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John Gotti Trial: 1992

Gotti Eludes Conviction, Witnesses Weaken Prosecution, Tide Changes For Prosecutors, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: John Gotti
Crimes Charged: Racketeering; racketeering conspiracy; murder; Illegal gambling; obstruction of justice; and conspiracies to murder, bribe a detective, obstruct justice, commit loan sharking, and commit tax fraud
Chief Defense Lawyer: Albert J. Krieger
Chief Prosecutors: John Gleeson and Andrew J. Maloney
Judge: I. Leo Glasser
Place: Brooklyn, New York
Dates of Trial: January 21-April 2, 1992
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Life imprisonment without parole and $250,000 fine

SIGNIFICANCE: Fear, bribery, flawed prosecutions, and his lawyers' obstreperous courtroom behavior helped outspoken mob boss John Gotti avoid prison three times before he was successfully convicted of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

When John Gotti was indicted along with members of the Gambino organized crime "family" in New York in March 1985, law enforcement officials considered him to be a small-time hoodlum who had served short sentences for hijacking and attempted manslaughter. Everything changed December 16, 1985, when Gambino crime family leader Paul Castellano and "underboss" Thomas Bilotti were shot to death outside a midtown Manhattan restaurant.

Leadership of the powerful Gambino organization seemed to shift swiftly to Gotti. Law officers speculated that the new mob boss or "don" had murdered his predecessor before Castellano could have Gotti killed for violating a Gambino family prohibition against narcotics dealing. Gotti's violent celebrity grew quickly. Shortly after Castellano's murder, a terrified refrigerator mechanic who had accused Gotti of assaulting him in a parking dispute lost his memory in court.

Yet Gotti still faced trial for violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, popularly known as the RICO statute. Under the 1970 law, anyone found guilty of two felonies listed in a RICO indictment was considered to be engaged in a pattern of criminal activity and thus open to conviction for violating the RICO law itself. Federal prosecutors began using the statute against organized crime in the 1980's with considerable success.

The most serious charges in the 1985 Gambino RICO indictment died with Castellano and terminally ill Mafia boss Aniello Dellacroce, leaving Gotti to face lesser charges that had little to do with his sudden eminence as a mob boss. The government's case also was hampered by a bitter jurisdictional dispute between several state and federal law enforcement agencies. Each was building its own case against Gotti. None wanted to share witnesses or information for fear of jeopardizing its own chances for a successful conviction.

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