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Peter Maas
Peter Maas
Underboss:  Sammy The Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia
ISBN: 0060182563
Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia
"They say I broke the oath. But it wasn 't the oath I thought I was taking I thought it was about honor and brotherhood. I mean, when you took the oath, that honor stuff got you as high as a kite when you were being made. You really believed in it, that it was worth living for and dying for and going to jail for. It was none of that. It was all about greed and power." —Sammy The Bull Gravano

In March of 1992, the highest-ranking member of the Mafia in America ever to defect broke his blood oath of silence and testified against his boss, John Gotti. He was Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, second in command of the Gambino organized crime family, the most powerful in the nation. Because of Gotti's uncanny ability to escape convictions in state and federal trials despite charges that he was the Mafia's top chieftain, the media had dubbed him the "Teflon Don." With Sammy the Bull, this would all change. Gravano's testimony would eventually lead to the convictions, guilty pleas or extended prison terms of dozens of key Cosa Nostra figures-including Gotti as well as key union officials involved in labor racketeering. His collaboration with the government would also spawn a "veritable flood" of cooperating witnesses from organized crime. Today, thanks in large part to Gravano, the Mafia is in shambles.

In UNDERBOSS: Sammy The Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia, Peter Maas, bestselling author of The Valachi Papers and Serpico, chronicles the gangster life of Sammy Gravano—a participant in almost every key event of the modern Cosa Nostra. Based on dozens of hours of exclusive interviews with Gravano, and much of it written in Sammy the Bull's own voice, Maas's latest Mafia history ushers readers as never before into the uppermost secret inner sanctums of organized crime. It is an underworld of power, lust, greed, betrayal, deception, sometimes even honor, with the specter of violent death always poised in the wings. We have seen, read, and heard about this dangerously real world from the outside; now we are able to experience it in rich, no-holds-barred detail as if we were there ourselves.
—from the publisher's website

Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia
Program Air Date: August 24, 1997

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Peter Maas, I want to start with some basic definitions that you find on the cover on your book, and we'll start with the word `underboss.' What is it?
Mr. PETER MAAS, AUTHOR, "UNDERBOSS": That's the number-two man in a Cosa Nostra family. It's very structured. There's a boss, the underboss; there's also a consigliere. They make up the administration of a particular crime family. There were 24 crime families across the United States that belonged to Cosa Nostra; which means this thing of ours--it's essentially the American Mafia.
LAMB: Are there still 24 families active?
Mr. MAAS: They're there. A couple of them are--more than a couple of them are on the ropes right now; but, yes, they are active. At least they have bosses and underbosses and consiglieres. Their power is diminished quite a bit in some areas.
LAMB: What's the difference between an underboss and the boss?
Mr. MAAS: Well, the boss is the boss in Cosa Nostra, and the underboss is their--he's like a vice president, I guess, with more power. It depends on the individual, what each underboss makes of his job. He is not elected; he's picked by the boss.
LAMB: What does the consigliere do?
Mr. MAAS: He's a counselor. He theoretically is an adviser. In real life very few consiglieres go against the--what the boss wants. The boss is the boss. That's a refrain you hear over and over again.
LAMB: Can the underboss tell the consigliere what to do?
Mr. MAAS: No, not really, unless he's given some leeway. In the particular case of the Gambino family, John Gotti was the boss, Sammy Gravano--Sammy "The Bull" was the underboss and a man named Frank Locascio was the consigliere, but Sammy--when John Gotti was or--not around, Sammy was the boss.
LAMB: Also on the cover you've got the picture of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano.
Mr. MAAS: That's right.
LAMB: What--does this--where did this name come from, The Bull?
Mr. MAAS: Well, there were many--I heard many explanations about it but, in fact, what happened was when Sammy Gravano was growing up in Bensonhurst, in Brooklyn, a very Italian neighborhood; when he was about 10 years old, his mother and father gave him a bicycle; the bicycle was stolen. And a couple of days later a friend of his said he had just seen two boys with his--Sammy's bicycle, and Sammy ran down to the corner and found them, grabbed the bicycle with one hand and started fighting these other two fellows who were older than he was, with his other hand. And across the street, there were several local wiseguys--that is to say, Mafia members--lounging on a corner outside a bar, and they watched this. And finally they came over; they knew who Sammy was because he lived on that block and said, `What's going on?' And Sammy said, `They stole my bike and I want it back.'

And finally one of these wiseguys told these other two boys, `Let the bike go. It's Sammy's bike.' Then he said something rather ominous. He said, `And if your fathers have any problem with this, tell them to come see us,' and the two boys ran off. And then the man who had broken up this turned to the other fellows watching on the sidewalk and on--said, `Did you see this Sammy? He's like a little bull.'
LAMB: And that was the beginning.
Mr. MAAS: And it stuck.
LAMB: On--also on the cover you have: "Story of Life in the Mafia" is kind of the subhead right here. Why is there a Mafia? Why is it Italian?
Mr. MAAS: Well, there--it's Italian-American, the Cosa Nostra here, and I--it's part of America. It's not an alien--by now an alien culture, that we've had many organized crime groups in America.

What happens gen--when we go back to good old American organized crime--I guess you can go back to the James boys. They were here. But what basically happened was with each ethnic arrival in the United States, they brought with them not only enterprising people but criminals. And they were organized. You had Jewish mobs, you had Irish mobs. The Italian had an advantage. They're basically--came from Sicily and Naples. There was an inbred clannishness. There was a history of several hundred years of organized crime, especially in Sicily, where the Mafia started, and they came--they had an advantage in the United States because they came much more organized than these other groups.

For a period of time the Neapolitans and the Sicilians were enemies and it's when they formally united around 1930 in the United States that the ball game was over as far as who was going to be dominant in organized crime in the United States.
LAMB: And also on the cover you say--you have your name, Peter Maas, and then below that is `author of "The Valachi Papers."'
Mr. MAAS: Right.
LAMB: Where are you from?
Mr. MAAS: I'm from New York City. I grew up in the Upper West Side. I--the parish was Our Lady of Lourdes Church and I grew up there. It's--I grew up in--actually in Hamilton Heights, which is just below Washington Heights; it was--at the time I was a boy, it was basically a German, Jewish and Irish...
LAMB: What's your own background?
Mr. MAAS: Well, I'm half-Irish and half-Dutch, and a little bit of German, I think, but basically Dutch and Irish. And if I were--I've always wondered about this. Perhaps somebody listening can solve the problem. In--Donegal, which is one of the counties of where part of my family came from, there's a rather large fishing village called Maas...
LAMB: In Ireland.
Mr. MAAS: Ireland, spelled the same as the Dutch version, and it's pronounced Maas (pronounced mace) and it means in Gaelic `a thighbone' and in Dutch, Maas, pronounced Maas (pronounced moss) means a mace--a club. So there's some connection there and I--I don't know what the answer is.
LAMB: It said you're author of "The Valachi Papers." Why would that be included on the cover of the book?
Mr. MAAS: Well, "The Valachi Papers" was a landmark book as far as the Mafia in America was concerned. It--Joseph Valachi was the first person ever to reveal the existence of Cosa Nostra, gave it its real name. At that time--we're talking 25, 30 years ago--there was a great argument in America about whether, in fact, there was a Mafia organized the way we've described it. And Valachi solved the problem. He ended the argument for good. And it gave Robert Kennedy, who was then the attorney general, the impetus to go after organized crime in America, particularly Cosa Nostra.
LAMB: When did you write that book?
Mr. MAAS: I wrote that book--it was published in 1970 and I wrote it in '67, '68. I broke--I was a reporter and I broke the story that--that there was a Valachi talking to the government and one thing led to another and I wrote the book. Originally it was going to be by him, as edited by me, and word leaked out that it was in the works--Valachi was incarcerated--and the next thing, the United States government moved to stop publication of the book.
LAMB: What happened?
Mr. MAAS: What happened was the Italian-American leaders--at that time the Mafia, as I said, there was a great debate about whether, in fact, there was a Mafia in America and at that particular time, large segments of the Italian-American community in America were still insecure. And the Mafia used their insecurity and history of persecution, I must say, to their benefit, and they said--they whipped these people together and senators and congressmen, judges came to Washington, to the White House, and Lyndon Johnson was the president. And the next thing I was told was that this--the government moved to stop the book and they--if you can believe it, one of the excuses was it would be injurious to law enforcement.

So I fought it. I was pretty lonely there--the United States of America vs. Peter Maas; it didn't sound too good. But --in the end, I won. What I did, in the end, was have the right to use all my interviews as long as the book was by me about him.
LAMB: And how did--how well did it sell?
Mr. MAAS: It--you know, 24 publishers in New York turned that book down. They all told me the Mafia didn't sell. I thought I was writing a definitive history of the Mafia, particularly --about one person. Up until then we had treated these people as cardboard cutouts and I wanted to do a three-dimensional picture --of Valachi. When I wrote the fact that he was talking, space was a big problem. I had to get into all the things you just asked me about the boss and the underboss, the families, the structure and how it began, and I had very little space to talk about Valachi as a character; and, to me, character's very important.

So anyway, they turned it down and I thought I was writing a definitive history of the Mafia. In fact, I was creating a new industry because there've been at least 150 books since. "The Godfather" came out a year after "The Valachi Papers" and there was a torrent of books about the Mafia.
LAMB: Do you remember how many they sold? How many copies?
Mr. MAAS: Well, they printed--the publisher who did finally publish the book only did it because one editor there insisted on it, and they brought it out in January. And I had been told January was a terrible time to bring out a book and my editor, Arthur Fields, who's now dead, had a wonderful excuse. I didn't argue. He says, `No.' He says, `This book is going to be so good; we're bringing it out in January because people are going to get a lot of books for Christmas they don't want. And they'll bring those gifts back in and exchange it for "The Valachi Papers."'

They printed 20,000 copies and it was sold out in three days. I was out in California somewhere--and in those days, the technology of printing was not what it is now. He finally fessed up and called me and he said, `Come on back. There's not a book in the country.' And it took seven weeks before new editions were printed.

To answer your question, in the United States, it sold about two and a half million copies in hard and soft, it was translated in 14 languages, and it was made into one of the worst movies I've ever seen.
LAMB: Who starred as Joe Valachi?
Mr. MAAS: Charles Bronson and--who's a huge international star and, as a matter of fact, it outgrossed, I'm told, "The Godfather" in Japan and Germany because of Bronson.
LAMB: What impact did "The Valachi Papers" book have on the whole process of investigating the Mafia?
Mr. MAAS: Well, it--suddenly the--you didn't hear from publishers the Mafia doesn't sell. That was a major impetus. The movie was a bad movie. I want to say one thing, but the--this book was such a huge success, you'd think it'd--if it'd been about crocheting they would have made a movie out of it. There wasn't a studio in California who dared make this picture. They all were believers that, you know, their theaters would be blown up, their--the studio lots would be blown up. In fact, later on, an FBI agent let me listen to a tape from a couple of--we're talking now 25 years ago--talking about "The Valachi Papers," and they weren't talking about blowing up anything; they were talking about who was going to play them.

And one priceless moment was when one of them said, `Maybe Paul Newman could play me.' And the other guy said, `No. No.' He says, `Your eyes are brown. His are blue.' So--but it scared everybody and finally Dino DeLaurentis, an Italian producer, bought the rights to the book and he felt, being an Italian, it took the curse off everything and so on, and--but even with him they wouldn't do it. And finally he gathered the money to make the picture and brought it to the United States, and at that point he still couldn't get any studio to distribute it. And finally Columbia Pictures did. They were on the ropes at that time and they had nothing to lose. So they bought the distribution rights for the United States and they hit a bonanza. It was a big, big hit commercially.
LAMB: Couple things in the book; you say that the Mafia, the Cosa Nostra do not kill reporters and cops.
Mr. MAAS: And judges. I--as long as they're not connected there is the--as far as I know, one reporter in Chicago was killed, a judge in Philadelphia was killed. They were on the Mob payroll. That makes the difference.
LAMB: Was it a legitimate reporter in Chicago?
Mr. MAAS: Yeah.
LAMB: It -you--can you...
Mr. MAAS: But the...
LAMB: ...say who it was?
Mr. MAAS: I can't remember--it's Jake--I can't remember his last name. It was in the mid-'30s. But he was on the payroll and--I just can't remember his name--and once that happens, they don't consider you, quote, "a reporter or a judge." You're working for them. But generally speaking, they do not. They--I think it's fair to say, unlike these new gangs that are organized crime groups that are coming up--the Russians and the Chinese--they don't have that structure. They'll kill anybody.
LAMB: Upper West Side of New York; where'd you go to college?
Mr. MAAS: I went to Duke University.
LAMB: What'd you study?
Mr. MAAS: Political science, history.
LAMB: And you came out of there in what year?
Mr. MAAS: '50.
LAMB: Where'd you go then?
Mr. MAAS: I went to Paris. I got a job at the Herald Tribune. The only--the only course I was having a lot of trouble with was French, and it looked bad, and I went in to the head of the department. I said, `Look, I'm doing my best.' I was editor of the magazine, I was working for a local newspaper and I also wrote a column for the college newspaper. I said, `Look, I haven't really been doing too well in this, but I'm going to go to France and I promise you I'll come back in three years and I'll spend a whole hour talking to you in French if you pass me.'
LAMB: Did you do it?
Mr. MAAS: Yeah. All the way. What I did was --when I arrived in Paris, I moved to the 13th Arrondisement. It's called the Red Arrondisement; all French; no American tourists or anybody went there. So I learned French. Of course, I learned--ergo, I learned slang French and my accent--I never worked--did well with my accent, but then I found out that the French find an American accent speaking French somewhat like we find the French accent speaking English, it --sort of charm to it. And when I was a reporter, people would say, `How do you know--how do you speak so well with this horrible accent?' It was kind of an icebreaker if I was interviewing somebody.
LAMB: 1950, you got out of Duke...
Mr. MAAS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...1970, you wrote "The Valachi Papers."
Mr. MAAS: Yeah.
LAMB: Those 20 years--you were a reporter right before Valachi. Where'd you work?
Mr. MAAS: Well, I was--after the Tribune and a couple of other things I did, I was drafted. I was in the Navy in the Korean War, although I wasn't in Korea. And then when I got out I went to work. First mag--I went to work for magazines. I worked for Collier's, Look magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and I evolved into an investigative reporter. And then after just about the time I was working on "The Valachi Papers," I was one of the founding writers of New York magazine.
LAMB: What year was that?
Mr. MAAS: That--we're talking '68. That's when it started.
LAMB: What was your first book?
Mr. MAAS: My first book was a war--you know, I love it so much. It was called "The Rescuer," and it's while I was a reporter and I--it was a story I was working on. I met a wonderful guy, an admiral--ex--former admiral named Swede Monson who had developed the diving bell and the Monson lung and he-in 1939, a submarine called the Squelis went down in 243 feet of water off Maine, and Swede Monson saved everybody who was onboard who was still alive when it hit the bottom. It was a really--and he also raised the submarine because it was the prototype for all our submarines. It was the eve of World War II. And it was a great book and a great guy, and it didn't do well because at that time, you know, it's Woodstock and so on; nobody was interested in a submarine that went down in '39.
LAMB: If I count right, you have eight non-fiction, plus the one I'm holding, and three fiction.
Mr. MAAS: Right.
LAMB: "Serpico's" in the middle of all that.
Mr. MAAS: Yeah.
LAMB: "Manhunt." What was--which--the most recent be--before this one?
Mr. MAAS: "Killer Spy" was how the FBI pursued and captured Aldrich Ames, the CIA traitor.
LAMB: "In a Child's Name: The Legacy of a Mother's Murder."
Mr. MAAS: That was a--that's an interesting story. Can you give me a couple of minutes on this one?--because one of the things that's disillusioning to an investigative reporter is that you think you can change the world and basically you're not. It keeps going, all these terrible things go on. I can think of only two times in my life where I actually definitively changed something. One, I was a--working for the--for Look magazine, and I got involved in a story about a black man in death row in Louisiana, in Angola. He'd been there 14 years; five times came close to being executed. And I--basically I wr--wrote a piece that showed them that he was innocent.
LAMB: Mm-hmm.
Mr. MAAS: And he eventually--this started a big campaign to get him out and he was. So I made a big difference in his life. And the--"In a Child's Name," I was working on a novel called "Father and Son," when I got a call from a friend of my wife's who was a lawyer who was representing a family in Staten Island, New York. And it was a huge custody case. A dentist from--all-American dentist from Indiana had murdered his Italian-American wife brutally. I mean, so brutally, you cannot believe it. And there had been a custody fight after--he was convicted of the murder, and there was a custody fight afterwards between the sister of the dead woman and the parents of the murderer from Indiana. It went on for about a year, and eventually the sister and her husband won custody of the little boy, who's maybe 18 months old by now and--or --two years.

And they got custody, but the first two weeks, the grandparents could take this boy, little baby, back to Indiana. And so she's telling me this story and I'm thinking, `Oh, well it's another custody case.' And what happened was that two weeks later, the sister calls to say she's on her way out to Marion, Indiana, which is where the town was that the grandparents lived in, and they said, `Don't bother coming. We've just adopted little Philip.'

I said, `I can't believe this.' In--Ameri--it's illegal what they did. Indiana would not give the baby up. It was in the court system there. And suddenly it was no longer a question of the baby. It was the Midwest vs. East Coast, English-German stock vs. Italian-American. Marion is--it's very evangelical and revivalist, the Baptists, etc., etc. These people were Catholic. I mean, you had everything going there.

And I said, `I can't believe this is actually happening. And I'll stop everything and I'll try to write a piece.' Time is running out. If something wasn't done in the next month, that little baby was going to stay in Indiana for the rest of his life.

So I go out there and I find out it's all true, and I talked to people. I talked to judges, for instance, and one of them said, `Oh, no, that--the Theresa Benino'--that was the dead woman--`her father's a Mafioso.' I said, `What?' You see that--you know, there is another side to this.

I said, `He's what?' And he said, `Yes.' I said, `He's a schoolteacher in New York. I--you know, you're talking to somebody who wrote "The Valachi Papers." How can you say something like this?'

`Well, ra-ra-ra-ra.'

I said, `Look, his name ends in a vowel, that's the problem here. But let me tell you something. I have never heard--I've heard Mafioso taking on jobs to disguise what they're doing, but I have never met one who's a schoolteacher, I can tell you that.'

`No, no, no.'

Finally, I said, `Look, let's assume you're right. He is a member of the Mob. After what Dr. Dennis--Kenneth Taylor did to his daughter'--he hit her 24 times in the face with a barbell that weighed about the same weight. You can imagine what she looked like. `Do you think that if he was a member of the Mafia that Dr. Taylor'd be walking around today?'

And suddenly it was like a--like a light bulb went on in everybody's head and he said, `Well--well, maybe you're right.' Bottom line is I brought the baby back from Indiana as a rela--result of this article.

And then I--at the time, I didn't know that--the history of Dr. Taylor. He'd tried to kill his second wife and he'd done something equally horrible to his first wife and that he almost beat this case. And--I didn't know all that and a great rural detective work was involved here. And it was touch and go about whether he'd be convicted or not. So I said, `Well, that's something I didn't know about.' So that evolved into a book.
LAMB: Where's that baby today?
Mr. MAAS: In Staten Island doing very well.
LAMB: You talk to...
Mr. MAAS: No, not too...
LAMB: ...that person?
Mr. MAAS: ...much because I tell you one thing, Brian. In some of these instances, you get so close to the people and you're asking them--they--you--they pour out their souls to you and, you know, it's--it's almost--there's a dependency factor. They were dependent on me to bring back the boy. There'd been other instances of--where I've gotten very close to people and--it's almost like--it's uncomfortable. I try to break off as much as possible, these emotional relationships for my own sanity, as well as--so I--no, the truth is--Marie, I stay in touch with a little bit. She's the woman who brought down the Democratic administration in Tennessee. I talk to Serpico once in a while, but I try to keep an arm's length.
LAMB: How big is this man?
Mr. MAAS: He's 5'5".
LAMB: Did that affect him?
Mr. MAAS: No. There were--he's not--no, I don't think so. I--a lot of Mafioso are--he was shorter than most, but no, I don't think so.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
Mr. MAAS: Which one?
LAMB: The one of him with his hand up?
Mr. MAAS: Here he was testifying in a Senate hearing about organized crime.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. MAAS: I think it was '91.
LAMB: Where is he today?
Mr. MAAS: I don't know.
LAMB: How did you meet him the first time?
Mr. MAAS: What happened was this; he was in the witness protection program. He had testified against Gotti and several other Mafiosi leaders, and he was in the witness protection program and apparently a number of writers had written to him through the Marshal Service--they have to deliver his mail, guys saying that, `We want to do your book. You can be the--whatever you want, we'll do.' And he--I think that's when he got the idea of cooperating with the book. I don't think he had really thought about it until then. And they were promising him the sun, the stars and everything else.

And he's--Sammy's very smart, and just the mere fact that these people were approaching him made him a little suspicious, I guess. He asked a trusted friend for a recommendation of somebody who could maybe write his story, and she--was a woman--recommended me. Now he had read "The Valachi Papers," but she sent him my last book, "Killer Spy," and he really liked it a lot. So the next thing I get is a phone call from the Marshal Service saying would I like to meet him? And I--of course, I would. First of all, I've got to see what kind of person he's--he is, if I'm going to--it's got to be my book about him. That's going to be a problem.

And so arrangements were made for me to meet him. I--all I had, altogether, eight meetings with him, all west of the Mississippi, different places.
LAMB: Every time a different place?
Mr. MAAS: Yeah. But the first time was--I was told to go to a certain city and I got there. There-- was--I was met there and told to go to another city in the West.
LAMB: By--who told you to do this?
Mr. MAAS: Marshal. And I arrived--I don't mind telling you the first city I went to where the initial meeting took place--because I'd never been there before; I don't think I'll be back. He had never been there before and he isn't going back, and none of the marshals who were guarding him were there. It was Salt Lake City. That gives you an idea of the remoteness of--so anyway, I...
LAMB: What year is this?
Mr. MAAS: This is two years ago. And I meet--I'm met at the airport, I'm taken to a hotel, I'm picked up in the morning and taken to another hotel where he is, but he's not liv--staying there. This is where we're going to meet. He's still staying somewhere else, I presume, another hotel.
LAMB: Are you by yourself?
Mr. MAAS: I'm by myself. And we spent three days together and--and that was the beginning.
LAMB: How did you gather the material--meaning, did you write it out or did you record it?
Mr. MAAS: I recorded about 80 percent of it.
LAMB: How many total hours?
Mr. MAAS: Fifty, roughly. And then there were a lot of other interviews that were--I didn't use the recorder.
LAMB: Did you ever talk to him by phone then?
Mr. MAAS: Yes.
LAMB: How many people did he kill?
Mr. MAAS: Actually, physically kill? One.
LAMB: Who was that?
Mr. MAAS: The first one, a man named Joseph Colucci. All the other--he's confessed to complicit--he's complicit in 19 murders altogether. The others he set up. Actually, he said to me one time in a hit, which is when you're killing somebody, pulling the trigger is the simplest part. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to pull a trigger. It's setting them up that's important.

People have said to me, `How can you sit there talking to somebody who was involved in 19 murders?' And I say, `Well, first of all, you have to look at it in context. In that world that he lived in, which is reprehensible, that's obviously the case, murder is a commonplace, everyday event. It is a way to maintain discipline and power.' And if people's eyes are still glazed over when I'm saying this, I say, `Well, Joe Valachi--he was involved in 33 hits.' So Sammy's 19 is not that overwhelming.

And I said also, I had spent--he had--one of things that I had wanted--he had very clear vision of what he'd done. I always thought, `You know, there's a possibility this is a sociopathic personality.' Never once did he f--sociopaths try to find excuses for things. `It's not their fault, they're victims, this, that and the other thing. The devil made me do it.' He had a perfectly clear vision of everything he did. He made one enormous mistake, which was joining Cosa Nostra--I mean, he now recognizes, but that's it. He's certainly not a born-again Christian.
LAMB: How did he join the Cosa Nostra?
Mr. MAAS: He was recruited. It was a big thing in Bensonhurst, that part of Brooklyn that he is from, is almost entirely Italian-American. The shadow of Cosa Nostra looms very high. It's like a Sicilian village. You know, I grew up in New York, I--most of my friends live in New York; I don't think one person out of 1,000 that I know who lives in New York has ever been to Bensonhurst.
LAMB: Have you?
Mr. MAAS: Yeah. Well, I spent a lot of time there. Bensonhurst becomes a character in this book. Bensonhurst has a--I introduce the book--I start the book by introducing Bensonhurst. It has, in terms of crime, what we think of in New York, muggings, robberies, rapes, street crime--it is almost the best place to live in New York.
LAMB: Safe.
Mr. MAAS: Safe. It's got a high murder rate, but they're all connected with Cosa Nostra, and Cosa Nostra doesn't go around shooting people. All the hits have to be ordered by the boss. That is critical. All of Sammy's hits were ordered by his bosses. The first one--he was in another crime family before he ended up in the Gambino crime family, and each--every hit has to be authorized by the boss of the family. And so--otherwise, chaos would result. You know, people would be shooting each other all the time. If you commit an unsanctioned murder, you're as good as dead yourself.
LAMB: You mention 24 families in the United States; five in New York.
Mr. MAAS: Mm-hmm. Unique.
LAMB: Unique, meaning what?
Mr. MAAS: Only in New York are there more than one family. Chicago has one family, Philadelphia has one family, Boston had one family and Kansas City had one family and on and on.
LAMB: The five in New York are named...
Mr. MAAS: Yeah--they are now they're the Gambino crime family, which...
LAMB: Is there a Gambino alive?
Mr. MAAS: No. The--I'll just digress for a minute. Up until--up until the mid-1960s, a crime family took its name from its boss. But once Robert Kennedy and the Justice Department and the FB--remember, the FBI was--under J. Edgar Hoover was saying, `There is no Mafia,' either. Don't--we shouldn't forget that. Once it became clear that there was, and efforts were made to do something about it, this tradition of naming the family after the current boss ended, because it'd just attracted too much attention.

For instance, you had--so, the Gambino family was named after Carlo Gambino, and he died. And Paul Castellano succeeded him. He was the victim of probably the most famous Mob hit of our times in front of Sparks Steak House in Manhattan.
LAMB: When did that happen?
Mr. MAAS: 1985, just before Christmas.
LAMB: Here's a picture of him.
Mr. MAAS: That's right.
LAMB: And you tell the whole story about this.
Mr. MAAS: I tell the whole--Sammy was there. And ar--the other crime families are the Genovese family, the Bonanno family, the Lucchesi family. What am I missing?
LAMB: Colombo, Gambino, Genovese...
Mr. MAAS: And Colombo. Colombo's...
LAMB: Yeah.
Mr. MAAS: You know. Joe Colombo was, you know, assassinated while he was--he was not assassinated. He was shot and turned into a vegetable in a great rally at Columbus Circle about--in the late 1970s.
LAMB: How many people, do you think, in the whole United States are involved in the Mafia?
Mr. MAAS: Made members? Sworn, inducted members? I think that at its height it was probably 4,000. But they are surrounded by associates. You can multiply that figure enormously.
LAMB: What is this, an associate?
Mr. MAAS: Associates are brought in. They're wanna-be members or people who are prevented by in Cosa Nostra, your father must be Italian to be inducted. So there are a lot of potentially terrific Mafioso who can't be because only the--their mother was Italian.
LAMB: At the end of your book you--and you're actually in the epilogue here, if I can find it. You have a figure, a dollar figure that I want to bring up.
LAMB: And it--just a second here. It says, `Among them was Tommy Gambino, the son of Carlo Gambino and the czar of the family's empire in the garment industry...
Mr. MAAS: Right.
LAMB: ...which costs the American public an average of $3.50 in hidden taxes for every $100 spent on clothing.'
Mr. MAAS: That's right.
LAMB: When?
Mr. MAAS: Until Sammy testified.
LAMB: How did it change then?
Mr. MAAS: Well, what happened was they broke it up. It's under control of the--a--in New York--it's under control of a court-appointed monitor, theoretically--and so far it seems to be working. Their stranglehold over the garment center, not only in New York but the rest of the country, was trucking. I mean, you have to move this stuff. And they had a hammerlock on the Teamsters. And then--that's been broken, pretty much.
LAMB: What else in this society costs us more money because of the Mafia?
Mr. MAAS: Construction.
LAMB: Where?
Mr. MAAS: Well, wherever there's--in New York, for--for instance, Chicago, places like that. The control of the concrete indus--it all--and. It all, again, the choke point was the Teamsters, once again. Say you're a developer and you've got a $100 million project going and it--most of it's borrowed money and racing the clock and you're not playing ball with the Mob. And suddenly they--outside your building site there're 70 trucks lined up trying to get in because the local Teamsters steward is--and they're not doing anything illegal. He is checking everything. He's checking the lights, the license, the dues of the driver, the brakes, the--whatever. He goes by the book and it takes an hour for each truck to pass, and meanwhile the developer's going crazy. So he becomes very cooperative.
LAMB: Is that still active?
Mr. MAAS: Yes. Though less so. And then the developers pass it on to the consumer. That's the point. There's a calibration here. They never go so far as to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. As long as the developer can pass on the cost of what he's paying the Mob to the consumer, it's OK.

Hijacking--the insur--everything that comes into international airports like JFK; hijacking is enormous. And you're--the consumer's paying for those insurance premiums because they go up all the time. Much of this is at least temporarily over. Because of Sammy Gravano's testimony--primarily because of it, the Mafia in America is on the ropes. It's not knocked out, and on--it's not to say that it won't come back. I don't know if it'll come back with the same discipline and the same structure that it had before because just in Sammy--because of Sammy's testimony, not only John Gotti's in jail for the rest of his life, but the bosses of two other families are in jail. And he sent 38 members of the Mafia to prison.

And the interesting thing about it is maybe three times that number have now decided to cooperate with the government. Sammy Gravano is somebody very special. He was very respected. It was stunning to find out that he had become a government witness. And for a long time he suffered a great deal of vilification--Sammy, the rat. I mean, he was surprised. And the media went along with this. The media loved John Gotti. I think they were a little disappointed that they didn't have John Gotti to write about anymore because John Gotti looked like what America wants a gangster to look like with his 2,500 dollar suits, his arrogance, carefully coiffed. He played the cameras loved John Gotti and he loved the cameras.
LAMB: Where is he?
Mr. MAAS: He is in--at the moment in Marion, Illinois, which is the toughest federal penitentiary in the country. He's in for life. He lost his fifth appeal for a new trial a couple of months ago.
LAMB: Now when you say the media loved him, what kind of media?
Mr. MAAS: The--all of it--television, print. I mean, my God, you had newspaper, you had--look at the way--every time he shows up, there's a huge crowd. He arrived every night. He was at--I mean, I was surprised New York City didn't put him up as one of the major tourist attractions of the city because every afternoon around 5:30, he'd arrive in Mulberry Street in Little Italy, in his gleaming car, and he'd get out and he'd wave to everybody and there'd be cheers: `John, John, John.' And that's the way it was. He--there's a fascination with this life.

The media, and I say all, from The Times, the--all the wire services, all the television; crews would be coming from Latin America, Sweden, Germany, France, covering John Gotti.
LAMB: You name Judge Webster, former head of the FBI and the CIA.
Mr. MAAS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: You name Rudy Giuliani.
Mr. MAAS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: You named Jim Kallstrom.
Mr. MAAS: Yes.
LAMB: These are people that most people have heard of and seen, as people that played a role in all this. And RICO and Title III--explain all that and how did--why did Sammy Gravano say, `I'm going to talk'?
Mr. MAAS: Well, shall I start with that?
LAMB: Yeah.
Mr. MAAS: Sammy Gravano decided to talk because--first of all, the conventional wisdom is that he did it to save himself from prison. When Sammy was 27 years old, newly married with a year-old daughter and a pregnant wife, was framed on a double homicide in Brooklyn. The district attorney was after a major capo--that's a captain in the family, and he offered Sammy immunity if he would testify against the capo.

Now Sammy's facing life in prison, verge of starting his life--married life, and he said, `No, he wouldn't do it.' So if he ever was going to flip, as they say, that was one--that was the time. The reason he testified against Gotti was that, first of all, Cosa Nostra stopped being what he thought it was. He was a true believer in the beginning, and John Gotti made the mistake of saying to Sammy--this is in print, they were both facing trial--John Gotti says to Sammy Gravano, `This is not about me.'

Sammy wanted to try to get a severance in his case to fight it on his own. Gotti had refused to let him meet with his own lawyers without Gotti being present. He would not let Sammy listen to any of the FBI tapes.
LAMB: These are audiotapes?
Mr. MAAS: Audiotapes.
LAMB: Where had they gotten them? I mean, what did they capture?
Mr. MAAS: Well, Jim Kallstrom was in charge of that.
LAMB: And who is Jim Kallstrom?
Mr. MAAS: Jim Kallstrom is now--runs the New York office of the FBI. At the time, he was in charge of Special Operations, which is--essentially was electronic eavesdropping.
LAMB: We saw him a lot during the TWA-800 investigation.
Mr. MAAS: Yes. He is just a terrific guy. And they got all these tapes and Sammy was not allowed to do any of this. And then Gotti says to him, you know, `It's not personal. It's not about me. It's about Cosa Nostra. But John Gotti is Cosa Nostra. Do you have a problem with that?'

And Sammy had a big problem with it.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. MAAS: Because he did not believe--he saw what John Gotti was like. He did not equate him with his vision--Sammy's vision--of what Cosa Nostra was supposed to be.
LAMB: What'd he think he was?
Mr. MAAS: Hm?
LAMB: What did he--what did Sammy think he was?
Mr. MAAS: Oh, I would think it was a brotherhood full of honor and loyalty.
LAMB: And John Gotti had escaped conviction how many times?
Mr. MAAS: Three. He got the name the Teflon Don after--which he loved--after a conviction that everybody thought he was going to get. But he didn't get convicted because Sammy fixed the jury. He bought the foreman of the jury.
LAMB: For how much?
Mr. MAAS: Sixty thousand dollars. He--the foreman wanted $120,000. Sammy negotiated it down to $60,000. I often wonder if John Gotti knew about these negotiations that-- Sammy's a very tough negotiator and for John Gotti, he said, `Give him the $120,000. What do I care?'
LAMB: Did they ever convict the foreman of...
Mr. MAAS: Yes. He went to prison. And so there--some other little things happened during this--the twelve months that Gotti and Gravano spent in detention waiting trial was the closest they'd ever been.
LAMB: Where were they?
Mr. MAAS: The Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City...
LAMB: Did they see each other?
Mr. MAAS: Yes.
LAMB: What year was this?
Mr. MAAS: This is '90--'89 through '90. And a lot of little things happened that made Sammy take another look at John Gotti. For instance, Sammy had been in the Army. He loved the Army. As a matter of fact, they wanted him to stay. As a matter of fact, he said--I know it sounds a little chilling but he said, `You know, I wouldn't have mind going to Vietnam. You got medals for killing people there.' Yeah, that's something to think about.

Anyway, the Gulf War's going on when they're in detention and John Gotti is insisting that Sammy and two or three other people there root for the Iraqis. And Sammy said, `What you --are you--you got to be joking. There--some--that could be our sons over there. Maybe we hate the government, but what are you talking about?' Little things --and there were other little things that made Sammy start taking a really second look at Gotti.

But the bottom line, I suppose, is when the news came that he was testifying against Gotti--it was Sammy the rat and so on and so forth--but now my sources in the FBI tell me that in the social clubs where the Mob hangs out, they turned the wires--as they call them--the devices up after my book was published--about two weeks afterwards. And said--it was a big subject for conversation, obviously. And what the FBI was hearing--one supervisor told me, `If I were a betting man, I would have lost my shirt.'

I said, `Why?'

He said, `I wasn't hearing any more Sammy the rat bastard anymore. I was hearing Sammy told the truth, 100 percent.'
LAMB: Why?
Mr. MAAS: `It was John Gotti who brought this all down on us, and John Gotti tried to screw Sammy and Sammy screwed John first.'
LAMB: John Gotti was the boss of what family?
Mr. MAAS: The Gambino family.
LAMB: And was...
Mr. MAAS: And the most--at that time, the most powerful family in America.
LAMB: And and Sammy "The Bull" Gravano was his underboss?
Mr. MAAS: Number-two man.
LAMB: Who was the consigliere?
Mr. MAAS: Frank Locascio, who was also a defendant in this case.
LAMB: And they all came at one time from being a captain. What's a captain?
Mr. MAAS: Captain is a capo; is a--the structure is: boss, underboss, the consigliere on the side; then you have capos--captains--also in slang called skippers because they are –in charge of crews. They're called crews, and these crews are made up--these are made members--are made up of soldiers, which is the lowest level.
LAMB: And the soldiers have to be members. They have to take the blood oath?
Mr. MAAS: Yes.
LAMB: How do they do the blood oath?
Mr. MAAS: Well, it's a complicated--it's fairly well-known, but the key is you have to swear--the key--first key question is: Will you kill for the family? I cannot emphasize it more than, you know, Sammy, because of 19 people is not unusual in this world because the first question you're asked is: Will you kill for the family? And the answer's obviously yes. I mean, that is part and parcel of the oath. You're--you are--your finger is pricked to draw blood, and that's the blood part of the oath, where you swear fealty to Cosa Nostra forever. You're told that you walk in on your own feet, and the only way you can leave is in a box. You hold a burning saint to the--photograph of a holy saint in your hands and you say, `If I betray the secrets of Cosa Nostra, I will burn like this saint.'

That is fairly well-known, those things. What fascinated me was Sammy--because he--he has this wonderful memory and he's got a sense of setting scenes. He told me what was going on through his--in his mind while all this was going on, which I'd never gotten before. I'd heard about the oath from Valachi many years ago, and they were wonderful little scenes. Sammy said he was so mesmerized, so excited--because he said, `I was high as a kite,' while he was being inducted, that he forgot to move the paper back and forth in his hands, and when he f--the ceremony was over and he sat down, he looked and they were covered with blisters, which he had never felt. But it's those tiny little details that certainly made this book special.
LAMB: Where...
Mr. MAAS: So, anyway, you're in there and you're told--and this is his one great regret. You're told that your loyalty to Cosa Nostra comes before loyalty to your personal family, personal--your wife, your children. If the boss calls you in and your son is dying in a hospital, you've got to come in. You've got to leave your son. You swear to do all that. And that is Sammy's one great remorse. He said, you know, `The fact that I put loyalty to Cosa Nostra over loyalty to my wife and my kids is something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life.'
LAMB: This photograph of the three women...
Mr. MAAS: Three women, yes. There's two sisters and his wife.
LAMB: Where's his wife?
Mr. MAAS: In the middle.
LAMB: Where is she now?
Mr. MAAS: I don't know.
LAMB: What happened to the marriage?
Mr. MAAS: They got divorced. It's a friendly divorce. She refused to go into the program. She's a--I would --have loved to meet her. I think she's a very feisty lady who said, `You know, that part of your life is not my life, and I'm not going to put myself and my kids through the witness program and all that business.' And Sammy said, `Fine. You're the mother. You have to decide what's best.'
LAMB: Who's this young lady here?
Mr. MAAS: Where?
LAMB: Graduating.
Mr. MAAS: That's his daughter.
LAMB: Where is she?
Mr. MAAS: At the moment? I'm not sure. I think she may be in New York. I'm not positive. I never met her. I know about the wife.
LAMB: Does she use the name Gravano?
Mr. MAAS: Yes.
LAMB: And he...
Mr. MAAS: But they don't--again, that's the other thing about Cosa Nostra, and I hope it's still very true. Besides the cops and the--reporters and so on and the judges, they don't kill relatives. I mean, what did she have to do with anything? I mean, they're very sensible about that.
LAMB: He's had plastic surgery?
Mr. MAAS: But it just made his face look younger. I don't know what they had in mind. All they did was--that photograph was taken about four months ago.
LAMB: Where, do you know?
Mr. MAAS: No. I wasn't there. Plastic surgery just made him look younger.
LAMB: Does he look like this now or is this...
Mr. MAAS: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Why did he let hims...
Mr. MAAS: Well, that's the key to Sammy. He--it's one of the things that attracted me immediately about him when I met him is he's so up front, so straightforward. Now the reason he's on that book jacket is that one day after we finished interviewing--I'd finished interviewing him, we were having a drink. He drinks Beefeater martinis, incidentally, two olives. He was telling me about a Mafioso who had appeared on television in an interview and he--was wearing a wig, this Mafioso, and he had a fake nose. And Sammy said, you know, he looked just like a clown. And he didn't say any more than that, but it was clear to me that he, Sammy Gravano, was never going to look like a clown.

And the bottom line is he believes he's done the right thing. And he isn't going to spend the rest of his life cowering in some dark corner.
LAMB: You're being sued?
Mr. MAAS: I'm b--yes, I am. Well, I guess I'm being sued. I'm not sure. Papers are flying back and forth.
LAMB: But the lawsuit is about whether or not he's sharing in the profits.
Mr. MAAS: That's right.
LAMB: And you say...
Mr. MAAS: I say I haven't paid him any money, and I know Col--HarperCollins hasn't paid him any money, and that's our stand and we're fighting this on the First Amendment. They want to see my contract. And I think it's a big intrusion. I don't think the Son of Sam law is...
LAMB: What is the Son of Sam law?
Mr. MAAS: It's--originally was a criminal could not profit from his crimes. That was overturned by the Supreme Court and they rewrote the law again. Now I'm getting into stuff that I'm not supposed to talk about because I'm not a lawyer. But generally speaking, I think they changed it so relatives of victims--crime victims could sue.
LAMB: We didn't get to Judge Webster, and we're about out of time, we didn't get to Rudy Giuliani. We talked a little bit about Jim Kallstrom. Can you point to any--the RICO law make a difference in this?
Mr. MAAS: Yeah, it was critical. Critical.
LAMB: And it's in the book, of course.
Mr. MAAS: Right. RICO--the RICO statute was critical; the Justice Department didn't understand how to use it for a long time. Basically, it used RICO to make a family--a cr--crime family a criminal conspiracy. And if you had anything to do with that family, you were facing big time in prison.
LAMB: You have another book in mind?
Mr. MAAS: I--well, I'm noodling.
LAMB: What does that mean?
Mr. MAAS: I'm thinking about it.
LAMB: What's the subject area?
Mr. MAAS: Well, I don't know. I mean, I want it--there's a novel I want to write and--but my representatives say, `Come on. Come on. Write another non-fiction book.'
LAMB: `For my loved ones, my wife Suzanne and my sons, John-Michael and Terrence, and in loving memory of Audrey.'
Mr. MAAS: My first wife, who's the mother of John-Michael. I'm--show you how crazy a writer can be; his--Audrey, my wife, was a very talented woman. She produced "Eleanor and Franklin," the television series, and "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," the movie. She died as a result suddenly of an auto accident. So I have a 30-year-old son named John-Michael and I've now remarried and I've got a five-year-old son named Terrence. It-- shouldn't be having five-year-olds. People come up to me occasionally and say, `Wonderful grandson.'
LAMB: On that note, here's the cover of the book. It's called "Underboss: Sammy `The Bull' Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia," by Peter Maas.

Thank you very much.
Mr. MAAS: Great being with you, Brian.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Four days after this interview was taped, Sammy Gravano testified in federal court that he did receive a portion of Peter Maas' advance, and stood to make money from the film rights. The allegations received considerable press coverage because his testimony contradicts statements about the book by Mr. Maas and HarperCollins.

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