VH1’s series Mob Wives features real women who are connected to the mob, and the results promise to be fascinating.
One of the women, Renee Graziano, is the daughter of consigliere of the Bonanno crime family Anthony Graziano (who is currently incarcerated;) but another, Karen Gravano, is the daughter of the former underboss who took down Gotti.
According to her VH1 bio, Karen was only 19 in 1991 when her father, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, who then had the #2 position of the Gambino crime family (after conspiring with Gotti to kill the family’s former don Paul Castellano), became an FBI informant.
Gravano’s involvement with the Gambino Crime Family
Gravano had been responsible for a string of murders, and was brought in with Gotti and other members of their “family.” After listening to FBI tapes of Gotti calling him “greedy,” accusing him of “creating a family within a family,” and implying that Gravano had a blood lust and made up excuses to kill people, Gravano made the decision to testify against Gotti in exchange for a reduced sentence. Although he was involved with racketeering and 19 murders, he only served five years.
Life after prison
After that, he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. Karen lived in New York for a while after her family relocated because she didn’t agree with her father’s decision to turn on his crime family. She eventually relocated to Arizona to be with her family, and opened up a spa business. She recently moved back to Staten Island where she is running into old connections (who often are still bitter about what her father did.) Renee Graziano is one of those people. She says she’s known Karen Gravano forever, but once her family found out what Sammy the Bull did, Graziano’s father told Renee to cut off all contact, which she did.
Gravano teamed up with writer Peter Maas to write Underboss, and account of his life in the Mafia, and as an FBI informant. His daughter Karen, who is coming to terms with Gravano’s actions, moved to New York from Arizona (to be on Mob Wives) and to write a book about her own personal experience.
The Gravano family weren’t just laying low, twiddling their thumbs, and working as pool contractors in Arizona, however. The entire family was busted in 2000 for being involved in an Ecstasy-ring. According to the NYDN:
Gravano also ran an illicit operation that distributed up to 30,000 Ecstasy pills a week to the youth of metro Phoenix.
Gravano’s wife Debra, daughter Karen, his son, and 32 other people were also involved:
The most devastating allegation concerns Feb. 11, when Gravano and his wife, Debra, and daughter, Karen, allegedly discussed drug sales and money laundering over the telephone.
How Salvatore Gravano became “Sammy the Bull”
Sammy’s nickname isn’t related to any crimes he committed, or as he himself joked, his prowess in bed. He did get the moniker from the mob however, when he was still a small boy. When he was around nine years old, he got his bike stolen in Bensonhurst, the Italian Brooklyn neighborhood he grew up in. He later spotted the kids with his bike near where the gangsters hung out, and decided to jump the kids to get his bike back. He fought with all his might, and held his own until the wiseguys came over and broke up the fight. They allegedly said “Did you see little Sammy? He’s like a little bull.”