The two Mafia bosses could not have appeared more unalike. John Gotti, the “Dapper Don” of the Gambino organization, strutted around town in expensive suits and flashy jewelry with perfectly coiffed hair, while Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, the so-called “Oddfather” of the Genovese crime family, was often seen shuffling around Greenwich Village in his bathrobe, unkempt and babbling in apparent dementia. Yet though Gigante seemed like a harmless flake to the rest of the world, Gotti was terrified of him. He knew the Chin only feigned madness to fool the authorities; that beneath the dirty bathrobe was a ruthless killer who had already ordered on hit on him, and who could strike again at any time. (Gigante was infuriated by Gotti’s unsanctioned hit on a fellow don, Gambino boss Paul Castellano.)
Gigante’s insanity charade served him well for three decades before it finally ended in 2003 when he admitted his ruse as part of a plea agreement with the US government. It started around 1970. The Chin was still a Genovese capo then and faced bribery charges in New Jersey. Psychiatrists told the court that he was delusional, a paranoid schizophrenic whose condition was rapidly deteriorating. The charges were eventually dropped, but not the crazy act. Gigante had discovered a great way to keep the law away. He periodically checked into a psychiatric hospital, and also performed little acts of lunacy to enhance the image. One time, for example, FBI agents burst into his apartment and found him in the shower under an umbrella. “Vincent is a paranoid schizophrenic,” his brother, a Roman Catholic priest, told reporters. “He hallucinates. He’s been that way since 1968 or 1969.”
After he became boss of the Genovese family, Gigante continued the deception to help disguise his new position. Soldiers were instructed never to use his name, but to point to their chin when they referred to him. He conducted much of the family’s business in the wee hours of the morning when he believed the FBI was less vigilant. The rest of the day was spent drooling and sputtering to himself. “The guy acts like a fruitcake 23 hours a day,” noted the investigator who had tracked the Chin for years, “but he finds on hour someplace each day to run the biggest Mafia family in the United States. Is he crazy? He’s the only one not in jail. Maybe he’s a genius.”
In 1990, Gigante was arrested at his mother’s home on a variety of murder conspiracy and racketeering charges. Mrs. Chin seemed surprised by the accusations (or at least pretended to be), especially about his leadership position in the Genovese organization. “Vincenzo?” she exclaimed. “He’s the boss of the toilet!” For the next seven years, the Chin delayed his day of reckoning as his mental competence was evaluated and debated. When his case finally came to trial in 1997, a number of prominent psychiatrists testified on his behalf. “Mr. Gigante currently has moderate to severe dementia which reflects significant underlying central nervous system dysfunction,” opined Dr. Wilfred G. van Gorp, director of neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical School. The jury was unimpressed, and Gigante was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison.
Behind bars, the Chin apparently felt free to drop the crazy act. He was captured on tape directing Genovese business in “a coherent, careful, and intelligent manner,” according to prosecutors, and once told a prison guard, “Nobody fucks with me.” Rather than face another trial for running a criminal enterprise from jail, Gigante agreed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice for his seven year con on the legal system before his 1997 trial. “The jig is up,” announced US Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf. “Vincent Gigante was a cunning faker, and those of us in law enforcement always knew that this was an act.” And it only took three decades for them to prove it.
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