The HRT guys who were now keenly aware of the obvious blood sport spectacle about to commence in front of them, chuckled aloud. I sprung forward, throwing a clipped combination, pummeling his torso and connecting flush with his face. I felt his nose and cheek meet my glove, and watched as his head snapped back, hearing him grunt.
“Okay, Bo,” he managed through tortured breaths. “Okay, I got you.”
For the next minute or so, we engaged in what can only be described as the boxer’s dance. Back and forth, forward and back, to one side of the room and then the other, lunging and retreating, we engaged in a pugilistic Samba — “Dancing with the Mob’s Star Witness,” if you will, complete with HRT “judges.”
And so it went, for some twenty minutes or so, and to the bemusement of our HRT security detail. When John finally returned from the video store, he was taken aback, as he took in our two forms — shirtless muscled and tattooed men, sweating profusely, and sprawled out on conference room chairs, all the while giggling like two recalcitrant schoolchildren. It must’ve been quite the sight.
As John repaired to the kitchen and began dinner preparations — tonight it was to be veal scapollini — I turned to “The Bull” and announced my intentions to go shower. He mumbled something about being too tired to move and sunk further into his chair. It was then that I noticed the small mouse under his left eye.
“Hey, Bo,” I taunted, “you’d better ice that eye. It’s starting to swell. What would Gotti think, his underboss with a shiner?”
“Fuck you, Jimmy. I’m fine.” And with that, Sammy stalked off to his chambers, and shut the door.
A week later, “Sammy the Bull” would be transported back to Brooklyn, New York, in order to reappear before Federal Judge I. Leo Glasser in a pre-trial hearing in Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn.
As one of my C-16 colleagues reported back to me, the judge sized the new government cooperator/celebrity up and a quizzical expression consumed his studied visage.
“Mr. Gravano,” the venerable old-time judge bellowed, “what am I to make of your scarred countenance?”
“Your Honor,” Sammy remarked in a clearly rehearsed retort, “you’ll never believe what the FBI is doing in beating confessions outta me.” And he smirked as he turned towards the small gathering of agents and prosecutors assembled in the gallery and they all shared a loud and hearty laugh.
It’s been some time since those months back in the Fall of 1991 that I spent bunking with and boxing “The Bull.” I think in total, I spent some almost three months with Sammy Gravano. I think that fairly qualifies me to refer to him as my “cellie.” We definitely did some time together.
And over the ensuing years, every March, whether incarcerated or not, “Sammy the Bull” would call the FBI’s Brooklyn-Queens Metropolitan Resident Agency and ask to speak to Bruce, or George, or John, or me on his birthday.
“Hey, Bo,” he’d quip to me. “I heard you made it to HRT. Congratulations. Remember when I whipped your future-HRT ass in boxing at Quantico?”
And every so often, another FBI Agent who recalls those days will approach me with questions, sometimes asking me to sign a copy of Howard Blum’s 1993 book, “Gangland: How the FBI Broke the Mob,“ and ask about my time with “The Bull.” “You’re the guy who boxed Gravano, right? Heard you messed him up before a pre-trail conference.”
Well, it didn’t quite go down that way.
As I had nothing, nada, to do with the original John Gotti case that ensnared the Gambino boss and Gravano, I also contributed nothing to Howard Blum’s book. But, I’m often asked to sign page 327. It’s chapter 48 of Blum’s offering and it begins by detailing the federal government’s $75 million dollar effort to finally bring down John Gotti.
Blum also outlined the period that Sammy was in the FBI’s care at Quantico. He writes glowingly of “four mile daily runs” and of the fact that Gravano was housed in an “FBI former safe house for KGB defectors” at Quantico.
And then, on page 327, Blum goes on to describe that Gravano “sparred with some of the agents from the Academy team.” Huh? We had an “Academy team?” News to me. He also glowingly reports that “The Bull” left some of the agents with “bruised ribs,” a result of his “tenacity” and the fact that he was a “cruel body puncher.” Um, okay, Howard, I’ll never quibble with Sammy’s toughness, but just WHOM, exactly, did you speak to for your information?
Blum went on to erroneously describe an “Indian agent” that the bureau flew in specifically to handle the boxing prowess of “Sammy the Bull.” Now, Mr. Blum, was this an “American Indian,” as in a Native American, or an Indian of, say, um, New Delhi descent? I’m giggling as I type these queries…
As Blum further reports, George, the Gotti case agent, was expressly concerned that this “Indian from Illinois,” flown in by the bureau to box Gravano, might give Sammy “amnesia,” as violently as Blum reports that said Indian agent slammed “Sammy the Bull” around in the de facto ring. Um, again, okay. While some of my former C-16 squadmates did indeed follow my lead and spar with Sammy during their turns housed with him, no “Indian from Illinois” was ever flown in to “handle” Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, the pugilist. I giggle at the notion.
The Gambino squad years have long since passed for me. I am now a happily retired FBI agent — the passage of time from the C-16 years somewhat fading in my memory, but still a vibrant piece of an amazingly blessed career I enjoyed in Hoover’s bureau. And as for “The Bull,” he is still serving another lengthy 20-year sentence in Arizona, incurred while living there with his family in 2002, after his New York case sentence was satisfied. Inexplicably, he ensnared himself — and his son — in an Ecstasy pill distribution conspiracy. Given a new lease on life after he satisfied his cooperation requirements and served a short 5-year stint for his complicity in nineteen murders as a result of that cooperation, “The Bull” simply fucked it all up.
So, whenever I see a black eye, the result of a punch that meets its mark, I think back to “The Bull.” And I recall my training agent’s admonition not to “Stockholm.” But that was no easy task back during the early 1990s. Sammy was a most likable and successful cooperator. He decimated the mob, via his effective testimony, in New York during the early 1990s. And when I think back to setting about to compete in a gladiatorial conquest with a former adversary, via a boxing ring, well, suffice it to say, mutual, if begrudging, respect must be afforded to my fellow gladiator. Ergo, to “The Bull” goes a tip of my cap.
And thus, that’s why I can somewhat respect “Sammy the Bull,” considerable warts and all. Haven’t seen him in some twenty-five years, nor spoken to him in some two decades. But, I’ll never forget our “close combat” in the enclosed space of the “defectors’ suite” at Quantico in 1991. I learned a lot about the New York City mob from him, and also about respect and tradition and La Cosa Nostra. And, I learned the grudging respect that comes from trading body (and face) blows with an adversary who knew that my sworn duty was to see to it that he was sent to jail for eternity. And yes, Sam, I did serve on HRT from 1997-2001, Bo. And no, Bo, them guys ain’t “Nazis.”
So, Sammy, I trust your accommodations are comfortable and that you’ll live out your years in peace. I hear you’re seventy-two-years-old now. I also sincerely hope that your family is able to find peace with your innumerable poor decisions and the resulting essential “life sentence” you earned by those same ill-advised choices. Namaste, Bo. We’ll catch you on the other side.
Signed, that Sicilian-American (not Indian) FBI Agent who was twenty-six-years-old, a long, long, LONG time ago, and once threw a mean straight right…