By Philip Newman
A federal prosecutor described John Gotti Jr. as a merciless killer who spent his life harvesting the fruits of organized crime, but his lawyer said Gotti gave up the rackets before the time the government says he was a Mafia don.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elie Honig pointed again and again at the 45-year-old Gotti Jr. as he denounced the son of the late flamboyant mob boss John Gotti Sr.
The trial opened Monday.
Gotti Jr. of Oyster Bay Cove on Long Island — the Gotti family lives in Howard Beach — is on trial in the Manhattan federal court for the fourth time since 2005. The first three trials ended in mistrials.
“He has threatened, extorted, robbed, beaten, kidnapped, stabbed, shot and killed,” Honig said. “Killed with his own hands and ordered others to kill for him.”
The prosecutor told the jury in his opening statement that “this man is a criminal who has lived the Mafia life and profited from it for decades.”
Gotti Jr. is charged with a racketeering conspiracy including drug deals, bribery, extortion, loan-sharking and conspiracy to murder George Grosso and Bruce Gotterup, both drug dealers.
The prosecution contends Gotti Jr. stabbed to death Danny Silva in the Silver Fox bar in Ozone Park in March 1983 and taunted the mortally wounded man.
John Seidel of Ozone Park testified he was present when what he called a fight broke out in the Silver Fox on that night in 1983. He said Gotti Jr. left the bar before the arrival of paramedics or police and walked out shouting an impression of cartoon character Porky Pig’s line, “Tha-Tha-That’s all, folks.”
Seidel said he never saw who was involved in the altercation but that he helped paramedics who came to the aid of Silva.
Gotti’s lawyer, Charles Carnesi, acknowledged his client may once have been a Mafia chieftain but that he turned away from a life of crime.
“He saw his father die in prison away from his family and by 1999 he came face-to-face with hard reality,” Carnesi said.
“He said, ‘I’m out. I want no part of this,’” Carnesi said of Gotti Jr. “He said to his father, ‘Dad, your life is not my life. I can’t do this anymore.’”
Gotti Jr. served six years in prison after pleading guilty to organized crime-related charges starting in 1999, but federal prosecutors contend the younger Gotti kept directing the Gambino crime family while incarcerated.
The defense denies Gotti Jr. continued to serve as head of the Gambino crime family from jail.
Gotti Jr.’s legal team contends that in any case, he is protected by the statute of limitations, which sets a specific time in which a crime can be prosecuted.
Seven of the 18 jurors and alternates asked to be excused from the trial just before it began. Judge Kevin Castel, nevertheless, ordered them sworn in.
The elder Gotti, after several trials in which he was acquitted, was convicted in 1992 of murder and other charges and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison in 2002.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.