Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano, notorious gangster turned FBI informant, reflects 30 years later

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ByAnna Perczak and Muriel Pearson ABCNews logo
Thursday, January 27, 2022
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NEW YORK -- Almost 30 years after providing testimony that brought the powerful Gambino crime family to its knees, notorious gangster Sammy "The Bull" Gravano said he still has his regrets.

"Is there anything that I feel I regret and that I would do differently? Of course," Gravano told ABC News in a new special, "Truth and Lies: The Last Gangster," airing Thursday.

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano was a notorious gangster for the Gambino family. (ABC)

Collateral damage

Despite a dramatic betrayal that turned Gravano against "the family" and brought down powerful Gambino boss John Gotti for good, no regret loomed as large as the ones about his real family, said Gravano.

"Being a gangster, actually in my life, was a curse," Gravano said, "and it did affect my family."

Watch the full story TONIGHT at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Gravano said he tried to keep his son Gerard and daughter Karen in the dark about his criminal activities, but the Cosa Nostra life touched them nonetheless. They described painful moments as children when they say they weren't aware their father was a gangster, even though it seemed like everyone else in the neighborhood knew.

"People expected me to be violent," Gerard Gravano said. "People expected me to live up to my father's reputation."

When Gravano's financial success in the mob grew, the family moved from a working class neighborhood on Staten Island to ritzy Todt Hill -- an area populated by the children of doctors and lawyers.

"Then there's me, the gangster's daughter," Karen Gravano said. "One of the kids told my brother that we weren't allowed to come in the house because of who my father was."

Karen Gravano, daughter of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, says her family was "definitely affected" by ties to the mafia.

Hearing this, Gravano said he took matters into his own hands in the only way he knew how and walked down the block to confront the neighbor face to face.

"I said, 'Is your husband home? I'm Sammy the Bull. I'm the guy that your f------ kids are not allowed to play with," said Gravano.

When the neighbor came to the door, Gravano confronted him.

"[I said] 'Bro, are you a good dad to your kids?... What if they didn't have a dad? You think this is gonna end good for you?" said Gravano. "He was, I think, petrified. And it woke me up because I said, 'What the f--- are you doing? They're legitimate people.' And I left."

Former FBI agent George Gabriel handled Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. (ABC)

Following the confrontation, Gravano sold the Todt Hill house and headed back to his former neighborhood on Staten Island.

Gravano said that he recognizes that despite his efforts to protect his children, they were still hurt by the mobster's life.

"I got to take that responsibility that it did trickle down. What I did hurt them," said Gravano.

Betraying the boss

In 1992, Gravano, who was the underboss and known for his unrelenting ferocity in any fight, went from one of the most powerful figures in the New York mafia to its most infamous turncoat.

He cooperated with the FBI and provided key testimony that helped finally convict Gotti, known as the "The Teflon Don," of five murders, including the assassination of previous Gambino boss Paul Castellano.

Gravano himself confessed to 19 murders, including the killings of his best friend, Louis Milito, and his brother-in-law, but served only five years in prison in exchange for his cooperation.

When asked about the Milito hit in a 1997 ABC interview with Diane Sawyer, Gravano admitted to feeling guilty. "Oh, I absolutely felt something, tore me up. I knew the wife. I knew the children. It killed me inside," he said.

But to this day, Gravano insists his crimes were just part of what mobsters called "the life.""It was ugly, but I know what people want me to say," Gravano said in 2021. "It was so ugly. Would you change it? Yes, the way I feel now. But even looking now, I couldn't."

Gravano's former FBI handler, George Gabriel, said that Gravano's cooperation was crucial to law enforcement, and that his information led to the downfall of much more than just Gotti.

Laura Garofalo's father, Eddie Garofalo, was killed by Sammy "The Bull" Gravano in 1990. (ABC)

"Sammy helped me shut out the rest of the family and bosses and underbosses of the other families," Gabriel said. "He arguably led to the demise of organized crime in New York."

But the families of Gravano's victims say that the deaths of their loved ones were overlooked in exchange for Gravano's testimony.

Laura Garofalo's father, Eddie Garofalo, was killed in 1990 in a hit orchestrated by Gravano. She said despite his cooperation, justice was not done.

"It was shocking. It was absolutely shocking. People do more time for one murder. This is 19," said Garofalo.

"The feeling was us against the behemoth. What do we do? We have no recourse. They said this was OK. They wrapped him in the American flag and they sent him off," Garofalo added.


Son of Sam' vindication

In 1997, Gravano wrote a book with author Peter Maas titled "Underboss."

Garofalo and her attorneys sued Gravano under the New York State "Son of Sam" law, named for the infamous 1970s serial killer, which prohibits a criminal from profiting off the publicity surrounding those crimes and allows their victims to attempt to seize any profits that might arise from things like book and movie deals.

The namesake New York state law was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 and was criticized for violating the First Amendment.

By that time, Gravano had moved to Arizona after being released from prison and was collecting book royalties, when a similar Arizona restitution law stuck -- and Garofalo was able to collect."We were vindicated," Garofalo said.

Royalties from the book were seized by the state and distributed to families of Gravano's victims.Garofalo said the ruling gave her some semblance of peace.

"It empowered us to not be victims of Gravano," she said. "We needed people to understand that while this guy is going to write a book and tell his story, the people that we lost mattered. They were someone's father or brother or son. My grandmother buried her child."

Garofalo feels her story serves as a warning about cooperation deals made with valuable informants who are nonetheless responsible for crimes of their own.

"If this could happen to us and the guy who killed 19 people was able to walk after a very few short years, it could happen to anybody," said Garofalo.

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano speaks to ABC News in a new two-hour special. (ABC)

Today, Gravano continues to tell his story publicly and appears to settle his scores in a new way.

"Now look at Sammy the Bull Gravano, he has a podcast," said Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa. "Instead of shooting at one another, they battle on podcasts. It's crazy."

Garofalo said she still questions if Gravano can ever be a changed man.

"He has this forum but what is the other side for him? Is he sorry? Is he remorseful?" said Garofalo. "Because I don't see that. He is still glorifying this life. When does he let it go?"