The Chicago Syndicate: Gotti's Groundhog Day Trial Begins with Jury Selection

Monday, August 14, 2006

Gotti's Groundhog Day Trial Begins with Jury Selection

Friends of ours: John "Junior" Gotti, John "Dapper Don" Gotti

In his 1882 treatise, “The Gay Science,” Friedrich Nietzsche describes the theory of eternal return like this:

“What,” he writes, “if some day a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more? Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?”

This, of course, is the philosophy of endless repetition that has entered the culture in masterworks like Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” and Harold Ramis’s “Groundhog Day.” It has touched both novelists and rock stars and is appearing — yet again — in the racketeering trial of John A. Gotti, the son of the late Gambino family don.

The trial, which opened today in Federal District Court in Manhattan, is, after all, Mr. Gotti’s third on nearly identical charges in the last two years. He stands accused, again, of having ordered the abduction of Curtis Sliwa, the radio talk-show host and founder of the Guardian Angels, in 1992 — an allegation that led to dead-locked juries at two prior federal trials.

Today jury selection started and it was fairly remarkable, given the ink already spilled on Mr. Gotti, that the panelists did not know more about the man. Several times, potential jurors confessed in court to little more than a passing knowledge of Mr. Gotti — beyond the fact that he is John J. Gotti’s son.

This was to the point. Like many sons of famous fathers, the younger Gotti has been walking in his father’s shade for many years. Indeed, the primary charge in the case is directly related to Oedpial anxiety: Prosecutors say that Mr. Gotti ordered Mr. Sliwa to be kidnapped from the street after the talk-show host called his father “public enemy No. 1” on air.

The kidnapping occurred in June 1992, as Mr. Sliwa (on his way to work at WABC) hailed a taxicab near his apartment on Avenue A and St. Marks Place, in the East Village. As prosecutors put it, the taxi was “intended to serve as a hearse,” for as he stepped inside, they say, a gang assassin bolted upright in the front seat and shot him several times at point-blank range.

For this trial the prosecution has added a few new racketeering counts that charge Mr. Gotti with having used illicit profits from loan-sharking and extortion to operate two holding companies. It tried to charge him with money laundering as well, but that charge was dismissed last week by Shira A. Scheindlin, the presiding judge.

The third time is said to be the charm, but even Judge Scheindlin admitted today that jury selection was fairly slow-going. There seemed no end to good reasons to dismiss jurors from the pool.

One woman told the judge that she might lose her job as a part-time telemarketer if she were forced to serve — and was excused. So was the slightly addled woman who complained that the jury questionnaire was somewhat “tricky.” (She had checked the box “no,” when asked if the Mafia existed, though told the judge in court that she had meant to check it “yes.”)

Then there was the young man who said that he believed in karma, which, of course, alone was not enough to send him packing.

That occurred when Judge Scheindlin said she found it troubling that he kept referring to Mr. Gotti as “Mr. Gandhi.”

Thanks to Alan Feuer

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