Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, the former underboss of the Gambino organized-crime family, is a mass murderer (19 bodies, maybe more, across his distinguished career), and also the most consequential turncoat in the history of organized crime. Gravano, whom I came to know while covering the Mob in the 1990s, had many thoughts about respect and loyalty, which he shared with me in a number of conversations. Like most mobsters—including, and especially, those who became known for their “ratting”—he was preoccupied with matters of honor.
At the time of those conversations, Gravano, whose testimony led directly to the downfall of his former boss, John Gotti, was participating in the federal witness-security program, and we met at a number of locations in the Southwest. I did not know it at the time, but while under federal protection Gravano was leading Arizona’s largest Ecstasy-distribution ring. He was also in the pool-building business.
I have not seen Gravano in a very long time—he has spent most of the past two decades in prison, after having failed to hide his drug-distribution business from his federal monitors—but my thoughts turned to him yesterday, when I read President Donald Trump’s tweet on the subject of loyalty and respect. The president, who is obviously perturbed by the felony conviction of his former campaign chair Paul Manafort and the plea deal taken by his former attorney Michael Cohen, wrote the following: “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’”—a cutting reference to the Justice Department, which he oversees as the leader of the executive branch—“took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ - make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”