Jerry Capeci and George Gabriel

Inside Media: Bringing Down Gotti

September 06, 2008

Guests: Jerry Capeci and George Gabriel

When it comes to reporting on or catching the mob, the faint of heart need not apply. Intimidation and threats are a fact of life, as mobsters seek to manipulate the public, the media and the FBI.

"[Mob members] would sit behind you in court while you were waiting for the case to begin and talk about reporters," said Jerry Capeci, a veteran journalist who has covered the mob for the New York Post and the New York Daily News. "They would say to each other, 'Hey, what do you think about this Capeci. …If someone hit him in the head with a bat, how far would his brains splatter?'"

The media has had a penchant for getting under the skin, and in some cases, outraging the mob. One Capeci article led to a shouting match with Gene Gotti of the Gambino crime family. Another resulted in Gambino boss John Gotti's defense attorney phoning Capeci, angry that his argument had been undermined by Capeci's article.

"I said Bruce [Cutler], what are you complaining to me about? The Post had it too," Capeci said. "He said 'Yes, but you're like E.F. Hutton. When you talk, people listen.'"

George Gabriel, the lead FBI agent on the Gotti case, said that given the secrecy of mob life, building a case against them is a constant challenge.

"You have to attack from within," the former FBI agent said. "It's a tedious process."

He acknowledged how hard it is for reporters to get inside informants, too.

"Jerry somehow always got enough information to make [his column] worthwhile to read, and that's where [mobsters] got their intelligence from," Gabriel said.

"They had a way of letting you know that they were reading and paying attention to what you were writing," Capeci said. "But in the end we knew — and we hoped that this was true — the mob had a 'hands-off' rule in going after members of law enforcement, as well as members of the press."

"Inside Media," produced by the Newseum, is open to the public. Seating is on a space-available basis.

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