A decade after the daughter of the infamous mob boss John Gotti put paper to pen to tell her family’s story as she saw it in her 2009 memoir This Family of Mine: What It Was Like Growing Up Gotti, she’s gotten the chance to see the story come to life on the small screen with the Lifetime Original Movie Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter, which she both executive-produced and served as on-screen narrator.
And in both instances, the story that Gotti has sought to tell is one that flies in the face of the public’s perception of her and her family. If you think being the daughter of a made man-turned-boss of New York City’s Gambino crime family meant she was living like royalty, well, she’d like to dispel you of that notion.
Rather, the life that Gotti presents is one with a hard-scrabble upbringing that’s marked with several tragedies along the way. So, that mob princess image you’ve got of her? Fuhgeddaboudit.
“I’ve told this story a million times,” Gotti explained. “About how my father stole me from the hospital since they didn’t have money to pay the bill. It sets my father up as a noble criminal, a Robin Hood. I often joke that stealing me from the hospital was the most lucrative heist of Dad’s life, but looking back on all of it, all I can think of is, ‘Kid, you were royally screwed.'”
“Now, I could describe it in a more intellectual manner and know what it was: hard,” Gotti told E! News in an interview to promote the Lifetime film. “Then, I didn’t. We were poor, we grew up most of my childhood without my father. My mother was holding down five children and struggling.”
It wasn’t all bad, though. The benefits of a big family meant that she had built-in best friends. “We loved each other and we were like, my siblings and I, we were our best friends,” she told us. “We had friends on the block and all of that. Mom was strict. But we were loved, we knew we were loved. And even the visits to see dad, though not as many as we would’ve liked, we felt secure. We were told how much we were loved. I guess I didn’t have much to compare it to.”
As Gotti explained, though, the unusual circumstances surrounding her father’s chosen line of work and its consequences certainly took its toll on his young daughter. “I know now what made me a little bit neurotic, what made me painfully shy, what made me overly anxious as a kid into a teenager. I know now why I was always so quiet in a room with strangers, never let anybody in that wasn’t someone i was very accustomed to,” she explained. “And then everything else going on around me—Dad used to joke I was five going on 55. I was very perceptive.”
By 1972, Gotti’s father was allowed to return home on parole, though that didn’t mean he was spending all his time at home. “He had business to attend to—with his other family,” she explained in the film. By that time, John was an acting capo in the Gambino family’s Bergin Hunt and Fish Club crew, spending a lot of time winning over underboss Aniello “Neil” Dellacroce at the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy, his headquarters. “My mother was hoping that after he got out, they’d be able to spend time together as a couple. My father was never home, except to eat and sleep. And after a while, it started to take its toll on mom.” So much so that she once stabbed her husband as Gotti watched.
However, as she explained, “A nicer neighborhood didn’t mean an easier life.” John Jr. was shipped off to the New York Military Academy for his behavior and, soon, John was on the run again after a botched attempt at abducting another gangster in retaliation for a Gambino family murder. “Mom was left cleaning up the mess.”
“After a year of evading the authorities, my father was arrested in a bar in Queens. Ironically, he had come back to defend a friend who turned out to be an informant. I think he was tired of hiding anyway,” Gotti said. “After the trial and Dad went away, he officially earned his bones, a term used when a man becomes a wiseguy. To me, it was crushing, but I could still hear his voice. ‘You only get so many tears in life. And don’t waste them all up.'”
Identified by eyewitness and a police insider, John struck a plea bargain and received a four-year sentence for attempted manslaughter. He was released by summer 1977 after only two years. “And when he came back, it was a very different house,” Gotti explained. “His baby girls weren’t babies anymore.”
So, when Carmine Agnello entered her life, that perfect storm festering anger and a desire to be normal made him the ideal love interest. He wasn’t afraid of her father. And her father was adamantly against him. Why was he so against it? “I remember looking at my father dead on and saying, ‘Dad, I don’t know why you’re so—what is it about you that you’re so against him? He so reminds me of you,'” she said in the film. “And I thought that was a compliment. Wow. My father just blew up.”
By 1980, though, her secret relationship with Carmine and the mounting evidence that he might be more “rough around the edges” than she’d have preferred paled in comparison to the tragedy that rocked the Gotti family. On March 18 of that year, while he was riding a family friend’s minibike, her little brother Frankie was run over and killed. He was only 12.
“Doctors were too afraid to tell my mother that Frankie had died. Dad had to tell her. He later revealed it was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do ever,” Gotti explained in the film. “To further complicate matters, the man that ran over my brother was our neighbor, John Favara.”
It turned out that, while the Gottis were away, Favara was abducted and presumed murdered. While no one could ever prove it, the presumption was that Gotti’s father ordered the hit.
“What happened to John Favara is still a mystery, but most people assume he’s dead,” Gotti said. “Do I feel bad about it? If I’m being honest, no. After Frankie’s death, my mother was never the same. Actually, nothing was.”
His daughter’s mounting health issues—which previously simply manifested as anxiety attacks—certainly played a part. Before Gotti and Carmine could tie the knot, trips to the emergency room became more frequent. Eventually, doctors discovered she had severe dysplasia, the presence of cells of an abnormal type within a tissue that may signify a stage preceding the development of cancer, and were recommending a full hysterectomy.
“Family meant everything to my father. Everything else, he could control with money and power. But those things might not be able to help him now and that really scared him,” Gotti explained. “Hearing the doctor tell me that I might need a hysterectomy by age 25, I was suddenly in a rush to start my family.”
“My wedding did it for me. It really did it for me because I remember that day, and I remember thinking, ‘Why are there so many people lining the streets? Why are there so many people outside this church where it was standing room only?’ I wanted a Christmas wedding, so it would’ve been a cold day. We wound up having a nice day, but I’m saying, it would’ve been. It was in December. And there were so many people,” she told us. “The wedding even, thousands of people. And I went, ‘Wow.’ And then all of these singers, performers coming out and everybody paying homage to Dad. I just remember being a very weary bride that night and my dad would say, ‘Come stand next to me. Get your husband. Come stand here.’ Most of the night, that’s what we did. And we were greeting people I’d never laid eyes on before. Ever…After that, there was no denying. The stories were there all the time, constantly.”
“What I didn’t know was Carmine suffered from manic depression,” she revealed. “I knew before our honeymoon that being married to Carmine wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but I was determined to prove Daddy wrong. I was a stubborn woman. My father’s daughter.”
However, the honeymoon behavior was enough for her to throw in the towel—until, that is, another trip to the emergency room revealed that she was pregnant and had a congenital heart defect, making the pregnancy high-risk. “That night, I honestly was going to tell my father that he was right about Carmine, but the idea of divorce went right out the window with the news of a baby on the way,” she explained.
To help his wife heal, Carmine took Gotti away and by the time they returned, she was pregnant yet again. And it was then that the natural brunette made a major change and developed what’s become her signature look. She went blonde.
As she was, against all odds, building her family, son after son (Carmine Jr. was born in 1986, followed by John in 1987, and Frank in 1990), her father was taking over his other family. In December 1985, John ordered the hit on Paul Castellano, head of the Gambino family, reportedly watching the murder from his car. By January, he was formally named the family’s new boss.
While John was becoming The Dapper Don, a nickname bestowed upon him thanks to his sartorial style, Carmine’s business, the largest steel-shredder in the country, was making millions. The Agnellos bought land on Long Island and built their dream home, while Gotti began her career as a columnist as the New York Post. And it couldn’t have been easy for her to work there while her dad was making news day in and day out. He was hit with two major trials back-to-back—one for racketeering, in which he tampered with the jury, and the other for assault—both of which yielded him acquittals. “That same newspaper dubbed him “The Teflon Don” because the charges didn’t stick,” she explained. “In time, Dad became the people’s king. He feared no one and nothing. The legend grew and grew.”
On December 11, 1990, FBI agents and NYPD detectives raided the Ravenite, arresting John. He was later charged with five murders, conspiracy to murder, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery, and tax evasion. As he was driven away in the police car, he said, “I bet ya three-to-one I beat this.”
He didn’t. On April 2, 1992, after only 14 hours of deliberation, he was found guilty on all charges in the indictment and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. “The Teflon is gone,” James Fox, Assistant Director In Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said in a press conference. “The don is covered with Velcro and all the charges stuck.
While her career was on the uptick, her personal life was imploding. In 1998, John was diagnosed with throat cancer. And tensions with Carmine over how legitimate his business might be—spoiler alert, it wasn’t—were mounting in a dangerous way. In January 2000, after threats made to his wife over her desire to leave him, Carmine was arrested and charged with racketeering and arson.
By 2001, Carmine had pleaded guilty to receive a lesser sentence: nine years in federal prison with an order to forfeit $10 million in assets to the court. A year later, her father would die in custody, in a prison hospital in Springfield, Miss. “I still cry every night. I don’t know why,” she said in the film. “And when your father’s dying and you can’t be there and you can’t touch him, you’re watching through glass, it’s very disturbing.”
“The reason this book was born also, and the reason for this interview even, is that we’re aware as a family that now, in order to save John’s life, my brother, it’s war. It’s all out war,” Gotti told CBS News in 2009. “And we are doing what we can, fighting like hell, to see that he gets a fair trial. That he gets a fair shot. It’s about a life that he’s left long behind him. More than a decade ago. And it’s just something that we feel now should be addressed. And we want to just go on with our lives. We want to put this behind us.”
That trial, the last to come against her brother, was deemed a mistrial.
“I saw him as, always, from a very young age until the day he died, as this strong lion,” she told E! News about her father. “People asked me, ‘What do you miss about him?’ after his death. To this day, I think it’s the protectiveness.”
As she added in the film: “When he went, that went.”