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Former Mafia hitman fingers 'The Chin'

Gigante In this story: July 10, 1997
Web posted at: 10:06 p.m. EDT (0206 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A tanned, relaxed one-time Mafia hitman came out of hiding Thursday to provide damning evidence against accused mobster Vincent "The Chin" Gigante.

Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, a former underboss of the Gambino family, testified that he attended Mafia meetings with Gambino family boss John Gotti and Gigante, the leader of the Genovese crime family in New York.

"Chin was the boss," the 52-year-old Gravano said in a thick, Brooklyn accent.

Gigante faces 21 counts of murder and racketeering in Brooklyn federal court. Gravano's testimony in a 1992 trial helped convict Gotti, who is now in prison.

Gravano said he often attended meetings of the five mob families in the New York area at which disputes were settled and "hits," or murders, were discussed.

Usually Gigante wore street clothes, Gravano said, but at one meeting, "He was wearing pajamas, slippers and a robe."

Gigante sat quietly nearby in a wheelchair, muttering to himself.

Prosecutors say Gigante faking mental illness

One of New York's last old-time mob dons, Gigante has been known in recent years to wander through Greenwich Village in New York City wearing a tattered bathrobe and slippers.

His attorneys say he has been incapacitated by mental illness for years, but prosecutors say he has feigned illness to avoid prosecution.

"At that time," Gravano said, "my crimes were labor racketeering, I had some clubs, gambling clubs, loan sharking, murders, that type of thing."

Gravano confessed to 19 murders as part of a 1991 deal with the government to testify against reputed mobsters for at least two years. He spent five years in prison.

He has left the federal witness protection program, but remains in hiding. While testifying Thursday, he wore a stylish gray suit and small, round glasses.

Sitting in the front row were several relatives of his murder victims, whose deaths he recounts in his book "Underboss."

Prosecutors at one point complained to U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein that the victims' relatives seated themselves around the courtroom in an effort to intimidate Gravano.

Gravano says he got $250,000 for book


Gravano reportedly was reluctant to testify because he was concerned about possible questions about payment for his book, which he wrote in collaboration with author Peter Maas.

But the judge blocked a bid by the families of Gravano's victims and the New York attorney general to serve legal papers on Gravano when he came to court. The judge said witnesses like Gravano must be protected from such encounters.

Under New York's so-called "Son of Sam" law, which limits the ability of convicted criminals to profit from accounts of their crimes, Gravano could not keep any money he was paid.

Gravano testified that he received a $250,000 advance came from Peter Maas, with whom he wrote the book, or Maas' company, TJM Productions. He said he also expected royalties from "Underboss," published in April, and was in negotiations to sell the movie rights to it.

For that, he said, "I'd like to get a million dollars."

Both Maas and publisher HarperCollins have denied paying him for his story.

The trial is expected to continue for another three weeks. If convicted, Gigante faces the possibility of life in prison.

Correspondent Peg Tyre and Reuters contributed to this report.


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