John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon
Drugs and the Ruggerio Phone Tap
As information was obtained from the FBI's confidential informants, a picture of the drug dealing going on by the Bergin crew began to unfold. Yet it was never clear how big a role John Gotti played in the crew's drug involvement. Outwardly he was still pushing the family line of no drugs, but there is little doubt that he prospered from the enormous profits crewmembers earned.
By the early 1980s, the government was beginning to investigate New York's five organized crime families. FBI Special Agent Bruce Mouw was selected to head what was called the "Gambino squad." The determined agent worked to develop confidential informants inside the family and managed to identify the hierarchy of the Gambino Crime Family. Starting with information supplied by "Source Wahoo" (the secret FBI code name assigned to Willie Boy Johnson) that Angelo Ruggiero's home telephone was safe, the FBI proceeded to "launch an electronic assault" against the mobster known as "Quack Quack." On November 9, 1981, a tap was placed on the home phone of Ruggiero. One of the reasons Ruggiero was chosen was because his brother, Salvatore, had become a millionaire from dealing drugs on his own and was currently a fugitive from justice.
One day after Angelo talked to Gene Gotti, using the word "babania" (a street name for heroin), the Gambino Squad approached a judge for a warrant for further electronic surveillance. During the early part of 1982, Ruggiero had moved from Howard Beach to Cedarhurst, Long Island. Agents disguised as construction workers, with information again supplied by Willie Boy Johnson, planted listening devices in Ruggiero's kitchen, dining room and basement den, and tapped the Princess phone in his daughter's bedroom. In addition, they increased physical surveillance, even allowing Angelo to spot them in hopes that this would instigate more discussion from him.
On May 6, 1982, Salvatore Ruggiero chartered a private plane at an airport in New Jersey to fly him and his wife to southern Florida to look at some investment property. Salvatore, a fugitive from the government for six years, had been hiding out in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of southern Georgia, killing everyone on board. Salvatore's death set off a chain of events that would result in an internecine war in the Gambino Family and propel John Gotti into leadership. After being notified of the fatal accident, Angelo, Gene Gotti and John Carneglia quickly descended on Salvatore's New Jersey hideout to remove paperwork, valuables and all the heroin they could find.
Attorney Michael Coiro, who had represented Angelo in the past, arrived from Florida two days after Salvatore's death to help Angelo resolve legal issues involving his brother's estate. While the two were meeting at Angelo's home, Gambino Family capo Frank DeCicco arrived to offer his condolences. As agents listened in, Coiro told DeCicco, "Gene found the heroin."
Several weeks after the memorial service for Salvatore, Coiro was still around helping Angelo. During a bugged conversation at Angelo's home, the FBI picked up the following exchange between Angelo, Coiro and Gene Gotti as Ruggiero talked about unloading the heroin:
Ruggiero: If I get some money, will you hold it?
Gene: Nobody is to know but us. You're not our lawyer, you're one of us as far as I'm concerned.
Coiro: I know it, Gene, I feel that way too.
As the months dragged on, so did the tape recorders picking up all the incriminating evidence pouring out of the mouths of Angelo Ruggiero and the visitors to his home. During this period the heroin was sold, to which Ruggiero was heard exclaiming, "There's a lot of profit in heroin." With those profits Gene Gotti and John Carneglia flew to Florida and made a heroin purchase from one of Salvatore's former suppliers.
Bruce Mouw held off making any arrests in hopes that he could catch John Gotti at Ruggiero's home or on one of the phone taps discussing the heroin. It didn't happen. It was claimed that Gotti felt that as acting capo he should never visit the home of a "soldier." On August 8, 1983, seventeen months after Salvatore Ruggiero's death, the Gambino Squad arrested Angelo, Gene Gotti, John Carneglia, Michael Coiro, and Mark Reiter. In addition to the heroin discussions caught on mountains of tapes, the bugs and phone taps picked up Ruggiero making a plethora of disparaging remarks about Paul Castellano. The battle Castellano waged to get these tapes would eventually lead to his demise.