he overdid things. He released his sadistic tendencies, and embroidered gratuitous cruelty through what should have been straightforward business transactions. Since he was first started his career in organized crime he had been arrested multiple times for assault and battery and weapons possession. According to informants he boasted indiscreetly about murdering eleven people.

Once, for instance, Bilotti was sent to collect some overdue loan interest from a Staten Island bar owner. This bar owner, as it happened, had been badly beaten up some weeks before, which was the last time he had fallen behind in his "vig" payments. The beating had led to medical bills and time lost from work which made the bar owner less than ever to settle his debt. No matter what the situation, Thomas would either collect or register a protest. He entered the crowded bar carrying a baseball bat. He demanded the proprietor to get on his knees. Bilotti then forced the bartender to perform oral sex on him in front of the customers before leaving.

Former Gambino crime family underboss Sammy Gravano would later comment in his autobiography about the influence on Castellano's judgement making, "As time went on, in mob matters, he went with decisions that were more and more stupid. He would be fed dumb information by Tommy Bilotti. If he had kept Frank DeCicco close by and listened to him, what was going on, maybe he would still be alive."

Attempted gangland slaying

On December 2, 1985 when Gambino crime family underboss Aniello Dellacroce succumbed to cancer, Sammy Gravano planned to murder Tommy Bilotti. One idea was to have associate Joseph Watts to have him tell his wife that he wanted his house painted, and they would put up platic on the walls and everywhere. Then sometime early in the morning Joe would call to arrange a meeting with Bilotti and have him come to his house.

Joe would open the door for Tommy and walk him into the home's front corridor. Sammy Gravano would hide in the archway with Frank DeCicco. As Tommy would walk past, Sammy would step out and shoot him in the head. Frank DeCicco would then go up to Paul Castellano's home and tell him Tommy called and said he was sick so he would act as Castellano's replacement driver. Then, DeCicco would shoot Paul when he was in his car. But after some cautious thinking Gravano and DeCicco thought that it was too haphazard a plan.

Gangland slaying

A few minutes before 6:00 p.m. on December 16, 1985 chauffeured Paul Castellano to where they were ambushed outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan, apparently on the orders of caporegime John Gotti. Gambino crime family mob associate Anthony Rampino shot Thomas six times in the head and chest after Castellano was gunned down. The fatal meeting was arranged by Frank DeCicco, James Failla, Gene Gotti and Armando Dellacroce, the son of Gambino crime family consigliere Aniello Dellacroce who were against the age-old ban on narcotics as a business option. Bilotti left nine children, including a six-week old child, a severely autistic son, and his wife Donna who had a nervous breakdown upon hearing the news about his highly publicized murder, from being with Castellano and suffered a miscarriage.

It is said that Thomas and Paul Castellano most certainly saw their ensuing executioners, before being shot dead. From descriptions of the shooters given by witnesses, including a pedestrian who witnessed the shooting from only a few feet away, police detectives believe it was John Gotti associate, Anthony Rampino who gunned down Thomas as he was getting out of his black Lincoln. After the shooting, an off-duty registered nurse went to Bilotti's aid in a vain attempt to revive him. Police found Thomas to be in possession of $6,300 at the time of his death and was not armed. After Castellano was murdered, Gambino crime family associate Joseph Watts argued that Sammy Gravano and John Gotti should have his brother Joseph killed because he was a danger for revenge.

Sammy Gravano argued with John Gotti that he did not think it was necessary because Joe knew the organized crime lifestyle. His brother accepted his brother's death and became a good, loyal soldier to the Gambino crime family. Bilotti and Castellano were both laid to rest in the Moravian Cemetery, a non-sectarian cemetery located in the New Dorp section of Staten Island. He was buried in a simple grave fifty yards from Paul. After his death, Bilotti's home was purchased by actor, Steven Segal.

He was replaced by the equally shortlived and unfortunate Frank DeCicco who was murdered by loyalsts of his former friend and boss.

References

  • Davis, John H. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. New York: Harper Collins, 1993 ISBN 0061091847
  • Maas, Peter Sammy The Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia
  • O'Brien F. Joseph Boss of Bosses: The Fall of the Godfather: The FBI and Paul Castellano

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