Last Days of the Gotti GangPart Three: "Dirty Dozen" Trial of Junior Gotti Begins
By J. R. de Szigethy and Lou Eppolito Jr.
It was a busy week for what remains of the Gambino Mafia Family formerly headed by Godfather John Gotti; for one, the NBC affiliate in New York aired secret tapes of capo Greg DePalma blatantly bragging about life in the Mob. De Palma and 31 Gambino Family members were indicted in March on charges involving assault, shaking down businesses, loansharking, embezzlement of Union funds, illegal gambling, stolen property rings, counterfeit goods trafficking, and mail fraud. More recently, three New York area physicians were charged with supplying DePalma with pills of the potency drug Viagra, which DePalma allegedly distributed to his partners in crime.
While DePalma and his co-horts were awaiting trial on these charges, former acting Boss Peter Gotti, John Gotti's brother, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for plotting to murder turncoat Underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. Peter Gotti’s trial earlier this year was punctuated by his filing for divorce from his wife of four decades, an action precipitated by the loyal support of his girlfriend, who tragically was found dead in a motel room, an alleged suicide.
Despite all of this drama, it was the beginning of the trial of John Gotti’s son "Junior" that captured most of the Media’s attention in New York. Jury selection began with a bombshell revelation; the Feds dropped the Count in the indictment accusing Junior of conspiring to murder radio talk show host and vehement Gotti gang critic Curtis Sliwa. Sliwa was ambushed in June 1992 by associates of Junior in a stolen cab, during which Sliwa was shot several times at close range by a handgun, miraculously escaping death by propelling his body through a window of the cab as it was speeding down the streets of Lower Manhattan. Prosecutors have lined up a ‘dirty dozen’ of co-operating witnesses who will testify that Junior ordered the assault on Sliwa, although it now appears that witnesses will testify that Junior only ordered that Sliwa be beaten, not killed, and that his associates took matters a step further. While Junior still faces charges that could land him in jail for over 25 years if convicted, the new revelation indicates the Feds’ case against Gotti may not be as strong as once thought by those following the case.
As the trial was about to begin, Prosecutors and Defense attorneys slugged it out once again in pre-trial hearings regarding ‘gag orders’ proposed by the Defense against Curtis Sliwa and Prosecutors who reacted angrily to a front-page ‘interview’ with Junior in the New York Post. Prosecutors argued that the article was a carefully-crafted ploy to gain sympathy towards Junior among New York residents from which will emerge a jury of peers that will decide his Fate. Defense attorneys have for some time been seeking a gag order on Sliwa, who on a daily basis blasts the Gambino Family on his top-rated ‘Curtis and Kuby’ radio program. In the end, Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin issued neither gag order request, noting both Gotti’s and Sliwa’s Constitutional rights regarding Freedom of Speech.
Curtis Sliwa has also been critical of Federal Prosecutors in this case, denouncing their co-operation agreements with criminals such as "Little Joe" D’Angelo, a former protégé of Gambino Family Underboss Sammy Gravano. D’Angelo was the alleged driver of the stolen cab the Gambino’s intended to be Curtis Sliwa’s hearse.
Sliwa has also criticized the Federal Prosecutors for what he perceives as keeping him out of the loop on the trial proceedings. Sliwa’s attitude, however, may reflect a lack of understanding of the recent history of the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting the case. Back in the late 1990s, when that office was prosecuting the first case against Junior which led to his plea bargain on various charges, controversy arose when New York Post reporter Al Guart was accused of receiving information from a member of the Prosecution team. During that time, lawyers for embattled President Bill Clinton were raising the same issue, alleging that members of the Prosecution team of Kenneth Starr had leaked Grand Jury information to members of the Media. As a result of both of these cases most Prosecutors nationwide suddenly broke off any and all communication with members of the Media in order to avoid even the appearance of ‘prosecutorial misconduct,’ a situation of silence which continues to this very day.
Thus, Federal Prosecutors have ‘frozen out’ Curtis Sliwa from any but the most necessary communication, especially given his status as an outspoken member of the Media. Sliwa has been served with a Subpoena to testify as a Prosecution Witness, and as such that will preclude him from covering the trial as a member of the Media. Sliwa has already arranged for associates of his radio show to sit in on the trial and provide coverage.
This trial is likely to become something of a ‘Media circus,’ as is the upcoming trial across the Brooklyn Bridge of the two accused 'Mafia Cops,' Lou Eppolito Sr. and Steven Caracappa. It is not yet clear to observers of Junior’s trial as to whether he will have the public support of his sister Victoria, a best-selling author, accomplished Editor, and star of the reality show ‘Growing Up Gotti.’ In his public statements "Junior" has expressed his desire to give up ‘the Life’ and follow in his sister’s footsteps as an author. (of children’s books!) However, Junior has also made disparaging remarks against his father, whom his sister Victoria has never criticized publicly. Such remarks are seen by some to indicate that Junior’s criminal attorneys may attempt to portray him as a victim of his father’s ambitions, a "Daddy Dearest" defense, and that it was he, the Godfather, who was the one responsible for the crimes being now laid at the feet of his son.
From the day Junior Gotti was born, he was raised by his father to be a murderer. Now, those aspirations of the late Godfather have come home to roost, and the trial of Junior Gotti may well turn out to be a modern day morality play, in which father is turned against son, and sister against brother. Such is the legacy of the American Mafia.
To be continued
Last Days of the Gotti Gang:
Last Days of the Gotti Gang
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