Junior Gotti and the Meaning of ‘Am’
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
There’s not a whole lot that John A. “Junior” Gotti and President Clinton have in common, but there is this: When in trouble, both try to minutely parse the meaning of their words.
In Mr. Clinton’s case, of course, it was his infamous query about the meaning of the word “is” when he was pressed on the nature of his relationship with a young intern. For Gotti, the burning question for the jury at his upcoming trial promises to be about the word “am” – as in, what exactly did the Junior Don mean on July 15, 2003, when he declared: “I am ashamed of who I am. I’d rather be a Latin King.”
Did the college-educated Gotti mean that on that day he would rather be a Latin King than a member of the Gambino family? Was he speaking in the past or present tense? Or did he mention the Hispanic street gang for an entirely different reason?
The jury’s answer to those questions will go a long way toward determining whether Junior will spend the next 20-plus years in prison for racketeering charges stemming from the 1992 kidnap shooting of an ABC radio talk show host, Curtis Sliwa. Unlike his earlier trials, the feds plan to confront the one-time acting Gambino family boss with tape-recorded conversations he had with several reputed mob family associates while he was behind bars for a 1999 racketeering rap that he claims marked the end of his mobster life.
The feds will insist that the tapes, recorded in 2003-04, show that Gotti was still an active participant in the mob life, not a retired former mob boss who quit the family crime business after his 1999 guilty plea.
For instance, during the “Latin King” conversation, Gotti told his longtime friend and personal lawyer Richard Rehbock that several people – whom former prosecutors Joon Kim and Jennifer Rodgers described in official court documents as “associates and members of his crew” – were not following orders he was sending them.
One three-hour conversation between Gotti, reputed mobster John “Johnny Boy” Ruggiero, and associate Steven Dobies – a defense witness at the second trial – occurred on March, 23, 2003, according to court documents obtained by Gang Land. The men seemed to be talking about mob business, or as the feds delicately put it, discussing “a number of pertinent topics,” including properties that prosecutors say were acquired by Gotti and others “through proceeds of unlawful activity.”
During the same conversation, Mr. Kim and Ms. Rodgers wrote, Ruggiero reported that he had failed to collect money the feds say was a loan sharking debt. Gotti is also heard telling Johnny Boy to deliver a message about money to Junior’s uncle, then crime family boss Peter Gotti, and his cousin, family soldier Richard Gotti.
Gotti also seemed to be acknowledging his ongoing mob involvement when, several times during the conversations, he voiced his intention to accept prison terms as high as 10 years to resolve all possible charges the feds were contemplating in the wake of a decision by capo Michael “Mikey Scars” DiLeonardo to cooperate, according to an affidavit by FBI agent Gerard Conrad. At one point, Mr. Conrad wrote, “Gotti stated that if DiLeonardo is telling authorities the truth, the Gottis are ‘finished.'”
Frustrated by two mistrials – particularly the second, at which jurors responded to an aggressive defense that Gotti had quit the mob and deadlocked 8-4 for acquittal – the current prosecution team decided to revise the prior indictment and rethink its trial strategy.
Assistant U.S. attorneys Victor Hou and Miriam Rocah presented evidence to a federal grand jury that tied Gotti to mob business through 2006,including assertions that he had laundered proceeds of unlawful activity and was involved in discussions to influence a federal prosecution of former acting Bonanno boss Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano.
The flip side of the new strategy, however, is that many of the remarks Gotti was overheard making during the 14-month FBI bugging operation seem to backup the defense position that Gotti had left the Mafia life behind him.
In several discussions, for example, the mob scion questioned his father’s decision to bring him into the Mafia, and talked about moving his family to several faraway places if he ever got out of prison. He named Oregon, Carolina, and Canada in the excerpts obtained by Gang Land.
“I’m five and a half years removed from the street,” Junior told Mr. Rehbock on March 14, 2003, the first day the FBI bug in the lawyers’ visiting room at the Ray Brook federal prison was activated. “I don’t want to hear about it anymore. I told these guys over and over again, ‘Don’t come see me and then a week later be sitting by Ozone Park. I don’t want to see you again. I don’t want to see you again. Don’t bring any messages from anybody. I don’t want to know. I don’t care. I’m not interested.’ … If I’m fortunate to walk out of here when they open the gates, Richard, I’m leaving. I’m taking my sons, my daughters, I’m going away. That’s it. I’m done. I don’t want to be bothered anymore.”
Even several angry tirades, during which Junior vowed to exact revenge against crime family relatives, namely uncles Peter and Richard – a capo – and the latter’s son, Richard, can be interpreted as actions tending to show that Junior was eschewing his mob ties. His mobster relatives cheated him, his mother, and other relatives of their fair share of crime-family spoils while both Junior and his late father were incarcerated, Junior claimed.
“They better hope and pray they don’t end up in the same facility as me. I will beat them down like a cheap two dollar French hooker,” Junior said after his uncles and cousin were all convicted of labor racketeering in 2003.
Prosecutors declined to discuss which prison tapes they intend to play or identify any new witnesses they plan to call at the trial, which is set to begin August 16.
Gotti’s lawyer, Charles Carnesi, told Gang Land he hadn’t made a final decision about which conversations he intends to play as part of the defense case. “I’m reading through the transcripts now, but it’s safe to say that we’ll be playing a book of tapes,” he said.
This column and other news of organized crime will appear later today at www.ganglandnews.com.