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Ron Kuby, lawyer for Gravano victims
"It's not just an embarrassing episode for the FBI, it's an embarrassing history"
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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
FBI and the mafia: A tale of betrayal
Sammy Gravano graphic
A hitman-turned-informer who helped the FBI jail mafia godfather John Gotti has been convicted of supplying millions of dollars worth of drugs after being released from the federal witness protection programme.

BBC News Online's Chris Summers investigates the latest embarrasment for the FBI.

The name Salvatore "Sammy The Bull" Gravano has come back to haunt the FBI.

Gravano, a New York mafiosi responsible for 19 murders, was controversially offered a new life by the Feds after he agreed to testify against his boss John Gotti.

FBI scandals
August 1992: Botched siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho
April 1993: Bungled Waco siege
January 1995: Boston gangster James 'Whitey' Bulger goes on the run after being tipped off about a warrant by his FBI handler. He is still missing.
July 1996: Wrongful arrest after Atlanta Olympics bomb
Feb 2001: FBI agent Robert Hanssen is accused of having been a Russian spy for 17 years
Gravano was given a light jail sentence of five years, put on the federal witness protection programme and given a new life in Arizona.

It must have been a major disappointment to the FBI's New York field office when, in February 2000, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents arrested Gravano and others in connection with a massive ecstasy ring in Arizona.

Gravano has now cut another deal with the federal government - this time pleading guilty to the drug charges in return for more serious charges of running a criminal enterprise being dropped.

Gravano, 55, now faces up to 15 years in prison and still faces other drug charges in Arizona.

His lawyer, Lynne Stewart, said the case was a "vendetta" pursued by prosecutors who felt betrayed by her client.

She said Gravano only provided funding and said of allegations that he had set up an Arizona mafia. "That's pure Hollywood. That's HBO," she said.

Ms Stewart said Gravano was seeking a similar plea bargain over the pending drug charges in Arizona but a spokeswoman for Arizona's attorney general said he would still go on trial in September.

The deal comes after a series of blunders - the most recent being the failure to hand over documents which has led to a delay in the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

'Evil in human form'

Rosanne Massa, whose brother was killed by Gravano, said: "If evil had to take on human form, Sammy is it."

The FBI said the original deal with Gravano was a price worth paying to jail its number one target - his boss, the Gambino godfather John Gotti.

Gravano is an "unrepentant sociopath", says Ron Kuby
He had earned the nickname The Teflon Don because law enforcement agencies had been unable to make charges stick.

But when Gravano gave evidence, Gotti's fate, and that of 36 other mafiosi was sealed.

In 1992, Gotti was jailed for life for murder and racketeering - a conviction which not only boosted the FBI but also the profile of District Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who later became Mayor of New York.

There is a delicious irony that they have turned on Gravano.

John Mitchell, John Gotti's lawyer
Gravano was allowed out of prison early in April 1995 and went to live in Phoenix, Arizona, under the witness protection programme.

He was given a new identity and settled down to live anonymously as Jimmy Moran, building contractor.

Under his "sweetheart" deal with the FBI he had been allowed to keep millions of dollars of ill-gotten cash.

In 1996 he chose to leave the programme and by the end of 1998 he had resumed his life of crime.

Young protegé

Isolated from his mafia cohorts, Gravano found a new crew - a gang of young white supremacist drug dealers known as The Devil Dogs.

The alliance was formed after Gravano's 23-year-old son, Gerard, became friendly with the Devil Dogs' leader, Michael Papa.

Papa, 23, was a promising medical student who spent his spare time pumping iron and using steroids. He became Gravano's protegé.

Within months Gravano and The Devil Dogs had sewn up the booming market in ecstasy on the Arizona nightclub circuit.

John Gotti
John Gotti, pictured at his trial, has advanced cancer
Gravano's gang was selling about 25,000 tablets a week, making a $1m-a-month profit.

In September 1999 Gravano spoke at a conference of FBI supervisors about the use of informers.

At the same time as he was speaking to these elite crimefighters, he was flooding Arizona with millions of dollars' worth of ecstasy.

His supplier, it is alleged, was the Israeli mafia.

But the Devil Dogs were amateurs compared with the New York mob, and their bragging and excessive violence soon drew the attention of the police, the FBI and the DEA.

On 24 February 2000 DEA agents swooped on addresses all over the Phoenix area and arrested 45 people, including Papa, Gravano, his son and wife Debbie.

Gravano is an unrepentant sociopath who wrapped himself up in an American flag and cosied up to the Feds.

Ron Kuby, lawyer for Gravano's victims
Ironically the case against Gravano, the king of mafia rats, depends largely on the evidence of Papa.

"It is a delicious irony that the king rat has betrayed by a baby rat," says Ron Kuby, a lawyer who represents Gravano's New York victims.

He told BBC News Online: "Gravano is an unrepentant sociopath.

"All of his victims were incredibly hurt that the government made a deal with him, freeing him from prison after he had committed 19 murders. They were utterly betrayed.

"The happiest day of their lives came when he was indicted in Arizona."

Possibility of another deal

Mr Kuby said the FBI, in their desperation to win their vendetta against Gotti, had done a deal with Gravano, who had "wrapped himself up in the American flag" and portrayed himself as something other than a "degenerate".

Gotti's lawyer, John Mitchell, claims Gravano knows a lot of sensitive information and he does not believe the FBI will let "their man" go down.

He was not be surprised by the plea bargain and believes there may be another one in Arizona.

Some believe Gravano will be offered another deal
Mr Mitchell, who maintains that Gravano lied to get Gotti convicted, told BBC News Online: "A lot went on behind the scenes which the government does not want people to know. Gravano is a savvy guy and he'll strike a deal."

He said the FBI used to be revered as an agency beyond reproach but he said several incidents in recent years had tarnished their reputation.

"You saw it with McVeigh. They thought they could keep 3,000 documents from his lawyers.

Other Mafia 'rats'
1962: Joseph Valachi was the first to reveal the true name of the mafia: La Cosa Nostra
1978: Jimmy 'The Weasel' Fratianno betrays the mafia
1984: Tommaso Buscetta extradited from Brazil to Italy, where he reveals secrets of Sicilian mafia
1992: Santino Di Matteo: His son, 11, strangled by Sicilian mafia in attempt to keep his father quiet.
"It's one thing after another. They keep getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar."

Gotti's own health has deteriorated in recent months. He has been transferred to a prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, and is suffering from the advanced stages of cancer.

Mr Mitchell told BBC News Online: "My client is not the type of man to comment, but there is a delicious irony that they have turned on Gravano."

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