Even for an infamous gang of mobsters already weakened by federal prosecutions spanning decades, Feb. 7, 2008 was an unusually bad day for the Gambino organized crime family.
Hundreds of federal agents fanned out across the city and elsewhere in a roundup of 62 suspects from all walks of Mafia life, from reputed acting boss John "Jackie Nose" D'Amico _ a crony of former boss John Gotti _ to common street thugs.
At the time, authorities made headlines by hailing the takedown as one of the largest in recent memory and predicting it would further cripple a storied crime family formerly led by the legendary "Dapper Don."
Six months later and with far less fanfare, 60 of the defendants have pleaded guilty, with many taking deals that will put them behind bars for three years or less. Two of the pleas were entered Thursday and one case was dismissed last week, leaving a lone defendant charged with murder facing trial.
The U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn, which has a long history of prosecuting high-profile Mafia cases with lengthy trials and sentences, has called the case a success. But some defense attorneys suggest the many plea deals show the office overreached and became overwhelmed as the judge pushed for a speedy outcome. "There's no such thing as a 62-defendant trial," said one of the lawyers, Avraham Moskowitz. "So what's the point? The point is to make a splash."
Extortion charges against his client, a New Jersey construction official, were quietly dropped earlier this month after prosecutors conceded they didn't have enough evidence against him. But by then, the lawyer said, an innocent man had seen his reputation ruined by stories linking him to co-defendants with nicknames like "Tommy Sneakers" and "Joe Rackets."
"My client's experience suggests they brought an indictment without careful evaluation of the evidence," he said. "He had his name dragged through the mud for no reason."
Former mob prosecutors say there was nothing haphazard about the Gambino case. Instead, they say, it reflected a calculated shift in strategy favoring carpet bombing of the entire enterprise over strategic strikes against leadership.
"In my view, this is groundbreaking," said James Walden, a former federal prosecutor in Brooklyn who won major convictions against the Bonanno crime family. "They essentially took out the entire organization in one fell swoop" _ an approach designed to reap a new crop of cooperators and rattle those mobsters still on the street but under surveillance.
"It disrupts the family and creates an environment of insecurity," he said. "It causes people to get nervous and talk about things they normally wouldn't talk about."
Prosecutors in Tampa, Fla., took a separate shot at the Gambinos last week, naming John A. "Junior" Gotti in a murder and drug trafficking indictment linking him to three New York City murders from the 1980s and '90s. Three previous cases brought against the Gotti scion since 2005 ended in mistrials.
Randy Mastro, another ex-prosecutor who targeted mob ties to construction as a deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, said the two cases have demonstrated the government's resolve to combat a resilient foe. The Brooklyn prosecution, in particular, was "an innovative approach to an endemic historical problem," he said. "Whether it will work, time will tell."
The 80-count Gambino indictment charged the defendants with seven murders, three dating back more than a quarter century, "mob-tax" extortion of the construction industry and racketeering. Among the crime were the slaying of a court officer and extortion at a failed NASCAR track.
Authorities said the case was built with the help of an informant in the construction industry who made three years worth of secret recordings implicating many of the defendants. The arrests, they added, coincided with a smaller sweep of accused gangsters in Italy in a bid to sever the relationship between the Sicilian Mafia and the Gambino family.
On Thursday, reputed capo "Little Nick" Corozzo and co-defendant Vincent DeCongilio avoided a trial scheduled for next week by pleading guilty. The indictment alleged Corozzo ordered the Jan. 26, 1996, murder of a rival mobster. Corozzo now faces 12 to 15 years in prison for murder conspiracy _ by far the harshest term for any of the defendants _ and DeCongilio 12 to 18 months for lesser crimes.
According to prosecutors, Corozzo, 68, was part of a three-man committee of capos formed in 1994 to help "Junior" run New York's Gambino family while his father was in prison, serving a life sentence for murder and racketeering; the elder Gotti died behind bars in 2002.
In May, D'Amico, the acting boss originally charged with racketeering, pleaded guilty to extorting a cement company out of $100,000 and could serve less than two years in prison. The plea, his lawyer said afterward, shows "a lack of evidence and quality of evidence."
Thanks to Tom Hays
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