Andrew Di Donato, was what can only be called a career criminal. So certain was he of his destiny that he dropped out of school to be involved in crime full time. His talent was recognized by the Gambino Family and they inducted him into their world.
I first met Andrew when talking to him about his book co-authored with true crime writer Dennis Griffin when it was released. We have since become friends, and I’m kept up-to-date on what’s happening in his life. It is a much different life than years past. Today Andrew is an author, speaker, and now co-host of the new Mob Talk radio show debuting on Blog Talk Radio September 24. He and Dennis will interview people on both sides of the law who are the “real deal.” Some very interesting stories promise to surface. Listeners in Los Angeles will be able to tune in on the Crime Wire network on Blog Talk Radio.
This was my interview with Andrew with a few updates:
What is it really like to wake up in the morning knowing that this day could be your last one? According to Andrew DiDonato, a former member of a high profile crime family whose book “Surviving the Mob” has been selling like the proverbial hotcakes, it was nothing like the movies or TV.
Don’t picture him as the stereotypical mobster depicted in movies, TV and fiction. DiDonato doesn’t have hooded eyes, a fedora and cigar dangling from his mouth. Rather, he is a nice looking, well groomed man who could be your next door neighbor, your brother or your cousin. But that isn’t who he was.
We had a very frank discussion about what it was like to be part of one of the highest profile Mafia families in the country.
Andrew, to look at you no one would guess that you served much of your adult life in both state and federal prisons, living with violence almost every day. During that time did you ever wish you had taken a different path?
I reached the time when I’d had enough. I was on the run, two friends had been murdered and while I was at my mother’s I got a call to come to a meeting. I didn’t know she was listening. My mother was in such pain from what I was doing that she followed me. I was sitting on a park bench talking to my friend, and looked over in another direction for a minute. There was my mother and she had a gun in her hand. I didn’t want my friend to see her and rushed him away. Then I asked my mother what she was doing. She was crying and said she was so afraid of losing me, she would kill to allow me to move on. I was on the run as I said, but I knew then I was destroying my family. My collateral dam had broken and everyone’s life was affected by my decisions. One year later I was in the witness protection program. No matter how tough you are, you can’t control what’s happening.
You lived high but lost a lot during the years you were a member of organized crime. Now that you live a different life, what do you consider the greatest loss?
My greatest loss? I lost a part of my soul and I lost any relationship with my son because I wasn’t honorable. Still I lived the life. I didn’t lie and was a risk taker with a penchant for violence. That is a boss’ dream because someone like that will do what they want.
When did you first enter organized crime?
I was fourteen or fifteen when I was committing crimes, but by the time I was sixteen or seventeen I was a full-fledged part of the Gambino crime family. My uncle was a high ranking member and there was no one to teach me lessons of right and wrong. Crime was what we saw as normal.
How did you feel about being in the witness protection program?
I have the highest praise for them. They did their job and kept me and my family safe. But that came with stringent rules. Eventually I wanted total freedom and I signed out on good terms. I wanted to be able to travel and do things on my own. Either way, it was the scariest time of my life. I was on my own with no organization to back me—no one to give me $100,000 to carry something out if I needed it. My family followed and you could say they did time with me. They had faith I would take care of them.
What made you decide to write “Surviving the Mob?” and since you are a good storyteller, did you ever consider doing it without a co author?
For one thing, I hope my son will read it and see what it took for me to get my life back. I wanted people who read it to experience what I did. I may be a good story teller speaking to you, but when it comes to grammar and stuff like commas and periods, I wanted someone with experience to write it with me. Dennis Griffin wrote it and I put the emotion in it. It’s tattooed on my soul and I will never lose it. I wish I could say I could, but I can’t.
I know you spend time talking to young people in the hope you can prevent them from having the life you had. What sort of reactions do you get and how do you feel about it?
No one wants to believe that what they were raised to believe was false. They see all the movies and TV shows. When they see me, I don’t look like the guy they expect to see. They’re skeptical at first so they don’t really believe the reality until I’m done telling some stories. That earns their respect. I tell them we wanted want to believe the lies they fed us were reality and pride made us fight to prove reality wrong. I tell them I believed I was doing the right thing, but in some ways my heart is broken.
What were your thoughts when the book was finished? I know with my first one I held it in my hand and couldn’t believe it was something I had done.
If I can prevent one young person from entering the life I led, then I will have done what I need to. When the book comes out in January it will help people realize who I am. I want it to tell the reality of organized crime and take the fantasy away. Too many people believe in the fantasy.
When you talked about buying your nephew a Christmas gift and why it that special to you it grabbed at my heart. Would you tell my readers why?
I’d heard one of my friends was killed on the order of his uncle while his uncle was in prison. Because of the uncle’s position, they couldn’t have done it without his permission, and he gave it. If he hadn’t okayed it, it wouldn’t have happened. But because of the way things are if he hadn’t given his okay there might have been consequences.
So I bought my nephew a gift, while this guy put his nephew in the ground.
What’s in the future for you?
A lot of things, but one is me and another former Gambino family member are working on a scenario to help guys released from prison who need structure so they won’t go back to crime. They get out and have no skills. We want to offer support from guys who have been there so they can succeed. They need the right mind set to be able to change. Half of it is to reinvent themselves so they can be comfortable and confident. But they have ego and won’t go to strangers. If someone is treated like an animal, they act like an animal. We want to help them get past that.
When you go through witness protection, you are a double minority because now you’re another person. You can’t even refer to education or any experience you have because you’re not that person anymore. I’ve had many friends wind up back in prison after their release. They failed because it was an uphill battle. We hope what we’re going to try will work.
I’m also working on another book with some other friends who were in witness protection. It will be a collection of short stories.
Any last words?
Many of the top people can be psychotic and the boss chooses you, you don’t choose them. I tried to get released from my crew and was told “you were born here and will die here.” I think paranoia kept me alive because I was the one who could put my boss in prison for rest of his life. Loyalty doesn’t buy you out of the cemetery because jealousy and money rules. It is deadly and egos come into play.
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