Al Guart, New York Crime Journalist
Al Guart is a crime journalist and reporter from the New York Post. Al's
coverage includes terrorism and organized crime. This is one in a
series of regular columns by him, exclusively for AmericanMafia.com.
THE FEDS, JUNIOR GOTTI AND THE DECLINING MAFIA
By Al Guart
You wouldn’t hunt for rabbit with an Apache helicopter.
The guilty plea of John A. ``Junior’’ Gotti was pathetic. It was a nickel-and-dime case against a relatively powerless 35-year-old man. Unlike his father, and mob bosses of old, Gotti did not control entire industries or even order a contract murder.
Instead, he pleaded guilty last week to extorting cash from a construction firm, bribing a union official, illegal gambling and lying on a mortgage application.
``It’s not like we just convicted Carlo Gambino or arrested Fat Tony Salerno,’’ former FBI New York chief James Kallstrom said recently. ``Junior was small potatoes. So small you could barely see it.’’
The Mafia Kallstrom confronted in the 1970’s dominated entire industries, including construction, trucking, garbage carting and clothing manufacturing. By controlling unions, wiseguys also held sway over ports, produce markets and the Fulton Fish market.
``They used to control everything that came into our ports, everything we ate and how much we paid for it,’’ the former mob buster said. ``You couldn’t put up a building or buy fish without paying a mob tax.
``Today, that’s all gone,’’ Kallstrom said. ``They don’t affect society near to the extent they used to. They’re more like street gangs.’’
Kallstrom pointed to Gotti’s bid to be sent back to jail on grounds he was unable to come up with $24,000-a-month to pay for a 24-hour security guard as proof of the mob’s decline.
``Do you think Carlo Gambino would’ve had that problem?’’ he asked. ``I don’t.’’
The decline in the mob’s power came with the federal RICO or racketeering laws, which allowed the FBI to focus less on gambling and loansharking cases and target the heads of New York’s five crime families, Kallstrom said.
Together with forfeiture laws and other dirty legal tactics, we have paid dearly for the federal government’s power with our civil rights. As I stated in a previous column, the feds seized Gotti’s assets before conviction. Where was the presumption of innocence? Gotti fought back and an appeals court ruled it was wrong to take away his property. But by then, the feds had seized the properties under a different legal theory.
For nine months, Gotti was jailed because as an alleged ``leader’’ of the Gambino crime family, he was a danger to society. When the judge asked how that could be when no acts of violence were charged, the feds found a drug dealer willing to say Gotti robbed him at gunpoint. Seeing through the charade, the judge freed Gotti eventually on what may have been the most stringent bail package in American history.
Days before his guilty plea, the feds used information from one of my articles to convince the judge to have an anonymous jury. They claimed a private eye’s criminal record, which I uncovered for the New York Post, made it imperative that juror’s names be kept secret. Why a protected panel? It’s a tactic that helps prosecutors secure a conviction by making jurors feel they have to be protected from the defendant. How would you like a group in that state of mind deciding your fate?
RICO laws also allow hearsay as evidence. I saw Vincent ``Chin’’ Gigante convicted of murder and racketeering when most witnesses admitted never having seen him before. One former wiseguy told nothing but stories he heard from his uncle! Not a single tape with Gigante discussing crimes. FBI surveillance was a joke. And in that case, the judge didn’t allow an anonymous jury.
I came away from that case thinking that if at night you dreamt of committing a crime and in the morning told a friend about it, and that person told someone who happened to need a get-out-of-jail card, you and your friend could be prosecuted under RICO.
Surely RICO, forfeiture laws and anonymous juries may have been called for when organized crime was at its height, but I must question their merit and use today. After all, you can scorch a hell of a lot of earth hunting for rabbit with an Apache helicopter.