Thursday, September 08, 2005

Prosecution presents closing argument in Junior Gotti racketeering trial

New York was buzzing about Gambino crime boss John Gotti in the spring of 1992, and radio host Curtis Sliwa didn't hide his disdain for the ''Dapper Don.'' Calling the boss ''America's No. 1 drug dealer,'' Sliwa infuriated the late mobster's son and protege, John A. ''Junior'' Gotti, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday as the younger Gotti's racketeering trial drew to a close.

Gotti ''didn't respond like an ordinary citizen,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in his closing argument. ''Instead of engaging in public debate, Gotti responded to Sliwa's words in the Gambino family native language: violence.''The younger Gotti sent thugs to beat Sliwa with baseball bats, Kim said. But Sliwa didn't shut up, so two mobsters were sent to pick him up in a stolen cab, Kim said. As Sliwa struggled to escape, a hitman opened fire, leaving the Guardian Angels founder weak and bleeding in the back seat, Kim said. Sliwa escaped by throwing himself out the cab window but other Gambino family rivals were not as lucky, Kim said.

Defense attorneys claim Gotti, 41, had nothing to do with Sliwa's shooting and other attacks and quit the mob after a 1999 conviction. But Kim called that argument ''simply nonsense,'' saying Gotti was ''a man who used his name to get to the top of this criminal enterprise ... a man who used his position in the family to line his pockets with millions of dollars in illegal money.''

Gotti met with gangsters and plotted crimes after his purported renunciation of the mob, Kim said. Gotti's alleged role in the Sliwa attack is part of charges that could send him to prison for 30 years. Gotti's attorney was to begin his summation today.

Thanks to Michael Weissenstein

John "Junior" Gotti ran the Gambino crime family like it was his own "government" and thought nothing of using violence to settle scores even against the media, prosecutors charged yesterday. "He believed he was special, for after all he had become the street boss of his own government . . . the Gambino organized-crime family," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in closing statements in Manhattan federal court. "Instead of engaging in public debate, Gotti responded in the Gambino crime family's native language: violence," Kim said.

Gotti is facing up to 30 years behind bars if convicted of racketeering charges, most notably for allegedly orchestrating the 1992 kidnapping of radio host Curtis Sliwa in a bid to silence him. At the time, Sliwa was on a crusade against Gotti's father, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, and had branded him "America's No. 1 drug dealer."

"John Gotti Jr. did not like what Curtis Sliwa was saying one bit. He did not like that Curtis Sliwa called his father a gangster, a drug dealer," Kim told the jury. "Like he did so many times, he sent his underlings to do his dirty work for him," the prosecutor said, and recounted Gotti's allegedly chilling order to kidnap Sliwa and put him in the hospital.

"I want it to be personal. I want him to know we had our hands on him and we could do this any time. He's getting personal. I want to get personal," Kim said, quoting Gotti. Sliwa was picked up in a stolen cab as planned, but the plot went awry when the radio host was shot twice by Gotti's co-defendant Michael Yannotti, according to prosecutors.

"He would be dead if he didn't somehow leap out the window of a speeding cab," Kim said of Sliwa, who described his ordeal from the witness stand in the month-long trial. Gotti also is accused of raking in a fortune through securities fraud, extortion of the construction industry and loan-sharking. Gotti's defense will present its closing arguments today.

Thanks to Kati Cornell Smith

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