I used to read a lot of true crime non-fiction, including a multitude of books about the American Mafia. These days, I mostly get my fill of true crime with documentaries on Netflix. However, I do still enjoy a good true crime read every now and then. I would say Gotti’s Rules by George Anastasia is one of the better ones I’ve read in years.
Gotti’s Rules tells the story of John Alite, a hit man, enforcer, all-around criminal, and close associate of the Gotti family from the 80s until the early 2000s. Alite was already entrenched in the criminal life when he met John Gotti’s son, also John but commonly known as Junior. Through his ruthlessness, fearlessness and loyalty, Alite became part of their inner circle –about as close as one could get without being a “made man.” He openly admits to crimes from petty theft to murder and most things in between. He does claim to have followed at least some kind of code where he only injured or killed other criminals, more of a traditional attitude towards being in the mob. As it turned out, Alite realized that the Gottis were not really the shrewd, businesslike leaders they portrayed. The Gottis expected others to follow old-school Mafia ethics while completely disregarding that code themselves.
Speaking of rules, the book includes the real ordinances enforced by the Gotti family during their reign (according to Alite). Some were juvenile, some were kind of funny, and some were downright bizarre.
- Whenever possible, underlings must take the weight of a crime pending against Gotti or his family.
- No member of any crew, in the presence of the boss, may wear sunglasses.
- Members and associates are not to speak to the media.
- Wives and girlfriends are to remain low-key. They are not to speak in public or call attention to themselves.
- Whenever possible, use demeaning nicknames to describe underlings. It establishes who is in charge and who is subservient.
- Drug dealing is prohibited and punishable by death.
- Always keep underlings waiting. It reminds them who’s in control without saying a word.
- No member or associate is to fool around with the wife, girlfriend, or daughter of another member of the organization.
- Always acknowledge the presence of the boss first in any public setting. In any social setting with members of other crime families, make them come to you to pay their respects. Going to them first is a sign of weakness.
- Never talk business indoors. The government has “ears.” If you are talking business in a car, be sure the radio is turned up loud. Best to talk on the street while walking.
- When charged with a crime, no matter the circumstances, do not plead guilty. It’s a sign of weakness.
- Always manipulate the facts to present a positive image. Perception is reality.
While running the Gambino crime family, John and Junior regularly broke many if not all of their own rules. The business-like criminal empire was only a façade. In reality, it was a chaotic existence fueled by unnecessary violence, rampant drug dealing, and fear. It took a long time for Alite to realize that truth and finally distance himself. The book follows his entire journey from meeting Junior, going on the run (which at one point found him in a horrific Brazilian prison), to finally testifying against the Gotti family in court.
The book was well-organized and kept a tight focus on Alite and his relationship with the Gottis. Mafia books and documentaries, because there are so many players involved, can easily become a mess of vowel-dominated Italian names and lists of crimes. Anastasia shows his chops as a journalist and demonstrates his incredible knowledge of the subject of the Gotti family and its eventual demise. He spent thirty years of his career reporting on crime in Philadelphia, and it shows in the quality of Gotti’s Rules.