At one point, John Gotti—the notorious mobster for the Gambino crime family— was New York City royalty. While just hearing the last name “Gotti” sent shivers down anyone’s spine, the crime boss was known for his flamboyant and extravagant style, as well as doing everything he could to protect both of his families.
But if you think being the daughter of a crime boss meant that she was living like royalty, think again. Life for Victoria Gotti (the mobster’s second-born) was anything but easy. In fact, her life was marked by tragedy after tragedy since the day she was born. This is the real story of what it was like growing up as the world’s most notorious mobster’s daughter.
Born Into Crime
From the minute Gotti was born in 1962, her life was marked by crime. Her father wasn’t at the hospital when her mother, who is also named Victoria, went into labor and gave birth. And when John finally showed up at the hospital, he wasn’t exactly keen on handling the process in a traditional way.
The Gotti family was poor at the time, and John couldn’t foot the hospital bill. So, what did he do? He stole Gotti from the hospital, right under the doctors and nurses’ noses. “I often joke that stealing me from the hospital was the most lucrative heist of Dad’s life,” Gotti says, “but looking back on all of it, all I can think of is, ‘Kid, you were royally screwed.'”
Trying to Go Legit
Since the age of 12, John was involved with street gangs, and after dropping out of high school at the age of 16, he devoted himself to the Mafia-associated Fulton-Rockaway Boys gang. But around the time of his second daughter’s birth, John tried to put his life of crime behind him. He got a job as a presser at a coat factory and then as a truck driver.
But the life of crime was alluring for John—he could make a lot more money and provide for his family in ways that his own father never could. With the birth of three more kids, sons John Jr., Frank, and Peter, John found himself working the streets, which meant that he wasn’t around a lot.
Struggling at Home
By the time Gotti was six years old, her father had been imprisoned three times. Without her father around, things at home were challenging, to say the least. “Now, I could describe it in a more intellectual manner and know what it was: hard,” Gotti told interviewers from E! News.
“We were poor. We grew up most of my childhood without my father. My mother was holding down five children and struggling.” However, it wasn’t always bad. Gotti came from a huge family, which 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 continued.
Like Any Other “Normal” Family
Her mother had to be strict to keep all the kids in line, but, even so, Gotti says that she felt loved as a child. “Even the visits to see dad, though not as many as we would’ve liked, we felt secure,” Gotti said in 2019. “We were told how much we were loved.”
Coming from a poor family meant that Gotti and her four siblings had to be resourceful when it came to having fun. They were always in the street playing with the other kids on the block and making forts out of cardboard boxes, much like any normal family in the ’60s. But little did Gotti know that her family was anything but normal.
A Made Man
At this point, John was not a “made man” (a fully initiated member of the mafia) because the membership books had been closed since 1957. Even still, the mob bosses liked John. He had a violent streak, gambled a lot, and was dependable.
He was assigned to a mafia hit team and eventually worked his way up to “capo.” After his release from prison for a botched abduction in ’77, the Gambino crime family decided to open up their registration book, and Gotti was officially initiated. He began to run his own loansharking operation, and, according to the FBI, he also financed drug deals.
As a child, Gotti was clueless as to what her father did for a living. But as she began to piece everything together (the repeated jail time, guards with guns, his violent temper), Gotti says that she turned inward.
“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,” Gotti revealed to E! News. “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.”
Visiting Daddy at “Work”
When her father was “away,” the adults in the room tried their hardest to keep her and her siblings in the dark about what was going on. But Gotti was very perceptive about everything around her, including what her dad was up to and the people he surrounded himself with.
“Dad used to joke I was five going on 55,” she laughed. As time went on, however, Gotti came to realize that things didn’t add up. Her mother would take her to visit her dad in prison, under the guise that they were visiting him at work.
Always Asking Questions
But Gotti’s perceptiveness kept her questioning. “As a child, I remember looking around one day on one visit, and I had to be no more than five or six,” Gotti explained to E! News, “and I happened to look up at this big tower, and I’d never see it before all those visits prior.”
“I don’t think any of us did.” She saw a man looking out of the tower window and in his hands was a huge rifle. She remembers feeling scared and thinking to herself, “Why would someone have that at my dad’s work?”
Who’s That Man?
It was during that visit that everything began to change. John kept trying to talk with his young daughter, but she began to realize that everything he said to her was a lie. “Maybe I got a little angry, and my way of showing it was quiet. I just grew quiet,” she continued to explain.
“I didn’t speak, but I remember asking him twice about that man.” However, John just said that man was protecting his “facility” and refused to talk any further about it. Since that visit, Gotti grew more and more inwards.
John’s Other Family
By 1972, John was out on parole, but that didn’t mean that he was spending much time at home. He had business to attend to with his other family. By now, he was an acting “capo” in the Gambino Bergin Hunt and Fish Crew.
This was a huge opportunity for John career-wise, so he spent much of his time winning over underboss Aniello “Neil” Dellacroce at their headquarters in Little Italy. Everyone was disappointed, especially Gotti’s mother, who was hoping that she and her husband would be able to spend some time alone as a couple.
Moving on Up
But the only times John came home was to eat and sleep, and after a while, it began to take a toll on Gotti’s mother. She was so mad that she actually grabbed a knife and stabbed her husband as Gotti looked on.
Although her father was never home, his moving up the ranks meant that the family was moving on up. John quickly moved his wife and five kids out of Brooklyn into a modest four-bedroom home in Howard Beach, Queens. For Gotti and her siblings, the house felt like a mansion, and it became clear that they had left poverty behind.
On the Run
However, a nicer neighborhood didn’t mean that the Gotti family had a nicer life. Her younger brother, John Jr., was shipped off to the New York Military Academy for his delinquent behavior. Soon after that, her father was on the run after a botched attempt at abducting a rival gangster, leaving Gotti’s mother to clean up the mess.
Nearly a year went by until the FBI finally arrested John at a bar in Queens. “Ironically, he had come back to defend a friend who turned out to be an informant,” Gotti explained. “I think he was tired of hiding anyway.”
Earning His Bones
After the trial, John officially “earned his bones,” which is mafia slang for becoming an official member of the gang. Gotti’s father was identified by eyewitnesses as well as an FBI informant for the botched abduction, and he eventually struck a plea bargain: four years for attempted manslaughter.
Gotti was crushed, to say the least. But to this day, she can still hear her father’s words, “‘You only get so many tears in life. And don’t waste them all up.” After only two years of jail time, John was released from prison in ’77. But the house he returned to was a very different house.
Her Father’s Daughter
John’s little girls weren’t so little anymore. By now, Gotti was 15 years old, and her older sister Angel was 16. “Being John Gotti’s daughter was a mixed bag, and anger towards my father started to fester,” Gotti explained in 2019. “It only grew over the next few years.”
While the teenager did enjoy some of the perks that came with being a mobster’s daughter, like automatically passing her driver’s test because the proctor was scared of her last name, Gotti says that she just wanted to be normal, but that wasn’t in the cards for her.
So, when Carmine Agnello came into her life, Gotti was smitten. Her festering anger and her longing to be normal made Agnello the perfect love interest. But while Agnello wasn’t scared of Gotti’s father, John was adamantly against him, and for the life of her, Gotti couldn’t understand why.
“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?” she asked her father. “He so reminds me of you.” Gotti thought that this was a compliment, but, boy, was she wrong. John was floored.
A Night on the Town
John tried to convince his daughter to stay away from Agnello by taking her for a night out on the town. He wanted to give Gotti a taste of a world that he was certain Agnello could never provide for her.
“It was such a softer side of my father that I had never really witnessed before,” Gotti explained in 2019. “We had such a wonderful time. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night.” But despite her father’s attempts, there was still something about Agnello that intrigued Gotti. She couldn’t stay away.
Rocked by Tragedy
By 1980, Gotti’s secret relationship with Agnello, as well as the mounting evidence that he was a little more “rough around the edges” than Gotti would have liked, was nothing compared to the tragedy that rocked her family. In March of that year, her little brother Frankie was run over and killed while riding a family friend’s minibike.
He was only 12 years old. To make matters worse, the person who accidentally ran him over was the Gotti family’s neighbor, John Favara. The doctors at the hospital were too scared to tell Gotti’s mother what had happened, leaving John to have to break it to her.
Dealing With Grief
The loss of one of her children understandably broke Gotti’s mother, who attempted to take her life three times. Given her state, Victoria was unable to take care of the house, which forced Gotti to step up and take her place.
The grieving mother even attacked Favara with a baseball bat when he came over to apologize for what he had done. “It was just something that was incomprehensible, I think, to my mother,” Gotti continued. “She’d walk around nights thinking he was still alive.” As time went on, Victoria didn’t get better, so John decided to take her down to Florida for a couple of weeks.
An Eye for an Eye
But by the time they returned, people began asking questions. It turns out that while they were away, Favara was abducted and was presumed to be dead. According to the FBI, he was shoved into a van by several men right outside of his place of business.
There were several witness accounts about him being beaten with a baseball bat or being shot with a .22 caliber pistol. His body was never found, and while no one could prove it, everyone presumed that John was the one who ordered the hit.
Things Were Never the Same
Favara was legally presumed dead three days later, and the events surrounding his disappearance still remain a mystery today. “Do I feel bad about [Favara’s disappearance]? If I’m being honest, no,” Gotti confessed in 2019. “After Frankie’s death, my mother was never the same.”
“Actually, nothing was.” While the family grieved, John came around to the idea of Gotti marrying Agnello. However, it wasn’t because John suddenly believed that Angello was worthy of marrying his little girl. No. John was scared that the couple was going to elope and that he would never see Gotti again.
Out of His Control
As Gotti grew older, her severe panic attacks began controlling her life, and trips to the emergency room became more frequent. Eventually, doctors discovered that John’s daughter had a severe case of dysplasia in her uterus, which meant that cancer was just right around the corner.
To beat the development of cancerous cells, doctors recommended that Gotti get a full hysterectomy. “Family meant everything to my father. Everything else, he could control with money and power,” she explained to E! News. “But those things might not be able to help him now, and that really scared him.”
Giving His Blessing
Hearing doctors tell his daughter that she might need a hysterectomy by age 25, John knew that Gotti was in a rush to start her own family. It was then that the mobster gave Angello his blessing to marry his daughter. The two wed in 1984 at a church ceremony that truly opened up Gotti’s eyes to her father’s criminal ways.
Up until then, she had avoided listening to stories about her father and often wrote of the stories that she did hear as completely untrue. But at her wedding, she finally realized that everything the press had been saying about her father might be true.
The Wedding of a Lifetime
“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?” Gotti revealed in 2019. According to the mobster’s daughter, people were actually selling their plus ones.
There were thousands of guests, with singers and performers, all showing up to pay homage to her father. The entire night, Gotti and her new husband followed her father around as he introduced the couple to people she had never laid eyes on. “After that, there was no denying,” she continued. “The stories were there all the time, constantly.”
Problems Already Brewing
But Gotti tried not to concern herself too much with what her dad was up to, especially since problems between her and Angello were already brewing. After the wedding, the newlyweds flew to Las Vegas for their honeymoon, which turned out to be a disaster.
Gotti was already nervous before the trip because she had never spent a night away from her parents before. On the first night, Angello gambled away over $30,000 and completely lost his temper. Before the wedding, Gotti knew that marrying Angello wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.
A Stubborn Woman
However, Gotti did not know that her husband suffered from manic depression and that he would eventually take all his anger out on her. “But I was determined to prove Daddy wrong,” she revealed to reporters.
“I was a stubborn woman. My father’s daughter.” Even so, Gotti was ready to throw in the towel, but after another trip to the emergency room, she not only learned that she was pregnant but that she had a congenital heart defect. This high-risk pregnancy complicated matters, and Gotti came to the realization that she couldn’t leave Angello.
Ready to Give Up
“That night, I honestly was going to tell my father that he was right about Carmine,” Gotti revealed, “but the idea of divorce went right out the window with the news of a baby on the way.” But tragedy struck Gotti’s family again in 1985.
Her baby, who was later named Justine, was stillborn. “You know, when you bury a child, a daughter, it’s so hard. It’s just so hard,” she explained. “You don’t understand why you’ve grown this child, and then you go home with no prize,” Gotti says that she was a wreck, and understandably so.
Grieving Her Loss
To this day, Gotti celebrates Justine’s birthday every May and still struggles to wrap her head around why this happened. “You always think God has this plan,” the mobster’s daughter explains. “Everybody’s always under the guise that, you know, time heals all wounds.”
To help his grieving wife heal, Angello took Gotti to Florida to clear her mind. By the time the couple returned, Gotti had learned that she was pregnant again. It was around that time that Gotti, who is a natural brunette, developed what has now become her signature look: She went blonde.
Times Are Changing
Against all odds, Gotti began building her family: Carmine Jr. was born in ’86, John in ’87, and Frank in ’90. By the birth of her first son, her father had already taken over his other family. In December 1985, John ordered a hit on Paul Castellano, the head of the Gambino crime family.
John allegedly watched the assassination from the comfort of his car. Two weeks later, the Gambino capos met for a meeting in a basement in Manhattan and elected 45-year-old John as the new mob boss. “The change was not without bloodshed,” Gotti explained. “Bodies seemed to drop everywhere around the five boroughs.”
The Dapper Don
There wasn’t a day that went by that John wasn’t on the front page of the news. His takeover of the crime family didn’t exactly go over well with the other crime families. Why? Because John didn’t ask for permission from the commission board to kill his boss, making it the first unsanctioned hit since 1957.
Now that he was a crime boss, John was raking in anywhere between $10 to $12 million a year. This was a step up from his early days. John became known for his flamboyant style and was soon known as “The Dapper Don.”
“Life Was Good”
Andy Warhol even painted John’s image for the cover of TIME Magazine. “Dad became larger than life. At times, it was unbearable. But was it all bad? Of course not,” Gotti told reporters in 2019. For a stretch, life was good.” While John was busy becoming The Dapper Don, Angello’s steel-shredder company was raking in millions.
The couple bought land on Long Island so they could build their dream home, while Gotti began working as a columnist for the New York Post. Working in the media wasn’t exactly easy for Gotti, especially as her father was making the headlines day after day.
The Untouchable Mobster
During that time, her father was slapped with two major trials back-to-back. The first one was for racketeering, in which he interfered with the jury, and the second one was for assault. However, both of the trials ended in acquittals—John Gotti was untouchable.
Soon, the newspapers began calling him “The Teflon Don” because the charges never stuck (for those who don’t remember, Teflon is the brand name for the chemical in non-stick pans). “In time, Dad became the people’s king,” Gotti explained. “He feared no one and nothing.” But like all good things, this stretch came to an end.
The FBI Raid
These things, they don’t last, and how can they? “When your rivals want you dead, the FBI wants you in jail, the President of the United States wants your head on a silver platter?” Gotti continued. “I should’ve been able to predict it.”
Everything came crashing down on December 11, 1990, when NYPD detectives and FBI agents raided the Ravenite Social Club. Gotti had been meeting there with his capos once a week, which made it easy for the FBI to listen in on their conversations and identify the Gambino hierarchy.
The Charges Finally Stick
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.” Little did he know that he wouldn’t. In April 1992, after only 14 hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Focusing on Herself
“The Teflon is gone,” the assistant director at the FBI field off in New York said. “The don is covered with Velcro, and all the charges stuck.” Having her father thrown into prison was heartbreaking for Gotti.
But with him locked up for life, her husband working all the time, and her three boys now in school, Gotti began to focus on her career. “It was far from easy, and I worked my a** off,” Gotti shared, “but I wrote my first novel, The Senator’s Daughter.” The mystery novel was released five years after her father’s sentencing.
Everything’s Falling Apart
With the release of her second and third novels in 1998 and 2000, respectively, Gotti’s career had finally taken off. But while this should have been a time for celebration, her personal life was imploding. In 1998, her father was diagnosed with throat cancer, and tensions with her husband were again rising.
She began to fear that Angello’s steel-shredder business was illegitimate (spoiler alert, it wasn’t). Then, in January 2000, Angello was arrested and charged with arson and racketeering. And while Gotti and Angello had their differences, she says the day her husband was arrested was too much for her to handle.
Trying to Stay Strong
“I have been told to stay strong my entire life, but that day was too much for me. I didn’t know where to begin,” Gotti admitted in 2019. “I never imagined myself raising three sons alone, and in my spare time, there was my career, by book contracts, my newspaper column.”
Then, in 2001, Angello pleaded guilty and received nine years in prison, and was ordered to pay a fine of $10 million. But the bad news didn’t stop there. A year later, John passed away in a prison hospital in Springfield, Mississippi.
Dealing With the Aftermath
Gotti says that she still cries every night since her father passed away. “I don’t know why,” she said in a film about her life. “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.”
Her father’s funeral was held in New York City, with an estimated 300 people following the procession. From that moment on, Gotti vowed to rebuild her life. The late mobster’s daughter divorced her husband of 18 years in 2003 on the grounds of constructive abandonment.
Reality TV Stardom
A year after the divorce, Gotti and her three boys were the stars of the A&E reality series, Growing up Gotti. The show ran for three seasons, catapulting Gotti into reality TV stardom. She has since popped up in shows like Celebrity Apprentice, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and even in Lifetime movies.
She also wrote a memoir in 2009 to help clear her brother John’s name. According to authorities, John Jr. was initiated into the Gambino crime family in ’98 and allegedly replaced his father as crime boss when he was sent away for life.
All Out War
Since 1998, John Jr. has been charged four times and sent to prison twice. “It’s war. It’s all-out war,” Gotti said of her brother’s trial 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,” Gotti says that she and her siblings want to put the crime life behind them and continue living their lives. She wrote her memoir in 2009, in part, to help clear her brother John’s name.
A Strong Lion
According to federal prosecutors, he’d been inducted into the Gambino crime family in 1988 and was allegedly made head of the operation when his father was put away for life in 1992. Luckily for the family, the last trial against her brother was declared a mistrial. As for Gotti, she says that although her father did terrible things, she still misses him dearly.
“I saw him as always, from a very young age until the day he died, as this strong lion,” she told E! News in 2019. “People asked me, ‘What do you miss about him?’ after his death. To this day, I think it’s the protectiveness.”