Last Days of the Gotti GangPart One: The Two Godfathers Vs. The Two Ladies
By J. R. de Szigethy
From the day he was born, he was raised by his father to be a murderer. Now, at age 40, John “Junior” Gotti sits alone in a jail cell, awaiting trial for plotting the murder of a member of the Media who had the courage to denounce his father’s evil ways.
In another jail cell in New York, Junior’s uncle Peter is being held, charged with, among other crimes, plotting the murder of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, the turncoat former Underboss of the Gotti gang. Across the Hudson river in New Jersey, Gravano sits alone in a jail cell, awaiting trial for plotting the murder of a New York City police officer. Gravano’s son, whom he set up in a scheme that sold drugs to kids in four States, sits in his own jail cell somewhere in an American prison.
Just a little over a decade ago, the Gotti gang ruled New York City with seeming impunity. Then, after years, indeed decades of Federal ignorance of the American Mafia, the Feds began to utilize the RICO statutes that significantly increase prison terms for those who commit crimes as part of a “racketeering enterprise.” The hierarchy of all five New York Mafia families are now either dead, in prison, or members of the Witness Protection Program. With John Gotti dead, brother Gene in prison for life for heroin trafficking, and the current and upcoming prosecutions, it now appears that these are indeed the last days of the Gotti gang.
The Prosecutor who started this long and increasingly successful attack on the American Mafia was Rudolph Giuliani. In the mid-1980s Giuliani pressed two cases that would make Mafia history; the “Pizza Connection” case, in which Mafia-run pizza parlors were used as fronts for the trafficking of heroin and other drugs, and the “Commission Trial,” in which the Godfathers of all five of New York’s Mafia families were prosecuted. Paul Castellano, then the Godfather of the Gambino Family, did not live to face the charges against him, as he was rubbed out in 1985 in the infamous hit outside Spark’s Steak House in Manhattan. This murder put John Gotti firmly in control of the Gambino Family and Gotti set into motion his plans to have his son someday take over as Gambino Godfather. This, of course, meant that ‘Junior’ would have to become a ‘made member’ of the Gambino Family, committing at least one murder for the Family along the way, but murder was something Gotti aspired for Junior from the first moment he held his newborn son in his arms.
Efforts to convict John Gotti proved unsuccessful at first, but after Sammy Gravano ‘flipped’ and became a member of the Witness Protection Program, the Feds at last were able to begin to bring down the Gotti gang. John Gotti was put away for life in 1992. It was during that trial that Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa angered Gotti and his supporters by speaking out against Gotti and the evil deeds committed by the Gambino Family. Thugs believed to be associates of ‘Junior’ Gotti attacked Sliwa with baseball bats in April, 1992. Then, on the evening of June 19, 1992, Sliwa was shot five times after hailing a cab high-jacked by would-be assassins. Incredibly, Sliwa survived and for years has claimed on his popular radio show that it was associates of Junior Gotti who were behind his assassination attempt.
For years, the case went nowhere, but the Feds made progress in other cases. In 1998 Junior Gotti accepted a plea bargain on charges of income tax evasion and racketeering that sent him away for 6 years. Junior’s Uncle Peter Gotti then became acting Godfather, and was convicted of Union racketeering charges in 2003 in the Federal ‘On the Waterfront’ trials in Brooklyn. Just as time was running out on his sentence, Junior Gotti was indicted earlier this year on charges he ordered the hit on Sliwa, along with associated racketeering charges and other charges.
As the Summer came to a close, the saga of Junior Gotti took some bizarre turns. First came Media reports that Junior had turned against his father, renounced organized crime, and was writing children’s books. While it’s possible that Junior is on the level - his sister Victoria is a best-selling author and he could just be following her example, veteran Mafia observers are cynical. The new claims appear to some as just another ploy by Junior’s criminal lawyers to perform a public makeover of their notorious client.
Before his first trial, Gotti’s lawyers floated the trial balloon that Junior couldn’t be the Acting Boss of an Italian Mafia Family because he is half-Jewish, (from his mother), and Mafia rules preclude someone not full-blooded Italian from serving as Godfather. That ploy didn’t work, and it should be noted here that traditional Mafia rules also dictate that cops and members of the Media are not to be harmed by members of LCN. Many New Yorkers have expressed their claim to be insulted by the notion that a New York jury could acquit a Gotti of ordering a murder because he wrote children’s books. Some also find it highly unlikely that schoolchildren who are taught that our country aspires to provide “Liberty and Justice for All” could also receive instruction from books authored by someone with the Gotti surname.
Curtis Sliwa has been having a field day with these turns of events, launching satires of Junior’s children’s books on his top-rated radio show, to the obvious delight of his large audience, while at the same time denouncing Gotti’s “lawyers” as “liars for hire!” Gotti’s attorneys have responded by filing a Motion with the Judge in the case to impose a gag order on Sliwa. The attorneys seem to be concerned that Sliwa’s daily rants is poisoning Gotti’s potential Jury Pool, but their tactics may have backfired in two important ways:
First, there has been a backlash against them among many members of the Media in New York. Many journalists in New York are not particularly fond of Sliwa, due to his right-of-center politics and crime-busting organization that some see as being a group of vigilantes. However, no journalist believes a member of their own should ever be constrained by a gag order; it is anathema to their very being and vocation, which they take very seriously as watchdogs for American Constitutional rights. If Junior Gotti goes to trial it is going to be very difficult for his lawyers to convince members of the news media to consider their claims that their client is innocent.
More importantly, Gotti’s attorneys may themselves have poisoned his jury pool by their tactics: almost every citizen in New York knows who Curtis Sliwa and John Junior Gotti is; the latest revelations have been the talk of the town, and what many New Yorker’s have noted is that Junior’s lawyers are attempting to do the very same thing that Junior is on trial for; trying to silence a member of the Media, in this case Curtis Sliwa. These actions by Junior Gotti’s attorneys, acting on his behalf, undoubtedly has convinced many that he is in fact guilty of the crimes he has been charged with.
It is, of course, possible that Junior Gotti is innocent, and that it was his father, not he, who ordered the murder of Curtis Sliwa. Will Gotti’s criminal attorneys mount a “Daddy Dearest” defense, attempting to blame these charges on the sins of the father?
This remains to be seen, but before New Yorkers get a chance to see how a jury of peers reacts to the conflict between children’s books and murder plots, the trial of Peter Gotti, now underway, will suffice to hold the attention of those who follow the saga of the last days of the Gotti gang.
In the end, Peter and Junior Gotti, both of whom were anointed by John Gotti to be acting Godfathers of one of New York’s patriarchal Mafia families, must answer instead to two ladies, both of whom claim superceding authority over them. One of these is a lady called ‘Liberty,’ whose beacon of Freedom shines from her proud stand in New York harbor. The other is a lady who goes by the name of ‘Justice,’ and while she may be blind, she isn’t stupid.
To be continued
Related features by this author:
America’s Children and the American Mafia
Crime Scene: World Trade Center
Death on the Waterfront
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