Former mob associate/published author and blogger Sonny Girard—when I told him that a post I had written about a little-known mob associate had become one of the top-5 posts in the history of my blog—said that he was not at all surprised. The mainstream public only hears about Gotti, Gotti, Gotti (and to an extent “famous” mob figures, like Luciano or Meyer Lansky or Bugsy Siegel), because that is what the media feeds them, in films, books and TV shows. In fact, there are hundreds of interesting mobsters, alive or dead, going back over a century.
Sonny, however, is old school and won’t write about guys who are still alive unless they want him to. “To me, they have enough problems without publicity,” he says, which I guess could be taken to mean he doesn’t approve of this post. So please don’t infer that he does — for my sake! (Just kidding.)
Whoever heard of Joe Watts? He was that little-known mob associate I mentioned above. Not a marquis name by any means, but his story is fascinating enough to provide the fodder for a film. In another post on this site, I wrote about John Pappa; I guess you can say that is among my interests–learning and writing about the mobsters who are not well known, but who were exceptional in some way.
In the case of Watts, who will likely die in prison, having served life on the installment plan, we do indeed have an exception. A non-Italian German, Watts was a one-man murder machine, but also a million-dollar racketeer; he could torture and kill as casually as you and I sneeze, but he also had the discerning mind to know how to generate tons of revenue–that’s cold cash, for his bosses and for himself. And he ducked. Always.
Joseph “Joe The German” Watts was a gangster’s gangster whose resume goes all the way back to the reign of Carlo Gambino, for whom he served as hit man. Watts could never be made, or officially indoctrinated into a Mafia family, because he wasn’t Italian — but was nonetheless afforded the status of not only a made man, but a capo, so respected was he by Gambino higher-ups due to his ability to earn and do “work,” or murder, in Mafia parlance. A true strong-arm enforcer, Watts was capable of torture, which, contrary to public opinion, is not something most mobsters have the stomach for.
Watts, 69, has signed a plea agreement under which he will serve 13 years; initially the Feds had indicated that they might seek the death penalty for Watts (and Gambino capo John “Jackie Nose” D’Amico, who was charged with Watts). D’Amico pleaded guilty to lesser charges in August of 2010 and was sentenced to three years.
Watts and D’Amico were held on federal murder charges since February 2009 for the 1989 slaying of a potential federal witness who was actually killed by members of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante family. Additional crimes were added to Watts and D’Amico’s charges over the years.
The linchpin of the indictment was the September 11, 1989, murder of Frederick Weiss, a Staten Island businessman and former mobster, under orders by Gotti, who feared Weiss was an informant.
As mentioned, Watts and D’Amico had nothing to do with the actual killing, but the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office held that since Gotti “believed” Weiss might become a witness, even though he supposedly was not, Watts and D’Amico could still be charged under the murder witness statute.
The Feds offer a more detailed picture of Watts’s role in the Weiss killing, or his attempted, failed plan to kill Weiss. (Watts could be likened to a general who led his men from the front; despite his status, when formulating the Weiss murder plan, Watts gave himself the role of trigger man, when he certainly could have played it safe by not even being there at the scene. Perhaps Watts had developed a taste for this kind of work? Or maybe he just had the best aim.)
Also included is another crime Watts was charged with:
In 1989, FREDERICK WEISS was a defendant in a case that was pending in the Southern District of New York. JOHN J. GOTTI, then-boss of the Gambino Family, suspected that WEISS was cooperating with the government because he terminated a lawyer who regularly represented Gambino Family members and associates. GOTTI ordered WEISS to be murdered—an order that GOTTI communicated to WATTS and others. WATTS then put together a murder team to carry out the hit.
In September 1989, WATTS and others went to a house on Staten Island where they expected WEISS would be. WATTS assigned different Gambino members and associates to different tasks, including digging the grave where WEISS would be buried. WATTS himself stood in the garage, holding a gun and waiting to shoot WEISS upon his arrival. Because WEISS did not show up to the house as WATTS had expected, he was not killed that day. However, a different team of shooters to whom GOTTI had also assigned the task of killing WEISS successfully located him the next day. He was shot to death in front of his apartment building.
While WATTS was serving a prison sentence in connection with his 2001 conviction for money laundering, he met Victim-1, whom he came to admire because of Victim-1′s purported stockpicking abilities. When Victim-1 was released from prison, WATTS sent an emissary to deliver approximately $350,000 to $400,000—all cash—to Victim-1 to invest on WATTS’s behalf. The investment failed. In 2002, WATTS demanded his money back from Victim-1, who returned some, but not all, of WATTS’s money.
To force Victim-1 to give him back all the money, WATTS began threatening Victim-1. On one occasion, WATTS and another individual confronted Victim-1 in Manhattan and physically assaulted him. On a subsequent occasion, WATTS threatened Victim-1 and physically shoved Victim-1 against a wall.
According to court records, Watts has been involved in about 10 mob hits, and was usually the one who pulled the trigger (see above). He was released from prison in 2006 after doing ten years owing to another murder plot orchestrated by Gotti, as well as loansharking and other mob-related crimes. (Many a mobster has died, or will die, in prison for committing murders at the behest of Don Gotti; he was quicker to kill than other mob bosses, such as Paul Castellano, mob experts have agreed.)
Viewing his years of freedom as an affront for an alleged lifetime of murdering and thieving, Manhattan federal prosecutors had to dig deep to find something with which to nail Watts. (Mobsters who don’t get a life sentence typically serve life on the installment plan if they have a rich enough history in Mafia mayhem.) And they did it despite the fact that, as part of a plea deal in 1996, Watts was assured by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn that he would not be prosecuted for the Weiss slaying when he pleaded guilty to killing yet another supposed informer under the orders of the late John Gotti, who died in prison in 2002 of throat cancer while serving a life sentence.
According to court records in the Brooklyn case, Watts received “coverage” from federal prosecutors for the Weiss murder as well as several other mob hits. Manhattan prosecutors likely took the position that they made no such agreement; Brooklyn prosecutors did.
Watts may be largely unknown to the general public, but he played a pivotal role in the world of organized crime. He helped bring Gotti to power. Watts, prosecutors said, was even a backup shooter in the curbside murder of Castellano and his driver and then-underboss, Tommy Bilotti, in 1985 in front of Spark’s Steakhouse, one of the more infamous mob hits of the 20th century. For his role in that hit, Watts was supposedly given by Gotti Bilotti’s loan shark business, which earned Joe The German millions a year. Watts also took over the murdered Roy DeMeo’s role as liaison with the Westies, an Irish street gang that for a time ran scams under the Gambino flag on the West Side of Manhattan.
During the mid- to late 1980s, Watts often went bouncing around with John Gotti and his entourage and can be glimpsed in newspapers of the time and organized-crime books, as well as those news clips and grainy black and white surveillance videos often played on TV programs about Mobsters. Watts is always the man in the background — tall, burly, decked out in a suit, a thick, full head of black hair combed back into a subtle pompadour — seen milling about in front of the Ravenite or playing interference for the boss when his entourage would get surrounded by the media and the curious (and perhaps a potential assassin).
Despite his closeness to Gotti, Gotti’s son Junior had it in for Watts in the 1990s after his legendary father went away for life and Junior was sitting in the big seat. The friction between the two was caused by a variety of reasons, chief among them Junior’s belief that Watts deliberately foiled a murder plot to take out Daniel Marino, who was believed to be involved in a plot with allies in the Lucchese and Genovese families to take out Gotti Senior. Watts was also suspected of being a turncoat, but then he copped a plea agreement and went off to prison.
In photos available over a decade ago when Watts’s was on trial in 1996, he still wore his thick pompadour, only it was silver. He had aged gracefully, but never left the life. When he was arrested in 2009 he was described as looking gaunt and feeble, and walking with a cane.