Surviving the Mob: What I Didn’t Learn from The Godfather

Carlo Gambino
Carlo Gambino
Researching street-level mob activity isn’t easy, in fact it’s damn frustrating. My new novel, Cold City, is set in 1990 and sports a motley crew of characters, some of whom are low-level members of the Gambino crime family. The ’Net is loaded with info on Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, and the latter’s successor (via assassination), John Gotti. But what was it like down on the streets in 1990? No one was talking.

I was uncomfortable writing in a milieu I knew nothing about except for what I’d seen in films like GoodFellas. Because, frankly, I don’t trust Hollywood.

While visiting Las Vegas, I toured the Mob Museum in hope of some enlightenment. What’d I come away with? Stugots. But as I’m exiting through the museum store (like I had a choice), I spot this trade paperback: Surviving the Mob – a Street Soldier’s Life inside the Gambino Crime Family. I snatch it up to check the table of contents and I see that the first fifteen chapters cover 1984 to 1995.

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

I clutch it to my chest and devour it on the plane ride back to Sopranoland.

Surviving the Mob is an eye opener in the truest sense. I’d been under the impression that New York’s Five Families were extremely clannish, almost like exclusive rival clubs who’d be at each other’s throats were it not for the Commission Lucky Luciano created to mediate disputes. That’s true to a certain extent in the upper echelons, where factions vie for control and heads of families plot against each other.

But down on the street it’s different. Sure, each family has its army of street soldiers divided into crews overseen by caporegimes or capos; those capos answer to the underboss who answers to the capo famiglia—the head of the family. At the time of Cold City, the Gambino capo famiglia was the Teflon Don himself, John Gotti.

Surviving the Mob tells Andrew DiDonato’s story, running from when he was a teenage tough stealing car parts in the early ’80s, through his many years as a street soldier involved in every aspect of the Gambino family businesses, to the time he became a state’s witness against he mob in the late ’90s. He shows how street soldiers from different families often cooperated on robberies, gambling, theft rings, and extortion. The capos didn’t mind as long as long as it was profitable and they got to wet their beaks (i.e., received a piece of the action).

He goes into great detail about the mob’s gambling operations—like the floating crap games that moved to a different venue every night to escape detection. I was surprised to learn that the mob’s games were mostly honest. They made enormous profits playing it straight and didn’t want to risk losing their high-rolling regulars who would bolt if they got the idea they were being cheated. But tourists, who would most likely never be seen again, were another matter. They had no qualms about taking them to the cleaners.

DiDonato joined Nicky Corozzo’s crew as a teen. Corozzo started off as a godfather figure, but as time went on DiDonato learned that his mentor had feet of clay. The code of omerta? Loyalty and support within the family? All bullshit. He ends with a message for wannabe wise guys:

When I got into this life… I thought I was part of something—a family that took care of its own. Everybody looked out for each other… I was wrong.

When I was a kid, I thought the bosses walked on water. But… when it came to winning their cases, they were willing to throw anybody and everybody under the bus to beat the rap. Some standup guys.

In today’s mob, money and loyalty go from the bottom up. If you get pinched and have to do some time, don’t count on your crime family to take care of your real family.

Andrew DiDonato’s arc from loyal street soldier to broke, disillusioned informer is a tale that’s as informative as it is fascinating.

This sweepstakes has ended.

To enter for a chance to win one of five copies of F. Paul Wilson’s Cold City, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at beginning at 9:30.m. Eastern Time (ET) December 6, 2012. Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 a.m. ET on December 13, 2012 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010

F. Paul Wilson, the New York Times bestselling author of the Repairman Jack novels, lives in Wall, New Jersey. In 2008, he won the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.


  1. Mike McConnell

    Sounds good!

  2. L L

    Fascinating post.

  3. Spaedtster

    Sounds interesting.

  4. Simon Barrett

    Andrew DiDonato and Denny Griffin are both interesting guys. There is also a Surviving The Mob CD which is well worth watching.

  5. Brett Mehalic

    I loved this article and the excerpt from Cold City. I am a huge Repairman Jack fan. Thanks for everything.

  6. Julie Okabayashi

    Curious to see who your Cold City characters are patterned after in real life.

  7. Deborah Dumm

    I can’t wait to read this book!!!

  8. Connie Schultz

    It sounds exciting. I like the way that you did your research.

  9. P Tammaro

    Growing up hearing stories of family myself I can’t wait to read it.

  10. Deanna Stillings

    Family doesn’t count anymore – if it ever did!

  11. Todd Reynolds

    Just the kind of book I’ve been looking for! Thanks for the heads up.

  12. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  13. Andrew Kuligowski

    I like murder mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. AND true crime novels that flow like one of them (as opposed to a textbook). I’m betting the former description is true of your work?

  14. Mike Markland

    I can’t wait to read this book !!!

  15. Pete Tass


  16. robin goodman

    I would love to read this book. I have enjoyed so many of your stories.


  17. Saundra K. Warren

    sounds interesting

  18. Eva Moller

    Very interesting!

  19. Shaunterria Owens

    Would like to read 🙂

  20. hans


  21. Hans Curtis


  22. Walt Buchanan

    Fascinating stuff. Can’t wait to read it.

  23. Harmon Prives

    I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  24. Suzanne Gonneville

    I hope to get my Thumb on this.

  25. Taylor Duncan

    Looks amazing!

  26. Patti

    Sounds like a great book. I am a big fan of mob stories.

  27. Anna Mills

    Anything about the Mob….I’m in!!!!

  28. susan beamon

    Anything about Repairman Jack, I’m all for. Read in another post about the problems of restoring Times Square to its’ lowlife reality from the 1990’s, when nobody really went there for New Years Eve like they do now. Not so surprizing, how our civic leaders make the unsavory disappear. The same with mob stories. Let the legends remain and bury the truth, lest the public be scandalized.

  29. David Vinther

    sounds good

  30. erin f

    sound fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

  31. Donald Hornbaker

    Sounds very interesting.

  32. Aldo Calcagno

    Thanks for the tip. A very interesting piece and why research is so important to any great story.

  33. Charles Fraker

    My cat says I must enter this contest or she will get Repairman Jack to “settle my hash”, whatever that means.

  34. Diane Pollock

    Loved Goodfellas!

  35. Jim Callahan

    Great stuff! Looking forward to reading this.

  36. Ellen

    Got me interested.

  37. John Maline

    Entertaining article; would read Cold City anyway though!

  38. vicki wurgler

    sounds like great reading

  39. Melissa Keith

    I am a new Repairman Jack fan and I would love to read how he came to be. I’ve read about COLD CITY in a few other newsletters and I’m excited about it! Thanks, F. Paul Wilson, for the book rec. I love true stories about the mob.

  40. Cindi Hoppes

    I watch sever true life crime stories and many deal with the
    mafia! Even, other cultures that have come here; like people
    from Serbia, Macedonia, etc., have their own group of mafia
    Your book and research are thrilling…
    Many thanks, Cindi


    got my interest

  42. Heather Martin

    I love books on this subject. My daughter picked up on my habit. We would love to read this.

  43. Bill Wolverton

    anxious to read more

  44. Beth Talmage

    I’m not sure why–I feel kind of guilty about it–but books about the mob are fascinating, and I love that this author cares about digging deeply for the truth.

  45. Merikay Noah

    Thanks for this article. I’m really looking forward to reading Cold City!

    I’ve always wanted to know more about how the mobs originated in NYC. I suspect there’s much more to it than has ever been explored in fiction. I find books on this subject to be fascinating!

    Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of Cold City to share with my readers!


  46. Kay Gornick

    This is interesting stuff.

  47. Gregory Sparks

    Sounds exciting. Toss my name in, please

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