Friday, September 09, 2005

Junior Gotti's Last Jab

A federal jury is set to begin deliberating the fate of John "Junior" Gotti after hearing a last word from his lawyer who argued yesterday that the once-powerful mob leader hung up his gangster hat so long ago he can't be convicted. Defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman claimed Gotti renounced the mob and defied his father when he pleaded guilty to unrelated racketeering charges in April 1999 and then harkened back to the secretly taped words of the late John "Dapper Don" Gotti.

"We've heard from John's father that Gottis don't plead guilty. They fight, fight, fight," Lichtman said.

Facing a string of charges that span the 1990s including the 1992 kidnap-shooting of radio host Curtis Sliwa, Gotti has hung his hopes on convincing jurors he exited the mob prior to the five-year statute of limitations. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael McGovern told jurors they should disregard Gotti's claims that he's a changed man.

"The evidence in this case has shown nothing could be further from the truth," he argued. "As recently as 2002, he was continuing to stuff his pockets."

Prosecutors normally get the final word at trial, but Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin gave Lichtman the rare chance to respond in light of Gotti's unusual defense, which requires him to actively prove he renounced the Mafia.

Gotti, 41, is facing up to 30 years behind bars if convicted. He listened sullenly from the defense table and rarely lifted his gaze as his lawyer and the prosecutor sparred and interrupted each other with constant objections. Lichtman has claimed the 1999 plea and Gotti's subsequent six years in prison show "John ended his criminal dealing with the mob and should be acquitted of these charges." The lawyer noted that the only evidence linking Gotti to mob business in recent years came from the testimony of star witness Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo a former Gambino capo and an admitted killer and liar.

"There are no tapes, there are no letters, there are no cards, there are no bugs," Lichtman said. There were also no visits from any high-ranking members of the Gambino
crime family, other than Gotti's uncle Richard.

In the prosecution team's attempt to show Gotti's ongoing involvement in the mob, they have accused him of three criminal acts between 1999 and 2002. These include allegations that he asked DiLeonardo to return some machine guns and to repay an old $50,000 loan-sharking debt. Gotti also allegedly asked for a meeting with DiLeonardo's lawyer to convince his pal to plead guilty in an unrelated case, but DiLeonardo refused to arrange it.

Thanks to Kati Cornell Smith

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