Paul Castellano

Paul Castellano

FBI mugshot, March 30, 1984
Born (1915-06-26)June 26, 1915
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died December 16, 1985(1985-12-16) (aged 70)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Multiple gunshot wounds
Resting place Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island
Residence 177 Benedict Road, Staten Island, NY[1]
Nationality American
Other names "The Howard Hughes of the Mob", "Big Paul", "PC", "The Pope", "The Chicken Man"
Citizenship American
Occupation Crime boss, mobster, businessman, wholesale meat merchant, New York City construction tycoon
Known for Boss of the Gambino crime family
Religion Roman Catholicism
Spouse(s) Nina Manno (1937–1985)
Children Paul, Jr., Philip, Joseph, Constance
Relatives Richard S. Castellano (nephew) Kerri, Paul, Vito, Ronald, Ritchie, Carmine (grandchildren)[2]

Costantino Paul "Big Paul" Castellano (Italian pronunciation: [kastelano]; June 26, 1915 – December 16, 1985), also known as "The Howard Hughes of the Mob" and "Big Paulie" (or "PC" to his family), was an American mafia boss who succeeded Carlo Gambino as head of the Gambino crime family in New York, the nation's largest Cosa Nostra family at the time. The unsanctioned assassination of Castellano in 1985 by John Gotti sparked years of animosity between the Gambinos and the other New York crime families.

His nephew was actor Richard S. Castellano from The Godfather.[2]



Constantino Paul Castellano was born in Brooklyn in 1915, to Giuseppe Castellano and Concetta (née Casatu). Giuseppe was a butcher and an early member of the Mangano crime family, the forerunner of the Gambino family.[3] Paul Castellano dropped out of school in the eighth grade to learn butchering and collecting numbers game receipts, both from his father.[4]

In July 1934, Castellano was arrested for the first time in Hartford, Connecticut for robbing a haberdasher.[5] The 19-year-old Castellano refused to identify his two accomplices to the police and served a three-month prison sentence. By refusing to cooperate with authorities, Castellano enhanced his reputation for mob loyalty.[4]

Castellano's sister Catherine had married one of their cousins, Carlo Gambino, in 1926; he was a future boss of the Gambino crime family. In 1937 Castellano married his childhood sweetheart Nina Manno; the couple had three sons (Paul, Philip, and Joseph Castellano) and a daughter, Constance Castellano.[6]

(Note: Many sources state that Paul was married to Carlo Gambino's sister-in-law. While this statement is technically true, it is also misleading. Any woman married to Paul would be Gambino's sister-in-law, as Paul's sister Catherine had married Carlo Gambino in 1926. Nina Manno was not related to Gambino prior to her marriage to Paul.)

Castellano often signed his name as "C. Paul Castellano" because he hated his first name, Costantino. Eventually he became known as Paul. Standing 6'212" (189 cm) barefoot and weighing 270 pounds (122.5 kg), Castellano intimidated other mobsters with his size.

Mob life

In the 1940s, Castellano became a member of the Mangano family. He became a capo under boss Vince Mangano's successor, Albert Anastasia.

In 1957, after Anastasia's murder and Carlo Gambino's elevation to boss, Castellano attended the abortive Apalachin Conference in Apalachin, New York. When New York State Police raided the meeting, Castellano was one of 61 high-ranking mobsters arrested. Refusing to answer grand jury questions about the meeting, Castellano spent a year in prison on contempt charges. On January 13, 1960, Castellano was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy to withhold information.[7] However, in November 1960, Castellano's conviction was reversed by an Appeals Court.[8]

Rise in the Gambino family

In 1975, Castellano allegedly ordered the murder of Vito Borelli, his daughter Constance's boyfriend. Someone had reported to Castellano that Borelli had compared him to Frank Perdue, the owner and commercial spokesman for Perdue Farms. Castellano considered this an insult and had Borelli killed. In 2004, court documents showed that government witness and former Bonanno crime family boss Joseph Massino admitted to murdering Borelli as a favor to Castellano.[9]

In 1975, Castellano became acting boss for the aging Gambino.

On July 1, 1985, Castellano was indicted on loansharking charges and with tax evasion for not reporting the profits from his illegal racket.[10]

Mob businessman

Castellano identified more as a businessman than a hoodlum; he took over non-legitimate businesses and converted them to legitimate enterprises. But Castellano's businesses, and those of his sons, thrived only due to their mob ties.

In his early years, Castellano used his butcher's training to launch Dial Poultry, a poultry distribution business that once supplied 300 butchers in New York City. Dial's customers also included supermarket chains Key Food and Waldbaum's. Castellano used intimidation tactics to force his "customers" to buy Dial's products.[3]

As Castellano became more powerful in the Gambino family, he started to make large amounts of money from construction concrete. Castellano's son Philip was the president of Scara-Mix Concrete Corporation, which exercised a near monopoly on Staten Island on construction concrete.[11] Castellano also handled the Gambino interests in the "Concrete Club," a consortium of mob families that divided revenue from New York developers. No one could pour concrete for a project worth more than $2 million without the approval from the Concrete Club. Finally, Castellano supervised Gambino control of Teamsters Union Local Chapter 282, which provided workers to pour concrete at all major building projects in New York and Long Island.[12]


On October 6, 1976, Carlo Gambino died at home of natural causes.[13] Against expectations, he had appointed Castellano to succeed him over his underboss Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce. Gambino appeared to believe that his crime family would benefit from Castellano's focus on white collar businesses.[14] Dellacroce, at the time, was imprisoned for tax evasion and was unable to contest Castellano's succession.[15]

Castellano's succession was confirmed at a meeting on November 24, with Dellacroce present. Castellano arranged for Dellacroce to remain as underboss while directly running traditional Cosa Nostra activities such as extortion, robbery, and loansharking.[16] While Dellacroce accepted Castellano's succession, the deal effectively split the Gambino family into two rival factions.[16]

In 1978, Castellano allegedly ordered the murder of Gambino associate Nicholas Scibetta. A cocaine and alcohol abuser, Scibetta participated in several public fights and insulted a female cousin of Frank DeCicco. Since Scibetta was Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano's brother-in-law, Castellano asked DeCicco to first notify Gravano of the impending hit. When advised of Scibetta's fate, a furious Gravano said he would kill Castellano first. However, DeCicco managed to calm Gravano down and accept Scibetta's death as the punishment earned by his behavior.[17]

In 1978, Castellano allegedly ordered the murders of Gambino capo James Eppolito and his son, mobster James Eppolito, Jr. Eppolito, Sr. had complained to Castellano that Anthony Gaggi was infringing on his territory and asked permission to kill him. Castellano gave Eppolitto a noncommittal answer, but later warned Gaggi about Eppolito's intentions. In response, Gaggi and capo Roy DeMeo murdered Eppolito senior and junior.[18]

In February 1978, Castellano made an agreement between the Gambino family and the Westies, an Irish-American gang from Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan. Castellano wanted hitmen that law enforcement could not tie directly to the Gambino family. The Westies wanted Gambino protection from the other Cosa Nostra families. The Gambino-Westie alliance was set in a meeting between Westies leader James Coonan and Castellano. According to Westies gangster Mickey Featherstone, Castellano gave them the following directive:

You guys got to stop acting like cowboys - acting wild. You're going to be with us now. If anyone is going to get killed, you have to clear it with us. [19]

Castellano also created an alliance with the Cherry Hill Gambinos, a group of Sicilian heroin importers and distributors in New Jersey, also for use as gunmen. With the Westies and the Cherry Hill Gambinos, Castellano commanded a small army of capable killers.

In September 1980, Castellano allegedly ordered the murder of his former son-in-law Frank Amato. A hijacker and minor criminal, Amato had physically abused his wife Connie Castellano (Paul's daughter) when they were married.[20][21] According to FBI documents, Gambino soldier Roy DeMeo murdered Amato, cut up his body, and disposed of the remains at sea.

In 1981, Castellano met twice with businessman Frank Perdue, the alleged cause of the 1975 Borelli murder. Perdue wanted Castellano's help in thwarting a unionization drive at a Perdue facility in Virginia. However, according to Perdue, the two men talked, but never agreed to anything.[22]

Wealth and power

In 1981, at the height of his power, Castellano built a lavish 17-room mansion on a ridgeline in Todt Hill, Staten Island. Designed to resemble the White House in Washington, D.C., Castellano's house featured Carrara marble, an Olympic size swimming pool, and an English garden.[21] He started a love affair with his live-in maid, Gloria Olarte, even though his wife Nina was living with him. FBI surveillance tapes recorded Castellano telling Olarte that he was going to undergo penile implant surgery to remedy his impotence.[23] Castellano became a recluse, rarely venturing outside the mansion. Capos such as Daniel Marino, Thomas Gambino, and James Failla visited Castellano at Todt Hill to provide information and receive orders. When not entertaining guests, Castellano wore satin and silk dressing gowns and velvet slippers around the house.[24]

The extravagance of Castellano's mansion and lifestyle aroused resentment and envy within the Gambino family. This disaffection was concentrated among Dellacroce supporters, who were struggling to make money in the traditional family rackets. Typically, mob capos give ten percent of their earnings to the boss. However, Castellano began to demand fifteen percent or more in some cases. In addition, Castellano banned family members from running lucrative drug trafficking rackets, while personally accepting large drug payoffs from the Cherry Hill Gambinos and the DeMeo crew.

Many complaints originated from capo John Gotti, a prominent Dellacroce supporter. Gotti fed the Gambino family this discontent. In addition, Gotti defied Castellano by secretly distributing drugs, although the boss learned of his actions. Gotti was ambitious and saw himself as a future family boss. However, as long as Dellacroce was alive, Gotti would not try to overthrow Castellano.

At some point, Castellano dropped the contract of $500,000 that was on Donnie Brasco after he infiltrated the Bonanno crime family when Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno insisted that "we don't kill cops, we don't kill agents, we kill each other."[25][26]

Legal problems

In 1983, Castellano allegedly ordered Roy DeMeo's murder. He knew that DeMeo was unpredictable and doubted his loyalty in an upcoming car theft trial. DeMeo was found shot to death in the trunk of his Cadillac automobile.[24]

In March 1983, the FBI obtained a warrant to install secret listening devices in Castellano's house. Waiting until Castellano went on vacation to Florida, agents drugged his watch dogs, disabled his security system, and planted devices in the dining and living rooms. These devices provided law enforcement with a wealth of incriminating information on Castellano.[27]

On March 30, 1984, Castellano was indicted on federal racketeering charges in the Gambino case, including the Eppolitto murders. Other charges were extortion, narcotics trafficking, theft, and prostitution. Castellano was released on $2 million bail.[28]

In early 1985, Castellano was one of many Mafia bosses arrested on charges of racketeering, which was to result in the Mafia Commission Trial. Castellano was released on $3 million bail.[29]

Although Castellano considered himself a businessman first, he did not forsake murder, as seen from the events above. According to the book Murder Machine by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci, Castellano got offended when he thought that a police officer had implied that he was less than a gentleman. When Detective Kenneth McCabe placed him under arrest, he did not protest. But when McCabe mentioned to Castellano that his late cousin, Carlo Gambino, had been a "real gentleman", Castellano looked hurt and then responded, "What? I'm not a gentleman?"[30]


Sparks Steak House, the scene of Paul Castellano's murder

On December 2, 1985 the death of Dellacroce from lung cancer started a chain of events that 14 days later led to Castellano's murder.[31] Several factors contributed to the conspiracy to kill Castellano. Castellano failed to attend Dellacroce's wake, an insult to the Dellacroce family and his followers.[32] Secondly, Castellano named his bodyguard Thomas Bilotti as the new underboss. A Castellano loyalist, Bilotti was a brutish loanshark with little of the diplomatic skill required as underboss. Castellano also hinted that he was breaking up Gotti's crew.[33]

However, the most immediate concern was a set of government surveillance tapes that featured mobster Angelo Ruggiero discussing heroin trafficking. When the government released a set of these tapes to Ruggiero's attorney, Castellano demanded that Ruggiero provide him with copies. By gaining the tapes documenting that Gotti was involved in narcotics trafficking, Castellano would have enough proof to murder Gotti.[34]

Gotti never felt that Castellano was an adequate gangster, nor fit for the role of Don. He assembled a group of high-level conspirators that included Gravano, DeCicco, Leonard DiMaria, and Joseph Armone. An initial plan was to kill Castellano outside his house, but Gotti was afraid of encountering federal agents there. Gravano suggested killing both Castellano and Billotti while they were eating breakfast at a diner.[35] However, when Castellano announced a dinner meeting on December 16, Gotti and the other conspirators decided to kill him then.[36] As of 2016, DiMaria is the only alleged conspirator who is not dead or in prison.


On December 16, 1985, Bilotti drove Castellano to the prearranged meeting at the Sparks Steak House in Midtown Manhattan. A hit team was waiting near the restaurant entrance. Positioned down the street were backup shooters Dominick Pizzonia, Angelo Ruggiero and Anthony Rampino.[37] Gotti observed the scene from a car across the street.[38]

As Castellano was exiting the car at the front of the restaurant, the gunmen ran up and shot him several times. Allegedly, John Carneglia was the gunman who shot Castellano in the head.[39][40] They shot Bilotti as he exited from the driver's door. Before leaving the murder scene, Gotti drove over to view the bodies.[38][41][42]


Castellano was buried in the Moravian Cemetery in the New Dorp section of Staten Island.[43] The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York refused to grant Castellano a Catholic funeral, citing his notorious life and death.[44]

Two weeks after Castellano's murder, a meeting of capos in a Manhattan basement elected Gotti as the new Gambino boss.[38] The Castellano murder enraged Vincent Gigante, boss of the Genovese crime family, because Gotti never received permission for the act from the Commission. Gigante solicited the help of Lucchese crime family boss Anthony Corallo to kill Gotti. On April 13, 1986, a car bomb meant for Gotti exploded outside a Bensonhurst, Brooklyn social club. However, the only casualty was Frank DeCicco.[45] Afterward, Gotti and Gigante called a truce.

On April 3, 1992, with the help of Gravano becoming a government witness, Gotti was convicted of numerous racketeering charges, including the 1985 Castellano murder.[46] On June 24, 1992, Gotti was sentenced to life in federal prison, where he died in 2002.[47] No one else was ever charged in the Castellano murder.

In popular culture

Castellano has been portrayed in several movies and song lyrics, including the following:

In film

In music


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External links

Business positions
Preceded by
Neil Dellacroce
Gambino crime family
Co-Underboss with Neil Dellacroce

Succeeded by
Neil Dellacroce
Preceded by
Carlo Gambino
Gambino crime family

Succeeded by
John Gotti
Preceded by
Carlo Gambino
Capo di tutti capi
Boss of bosses

Succeeded by
John Gotti
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