Beginning in the 1960s, Vinnie "The Chin" Gigante rose quickly through the ranks of the Genovese crime family, finally being named boss in 1981 (commonly known as the "Oddfather"). Mob bosses are notorious for evading conviction on the grounds that they're too scary to testify against, but Gigante decided on a different approach. In 1969, he began acting strangely -- puttering up and down his street in his robe and slippers, having heated conversations with no one in particular, and pissing on himself for good measure.
Granted, convincing people that you're nuts isn't exactly rocket science. The really unbelievable thing about Gigante is that he played the part of a total lunatic for over 30 years. Every day, even when he wasn't under indictment, he'd roam around Greenwich Village, sometimes smoking discarded cigarettes. Then he'd top his day off with a friendly pinochle game between mobsters. As if this facade wasn't enough, he also committed himself to the hospital 22 times between 1969 and 1990. With the help of his mother, who claimed that his IQ was around 69, Gigante managed to convince the public, as well as several judges, that he was unfit to stand trial by reason of total crazypantsiosity.
Gigante's ruse was so convincing that he was declared crazy by several prominent psychiatrists, including those hired by prosecutors. At different times, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, dementia and psychosis. His antics allowed him to delay his trial for racketeering charges for seven years. When he was finally convicted in 1997, Gigante continued acting like a nutcase to hide the fact that he was still running the Genovese crime family from the inside of his prison cell.
Psychiatrist Dr. Eugene D'Adamo, who was Gigante's "primary treating psychiatrist" saw him from 1973 to 1989 and stated that, "he has been diagnosed since 1969 as suffering from schizophrenia, paranoid type with acute exacerbation's which result in hospitalization." His list of alleged mental illnesses later included Dementia pugilistica and Alzheimer's Disease. He allegedly had to take daily medications for these illnesses, which included prescriptions for Valium and Thorazine. Since 1969, D'Adamo reported that Gigante had been treated on 20 different separate occasions for psychiatric disorders at St. Vincent's Hospital in Harrison, New York. These visitations all coincided with news of criminal indictments being handed down against him. Psychologist and mental health workers said at his trial that from 1969 to 1995 he had been confirmed 28 times in hospitals for treatment of hallucinations that he suffered from "dementia rooted in organic brain damage." He had open heart surgery in 1998 and another cardiac operation in 1996 before his racketeering trial. He allegedly was prescribed to take on a day-to-day basis, 5 mg of Valium, 100 mg of Thorazine and 30 mg of Dalmane.
Just to give you some impression of what means running the mafia clan, according to federal and state investigators, each of the family's 200 "made" or inducted soldiers and about 1,000 associates - the name for others who voluntarily cooperate in illegal activities but who are not sworn members -were obligated to funnel part of their loot to Mr. Gigante, as much as $100 million a year in the early 1990's.
The family's fortune, the experts said, flowed largely from a vast network of bookmaking and loansharking rings and from extortions of construction companies in the New York City area seeking labor peace or sweetheart contracts from carpenters, teamsters and laborers' unions that were dominated by Mr. Gigante's lieutenants.
It wasn't until he was 75 that he finally admitted it was all just a big con, and we presume this played out exactly like the final scene in The Usual Suspects, as The Chin abandoned his crazy-walk in midstride, lit up a cigarette and strutted away.
In April 2003, Mr. Gigante appeared before Judge I. Leo Glasser in Federal District Court in Brooklyn and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Specifically, he acknowledged running a con on the legal system that delayed his racketeering trial from 1990 to 1997 while his sanity was being examined.
As part of the plea, three more years were added to his prison term, but he avoided a lengthy trial on the other charges, which amounted to an accusation - long denied or sidestepped by Mr. Gigante - that he headed the Genovese organized crime family.
His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, offered the explanation that "I think you get to a point in life - I think everyone does - where you become too old and too sick and too tired to fight."
The mystery remains. How did some of the most respected minds in forensic psychiatry and neuropsychology -- including a prominent Harvard psychiatrist, five past presidents of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, and the man who invented the standard test for malingering, get it wrong? For Mr. Gigante's 1997 trial and sentencing, at least six doctors declared him mentally incompetent.
All the doctors who examined Mr. Gigante were asked if there was any chance he was malingering. Most of them said no, noting that in addition to his behavior, scans of his brain showed abnormalities in blood flow consistent with vascular dementia.
So, what is it? Professional incompetence? Unlikely! Money or threats? Maybe! Gigante was an excellent actor? Most likely!
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