Allan May, Crime Historian
Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He also writes a monthly column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Contact him at AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com
Bruce Cutler Commentary
By Allan May
Having witnessed the obnoxious defense lawyers representing the four Bronx police officers involved in the recent Diallo trial covered on Court TV, I harkened back to the late 1980s to the most obnoxious defense attorney of them all – Bruce Cutler.
You remember those Gotti trials when John was just “Dapper” and not yet “Teflon.” He’d walk into court with Cutler, stick an ego/air hose up his butt and watch Bruce’s head inflate.
Besides riding Gotti’s coattails, and wallet, to prominence, what was it exactly that Cutler did to turn the Don into Teflon? Let’s look at the three trials Cutler was involved in.
The first trial was Gotti’s assault of Romual Piecyk. A mechanic who repaired cooling equipment, Piecyk was not exactly a model citizen – he had been arrested for drunkenness, assault and possession of a weapon. However, the incident was far from the myth acted out in the HBO Gotti movie where an old man jumped out of a truck ready to brain Gotti with a baseball bat. Piecyk, thirty-five years old, had been sitting in his car blocked in by a double-parked automobile outside the Cozy Corner Bar in Maspeth.
As Piecyk laid on the horn and waited for the driver to return to his car, Frank Colletta, a Gotti associate, walked out of the bar and threw the infuriated Piecyk a slap in the face. Colletta then reached in Piecyk’s shirt pocket and stole $325 that he had just received from cashing his paycheck. As Colletta and Piecyk struggled, Gotti approached and gave the mechanic a smack before threatening him. When police arrived Piecyk pointed out Gotti to them and he was arrested and booked.
When the case came to court in March 1986, Cutler, the ex-college wrestler and linebacker, told the jury that Piecyk was drunk and had started the fight. He stated that Colletta, although only 46 years old, had a heart problem and that Gotti, the hero that he was – at least in Bruce’s imagination – came to his rescue.
Piecyk, who by now was aware of Gotti’s reputation, was scared to death to testify and told the court he could not identify his assailant. The newspaper’s had a field day. The New York Post published its famous headline: I FORGOTTI!
But what had Bruce done? Piecyk told a police detective that he feared Gotti’s goons. End of case.
The second trial was Diane Giacalone’s prosecution of Gotti on racketeering charges. Cutler, by this time, was emulating Gotti’s dress and mannerisms. The twice divorced and childless Cutler once told reporters that if he had a son, he could think of no finer a role model than John Gotti. During Cutler’s highly dramatic opening remarks he tossed the indictment into a trash can in front of the jury telling them that it was “rancid” and “rotten.”
“It makes you want to retch and vomit,” Cutler complained.
Cutler strutted around the courtroom like a peacock out of control. He badgered witnesses, intimidated prosecutors, and was disrespectful to the judge. The newspapers called his treatment of government witnesses, “Brucification.” In Jerry Capeci’s, “Gotti: The Rise and Fall,” he describes the low point of the classless Cutler’s attack on Giacalone:
“Cutler got one of Giacalone’s witnesses to call her ‘a slut and a blowjob.’ He got one of his witnesses – a bank robber she had planned to use but dumped after concluding that he was a liar – to say that during a pretrial interview Giacalone gave him her panties and told him to masturbate his prison frustrations away.”
Cutler was able to get away with this act because Gotti had already shelled out $60,000 to buy a member of the jury. In January 2000, Bosko Radonjich, a Serbian freedom fighter and ex-leader of the New York “Westies” gang, was arrested in Miami. In 1987, he had served as the liaison between Sammy Gravano and juror George Pape, a long time friend, who had been selected to serve on the Gotti jury. Gravano revealed this fix during his testimony in 1992. Pape was later convicted and sent to prison. Radonjich is currently in jail awaiting trial.
Besides making a spectacle of himself and allowing the media to pin a new nickname, “The Teflon Don” on John Gotti, what had Bruce done?
Gotti’s last “Teflon” victory came in 1989 when the Manhattan District attorney’s office indicted him for ordering the wounding of John O’Connor, a business agent for Carpenters’ Local 608. After an altercation involving the trashing of a Gambino influenced restaurant by O’Connor’s men, Gotti was recorded stating, “Bust him up. Put a rocket in his pocket.” The assignment was given to members of the Westies Gang, who instead of giving him a beating, shot him several times in the legs and rear end.
Again, despite the antics of Cutler, the decision was pre-ordained as Sammy Gravano had already made it clear to O’Connor that his testifying against Gotti, “wouldn’t be a good idea.” O’Connor then swore under oath that he “didn’t have the slightest idea” who would want to harm him.
In three straight trials the “all flash and no substance” Cutler received credit for decisions that were entirely beyond his control. But the egomaniac Cutler took advantage of it to build his self-image.
In Peter Maas’s “Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano’s Story of Life in the Mafia,” the author describes a discussion between two government agents staking out Gotti’s Ravenite headquarters in Manhattan’s Little Italy. They, “would often see the brawny figure of Gotti’s attorney, Bruce Cutler. ‘Cutler would come up and he’d be kissing all the guys, too, like he wanted to be a made guy so bad. I told (my partner), you know, if we were standing out front, Cutler’d kiss us.’”
While Bruce was kissing the Goodfellas and running his mouth at the social club, he apparently forgot how badly the FBI wanted Gotti, and how they were doing everything in their power to get him. Despite all the bugs that Gotti had been picked up on in the past, Cutler spoke freely in the Ravenite and was indeed recorded.
Cutler’s loose lips caused him to be disqualified as Gotti’s defense attorney. The bugs, according to Maas, revealed both Cutler and Gerald Shargel “to be ‘house counselors’ for the Gambino family in efforts to anticipate and thwart the government in its various investigations.” Technically, they had become “part of the evidence” and could be called as witnesses. Amplifying Cutler’s role was a recording of Gotti himself complaining about the high legal fees of his counsel. “Gambino crime family? This is the Shargel, Cutler crime family,” Gotti claimed.
Despite Cutler’s mournful wails of foul play to the media, he was out. Without Sammy Gravano running interference, the government finally getting a clean shot at the “Teflon Don,” and this time the charges stuck. In April 1992, Gotti was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without a possibility of parole.
In the wake of the Gotti conviction Cutler was stripped of his license and was under investigation for three and a half years. When he returned to practicing law, the Gotti Family had little need for Cutler other than to serve in a public relations capacity criticizing the government for his client’s shameful and unfair imprisonment.
When John A. “Junior” Gotti got into trouble in 1998, he decided to plead guilty rather than go to trial. Cutler served as one of his lawyers, but another attorney, Sarita Kedia, seemed to take the lead role in representing Junior.
I haven’t seen Cutler’s name involved in the case of Gotti’s son-in-law, Carmine Agnello, after his arrest this past January. Agnello recently dropped his lawyer, Marvyn “that’s not bail, it’s a telephone number” Kornberg, and retained attorney Jay Goldberg.
This leaves Cutler with little to do but to sing the praises of his former meal ticket. Last year in an interview on Court TV, Cutler told Rikki Kleiman that he would have won the trial if he hadn’t been disqualified. In typical Cutler style, he evaded most of her questions, got loud when making a point, claimed that Gotti had nothing to do with the Castellano murder, and said that Gotti’s role as head of the Gambino family was “malarkey.”
In response to being stereotyped a “mob lawyer,” Cutler replied, “If people need to pigeon hole me, and that makes them feel good, and they need to say John (Gotti) is head of the Gambino Crime Family, and that makes them feel good, then so be it. They can’t prove it in court. Not when I’m in court they can’t. And they know it and that’s why I wasn’t there and that’s why he’s (Gotti) where he is now.”
Talk about wanting to retch and vomit!