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Gotti Convicted of 13 Crimes, May Face Life in Jail

By Laurie Goodstein
The Washington Post

NEW YORK

John Gotti, the nation's most notorious mobster since Al Capone, was found guilty Thursday of murder and racketeering, ending a six-year campaign by federal prosecutors to convict the man who had eluded them in three previous trials.

The jurors, their names kept secret even from the judge, deliberated just 11 hours on evidence presented over seven weeks.

Gotti was pronounced guilty on all 13 counts, and sentencing was set for June 23. He faces life in prison.

Government officials, giddy with victory over the man known as "The Teflon Don," quickly proclaimed the "death knell" of organized crime in New York. But Gotti's attorneys said overzealous prosecutors hampered their defense and tampered with the jury, and they vowed to mount a vigorous appeal.

"If John Gotti was acquitted, he ... would have achieved a status that not even Al Capone and others had achieved," said James Fox, who heads the FBI office in New York City. "I'm not saying it's going to happen in a year, but the mob as we have known it in New York City is on the way out."

Gotti, 51, did not flinch as the verdict was read, his face frozen in the half-smile he wore throughout the trial. He looked at the jurors, but none met his gaze. Gotti's confidant and codefendant, Frank "Frankie Locs" Locascio, 59, also was convicted of murder and racketeering and faces a life sentence. He was acquitted on a single count of illegal gambling.

"Where's the proof? Where's the proof?" moaned Locascio's son, Salvatore, as the forewoman read the verdict. But Gotti told him to be quiet and later told supporters in the front row, "I'll be okay."

"They were more concerned with consoling us," defense attorney John Mitchell said of Gotti and Locascio. "They don't see it as being over. It's not over."

But Fox called the verdict a definitive turning point in the agency's war against organized crime. "The Teflon is gone, the don is covered with Velcro and every charge stuck," Fox said.

Gotti and Locascio were charged with murder, conspiracy to murder, illegal gambling, loan sharking, obstruction of justice, bribing a public official and tax evasion.

Extraordinary efforts were made to maintain jurors' anonymity. Since being selected 10 weeks ago, the 12 regulars and six alternates were sequestered and referred to only by number. Three jurors were replaced by alternates during the trial, leaving seven men and five women to decide the case in Brooklyn federal court.

A female juror whom defense attorneys had deemed noticeably attentive to their arguments was dismissed at the request of prosecutors only a day before deliberations began, leading to the defense accusation of jury tampering.

Eluding prosecutors in court and enemies on the streets, his snazzy attire inspiring a series of natty movie gangsters, Gotti reminds many observers of no one so much as Capone. King of the Chicago mob in the days of Prohibition, Capone frustrated prosecutors for years before being convicted on tax-evasion charges in 1931.

Determined not to fail a fourth time, Gotti's prosecutors presented a colossal amount of evidence, including six hours of FBI tapes surreptitiously recorded in Gotti's hideaways. They called 38 witnesses, including Gotti's No. 2 man, Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano, one of the highest-ranking turncoats in organized crime.

The defense called only one, an attorney who testified that he advised Gotti that not filing tax returns was legal. U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser disqualified five other witnesses willing to testify for Gotti.

"What happened to our defense?" Gotti joked that day with the same devil-may-care nonchalance that he maintained throughout the trial. "I shoulda put on a little song-and-dance."

The inability to present more witnesses is likely to become part of the basis for an appeal, Mitchell said. "It was impossible to get evidence before the jury that would show the other side of these people."

Prosecutors said Gotti was responsible for masterminding the murder of Paul Castellano, head of the Gambino organized-crime family, then taking his place.