- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

NEW YORK — There was a time when the Gottis, New York’s first family of organized crime, rarely opened their mouths. John Gotti, the head of the brutal Gambino family, would have said as much — except he never said much.

If you visit the Gottis these days, forget about the old code of silence.

The racketeering retrial of John A. “Junior” Gotti, which ended March 10 with a hung jury and a mistrial, featured the Gotti clan discussing everything from the late patriarch’s role as mob boss to a reported illegitimate child. Relatives gave interviews, offered trial analysis and even took the witness stand.

Mostly, they harped on the government’s incessant interest in anyone with the Gotti surname — even as Junior acknowledged following his father into the top echelon of the Gambino family. The younger Mr. Gotti quit the mob years ago, his relatives loudly asserted.

“Your sons are next,” warned Victoria Gotti, widow of “Teflon Don” John Gotti, apparently addressing American mothers with mobbed-up offspring. “That’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to railroad my son.”

Mr. Gotti, 42, is due to begin a third trial July 5, after the second jury’s 8-4 vote for acquittal. He faces 30 years in prison if convicted on racketeering charges that include ordering the botched 1992 kidnapping of radio show host Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels.

Authorities, along with Mr. Sliwa, charged that Mr. Gotti ordered the attack to silence the radio personality’s verbal fusillades on Mr. Gotti’s father.

Junior’s second trial featured a flurry of publicity, much of it created by his relatives.

His mother spoke with the city’s two tabloid newspapers about accusations that her husband had fathered a love child. Her daughters, Angel and Victoria — the latter was the blond star of the reality show “Growing Up Gotti” — eagerly defended their brother. Her son Peter Gotti was called to testify — not under subpoena by the prosecution, but as a defense witness.

Once there, Peter Gotti acknowledged what his father never did: The elder Gotti was a major organized crime figure.

“Do you know what your father did for a living?” prosecutor Michael McGovern asked on cross-examination.

“Boss,” the son replied.

Pressed on whether his father was the head of the Gambino crime family, Peter Gotti replied, “I would probably say he was.”

Ouch. It’s the kind of behavior that his father never would have tolerated.

“This [is] how we get in trouble — we talk,” John Gotti Sr. observed in a prescient January 1990 chat above the Ravenite Social Club. While he espoused silence to his cohorts, a government bug in the Little Italy apartment recorded that talk and dozens of other Gotti conversations that led to his demise.

But the elder Gotti remained otherwise tight-lipped. Before his 1992 sentencing for murder and racketeering, Gotti instructed his attorney to “get it over with without anybody making any speeches.”

The “Dapper Don” shook his head no when asked whether he wanted to address the court. The smirk on his face sufficed. Five minutes later, Gotti left for prison. Ten years later, he died there.

When the elder Gotti did speak out, it was typically to drop a one-liner. “I’m the boss of my family — my wife and kids at home,” he told reporters before one court appearance.

“Three-to-one odds I beat this,” he said after a 1990 indictment.

Gotti never publicly acknowledged his role in the mob; he never even acknowledged the mob existed. Junior was initially a chip off the old cellblock. He followed his father to the top of the crime family, authorities said, and he pleaded guilty in April 1999 to bribery, extortion and other charges with barely a peep.

“I’m a man’s man,” he told the judge. “I’m here to take my medicine.”

While both men suffered in silence, another family member complained about his 2003 racketeering conviction.

“It’s easy to convict a Gotti,” said Junior’s uncle Peter Gotti, a former garbageman turned mob boss. “All you have to have is the name.”

It was a mantra picked up by the clan at Junior’s retrial. Mob observers said it was no coincidence that the Gotti family shift from clandestine to chatty coincided with the case.

“It’s part of a carefully crafted strategy to try and engender sympathy for the defendant,” said lawyer Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor who helped drive the mob out of the Fulton Fish Market.

“They are trying to convey a sense of persecution, of somebody consistent with the defense arguments that he just wants to be left alone,” Mr. Mastro said. “They’re communicating with the public at large — future potential jurors.”

Mr. Sliwa, who matched the Gottis sound bite for sound bite during the two trials, was no fan of the “Dapper Don,” although he gives the elder Gotti credit for going away quietly. He sees the new, talkative Gottis as a family effort to spread the word that Junior really has quit the mob.

“It’s all about saving Junior Gotti’s neck,” he said. “They realize that basically, it’s the only chance to avoid him going away forever.”

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