By Jeff Burbank
Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano lost his plea for early release from a two-decade prison sentence last week after a federal judge in Brooklyn complained that the New York mobster had shown no remorse or signs of rehabilitation and remained a threat to public safety.
Gravano, 70, was a member of the Gambino crime family and became capo, consigliere, and later underboss to the late John Gotti from 1985 to 1991. He had asked the court to cut nearly three years off the twenty-year sentence he received in 2002 for pushing the illegal “club” drug ecstasy – earning about $500,000 a week – in Arizona after he quit the Witness Protection Program.
Gravano’s daughter Karen, star of the VH1 reality show “Mob Wives” and who herself was sentenced to probation for her part in her father’s ecstasy conspiracy, on Thursday wrote on Twitter in response to the news: “Not in the best mood,” accompanied by a frowning emoticon.
Gravano’s lawyers filed the application to reduce Gravano’s sentence after the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved the retroactive reduction of sentences given to most drug trafficking offenders in order to reduce prison overcrowding. His lawyers said the new rules mean he could have as many as thirty-four months trimmed from his twenty-year sentence. However, the commission ruled that it was up to a judge to decide whether the inmate’s release posed any danger to the public.
Judge Allyne Ross of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York refused to buy assurances from Gravano’s lawyers that he had changed for the better in prison and Gravano’s plan to become a trainer of dogs used by disabled veterans upon his release would benefit the community.
But Ross alluded to the extraordinary chance the federal court afforded Gravano back in the 1990s. Gravano agreed with prosecutors to deliver testimony against Gotti in 1991 that ultimately sent the “Teflon Don” to a stretch of life in prison.
For his testimony – which resulted in three dozen convictions — a federal judge in 1994 granted Gravano a sentence of only five years despite his many heinous crimes, including nineteen gangland murders that Gravano admitted to committing to advance himself and his fellow New York hoodlums. Gravano took out his own brother-in-law and directed and watched (while in a car with Gotti) the public execution of Gambino boss Paul Castellano outside a Manhattan steakhouse in 1985.
Ross apparently had no stomach for Gravano’s appeal for another big break, having pressed his luck by becoming a major drug trafficker soon after doing the short stint in prison for committing numerous murders. In 1994, the feds allowed Gravano to be released a year early from prison for his 1991 conviction. He started the ecstasy ring, which would involve his wife, son, and daughter, in the late 1990s.
“The conduct constituting the crime of conviction and resulting sentence that is the subject of his application not only showed a complete absence of rehabilitation and an utter lack of remorse,” the judge said. “It also demonstrated a virtual certitude that (the prisoner) would recidivate, and that he would continue to pose a serious risk of danger to the community.”
The ruling means Gravano will have to wait until at least 2017 to learn when he’ll get out.
Jeff Burbank, a longtime journalist, is a content development specialist for The Mob Museum. Contact him at email@example.com.