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Cops: Gravano a Career Criminal

February 26, 2000

PHOENIX (AP) _ Former mob hitman Salvatore ``Sammy the Bull″ Gravano seemed to have it made.

He escaped the Mafia and any serious prison time for the 19 murders he admitted to by testifying against New York crime boss John Gotti. Sporting a new name and a new face, he then started a new life in sunny suburban Arizona.

But authorities say he couldn’t resist the lure of fast cash _ an Achilles’ heel that again put him in the sights of law enforcement.

Gravano was arrested Thursday and ordered held on $5 million bail for his alleged role in an ecstasy-peddling ring that authorities said involved his wife, his son, his daughter and his son-in-law.

Gravano wasn’t the first ex-mobster to find day-to-day life a drag after the exhilaration of what Mafiosi call ``The Life″ _ the high-rolling, hard-living world of mob action.

Henry ``Wiseguy″ Hill, after relocating to Redmond, Wash. (pop 35,800), put it this way: ``I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.″

That was not Gravano’s style, authorities said.

Instead, they say Gravano helped turn a local ecstasy ring into the state’s biggest supplier of the designer stimulant _ reaping profits in the neighborhood of $500,000 a week.

``People are wondering how (Gravano) could do this,″ said Special Agent Jim Molesa, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Phoenix. ``Look at this tremendous profit it was reaping. How could he not do it? He already has a propensity for crime.″

Authorities say the ring started as a small-scale operation run by 23-year-old Michael Papa, who also was charged Thursday. Once Gravano put his weight behind it, sales boomed to as much as 30,000 pills a week _ at $20 to $30 each _ making the ring responsible for the lion’s share of ecstasy sales in Arizona, Molesa said.

Gravano did not, however, start as the center of the alleged drug operation.

Only in the last nine months was the former underboss in the Gambino crime family brought in by his son, who had been friends with Papa, Molesa said.

Most of the people arrested had no idea they were dealing with the Gravanos, authorities said. Only Papa, his 44-year-old mother, Maryann, and friend 20-year-old Jovan Isailovic knew they were involved with Sammy the Bull, Molesa said.

A woman who answered the phone at the Papas’ house Friday said she had no comment and hung up.

Isailovic’s sister, Jovanka Isailovic, said her brother was friends with Papa and Gravano’s 24-year-old son, Gerard, but they were not dealing ecstasy. She said in recent months, strangers had been approaching her brother asking if he had ecstasy and that he thought it was odd.

Jovanka Isailovic said she met Sammy the Bull and the younger Gravano and that both were pleasant men.

``Sammy’s not the monster that everyone made him out to be,″ the 18-year-old woman said. ``It wasn’t like ‘Oh my God, Sammy the Bull.’ He was very approachable. He was not this mean guy. He was very polite.″

The confessed serial hitman crippled New York’s Gambino crime family by agreeing to testify against boss John Gotti, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1992, and other former Mafia cronies.

In exchange, he served just five years in prison on a racketeering charge. He was released in 1995 and given a new name through the witness protection program.

By early 1997, he had left the program. A book he co-authored about his exploits entitled ``Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano’s Story of Life in the Mafia″ was published that December and later became a made-for-TV movie.

Neighbors said he had been living in his Tempe, Ariz., apartment since June 1998. Last year, Gravano told The Arizona Republic that he was rebuilding his life as a legitimate businessman.

Molesa, however, said the companies operated by Gravano, Phoenix-based Creative Pools and Marathon Development, only built a couple of swimming pools.

They may have started out legitimate, he said, but ``definitely, drug money was funneling through there.″

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