Born to Italian parents in New York, Salvatore Gravano was the youngest member of his family. Both his parents were from Sicily. While his mother migrated to the US, his father entered the country illegally. Earning his living by running a small dress factory, his father was a decent and honest man. But, Gravano had something else written in his fate. Dyslexic, violent, and a rebel, Gravano had always been a wayward child. His aggressive behavior could have been triggered by the constant bullying he went through at school. And his poor grades exposed him to harsh disciplinarian actions from both his teachers and his father.
When he turned 13, he joined a prominent street gang in his neighborhood. Even though his family was strictly against it, he continued to indulge in dangerous activities. When a rival gang stole his bike, he went to fight them and took on a few of them at once. Little did he know that some members of the mafia were watching him from a nearby café. Impressed by his bravery, one of them remarked that he ‘fought like a bull’. Since then, he was nicknamed Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano. His family always felt that he resembled his uncle Sammy a lot and that’s how that name stuck.
It seems like he had caught the eye of quite a few mafia organizations while growing up and befriended boys hailing from such families. After a short stint as a corporal in the US Army, he returned to New York only to get absorbed into America’s largest network of organized crime.
Sammy and the Mafia
After getting involved with the Cosa Nostra in 1968, the largest underground Italian-American mafia organization, Sammy worked for the Colombo crime family for a few years. He executed pretty crimes like hijacking, larceny, and armed robbery. As he moved on from family to family and his reputation in the crime world escalated, he started pulling off bigger stunts like racketeering and loansharking. He was also known for co-owning a popular after-hours club, which hosted a number of illegal activities, including a very dangerous game of poker. Shortly after, he committed his first murder, and then there was no stopping him.
Due to nasty rivalries and jealousy pertaining to Sammy’s rise in the underworld, he was suggested to save his life and move on to work for the Gambino crime family. There he became the underboss to the widely-feared gangster, John Gotti.
After serving the family for many years, Sammy got arrested for many of the crimes he committed, especially for drug distribution-related charges. He was looking at life imprisonment but he got his sentence cut short by helping out the FBI. Even though the crime families are sworn to secrecy and are loyal to their leaders, Sammy broke the oath and testified against John Gotti.
He later revealed that Gotti wanted him to be the ‘sacrificial lamb’ and plead guilty to all charges so that Gotti was saved and Sammy would take the fall. Sammy confessed that he felt betrayed as he served Gotti for several years and treated him like a brother, and still, Gotti wouldn’t help him out. So, he decided to flip, testify against him and 39 other mobsters and made sure they were imprisoned for life. By doing so, Sammy also confessed to 19 murders and he was sentenced to 20 years in jail. He did only 18 years as he got out early for being helpful and compliant with the government. He served some time in Arizona and was also under the Witness Protection Program for a few months.
Where is Sammy Now?
Sammy was released from prison in 2017. He had also co-authored a biographical book named ‘Underboss’. While many believe that he is residing with his family in Staten Island or Brooklyn, he is actually living out west in Arizona. But, he seems to be coming out of his cave now.
The new MTV show ‘Families of the Mafia’ features the families of ex-mobsters and how the older generation wants to protect and create a better future for the newer generation. Sammy takes responsibility for his actions and shares life-lessons with her daughter, Karen, and her granddaughter, Karina. In a recent interview, Karen revealed that Sammy is still trying to acclimatize to his new surroundings and trying to get up-to-date with all the latest technology.
The show also features other ex-mafia families from Staten Island and a bite of their reality. As ex-mobsters, these families have made many enemies and they are scared for their children’s lives. The series highlights the influence of the mafia on the young generation’s lifestyle and the dangers they are exposed to because of their parents’ involvement with them. The show will premiere on MTV on April 9, 2020, at 9 pm ET.