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Gerard Pappa (also known as "Gerry" and "Pappa Bear" (c. June 19, 1944 Bensonhurst, Brooklyn - July, 1980 Borough Park, Brooklyn), was a former Colombo crime family associate and eventually a Genovese crime family soldier and known hitman who was widely feared for his violent tendencies, which directly contributed to his own murder in 1980.
Gerard was 36 when he was murdered by rival members of the Colombo crime family. Gerard was known to the police and criminal associates as an ice-cold killer although he was known as "Pappa Bear" to his wife and mistresses because of the "teddy bear" nature he displayed when in their presence, or simply "Pap" to his criminal associates. He was the son of first generation emigrants from Rocca di Papa, Italy in Bensonhurst where Sammy Gravano, Anthony Casso and Frank DeCicco were all born and raised. Pappa had straight jet-black hair, steady blue-grey eyes, and a severe high cheekboned, triangle-shaped face. His last name "Pappa" in Italian stands for "Pope" because documents dating from the twelfth century state his parent's village as Rocca di Papa which stands for Castrum Rocce de Papa ("Rock Castle of the Pope"), because Pope Eugene III lived in their village. He is not to be mistaken as a relative of Sammy Gravano criminal associate Michael Papa, a white supremacist who helped Sammy Gravano in the 1990s distribute ecstasy from Arizona to New York City.
He was well known in the mob-infested neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Staten Island. He had been a member of the notorious street gang called the Rampers, which included Thomas Spero, Joe Vitale, Ralph Spero, James Emma and future Gambino crime family underboss Sammy Gravano. Among the ranks of the street gang he was considered a "Ramper senior". As a rising hoodlum in organized crime circles he committed armed robbery, burglary, car theft and extortion. He was a fierce street fighter and described as one of the "baddest bad asses" Brooklyn had ever produced along with his close childhood friend James Emma and Ralph Ronga. It is suspected that Gerard suffered from an antisocial personality disorder and multiple personality disorder with severe violent mood swings. He served under the crime family associate, Carmine Persico and Thomas DiBella before becoming a made man in the Genovese crime family.
Shootout with the Gallos
He took an oath with the other Rampers, "... be together forever. Fuck the world. Fuck everybody, even the mob" and was said by Gravano to be full of "piss and vinegar." Later on, this would change but that was the attitude they held at that point in their lives. In the early 1960s, during the Profaci-Gallo civil war in the Colombo crime family had an encounter with Gerard, Sammy Gravano, James 'Jimmy' Emma, Joe Vitale, Tommy Snake and Lenny the Mole including a bunch of other gang members. They were hanging around in a bar at 79th Street and New Utrecht Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. In the bar were several Gallo loyalists. They were a lot older than the Rampers and had an outstanding argument with member James Emma. They were heavily armed so Gerry and the others loaded up with firearms and headed back to the bar. Sammy later recounted the brutal gun battle in his autobiography,
- It was a long bar. They were at one end of the bar and we were at the other end. It seemed like one of them went for a gun. We went for guns. There were a ton of shots thrown back and forth. It was like a cowboy movie. Totally unbelievable. Glass breaking, women screaming, things falling on the floor. One of the Gallo guys got hit, like eleven times. He staggers out of the bar and falls in the street. And lived, believe it or not. Another guy in the bar, an innocent bystander got hit in the foot. He went on his own to a doctor and never said nothing. The Gallo guy at the hospital don't say nothing, either.
He was involved in burglaries of local commercial franchises, fencing stolen goods, armed robbery and car theft.
Rescuing Gravano and "Joe Vitale."
While a member of the Rampers with Gravano and others, he rescued Sammy Gravano and fellow Ramper "Joe V. (otherwise known as Joe Vitale)'s life, who was nearly fatally shot in the abdomen during a bungled car theft in Bensonhurst. He bandaged up Joe V. who was bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to the side and thought to be in critical condition. Sammy thought that he had been shot in the head. The two gang members had been shot by a distraught citizen who was attempting to pursue Pappa and the others for stealing his car. He drove Joe Vitale. to Coney Island Hospital where he dropped himself out front of the emergency ward. Afterward, he drove Gravano to a doctor who practiced in Upstate New York that could be relied upon for discretion. According to Gerard's doctor associate, he discovered that the bullet instead of entering his brain, had grazed Gravano's temple taking off a small shard of skull behind and slightly above his ear. In the hospital, due to Gerard's rescue efforts, Joe Vitale. miraculously survived his nearly fatal gunshot wound.
His friend and long time criminal associate Gambino crime family underboss Sammy Gravano later fathered a son with his wife Debra in 1977. In honor of his former friend and childhood idol he named his son Gerard, after Pappa. Gerard Gravano followed his father Sammy into organized crime and at the age of twenty-nine was arrested for helping his father run an ecstasy drug trafficking operation in Phoenix, Arizona while under protection from the Witness Protection Program in 2000.
The breaking point for Pappa
He was washing his car on a street in Bensonhurst when his close friend and fellow Ramper James Emma was gunned down by contract killers from the Colombo crime family sent on orders by Colombo crime family capo Dominick Scialo. The gunmen then turned their guns on Gerard. At that exact moment, a car was passing and Pappa dove in through an open window. The driver of the car was so overcome with fear that he did not notice Gerard in the backseat and sped off. The murder of James Emma was considered the breaking point for Gerard. He was taken down to the precinct as a witness to the shooting of Emma. Gravano was later shown papers revealing that his friend had filed paperwork for a protection order with the New York City Police Department. Sammy was outraged at his friend's act of perceived betrayal. Gravano stated, "Our relationship and friendship and everything died from that point on." He became the subject of many sitdowns between the Gambino crime family and Colombo crime family for his wanton acts of senseless violence that he displayed but was always given a "pass" and allowed to live because of his efficiency as a contract killer.
Aligning himself with the Genovese crime family
He was inducted into the Genovese crime family in 1974 and worked as a contract killer who murdered many criminals. He was cunning, treacherous and extreme, said to have personally murdered thirty-seven people. He was known to dress as a woman to disguise himself to fulfill murder contracts. Anthony Casso sold him marijuana, heroin and cocaine and he always paid.
As a legitimate businessman
As an adult he was a ruthless businessman, he would murder someone for being late in paying back borrowed money just to teach a lesson to enhance his reputation. He became involved with the Local 580 of the Architectural and Ornamental Ironworkers Union and began working on construction and renovation jobs. It was later discovered by federal investigators that Arista Windows was one of the companies that dominated the public sector of the industry from 1978 to 1990, after Pappa was murdered and the ring was dismantled, that the New York Housing Authority (NYCHA) alone granted $191 million in window replacement contracts. Along with the other mobsters involved, he imposed a $1 to $2 per window charge on most public and some private window replacement contracts in the city. He forced competitors to employ 580 local members at the highest rate, while members involved in the cartel were allowed to use non-union members to whom he paid low wages to. He was treacherous and paranoid, Pappa was a particularly dangerous man. Gerard owned many businesses including a window repair and installing firm, Arista Windows with mob associate and Lucchese crime family stool pigeon Peter Savino located at 99 Scott Avenue at the corner of Randolph Street and Scott Avenue in English Kills, Brooklyn. He later became involved in the extortion of public housing construction firms. While his company's building was being renovated in the Spring of 1980, Pappa murdered two men there and buried their corpses in the cement foundation. The two men were Ralph Spero, the uncle of Angelo Sepe who was a capo in the Colombo crime family and mob associate Richard Scarcella, a hoodlum who had insulted and bullied everyone he came in contact with, including Pappa. Pappa had such disdain for Scarcella that he made sure he was buried in concrete just below where the toilet bowl was installed, so that every time someone urinated or emptied their bowels it would be directly on his face.
The Gambino, Colombo, Genovese and Lucchese families had together created a cartel in 1978, which eventually controlled over $150 million in contracts from the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The cartel monopolized the industry through Local 580, a Lucchese crime family controlled local of the Iron Workers Union. Through the union, Gerard could solicit bribes, extort payoffs and enforce their monopoly. The cartel worked their controlled industry by charging a tax of approximately $1.00 to $2.00 for almost every window replacement, public and private, sold in New York City.
The extortion and bid rigging of window replacement and renovation contracts in New York City would continue until his Genovese crime family mob associate Peter Savino turned state's evidence and testified against Victor Amuso, Venero Mangano and many other powerful mobsters.
He was the father of Colombo crime family mob associate John Pappa who was born on July 19, 1974 in Bensonhurst. Crime writer David Amoroso compared Gerard's son John to the character Christopher Moltisanti portrayed by Michael Imperioli in The Sopranos. His son John was only five years old when his father was brutally murdered. As an adolescent and young adult, his son John kept a framed picture of his father on his bedroom dresser and on his arm he had tattooed "Pappa Bear" as a tribute to his late father. John also had a striking resemblance to his father. After Gerard was murdered, his wife took their only son and moved to Holmdel, New Jersey where his son showed skill at playing varsity soccer in high school. His mother later said that he could not stay out of the mob-populated neighborhoods of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and Staten Island. John Pappa idolized his late father Gerard and wanted to pursue a life of organized crime like his. He aligned himself with the Lucchese crime family, joining the crew of James Galione, a Lucchese crime family soldier who was the son of Gambino crime family made man Ralph Galione. John Pappa showed the ruthlessness inherited from his father when he murdered Colombo crime family capo Joseph Scopo on October 20, 1993.
On July 1980 Gerard was shot to death in the Villa Sixty-Six Restaurant on Fourteenth Avenue and 66th Street in Brooklyn by a Colombo hit squad. It was for revenge of carrying out the murder of suspected Colombo crime family stool pigeon Ralph Spero, the uncle of Angelo Sepe. He was murdered by Dominick Cataldo and his nephews Nicholas and Joseph Cataldo Jr., the sons of Colombo crime family mafioso Joseph Cataldo. Knowing how hard Gerard would be to kill, that he was always armed, very fast and very game, they were hiding in the luncheonette's rear kitchen when he arrived. They approached him from behind and shot him in the head with a sawed-off shotgun, literally blowing his head to pieces. He was killed instantly. Sammy Gravano would later speak of feeling great sadness and remorse for the loss of his childhood friend. Genovese crime family mob boss Vincent Gigante was suspected of handing down the murder contract, but was acquitted of his alleged involvement in the murder in 1997.
- Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia by Peter Maas
- The Brotherhoods: The Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia by Guy Lawson and William Oldham
- Gotham Unbound: How New York City was Liberated from the Grip of Organized Crime by James B. Jacobs with Coleen Friel and Robert Radick
- The complete idiot's guide to the Mafia by Jerry Capeci (pg. 309)
- Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss by Philip Carlo (pg. 122-124)