For a famously flamboyant wise guy, John Gotti was just about anything but slick. The pin-striped, double-breasted mob boss — at the height of his well-chronicled criminal career, newspapers dubbed him the "Dapper Don" — spent a huge percentage of his adult life shuttling in and out of the big house. He died behind bars, in fact, spending the last 10-plus years of his life in the pen.
But a good nickname is hard to shake, so Gotti is remembered still, almost two decades after his death, for the few times that he actually beat the system. He's still the Teflon Don.
Such is the oversized life of a New York mafioso.
"As a young kid, I'm impressionable. I want to be a gangster. I come from the streets. And I looked at Gotti as somebody would look at a ballplayer, you know?" says John Alite, a former associate in New York's Gambino organized crime family, which Gotti once headed. "I was impressed by him. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to copy him. He was a good looking guy. He had charisma. Nobody could deny that. I just really looked up to the guy as a young guy."
Alite served as "muscle" for Gotti and his son, John A. "Junior" Gotti, meaning that he used violence — attacks with baseball bats, knifings, even shootings (up to and including out-and-out murder) — when the family demanded it. These days, free of the mob, the 57-year-old Alite is a consultant for Alite Sports, a sports betting firm.
"At the beginning you're all starry eyed, but then as you get to know him, your opinion changes. You see his flaws," Alite says. "Obviously, he wasn't well educated. He liked speaking like he was a tough guy. It was an insecurity thing with him ... He just wanted to totally be intimidating. That was his sole being. He didn't want to conform. To anything. If he went into a restaurant and they said you had to wear a sport jacket, and he walked in, and if he didn't want to wear one, he wasn't wearing one. He was going in and he was going to change those rules."
And that's what Gotti did. For a while, at least.