This case starts with the FBI taping members of Gambino Capo John Gottis’s Bergen Hunt and Fish Club crew. This included his brother Gene Gotti and his good friend Angelo Ruggerio along with John Carneglia. Ruggerio was the main target and the Bureau uncovered their multi-million dollar a year heroin distribution ring. Additionally, Ruggerio was a big mouth who talked incessantly about everything. He even bad-mouthed his friend and boss, John Gotti. Even though when Ruggerio was with John Gotti, he was constantly stroking his ego and complimenting him. These tapes would be used as a big part of a probable cause affidavit to get a listening device placed inside big Paul Castellano’s home. Ruggerio and Carneglia were John Gotti’s closest allies in his crew and both participated in the murder of John Favera who was the man who accidentally hit and killed Gotti’s kid in an accident.
In 1985, both men would help John Gotti murder his boss, Paul Castellano. Both had their own reasons for wanting Castellano dead because by the time of this murder in the FBI was moving on them for the heroin case and Paul Castellano had ordered the murder of the last member of the Gambino family caught dealing drugs. Plus, Castellano knew about the tapes made by the FBI because they were part of the evidence against him and he demanded that Ruggerio give them up to his lawyer. Ruggerio refused and appealed to his uncle, long-time Gambino underboss Aniello Dellacroce. He kept Castellano fended off until he died in 1985. Shortly after Dellacroce died, Gotti and his crew moved on Paul Castellano and with that murder, Gotti would ascend to become the boss of the Gambino crime family.
During these years, Angelo Ruggerio would be caught trying to bribe a telephone man to find out about FBI wiretaps and he would have two mistrials because of jury tampering. He hired a couple of different private investigators to watch the courthouse and catch jurors entering cars to get their car registration names. He then sent someone out to attempt to bribe them. In the end, both Gene Gotti and John Carneglia were convicted and given 50-year sentences. Gene was released in 2015 after serving 29 years in prison.
During all the is time there is a New York City police officer working in the Public Morals squad which is the Vice squad. They worked prostitution, illegal casinos, bars that violated liquor laws and all in all a fertile ground for bribes. On December 3, 1984, he is taking his wife and mother in law to a celebration at St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox church in Manhattan. He was driving across the Manhattan Bridge when his car stalled and stopped. It was raining and low visibility. As traffic backed up and horns were blasting, a speeding car hit the officer pinning him against his car. At the hospital, doctors had to amputate his left foot at his ankle that day and over the next few months, they would take off more of his leg up to his thing. Intelligence Unit.”
Once he was back to duty in 1986, The NYPD turned down the officer’s application for an on-duty disability. He did get a 1.4 million settlement from the driver’s insurance. The NYPD assigned this man as an Intelligence Unit analyst where he had access to sensitive information on organized-crime cases. Remember this was during the time that Gotti’s was taking over the Gambino family. He was able to obtain confidential information like the locations of electronic listening devices (wiretaps and bugs), the identity of confidential sources of information and cooperating witnesses, and the timing of prospective indictments.
It was during this time that the feds figured out john Gotti had paid an old lady to vacate her apartment and he could access her apartment from inside the Ravenite Social Club. It was a tape from that microphone planted inside a VCR and wired directly to a telephone line that was a leased line monitored from the Manhattan FBI office. A Gotti Capo named Joe Butch Corrao and a guy Gotti liked to call the Grim Reaper who was George Helbig came to this apartment and told Gotti and Sammy the Bull Gravano that they had a guy who told them that the state, not the feds, had planted mikes inside Gravano’s Brooklyn club and his construction company office.
The next day the US Attorney Bruce Mouw was reading the 100-page transcript when he saw this conversation. He called in FBI Agent Andy Kurins and together they found had 4 clues. The guy was either a golfer, a lawyer, a cop or somebody’s cousin. They did not know which clue or clues were pertinent. Gotti instructed the Grim Reaper, Geroge Heibig to give the guy enough money to buy some new golf clubs. The agent knew that John Gotti played at the Westchester County Club and Sammy Gravano’s construction company had a contract to do work there so he pulled the membership list but this did not reveal any suspects. Gotti said something about “every cop he knows there. But that’s good, You know why? He’s a legitimate lawyer so its beautiful.” So they thought he was a lawyer and which meant he was a prosecutor.
Gotti did not like Hiebig and after he left, he exclaimed, “They all got a cop that’s a first cousin or an uncle or a fucking nephew. Gravano replied, “I know this guy he’s talking about, Pete! Gotti replied, “Yeah, That’s his first cousin?” They still could not figure out if Gotti meant that this was Hieibg’s first cousin or this Pete’s first cousin. He put pin registers on all of Hiebig’s telephones and cloned his beeper to no avail. Hiebig’s beeper did show a lot of calls from a payphone in Brooklyn. Agent Kurins went to the payphone and took photos of Heibig and Pete Mavis around and quickly found a doorman who knew Pete Mavis. He asked the agent if he was checking on the parties they had at this building. He learned this was a party pad rented to one of Heibig’s companies. This apartment had a phone and he pulled the phone records and found a lot of calls to a phone owned by a Constance Piest, but that meant nothing and he thought it might be a party girl. He visited Pete Mavis’s in-laws because they held the mortgage on a house used as a business by Heibig. As he talked, he figured they knew nothing but he happened to ask if they knew a Constance Peist. The wife replied, “Yes that’s Pete’s cousin, maybe you know her husband Billy who is a detective. The one who works in Intelligence and lost his leg in an accident.”
Andy Kurins could not get out of there fast enough and made a beeline back to the US Attorney’s office with this information.
Together they pieced together that Det. William Priest was a very active analyst and he was constantly checking with the prosecutor’s office, the FBI and other investigators gathering information on the New York mob. He got Priest’s phone records and work logs and they found that on the day that Corrao and Heibig told Gravano and Gotti about the bugs in Gravano’s office, Peter Mavis had called Priest’s phone that same day.
Please listen to next week’s episode to hear an interview with a man who spent time inside the joint with former Detective Willaim Priest.
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