December 19, 2007

December 19 | Vincent Gigante

March 29, 1928 - December 19, 2005: Age 77

"He's crazy like a fox." — John Gotti, boss of the Gambino family, on Vincent Gigante in 1988

Vincent Gigante started faking mental illness in 1969 in order to escape criminal charges of bribery. He adopted eccentric habits, such as walking around the neighbourhood in pyjamas and a bathrobe, mumbling incoherently. Although law enforcement officials didn't believe him, having prominent psychiatrists testify that he suffered from schizophrenia, dementia, and psychosis worked: he got off.

When Fat Tony Salerno, the boss of the Genovese family, was sentenced to 100 years in prison, the rumour was that Salerno wasn't the real boss: Gigante was. Despite the fact that Gigante had continued to act eccentrically, hanging out all day playing pinochle in a storefront club, it was said that mob business took place during the whispered conversations in the club. According to FBI surveillance reports, after midnight he would go to his mistress's house, change into elegant clothes, converse with associates and read or watch TV. The next morning he would reappear downtown in his shabby clothes.

"It was hard to understand what enjoyment he got out of being a mob boss," said Ronald Goldstock, the former director of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. "His only pleasure appeared to be the pure power he exercised." (from the New York Times obituary)

When in 1990 Gigante was charged with racketeering and murder, he was able to delay his trial seven years on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to stand trial. The tactic was effective for a while, but in 1997 Gigante was convicted on all but the murder charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison. This despite attending his trial in a wheelchair, mumbling and oblivious.

In 2003 Gigante pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, acknowledging that the whole insanity issue had been a charade. It was for a deal: by pleading guilty to this he received an additional 3 years, but avoided facing other more serious charges that would have put him, at 75, through a lengthy trial with uncertain outcome.

In 2005 he began to have difficulty breathing and swelling in his lower body. After a brief stint in a private medical facility, he was returned to prison in early December, where he died on December 19.

Sources: Las Vegas Sun, New York Times

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