Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal
April 23, 1997
Sammy the Bull turns serial murder
into celebrity standing
By JOHN L. SMITH
To hear the government talk, you have to believe the traditional American mob is going out of business — or at least changing professions.
With organized crime families reportedly belly up from Los Angeles to Boston, it’s hard to deny there’s trouble in the old neighborhood. With last week’s federal indictment of nine reputed La Cosa Nostra hoodlums on charges ranging from racketeering to turning out the lights on Herbie Blitzstein, the mob in Las Vegas is one pathetic sight.
Perhaps the only bloody ray of sunshine for organized crime aficionados is the recent publication of Gambino family turncoat “Sammy the Bull” Gravano’s grisly memoirs.
Before betraying his longtime friend, family boss John Gotti, Gravano was the maniacal underboss of the Gambino family. Once he cut a deal with the government, Gravano admitted in court that he had personally ended the lives of 19 of his associates and enemies. Call me naive, but that seems like a lot of killing.
When it comes to murder and mayhem, Gravano proved a credible and effective witness against Gotti. After spending less than four months in prison for each murder he carried out, Gravano regained his freedom.
He committed mass murder and lived to tell the tale with the help of best-selling author Peter Maas. The former underboss also was prominently featured on last week’s edition of “PrimeTime Live” with Diane Sawyer. With his new face lift and muscular physique, Gravano could have passed for a movie gangster instead of the genuine article.
In case you were wondering, don’t expect any national TV news shows to spotlight the Las Vegas 9 in prime time. Or any time, for that matter. They just don’t measure up.
In fact, with the exception of the Blitzstein killing, the records of violence of the nine tough guys pale in comparison to Gravano’s admitted crimes. It’s kind of sad, really. The locals couldn’t pack Gravano’s pistol or pour his espresso.
Gravano is a big story, but the message of his celebrity is mixed. If you don’t think so, take a moment to consider the $500 reward being offered by an Illinois police union for confirmed sightings of Sammy the Bull. The Combined Counties Police Association, which represents cop shops in several cities in and around Chicago, is putting out what amounts to a bounty on Gravano’s head.
That’s right: Finger a mob guy, win a prize.
Police Association President John J. Flood has been tracking Chicago hoodlums for more than three decades. He doesn’t pretend that his gesture will be effective, but he wants to remind others that something is wrong with the system.
For him, Gravano’s presence amounted to slime time on “PrimeTime.”
“If (serial killer) John Wayne Gacy said he’d give them John Gotti, if the government released him there would be a national outcry,” Flood says. “Gravano is a mass murderer. And he winds up on television. He only did five years, which was a tremendous deal for a man who has committed 19 murders. He got off too easy.”
What really bothers Flood is Gravano’s cavalier attitude as he regaled viewers with the news that he was ready to shoot police officers who interrupted his business. As a former street cop, Flood recalls he once interrupted Chicago mobsters Joey Lombardo and Frankie Schweihs in the process of carrying out a hit. He made the arrest but wonders where he might be if they had shared Gravano’s philosophy.
Not that Flood is opposed to the use of informants. Far from it. But he draws the line at making deals with mass murderers.
Obviously, the guy is out of touch with America’s prime time reality. Celebrity is everything.
“You’ve got to use them, but what price do you pay?” Flood asks. “Now he’s out of witness protection. But I’ll tell you, the leopard doesn’t change its spots.”
The old cop means he expects Gravano to commit more crimes. Perhaps Sammy the Bull will knock off a savings and loan, or at least a few old friends. Who knows, it might be good for sales of his book.
Personally, I think Flood is way off.
With that new face and prime-time celebrity, I make Sammy the Bull a favorite to have his own talk show by the end of the year.
Why, he’ll probably knock ’em dead.
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� 1997 Las Vegas Review-Journal 04/23/97 09:40
John L. Smith’s column appears Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday in the Las Vegas Review Journal. This column appeared April 23, 1997. It is reprinted with permission of the author.