Entertainment Weekly

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Speedbumps

THE GOTTI TAPES IS THIS NONFICTION OR AN FBI PROPAGANDA MANUAL?

Posted on

About midway through GANGLAND: HOW THE FBI BROKE THE MOB (Simon &Schuster, $23), Howard Blum’s account of the FBI’s epic quest toconvict John Gotti, the ”Teflon Don” of New York’s Gambino family, areviewer can’t help noticing two things: how badly the cops andcriminals need each other, and how faithfully they’ve all taken toimitating the movies. It seems that a spy somewhere in the JusticeDepartment has tipped off one Angelo Ruggiero, or ”Fat Ange” to hispals at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Queens, that the feds havehis Long Island home wired for sound. His sense of honor offended,Fat Ange starts making loud noises about murdering an FBI agent. SoAgent Bruce Mouw, ”Chairman Mouw” to his own dedicated men, knocks onGotti’s door in Howard Beach and gets right in his face, ClintEastwood-style. ”Something happens to anyone on my squad, I’m comingto get you,” he says. ”Forget the FBI. It’ll just be Bruce Mouwcoming after John Gotti. And believe me, John, you won’t like that.”

Gotti, the darling don of the New York tabloids and a man reputedto have dismembered with a chainsaw a neighbor who accidentally ranover and killed his 12-year-old son, plays his own role perfectly.”Your men got nothing to worry about,” he assures Mouw-very likely,on the evidence of the FBI surveillance tapes reproduced in Gangland,the longest sentence Gotti ever spoke in private without uttering theF-word or ordering somebody whacked. Later on, agents find the don ina more characteristic mood. ”Every time we got a partner that don’tagree with us, we kill him,” he laments to his acting underboss,Frankie Locascio. ”Where are we going here, Frankie? Who the f — -are we?”Who indeed? Despite much fine reporting and many vivid moments,it’s a question Gangland never quite manages to answer. One thing isclear: Far from being the sort of vast, romantic brotherhood depictedin films, the Gambino ”family” is little more than a band of criminalpsychopaths with grandiose delusions. But how and why Gotti himselfbecame a New York celebrity on the order of Donald Trump or GeorgeSteinbrenner, an inquisitive reader cannot learn here. Part of theproblem is simple provincialism. Blum assumes a familiarity withGotti’s career that few outside the circulation area of the New YorkPost are apt to have. For those who don’t, the tale may be sketchy attimes.Given unprecedented FBI cooperation, Gangland clearly tells thestory as the agency wanted it told. Angered by Gotti’s miraculousability to convince New York juries of his innocence despiteseemingly airtight cases, the FBI devoted upwards of six years,scores of agents, and millions of dollars to bringing him down. Blumtreats the agents as all-American heroes in the Eliot Ness mold, andheroes they clearly were and are. But nailing Gotti with a lifesentence also entailed moral and ethical trade-offs-concealingevidence of a bribed juror from humiliated prosecutors to protect asource, sitting tight and allowing murders to go down, cutting dealswith hit men in exchange for their testimony-that would havechallenged an author of John le Carre’s subtlety. Blum isn’t thatauthor. Fascinating, but flawed. B

Comments