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Ex-Mafia Hitman ‘Sammy the Bull’ Arrested in Ecstasy Ring Drug Bust

By Julie Cart

THE los angeles times -- DENVER

Former Mafia hitman Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano -- whose testimony helped send crime boss John Gotti to prison for life --was arrested Thursday in Phoenix for his role in allegedly financing a drug ring that supplied the drug Ecstasy to the area’s burgeoning “rave” scene, police said.

Gravano, his wife, daughter and son were among 35 people arrested in early-morning raids around the Phoenix metropolitan area. Authorities said the former under boss of the Gambino crime family was the group’s financial backer and that Gravano effectively controlled the market of the designer drug in the state.

Authorities said the ring is connected to a white supremacist gang known as the Devil Dogs, so-named because members bark as they assault victims.

The gang is made up of young, white males from mostly middle-class families based in suburban Gilbert. At least eight of those arrested Thursday were affiliated with the gang, officials said.

Sgt. Jeff Halsted, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, said the drug organization peddled as many as 30,000 Ecstasy pills a week and each pill had a street value of up to $30. The pills, which contain methamphetamine, look like candy and are stamped with symbols such as the Nike swoosh and Christmas trees, Halsted said.

Gravano -- who has admitted to ordering or committing 19 murders -- has been living in suburban Phoenix in semi-seclusion after his turncoat testimony in Gotti’s blockbuster trial in New York City. His testimony in 1992 allowed federal officials to convict Gotti, a mob boss who in three previous trials had been acquitted and come to be known as the “Teflon Don.”

In return for his testimony, Gravano cut a deal with prosecutors that allowed him to serve five years for racketeering.

Gravano cut a dashing if brutal figure and managed to charm many in law enforcement. During his sentencing the judge noted positive comments from federal officials and concluded that Gravano had “irrevocably broken with his past.”

He was in the limelight again when author Peter Maas recounted his story in the book “Underboss,” later made into a television movie. He entered a federal witness program but dropped out in 1997, proclaiming he was not afraid of being the target of a hitman. Gravano was living under an assumed name and had installed his family in a sprawling home in Tempe.

Gravano was charged Thursday with conspiracy to distribute dangerous drugs and is being held on $5 million bond. His family members were arrested on the same charge, as was Mike Papa, described by police as the co-founder of the Devil Dogs. According to one law enforcement official, Papa recruited his associates “for the purpose of intimidation.”