NEW YORK -- John Gotti and his turncoat underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano were on hand as "backup shooters" when four gunmen shot down former Gambino family boss Paul Castellano, Mr. Gravano testified yesterday.
In dramatic testimony, Mr. Gravano said he and Mr. Gotti were in a parked car ready to intervene in case the designated shooters encountered trouble in front of Sparks Steak House in midtown Manhattan on Dec. 16, 1985.
Four other backups were nearby as four gunmen shot down Castellano and a Gambino family captain, Thomas Bilotti, who was also Castellano's driver and bodyguard.
At a meeting of the gunmen earlier, Mr. Gotti and Mr. Gravano told the shooters whom they would be killing. "We told them exactly who was going and that it had to be done, so don't miss," Mr. Gravano said.
Mr. Gravano, 46, is the highest-ranking mobster to testify against his boss, who is on trial in Brooklyn Federal Court for murder and racketeering. Throughout his two hours on the witness stand, Mr. Gotti fixed him with an icy stare.
Mr. Gravano said Mr. Gotti, 51, was one of five main plotters against Castellano who collectively became known as "the fist."
Mr. Gravano said the "fist" arose out of anger among several Gambino "factions" unhappy with Castellano's leadership and among the Gotti faction because of a dispute over drug dealing by some of Mr. Gotti's crew members.
Mr. Gravano said the plotters had gotten the approval of three of the city's four other Mafia families to kill Castellano. The plotters did not trust the Genovese family and did not contact them.
Mr. Gravano, short and stocky with slicked-back brown hair and a broad, impassive face, sat in the witness box with his hands folded in his lap. At one point, he thoughtfully looked at the ceiling, apparently trying to recall a detail, and put on a pair of bookish-looking glasses to review a document.
Mr. Gravano earlier recounted his life of crime, his climb through the Gambino ranks, the secret ceremony in which he became an inducted, or "made," member, his first meeting with Mr. Gotti and his duties as underboss.
Castellano presided over Mr. Gravano's induction, with other top Gambino mobsters in attendance.
"He told me this was a society, and he was about to induct me as a made member of the Gambino family. . . . One of the last questions he asked me was would I kill if he asked me to. I told him yes."
Mr. Gravano said Castellano then pricked his trigger finger to draw blood while another man set fire to a holy card of a saint. "He said if I should divulge secrets, my soul should burn like this saint," Mr. Gravano said.
Mr. Gravano said he killed one man before he was "made" and killed eight more between that time and becoming a capo, or captain, early in 1986, when Mr. Gotti, having replaced Castellano, promoted him.