Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Judge Finds the Feds Forum Shopped the Junior Gotti Trial and Orders it Moved to New York

A Florida judge ordered the latest prosecution of John A. "Junior" Gotti returned to Manhattan, finding that the government left the "unmistakeable and disquieting impression" it had shopped for a trial location where it might finally win.

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday said Tuesday that an indictment brought against Gotti in Tampa features the same racketeering conspiracy charge that had failed to result in a conviction after three trials in Manhattan.

He said Gotti's notoriety, his apparently acknowledged role in organized crime before he announced he had left the life behind and the frustration prosecutors feel after repeated losses "contribute to the temptation to extend to Florida the 'quest' to convict Gotti."

Merryday added that the U.S. attorney in Florida "oddly" chose to charge a crime of RICO conspiracy that allegedly occurred largely outside that state.

"In this context, the charging decision of the United States, apparently unaccountable on neutral principles, creates the unmistakeable and disquieting impression of 'forum shopping,'" the judge said.

Gotti was charged last year with crimes involving three gangland slayings. He has denied wrongdoing.

A spokesman for federal prosecutors in Florida did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for prosecutors in New York, said her office had no comment.

Charles Carnesi, Gotti's New York lawyer, said the tone of the ruling made it seem the judge believed the decision to prosecute in Florida "was just a strategic move to try to deprive him of his ability to put forth his defense."

He said he would probably seek bail in Florida so Gotti could return to New York out of custody. "I'm looking forward to having him home for Christmas," Carnesi said.

Three juries in Manhattan have deadlocked on charges against Gotti. His lawyers asserted in his defense that he had quit the Gambino family by July 1999, protecting him from charges because the statute of limitations — five years for racketeering charges — would have expired.

Prosecutors have said Gotti assumed control of the powerful Gambino family after his father's 1992 conviction on racketeering and murder charges. His father died in prison in 2002.

Thanks to Larry Neumeister

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