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Gotti started as a mob assassin and worked his way up to becoming captain of one of the most powerful groups in the Gambino family. His group, however, was caught selling drugs, against the rules of the family, and was about to be disbanded. To prevent this, Gotti and others organized the shooting the Gambino family boss, Paul Castellano, in 1985. Castellano was shot six times outside a steakhouse in Manhattan and Gotti took control of the family. Following his ascension to the position of Gambino family godfather, Gotti became known as "The Dapper Don", appearing in public in expensive hand-tailored suits and reveling in media attention. Gotti was extremely popular in his Queens neighborhood, where he organized free lavish street parties and festivals, and had a reputation for keeping street crime out.
John Gotti was arrested several times throughout his career, becoming known as the "Teflon Don" in the media as he repeatedly avoided convictions. Gotti bribed or threatened jurors in several trials. He also made use of police informants to keep a step ahead of investigators.
Gotti became something of a celebrity, and would frequently shake hands and pose for pictures with tourists outside the Ravenite Social Club in Manhattan where he conducted business.
Gotti was long under intense surveillance by the FBI. His club, phones, and other places of business were all bugged. To get around this, he held meetings while walking down the street and played loud tapes of white noise. Eventually the FBI caught him on tape in an apartment above the club discussing a number of murders and other criminal activities. The FBI also caught Gotti denigrating his underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. Angered and feeling he would be made a scapegoat, Gravano agreed to testify against Gotti. Despite having killed many, Gravano was given only a five year sentence and then entered the Witness Protection Program.
Gotti and several associates were arrested in 1990. Gotti was convicted on April 2, 1992 for 14 counts of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, loansharking, racketeering, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, and tax evasion.