He's crazy like a fox! - John Gotti about Vincent "The Chin" Gigante
Vincent "The Chin" Gigante (pronounced ji-GANT-tay) (March 29, 1928 – December 19, 2005) was a New York mobster in the American Mafia. Gigante started out as a boxer who fought 25 matches between 1944 and 1947. He then started working as a Mafia enforcer for the Genovese crime family. Gigante was one of five brothers: himself, Mario, Pasquale and Ralph all became mobsters in the Genovese family. Only one brother, Louis, stayed out of the crime family, instead becoming a priest. Gigante was the shooter in the failed assassination of Frank Costello. After sharing a prison cell with Boss Vito Genovese following his conviction for heroin trafficking, Gigante became a caporegime overseeing his own crew of Genovese soldiers, that operated out of Greenwich Village.
Gigante quickly rose to power during the 1960s and 1970s. By 1981 he was the de facto boss of the Genovese crime family while Anthony Salerno served as front boss during the 1980s. He also ordered the failed murder attempt of Gambino crime family boss John Gotti in 1986. With the arrest and conviction of Gotti and various Gambino family members in 1992, Gigante was officially recognized as the most powerful crime boss in the United States. Dubbed "The Oddfather" and "The Enigma in the Bathrobe" by the press, Gigante often wandered the streets of Greenwich Village in his bathrobe and slippers, mumbling incoherently to himself, in what Gigante later admitted was an elaborate act to avoid prosecution. The act worked for over 10 years and Gigante was determined to be mentally unfit to stand trial. However, by 1997 he was tried and convicted of racketeering and was given a 12 year sentence. He died while in prison custody in 2005 at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners.
The life of "The Chin"[edit | edit source]
Vincente Louis Gigante was born in Lower East Side, Manhattan to Salvatore Espositio Vulgo Gigante (April 26, 1910- April 1979), a jewel engraver, and Yolonda Santasilia-Gigante (1902-May 10, 1997), a seamstress and maternal nephew of Dolores Santasilia. His parents and aunt were first generation immigrants from Naples, Italy and never learned the English language. Vincent and his extended family relatives settled in New York City and Westchester County including Connecticut and Massachusetts. He graduated from Public School 3 in West Village, Manhattan and later attended Textile High school, but at the age of sixteen, in Grade 9 dropped out to pursue a career as a professional boxer and work in a number of blue collar occupations. His nickname, "The Chin", is derived from his mother's use of the Italian pronunciation of his given name (Vincenzo). He had four brothers, Mario born on November 4, 1923, Pasquale A. Gigante (October 18, 1921 - January 7, 1983) and Ralph who followed him into a life of organized crime who would later die of AIDS. His last brother Louis R. Gigante became an ordained Roman Catholic priest at St. Athanasius Church in the South Bronx and city councilman. He is the father of Andrew born September 30, 1956 in New York City, Salvatore Yolanda and Rita and two daughters, Lucia and Carmella. He is the uncle of Ralph Gigante Jr., the son and namesake of his brother, Ralph Sr. a recognized mob associate involved in labor racketeering. He is also the uncle of Carmine Esposito, the son of Genovese crime family mobster Vincent Esposito who is the brother of his mistress Olympia Esposito (not to be confused with Gigante's wife Olympia Grippa). Carmine was the subject of a documentary Catching Carmine and featured on America's Most Wanted after shooting a restaurant patron in New York City.
As a teenager he became protege of Genovese crime family patriarch Vito Genovese and Philip Lombardo. Between the ages of 17 and 25, he was arrested seven times on charges ranging from receiving stolen goods, possession of an unlicensed handgun and for illegal gambling and bookmaking. Most of the allegations were dismissed and the longest sentence he served was 60 days for the illegal gambling conviction. During this time he stated that he was employed as a tailor.
His brother Louis insisted that Vincent had a tested IQ of 69. His mother Yolanda, when questioned about her son's alleged leadership of the Genovese crime family she stated, "Vincenzo? He's the boss of the toilet!" A psychiatrist retained by his relatives said in an affidavit that Vincent "suffers from auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions of persecution." Gigante had two families and lived in two different places. He had allegedly been mentally troubled since the 1960s with a below normal IQ of 69 to 72. Psychiatrist Dr. Eugene D'Adamo, who was Gigante's "primary treating psychiatrist" saw him from 1973 to 1989 and stated that, "he has been diagnosed since 1969 as suffering from schizophrenia, paranoid type with acute exacerbation's which result in hospitalization." His list of alleged mental illnesses later included Alzheimer's Disease. He allegedly had to take daily medications for these illnesses, which included prescriptions for Valium and Thorazine. Since 1969, D'Adamo reported that Gigante had been treated on 20 different separate occasions for psychiatric disorders at St. Vincent's Hospital in Harrison, New Jersey. These visitations all subsided with news of criminal indictments being handed down against him. Psychologist and mental health workers said at his trial that from 1969 to 1995 he had been confirmed 28 times in hospitals for treatment of hallucinations that he suffered from "dementia rooted in organic brain damage." He had open heart surgery in 1998 and another cardiac operation in 1996 before his racketeering trial. He allegedly was prescribed to take on a day-to-day basis, 5mg of Valium, 100mg of Thorazine and 30mg of Dalmare.
He maintained a residence in Old Tappan, New Jersey with his wife Olympia Grippa who he married in 1950 and their five children, Andrew Gigante, Salvatore, Yolanda, Roseann and Rita. He maintained his second family in a town house located at 67 East 77th Street, near Park Avenue in the Upper East Side, Manhattan with his long time mistress Olympia Esposito and their one son and two daughters. But he was rarely seen at his Old Tappan residence and instead at his mother's apartment located at 225 Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance reports, after midnight, he was driven to a townhouse at East 77th Street near Park Avenue where he actually lived. He grew up on the same streets in Greenwich Village where he spent most of his adult life during the day.
Vincent the Boxer[edit | edit source]
Vincent Gigante was a short lived professional light heavyweight boxer who was known as "The Chin" Gigante. He fought 25 matches and lost four, boxing 121 rounds and ended two matches with technical knockouts. On February 19, 1945, he fought Pete Petrello in Madison Square Garden and was knocked out in the first round. During his successful boxing career he weighed between 126 and 167 pounds. His first professional boxing match was against Vic Chambers on July 18, 1944 in Union City, New Jersey which he lost; he then fought Chambers a second time at the stadium on June 29, 1945 and successfully defeated him. He also fought in the Madison Square Garden against Luther McMillen on March 8, 1946 which he won, and Buster Peppe on July 19, 1946, which he also won. His last match was against Jimmy Slade on May 17, 1947 which he lost in Ridgewood, New York. During this match he suffered a severe cut over his right eye, causing the referee to stop the fight and award it to Slade. Slade was top contender, and the fight was a vicous affair until stopage. His boxing manager was Thomas Eboli and he was a sparring partner of Rocky Castellani and future Genovese crime family acting boss Dominick Cirillo.
Criminal Career[edit | edit source]
Gigante earned his Mafia credentials as an enforcer in the 1950s. He ran a crew from Greenwich Village that was formerly overseen by Vito Genovese and later Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo. Gigante's crew was based out of the Triangle Social Club, located at 208 Sullivan Street, but also met with fellow crew members at the Dante Social Club at 81 McDougal Street, and the Panel Social Club at 208 Thompson Street. Besides those locations, Gigante met with gangsters and business associates at his mother's apartment. He was involved in bookmaking and loansharking, and was immersed in labor racketeering involvement with New York City's construction and haulage industries.
Gigante's closest associates included his brother Mario Gigante, sons Andrew Gigante and Vincent Esposito, Dominick Alongi, Venero Mangano, Frank Condo, Dominick DiQuarto, Thomas D'Antonio, Frank Caggiano, Louis Manna, Giuseppe Dellacroe, Dominick Canterino, Dominick Cirillo, Joseph Denti, and Joseph Sarcinella.
The crew controlled many of the organized crime activities throughout downtown Manhattan, and Gigante would go on to become the most powerful boss of the New York Mafia from the early 1980s until his death. Some of the rackets included labor racketeering, gambling, loan sharking, hijackings, and extortion of businesses. Through his brother Mario, who later became a capo of his own crew, the Gigantes maintained influence in the Bronx, Yonkers and upper Westchester.
Murder attempt on Costello[edit | edit source]
On May 2, 1957, he was ordered by Vito Genovese to murder Frank Costello, a close friend of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky and one of the best-known underworld figures in the United States. Vincent shot Costello as he entered the lobby at 115 Central Park West, where he had an apartment in The Majestic, on the corner of 72nd Street, Manhattan. Just as Gigante fired his .38-caliber handgun, however, Costello moved, causing the bullet to graze the right side of his head. Because Costello fell down, Gigante thought the mob boss was dead and sped away in a black Cadillac.
Costello refused to identify his attempted assassin, yet the doorman at 115 Central Park West did. But when tried for the shooting, his defense team effectively challenged the credibility of the doorman, and Gigante was acquitted in 1958 on charges of attempted murder.
In 1959, he was convicted with Genovese for heroin trafficking and sentenced to seven years in prison. The sentencing judge was swayed by a flood of letters from residents of Greenwich Village and Little Italy attesting to Gigante's good character and his work on behalf of juveniles. He was paroled after five years. Not long afterward, he was promoted from soldier to the rank of captain, running his own crew in Greenwich Village.
Genovese crime boss[edit | edit source]
Vincent Gigante was a protege of both Vito Genovese and ultra-secretive boss Philip "Benny Squints" Lombardo. As boss of the family, Gigante strengthened the family's stranglehold of some of New York City's most lucrative rackets, including the New York Coliseum, Jacob K. Javits Center, labor racketeering, the drywall business, Concrete Club, Fulton Fish Market, drug trafficking, private waste industry, and gambling. He controlled outright the Housewreckers Union Local 95 of the Laborers Unions. In June 1984, Local 95 union officials President Joseph Sherman, Business Manager Stephen McNair and Secretary-Treasurer John Roshteki were convicted of labor racketeering in connection with extortion from a contractor, Schiavone-Chase Corporation.
Gigante was reclusive, managing to never be picked up on a wiretap by the FBI or other law enforcement agencies and managed to remain on the streets longer than all of his contemporaries. Gigante made Venero "Benny Eggs" Mangano his underboss and sent his orders only through his closest associates, thereby insulating himself from the other family's bosses and lower ranking wiseguys. When necessary to speak to fellow mobsters, he only whispered so he couldn't be picked up by wiretap.
While preferring to remain behind the scenes, Gigante would not hesitate to authorize the use of violence and was responsible for ordering the murders of Philadelphia crime family mobsters Antonio Caponigro, Fred Salerno, and Frank Sindone for the unsanctioned 1980 murder of Philadelphia boss Angelo Bruno, and Philadelphia mobsters Frank Narducci and Rocco Marinucci for the unsanctioned murder of Philip Testa, Bruno's successor. Gigante also ordered the murders of Genovese soldier Gerald Pappa and many others.
During his tenure as boss of the Genovese borgata after the imprisonment of John Gotti, Gigante would come to be known as the figurehead capo di tutti capi, the "Boss of all Bosses", even though the official position had been abolished with the murder of Salvatore Maranzano in 1931. In one instance during the wake of a Genovese member, Gigante pulled aside Victor Amuso, the boss of the Lucchese crime family, to discuss the Lucchese's families encroachment on his families "Windows Racket". Gigante told him he'd be "lucky to leave this wake alive" and the Lucchese family subsequently gave in to Gigante's demand to back off.
In 1986, the official Genovese crime family boss, Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, was convicted on charges of murder and racketeering and sentenced to 100 years in prison along with the bosses of the other Five Families in what was called the Mafia Commission Trial. However, informant Vincent Cafaro soon revealed that Salerno was just a figurehead; Gigante had been the real boss of the family since 1981.
Feiging Legal Insanity[edit | edit source]
In 1969, Gigante started feigning mental illness to escape criminal prosecution. He escaped conviction on bribery charges by producing a number of prominent psychiatrists who testified that he was legally insane. The doctors said Gigante suffered from schizophrenia, dementia, psychosis, and other disorders. Gigante allegedly enlisted his mother and wife to help him in these deceptions. In 1986, the official Genovese boss, Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, was convicted on charges of murder and racketeering and sentenced to 100 years in prison. However, former mobster and turncoat Vincent Cafaro soon revealed that Salerno was just a front boss, a figurehead; the real boss of the family since 1981 was Gigante.
In 1990, Gigante was arrested and charged with racketeering and murder; however, it wasn't until 1997 that he was brought to trial. During that time period, Gigante's lawyers produced witness after witness who testified that Gigante was mentally ill and unfit to stand trial. However, all this changed when a number of prominent Mafia members from various families began to cooperate with the government in the early 1990s.
Foremost among the cooperating witnesses was Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, former underboss of the Gambino crime family, who became a cooperating witness in 1991. Gravano testified that on the two occasions he met Gigante, the mob boss was perfectly lucid and clear in his thinking. Other turncoat witnesses such as Phil Leonetti of the Bruno crime family of Philadelphia implicated Gigante in ordering the murder of several Bruno family members in the early 1980s. Additionally, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, former underboss of the Lucchese crime family, implicated Gigante in a 1986 plan to have Casso kill new Gambino boss John Gotti, Gotti associate Frank DeCicco and Gotti's brother Gene Gotti.
Conviction and Imprisonment[edit | edit source]
In Summer 1997, Gigante was finally convicted on several racketeering and conspiracy charges and sentenced to 12 years in a federal prison. Despite his lawyers' and psychiatrists' claims that he has been legally insane for more than 30 years, the jury convicted him on all but the murder charges, which would have mandated a life sentence without parole.
On April 7, 2003, he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in Federal District Court, acknowledging that his "insanity" was a pretense in order to delay his racketeering trial. This was part of a deal to avoid another set of charges that would have brought on a lengthy trial (he was 75 at the time). Instead, he had another three years added to his sentence.
Death[edit | edit source]
In 2005, Gigante's health started to decline. He started suffering labored breathing, oxygen deprivation, swelling in the lower body, and bouts of unconsciousness. In November 2005, Flora Edwards, his lawyer, sued officials at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri to transfer Gigante to an acute care hospital. Transferred to a private medical facility, Gigante rallied physically. In early December, he was transferred back to Springfield, where he died 10 days later on December 19, 2005.
On December 23, 2005, after a service at Saint Anthony of Padua Church in Greenwich Village, Gigante's body was cremated at the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. He is survived by eight children (five from his wife and three from his mistress) and his prominent cousins from Boston. (The cousins spell their name both Gigante and Giganti.) Gigante's lawyer has said that the family intends to sue the federal government over Gigante's health care treatment while in prison.
Gigante's release-year was 2010.