Robert DiBernardo

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Robert "DiB" DiBernardo (May 31, 1937 in Hewlett, New York – June 5, 1986) was a member of the Gambino crime family and one of John Gotti's subordinates, who was reputed to control much of the commercial pornography in the US. During the 1984 US presidential election, publicity about DiBernardo having rented business premises from the husband of Geraldine Ferraro embroiled her in damaging media innuendo about organised crime.

By some accounts, DiBernardo was the major figure behind the US adult industry. In any event, he was a relatively capable businessman who did not have any personal reputation for involvement in violence, but his Mafia links deterred potential competitors and warded off other criminals. He became immensely influential in the US pornography business, and an associate of Reuben Sturman. Whether DiBernardo's relationship with Sturman and others was based on outright extortion or mutual advantage was never established. DiBernardo was seen as a phenomenal money maker, secretive, and a lone operator (unlike most Mafia members of his status, he did not retain a 'crew' to back him up) all of these traits made him vulnerable to others within Gotti's organisation. DiBernardo, who had been target of a Federal investigation into child pornography, was awaiting sentence when he was murdered by Sammy Gravano. The body was never found. According to some accounts, Angelo Ruggiero engineered an order from Gotti to kill DiBernardo simply to avoid repaying a debt to him.

Biography[edit]

Rise[edit]

One of the very few thought to have become 'made' in the Mafia without committing a murder, DiBernardo, at that time allegiant to the DeCavalcante crime family, bought the soft core business Star Distributors in the late 1960s, and used it to sell hard core of all types and media to adult industry businesses around Times Square, which had long been seen as an insalubrious if not actually dangerous district where police did not prevent flouting of obscenity and other laws. To many, the proliferation of such businesses in the early 1970s made the area a symbol of the city's decline.[1][2][3] By the mid-1970s, hard core child pornography was being openly sold in New York and other US cities, sparking outraged calls for the banning of all pornography and drawing police attention to DiBernardo. These films were imported, usually from Denmark or Holland; they were viewed in peep show booths.[4][5][6]

DiBernardo directly commissioned the production of much of the so-called Golden Age of Porn era hardcore films made in New York; rivals were intimidated out of business or co-opted into his network. Independents such as the West-coast Mitchell brothers who were immune to pressure due to their location or other reasons had their films pirated. In his relationship with the largest US porn seller, Reuben Sturman, it is unclear whether DiBernardo was extorting or collaborating. However, FBI bugs caught DiBernardo telling another pornography magnate, Michael Thevis, that "the family" was in charge of his businesses.[4][7]

Although ostensibly only ranking as 'soldier' in the Mafia crime family, he reported and paid financial tribute directly to Paul Castellano. DiBernardo complained that he got little respect from Castellano, who despised the porn business, but that Castellano took a hefty percentage of the returns nonetheless. One of the first to support John Gotti's plot to kill Castellano and supplant him as boss, DiBernardo was rewarded with the status of 'captain' although he did not actually head a 'crew' of his own.[8]

National attention[edit]

New York police routinely surveilled DiBernardo as an organized crime figure, but he only became widely known through his name coming up in publicity surrounding the 1984 Democratic candidate for United States vice president.[5][9] The Mondale campaign was wrong-footed shortly after choosing Geraldine Anne Ferraro for the ticket when the personal finances of Ferraro and her husband, real estate developer John Zaccaro, were made an issue and it emerged DiBernardo rented his premises from Zaccaro's company.[10][11][12] The issue removed early momentum the Mondale–Ferraro ticket had gained, and diverted the campaign.[13] DiBernardo was not mentioned during the 1984 vice-presidential debate, though questions over Ferraro's separate tax filing, which were widely seen as carrying implications about her husband's business, put her on the defensive. The Mondale-Ferraro ticket, always a heavy underdog, lost the general election.[14] In 1992, the now-deceased DiBernardo was brought-up with more effect to discredit Ferraro, seriously damaging her fortunes in a Senate primary that she had been front-runner for.[15][16]

Murder[edit]

Sammy Gravano said he was told by caporegime Angelo Ruggiero that DiBernardo was being subversive and consequently, boss John Gotti wanted DiBernardo dead. Gravano later claimed to have been reluctant to carry out the order; mainly because he failed to understand how DiBernardo, without a violent reputation or the soldiers that would be necessary for any power play, could or would be posing a threat to Gotti's leadership. According to Gravano, Ruggiero insisted that DiBernardo had to be killed. On June 5, 1986, DiBernardo was lured to the basement offices of Gravano's drywall company on Stillwell Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Acting as if it were a regular business meeting, Gravano told Joseph Paruta to get DiBernardo a cup of coffee. Paruta, who was known as "Gravano's Personal Luca Brasi" got up, but instead of getting the coffee, took a .38-caliber revolver from a cabinet behind DiBernardo and shot him in the back of the head. Gravano claimed that he later learned that Ruggiero was $250,000 in debt to DiBernardo and realized Ruggiero may have fabricated the orders from Gotti or simply lied to Gotti about what DiBernardo was accused of saying in order to erase the debt and improve his own standing in the family. In any event, DiBernardo's death proved profitable for Gravano, as he took over the deceased man's control of Teamsters Local 282, leading to speculation by many, particularly Gotti, that Gravano fabricated the situation for his own profit.[17]

Popular culture[edit]

In the 1996 HBO made-for-TV movie Gotti, actor Frank Vincent portrays DiBernardo. In Witness to the Mob, actor Tony Kruck portrays him simply as "Di Bernardo".

References[edit]

  1. ^ William J. Bratton and William Andrews, “What we’ve learned about policing,” City Journal, Spring 1999, available at http://www.city-journal.org/html/9_2_what_weve_learned.html (accessed Feb. 3, 2009).
  2. ^ George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, “Broken Windows,” The Atlantic, March 1982, available at https://www.theatlantic.com/doc/198203/broken-windows (accessed Feb. 3, 2009).
  3. ^ "Times Square New York City". Streetdirectory.com. Retrieved April 21, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b What Wild Ecstasy By John Heidenry p 323
  5. ^ a b New York Magazine 2 Jun 1997 p40-41
  6. ^ NYT 14 June 1986 POLICE HUNT REPUTED MOB OFFICER REPORTED MISSING FOR PAST WEEK
  7. ^ Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market By Eric Schlosser
  8. ^ The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia, 2nd Edition Capeci
  9. ^ Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide (2001) Joseph W. Slade
  10. ^ Raines, Howell (1984-08-14). "G.O.P. Seizes 'Genderless Issue' of Tax Returns to Attack Ferraro". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Ferraro, My Story, pp. 156–158.
  12. ^ Patterson, Thomas E.; Dani, Richard (1985). "The Media Campaign: Struggle for the Agenda". In Nelson, Michael. The Elections of 1984. Congressional Quarterly, Inc. ISBN 0-87187-330-3.  p. 119.
  13. ^ Scala, Dante, J. (2003). Shade, William; Campbell, Ballard C., eds. American Presidential Campaigns and Elections. M.E. Sharpe Inc. ISBN 0-7656-8042-4.  p. 966.
  14. ^ Germond and Witcover, Wake Us When It's Over, p. 537.
  15. ^ NYT, August 23, 1992, Questions Facing the Front-Runner
  16. ^ Ferraro, My Story, pp. 312, 313.
  17. ^ Maas, Peter. Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia. New York City: HarperCollins, 1996. ISBN 978-0-06-093096-7.

Other references[edit]

  • Goombatah: The Improbable Rise and Fall of John Gotti and His Gang by John Cummings and Ernest Volkman
  • Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family by John H. Davis
  • Boss of Bosses: The FBI and Paul Castellano by Joseph F. O'Brien and Andris Kurins
  • Frontline interview of Bruce Taylor in June 2001
  • Perlez, Jane (1984-04-10). "Woman in the News: Democrat, Peacemaker: Geraldine Anne Ferraro", The New York Times.
  • Ferraro, Framing a Life, pp. 65–67.
  • "Ferraro, Geraldine Anne, (1935 - )". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved on 2008-08-30