Mafia Legend Finds His Purpose
Updated: Oct 13
Over a 'career' that spanned decades, John Alite beat, brutalized and killed, becoming one of the most feared gangsters around. But after being turned on by the people he trusted, he turned his back on crime and now tries to stop others from making the mistakes he did.
"I don't have to put a round number, I can put an exact number on it. I was involved in 46 shootings, 29 of them were me and 17 I ordered," he tells me. "I did something that most gangsters didn't, I did a lot of shooting. I didn't make a big deal about it. I was involved, unfortunately, and that's why I now have PTSD, because I got involved with so much action."
Growing up in a neighborhood of New York called Woodhaven - nicknamed 'Deathhaven' by him and his friends - Alite, of Albanian descent, was surrounded by violence and abuse.
His father, while not involved with the mob himself, was close with many of the gangsters in the area, and Alite was raised by the likes of Fat Andy Ruggiano and the boss of the Gambino crime family John Gotti Senior. "I didn't realize at the time, but they were looking at me as an up and coming, because they knew I would to do whatever they want," he says. "So I wanted to be like them because I knew they were feared, and I wanted to be feared."
Alite quickly rose up the ranks, heading up cocaine and heroin deals for the Gambino family, loansharking, and becoming John A. 'Junior' Gotti's enforcer.
"... John was a holy terror on the street. Other competing criminals were really afraid of him," said federal prosecutor Jay Trezevant, who eventually brought cases against both Alite and Gotti Jr. Once he lost his temper, there was no going back, Alite says, he was 'out of his mind' and was impossible to stop.
"My brother-in-law nicknamed me 'Shakes', because he knew when I was mad, I would shake a little bit because I was trying to control my temper," says Alite with a smirk. "I was on a date once and I was dressed up. And I walked into the club and this guy touched my scarf, so I knocked him out and then I hit his friend with a glass. "And then the third guy - Mike - opened his mouth and I shot him in the chest. I told him to mind his business, and I warned him once, actually. But the second time I took the gun off of this guy and I shot him in the chest. He lived." Adding: "I mean, listen, they're wrong for touching me, but I'm out of my mind with some of my actions."
Sometimes, he says, the violence occurred simply because people underestimated him.
Recalling an incident with a bouncer at a nightclub, he says: "I'm not an intimidating, big guy. That's a funny thing. I'm a 200-pound guy, you know, five-foot eight with heels.
"I told the guy - he's a 350-pound guy, he's six foot whatever, he was roided out. And you know, if I was a big guy like that, I'd say, 'Jeez, why isn't this guy afraid of me?' "But he didn't heed my warning and I went and got a butcher knife and stabbed the guy through the throat and then his friend in the stomach."
Thanks to his criminal connections, one of his victims went on to claim that Alite was 'protecting himself' - despite police arresting him at the scene. And he was even more ruthless when enemies made it 'personal'. Recalling an incident, he says: "There were these guys on my property. I executed them. I gave them half a second to tell me who sent them and I executed them.
"It's personal because they came to my house. They came to kill me, they will wanted to kill me, and I killed them."
At their most powerful, Alite and his crew were making between $1 million and $2 million a month, allowing him to live the 'gangster lifestyle' depicted in the movies.
"I spent probably a good million-and-a-half on attorneys, and I had 12 different properties. My $10 million estate, which I lost, had a five-block driveway, three properties, baseball cages, swimming pools, a basketball court, outdoor boxing ring, a pavilion, quads, and motorcycles," he says. "It's just about being a gangster. We all had boats. We had cigarette boats. Gotti and I had this 280 Baja. And everybody was driving bikes and fast cars and Corvettes and Jags. "You know, it was the jet-set life that we lived."
Eventually, it all came crashing down and Alite's relationship with Gotti Jr - who had been his best man - soured, and they became sworn enemies.
In the early 2000s, with the net closing in, Alite went on the run, spending several years using fake passports to hop from country to country: St. Lucia, Cuba, Colombia, Jamaica, Argentina, Uruguay, and Germany to name a few. In 2006, Interpol caught up with him in Brazil, and he spent the next two years in one of the most dangerous and depraved prisons in the world, Bangu Penitentiary.
Two years prior to his arrest, riots at the prison saw over 30 inmates killed, with some reportedly being beheaded and burned. While prisoners were known to be raped by guards. "It's not like prison here," he says. "There you get beat up, you're naked all the time, you're getting abused every which way, and it rains inside your cell. S**t drips from upstairs.
"And the violence within the jail from inmates and guards is incredible. One of the wardens that was there killed another warden. That's how dangerous this place was. "And you know, there's stories about all the guys I stabbed in there and all that stuff. But if you want to survive, you got to be dangerous in those places."
While he was locked up, Alite's criminal life back home was falling apart too.
More than 50 gangsters turned on him, including Gotti Jr, who met with the FBI in 2005, giving the authorities the ammunition they needed to get Alite while former partners took over his businesses and wiped out his wealth.
"His fleeing and then having the bones of his business picked apart by his former friends, it's the life," said FBI agent Ted Otto. "They love each other, they kiss each other - 'brother, brother, brother' - turn your back and someone just picked your pocket. It happens every day."
Done with 'the life', upon his return to the US, Alite, having been betrayed by the mob, decided to cooperate with the FBI and told them about the brutal killings he had carried out. Due to extradition laws and his cooperation, Alite was sentenced to 10 years in prison. With time served, he was released in 2013.
He now dedicates much of his time to helping young men avoid following his example and being fooled by the mob's promise of loyalty. "If you watch The Departed, you know why I like that movie out of all of them, because at the end there is such treachery," he says. "In that last scene, everybody's killing everybody, the cops are dirty, the gangsters are dirty, the street is dirty. "That's the street. This stuff about rules. They break them all. They make them up as they go. Everything goes, everybody's f***ing everybody. I wish I could talk to my younger self, because I wouldn't have gone down that path. There is nothing good there. We go to jail, family members leave us, we get divorced, we lose our kids, and we die. There's no friendship. It's all about the money."
Adding: "I try not to regret my life, even the killing, because it brought me to this point where I'm saving a lot more lives than I took."