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Gotti, Top Mafia Boss, Convicted : Verdict: Jury finds Gambino family chief guilty of murder, racketeering charges. He faces life sentence in a case called a milestone in fight on organized crime.

April 03, 1992|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — John Gotti, the nation's best known organized crime boss, was convicted Thursday of all 13 counts at his murder and racketeering trial, ending his career as leader of America's most powerful Mafia family.

"I'll be OK," Gotti told friends and associates in the courtroom after the jury's forewoman pronounced him guilty over and over again. Her words meant Gotti, 51, faces a life sentence in federal prison.

Gotti had escaped conviction at three previous trials, earning a reputation as the "Teflon Don." This time, jurors took less than two days to find him guilty of five murders--including masterminding the assassination of his predecessor, Paul Castellano, head of the Gambino crime family.

"Today is another milestone in the fight against organized crime," said James M. Fox, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office. "The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro. Every charge in the indictment stuck."

Convicted with Gotti and also facing a life sentence was co-defendant Frank Locascio, 59. The jury acquitted Locascio of a single charge of illegal gambling.

Sentencing was scheduled for June 23. Gotti and Locascio have been in jail since they were arrested in December, 1990.

The Gambino family is the most important of New York City's five Mafia organizations. Authorities say the mob enforces its penetration of the garment, construction and waste disposal industries, as well as the airports and docks, by resorting to strong-arm tactics and sometimes murder. Estimates are the Gambino family has about 400 members, who also profit from activities ranging from loan sharking, theft, gambling, extortion and other illegal activities.

The jury's verdict affirmed the credibility of Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, the prosecution's principal witness, who was arrested with Gotti and who became a key informant. In the months ahead, Gravano, who was Gotti's handpicked successor, will testify at a number of other Mafia trials, prosecutors said.

Gravano, who confessed to 19 murders and was the most important mobster ever to testify in court as a government witness, painted a chilling portrait of Gotti's rule of the Gambino family, claiming he approved murders with little reticence. Backed by hours of tapes, secretly recorded by the FBI at Gotti's Mulberry Street social club and an apartment upstairs where members thought they were safe, Gravano was on the witness stand for nine days, sealing Gotti's fate.

Defense lawyers were unable to discredit Gotti's chief accuser.

"Our country is sick to the core if it is willing to pay for testimony by literally absolving a person of 19 confessed murders," Gotti's lawyer, Albert Krieger, said after the verdict. Krieger said he would appeal.

Prosecutors had charged Gotti with murder, murder conspiracy, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, loan sharking, bribery and tax fraud.

The 10-week trial ended suddenly Thursday. The courtroom had been locked for the lunchtime recess when word came that the jurors had reached a verdict.

Gotti, who portrayed himself as a salesman for a plumbing and heating supply company, now will surrender his expensive trademark double-breasted suits for prison garb. Just before the jurors came in Thursday, Gotti buttoned his jacket, fixed his tie, adjusted his cuffs and turned to friends and reputed Gambino family associates. He put a finger to his lips, signaling them to remain silent like good soldiers while the jurors proclaimed guilt or innocence.

Gotti showed no reaction as the verdict was read. But his allies were bitter.

"It's total insanity," said reputed Gambino capo Jack D'Amico.

"Where's the proof? Where's the proof?" asked Locascio's son, Salvatore.

The centerpiece of the government's indictment was the assassination of Castellano, who was slain with his driver, Thomas Bilotti, on Dec. 16, 1985, in front of a mid-town Manhattan steakhouse. That shooting propelled Gotti, a relatively obscure mobster, to the forefront of public and law-enforcement attention.

After he was elected head of the Gambino crime family, Gotti sought sartorial splendor--and visibility. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine and dressed in designer clothes highlighted by expensive hand-painted silk ties. He hosted an annual illegal Fourth of July fireworks display in his neighborhood in Queens.

Gotti also grew careless, prosecutors said, and abandoned the Mafia's traditional code of anonymity. With relative ease, FBI agents and local law-enforcement investigators bugged his headquarters, turning it into a virtual recording studio. FBI agents rented an apartment two blocks from Gotti's Ravenite Social Club in Manhattan's Little Italy, and using Telephoto lenses and night viewing equipment videotaped the comings and goings of Gambino family members and associates.

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