Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, head of the Genovese crime family, one of New York's notorious Five Families, died yesterday (Monday 19th), like John Gotti, in Springfield, Missouri's US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. He was 77.
Dubbed the "Oddfather" for his bizarre behavior, Gigante had scored a lengthy string of victories over prosecutors, but it ended with a July 1997 racketeering conviction. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
After a quarter-century of public craziness, he finally admitted his insanity ruse at an April 2003 federal hearing in which he calmly pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. That brought him another three-year sentence.
At that hearing, he chatted amiably with his son, shook hands with defense lawyers and said "God bless you" to U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser.
For the man described by The New York Times Magazine as "the last great Mafioso of the century," his admission was the final act in a 50-year career linking the era of old-time gangsters and the modern-day Mafia of Gotti.
At the height of his power, Gigante's empire stretched from Little Italy to the docks of Miami. Mob experts called him a traditional boss who settled issues by whatever means — verbal or violent — were required.
Denying he was a gangster, Gigante would wander the streets of the Greenwich Village neighborhood in nightclothes, muttering incoherently. Relatives, including a brother was who a Roman Catholic priest, insisted Gigante suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Authorities charged it was a brazen act to avoid the law — although it wasn't until 1997 that a jury agreed. The trial was a spectacle, with Gigante in a wheelchair, mumbling silently, seemingly oblivious to the proceedings. His lawyers claimed they could not communicate with him in any "meaningful way."
None of that swayed jurors, who convicted Gigante of racketeering, extortion and plotting the murder — never carried out — of ex-mob associate Peter Savino.
Born in the Bronx in 1928, one of five sons of Italian immigrant parents, Gigante became a small-time boxer and drifted into the crime family founded in 1931 by legendary gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano.
In 1957, Gigante was the hitman in a botched attempt to assassinate then-boss Frank Costello. After refusing to name his attacker in court, the shaken Costello retired, making Gigante's patron, Vito Genovese, kingpin of the family that still bears his name.
Over time, Gigante, a stocky figure with a pugilist's face and 1940s pompadour, proved better at beating the law than Gotti, the so-called "Teflon Don" who won two acquittals before tapes and turncoats sent him to prison for life.
Before 1997, Gigante had served only a five-year heroin rap in 1959.