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Brother of Late Mob Boss Convicted of Racketeering

A Brooklyn jury finds Peter Gotti guilty of multiple charges in a trial that included testimony from actor Steven Seagal.

March 18, 2003|Paul Lieberman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The brother of the late mob boss John Gotti and six other reputed members of the Gambino crime family were found guilty of federal racketeering charges Monday in a trial that included testimony from actor Steven Seagal, who prosecutors said was targeted for extortion by a Mafia crew.

Jurors deliberated for six days before delivering their verdicts in federal court in Brooklyn, finding the 63-year-old Peter Gotti guilty of multiple charges -- and not guilty on two money-laundering counts -- while also convicting a reputed mob captain and soldier in the extortion plot against Seagal.

Though the six-week trial had some of the features of New York's high-profile mob cases of recent years -- including an anonymous jury and three Gottis at the defense table -- it was a relatively low-key proceeding, with not a single violent act alleged in the 67-count indictment.

The case centered on the defendants' use of threats and union ties to continue the Mafia's decades-long influence over the Brooklyn and Staten Island waterfronts, where mob captain Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone was accused of calling the shots in the longshoremen's union, collecting payoffs from workers and trucking firms, and overseeing gambling and loan-sharking rings -- all the while sending monthly envelopes of cash up the crime family ladder to the Gottis.

Law enforcement officials said they stumbled across the Hollywood connection while pursuing the waterfront case, through telephone taps and bugs planted at a Staten Island restaurant and various other mob hangouts. They overheard Ciccone and others -- including Seagal's longtime producing partner, Julius R. Nasso -- talking about trying to get the actor to give them $150,000 per movie.

Prosecutors said Nasso had sought Ciccone's help after his partnership with Seagal broke up in 2000.

Seagal testified before a packed courtroom last month that he was made increasingly "uncomfortable" during a series of meetings with Nasso, Ciccone and others, one while he was filming "Exit Wounds" in Toronto, another in a private dining room of a Brooklyn steakhouse and finally in Los Angeles on the day of "Exit Wounds' " 2001 premiere.

Seagal said they told him he owed Nasso $3 million, but testified that he never paid any extortion money and never reported the mob contacts to authorities, instead seeking help from another mobster, who was imprisoned in New Jersey.

"You can't make movies in the witness protection program," Seagal said in explaining why he did not turn to law enforcement for help.

Defense attorneys called the actor a "pathological liar" who cried "intimidation" whenever he owed someone money. But prosecutors cited the secretly recorded tapes, which showed members of the mob group joking after the restaurant meeting about how Seagal seemed "petrified" and how the episode was "like right out of the movies," as one put it.

Only two of the counts in the indictment dealt with the alleged plot against Seagal, and only two of the defendants in this trial were explicitly charged in those: the 68-year-old Ciccone and his right-hand man, Primo Cassarino. Both were convicted of conspiracy and attempted extortion related to Seagal, in addition to other charges in the wide-ranging indictment. Seagal is expected to testify again at the trial of Nasso and his brother Vincent, who also were charged in those two counts.

"Steven Seagal was a reluctant witness in this case," the actor's lawyer, Martin Pollner, said after Monday's verdict. "He came to testify as part of his civic duty and the jury obviously felt he was a credible witness."

Prosecutors said Peter Gotti took control of the Gambino family after the conviction of his brother, "Dapper Don" John Gotti, who died last year in federal prison, and the jailing of John Gotti's son. Peter Gotti's lawyer maintained that he was a disabled sanitation worker who was being prosecuted because of his notorious name.

"It's easy to convict a Gotti," Peter Gotti himself told reporters in court Monday. "They got me." Another Gotti brother, Richard V. Gotti, also was convicted, as was Peter Gotti's nephew Richard G. Gotti.

Also convicted Monday were 280-pound Richard "The Lump" Bondi, who was portrayed in the trial as an underling on Ciccone's crew, and Jerome Brancato, a retired longshoreman said to be a messenger between Ciccone and the Gottis -- and the one who delivered some of the cash.

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block did not set a sentencing date for the seven men convicted Monday.

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