J. Bruce Mouw was the FBI Supervisor of Sqaud C-16, the criminal squad assigned to investigate the illegal activities of the Gambino crime family in New York City. He was a G-man’s G-Man, incomparably resplendent in dark suits, monogrammed white button-down shirts, rep ties, cap toe shoes, leather briefcase, and a pipe that he constantly puffed on — back when smoking wasn’t considered passé and government buildings didn’t forbid one from partaking while on duty. Why he even chose an official bureau name for administrative purposes reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover — the FBI’s lionized first director. Mr. Mouw was my first boss in the FBI, and though he entered on duty in the bureau shortly after its iconic founder passed away in 1972, he was considered old school: a Hoover-guy. He fervently believed in the FBI’s entrenched traditions and in its almost paramilitary adherence to discipline and rank. At 6’4″ tall and with a lithe build that the vertically-challenged Hoover would have enthusiastically considered to be the appropriate dimensions for his G-men, J. Bruce Mouw was the FBI. And, he was the man I was to cut my teeth under in, inarguably, the world’s premier law enforcement agency.
He was also a damn tough man to work for. He was demanding, impatient, and unrelenting, and expected his agents to exceed the standards the bureau set out for them. Oh, and he didn’t suffer fools well. He was also exceedingly good at what he did. And he was the man who had supervised the FBI’s case that brought down the notorious John Gotti, Sr., head of La Cosa Nostra‘s New York City based Gambino crime family In December of 1990, working with the Department of Justice’s Eastern District of New York (EDNY), his agents arrested the “Dapper Don,” his consigliere, Frankie Locascio, and the family’s underboss, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano. Yes, Bruce Mouw had deservedly been heralded as “the man who got Gotti.” And John Gotti was the “boss of bosses” — the head of the most powerful crime syndicate in the country.
The relationship between Mouw and Gotti has been well chronicled. And with Gotti’s penchant for seemingly beating every case dropped at his doorstep, the Mouw-led effort that culminated in the 1990 arrests was considered the government’s last best chance to jail the slippery mafioso. And as the government prepared for its final courtroom skirmish with the Gambino crime family’s leadership, this young, rookie FBI agent had a front row seat for the proceedings…
It was November of 1991. I had arrived fresh out of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia only some six months before. Hitherto, I had been assigned work related to my probationary status within the FBI. Under the tutelage of my training agent, John, I was responsible for learning all I could in a short amount of time about surveillance tactics, informant handling, and the process of drafting a Title-III (intercept) affidavit. Having grown up in the deep South, my Sicilian roots were useless, as I had to partake in a veritable crash course in the ways of New York mobsters; styles and tendencies that were as foreign to me (outside movie depictions) as the ones related to how Nordic fishing ports conducted themselves in the customs and manner of the Scandinavians during the Viking Age.
And while I did this, I was ever watchful out of the corner of my eye, of the senior agents on the squad participating in what is known as “trial prep” for the Gotti, et al case. It was exciting to witness. I was hurriedly getting up to speed on the Gambino crime family’s history, tracking the murders, learning the names of soldiers and capos, and desperately attempting to obtain as much knowledge about the business of investigating organized crime as I could from a squad of seasoned and experienced FBI investigators. It was a truly glorious pre-9/11 period of time in the FBI. The bureau focused on bank robberies, kidnappings, corruption, civil rights violations, and organized crime. To be an FBI agent was a dream come true for me. Assigned to a satellite office in Queens, New York, I was lucky enough to be a part of C-16. And the John Gotti case was the talk of New York, the talk of the nation. Hell, the case was the talk of the world!
Yes, my professional life back then — that of a junior New York City based FBI agent — was quite good.
But then, my blissful reverie was abruptly snapped…
“Jimmy, when George and Mark arrive, get everyone together and come to my office for a squad meeting. I have something very important to announce.”
I looked up from my desk where I had been casually flipping through the New York Post and immediately observed the silver-headed Supervisor of Squad C-16, the famed “Gambino Squad,” standing over me. I immediately clambered to my feet, upsetting my coffee cup in the process, and bathing my desk in black liquid “go juice.” I was startled by Mouw’s silent arrival to his hovering perch above my desk. He always spoke in measured tones, his voice barely above a whisper. And now, he quietly issued his edict to gather the squad.
But it was only 7:15AM, and I knew the senior GS-13s on the squad didn’t tend to arrive until much closer to the 8:15AM workday start. I arrived early to my post in Queens, as the 1991 New York Office of the FBI had a severely depleted fleet of Bu-car resources. Without a steed of my own, my daily commute from upstate New York consisted of a bus ride to the PATH Train underneath the Hudson River, a short walk, followed by two subway rides, and another short walk, in order to reach my office in Rego Park, Queens. It typically took me some two and a half hours in all, both ways. Yes, it made for a LONG day…
“Yes, sir. Will do,” I managed.
He smiled. “Clean up that coffee. kid. That mess is liable to ruin your informant files. And an FBI agent is only as good as his informant files.”
I nodded and darted to the men’s room to grab a paper towel roll.
As I sopped up the coffee and dried off my desktop, my mind began to race. What could his news be? Why was he being so cryptic? Mouw was known to be tight-lipped and trusted no one outside the squad family with sensitive details of our work against organized crime targets. But in the half-year I’d answered to him, he had never laid a nugget out like that. Well, there was nothing left to do but await the arrival of the rest of my squad…
A little over an hour later, we all piled into Mouw’s office. The aroma of pipe tobacco wafted through the air; the telltale smoke akin to the white wispy entrails left after the passing of a fighter jet.
“Sit down,” Mouw whispered, pipe clenched firmly in his teeth, as he tried hard not to smile. “I have some news.”
A devious smile barely crept across Mouw’s visage, the corners of his mouth almost imperceptibly curling up in a smirk.
“Well, boys,” Mouw allowed, “we have a new member on the government team. Sammy Gravano has agreed to cooperate and testify against John Gotti.”