Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

Last Arrest

On the night of December 11, 1990 FBI agents and New York City detectives swooped down on the Ravenite social club and arrested Gotti, Sammy Gravano and Frank Locascio. Thomas Gambino was also arrested, but at another location. Following his arrest, the New York Times published an editorial that would show that sympathy for the mob boss went beyond his hired cronies. The editorial read in part:

"They arrested John Gotti the other night the same way they arrested him before, flamboyantly and theatrically…why all the melodrama, including handcuffs and a platoon of 15 FBI agents? The only obvious purpose is for the prosecution to preen for the cameras.

"Angered by the Times editorial, James M. Fox, the assistant director of the FBI's New York office replied in a letter that did not appear until January 19, 1991. The note pointed out that

  1. while it was true 15 law enforcement officers were dispatched to make the arrest, Gotti was surrounded by 26 underlings;
  2. only one photographer (from the New York Post) was present;
  3. that every FBI prisoner is handcuffed in compliance with regulations; 
  4. the federal government was only involved in one previous arrest of Gotti.}

Although this was the fourth indictment since Gotti's bloody rise to leadership, it was the first time he was charged with the murders of Castellano and Bilotti. Bolstering the government's claim in these accusations would be the testimony of Philip Leonetti, the former underboss of the Philadelphia Crime Family. Leonetti had become a government witness and was prepared to testify that Gotti bragged at a meeting of Philadelphia crime leaders that he had ordered Castellano's execution.

Attorney Gerald Shargel
Attorney Gerald Shargel (CORBIS)

A week after the arrests, defense attorney Gerald Shargel was in court requesting that the tapes from the Cirelli apartment be kept from the public, claiming they would damage the defendant's right to a fair trial. Shargel told Judge Leo Glasser that the three defendants (Gambino had been released on bail) were confined to their cells for 24 hours a day, interfering with their right to meet with counsel.

Four days before Christmas 1990, Judge Glasser denied bail for Gotti and the other two men, claiming, "There are no conditions of release that will reasonably assure the safety of any person in the community." Meanwhile, after months of arguing between law enforcement agencies as to who would prosecute the case, a new controversy arose when it was revealed that the tapes had recorded Gotti discussing fixing the jury in the O'Connor trial. Morgenthau, whose office lost the case, was enraged that this information, recorded during the trial, was not brought to his attention until a year later. The Manhattan district attorney claimed the information could have led to a mistrial or separate state charges of jury tampering. The FBI's response to withholding the information included the possibility that the "disclosure of the bugging might have compromised" their investigation and subsequent indictment.

Judge Leo Glasser
Judge Leo Glasser

On January 18, 1991 Judge Glasser ordered an MCC official to end the "punitive conditions" under which the three defendants were forced to exist, which included 23-hour lockdowns. The official pointed out that the "administrative detention" was in part due to the judge's denial of bail, because of the violent charges against them. Judge Glasser responded that his directive was intended to protect the outside community, "not the population at the MCC."

At the same hearing Prosecutor John Gleeson presented a sealed motion to remove defense attorneys Bruce Cutler, Gerald Shargel and John Pollok from the case, claiming that they were caught on the Ravenite tapes and could be called as witnesses to testify. Judge Glasser gave the defense three weeks to respond. Leaving the courthouse, Cutler told reporters, "We're optimistic that we're going to remain as lawyers for these men."

On February 22, the three defense attorneys, represented by counsel, appeared before Judge Glasser. Gleeson presented several tape recordings from Gotti's Ravenite headquarters. Calling the lawyers "house counsel" for the Gambino Crime Family, Gleeson played a tape where Gotti complained, "Where does it end, the Gambino Crime Family? This is the Shargel, Cutler and who-do-you-call-it crime family." Gleeson claimed the three should be disqualified, not only because their taped conversations were evidence but also because the tapes "raised a specter of improper conduct." The prosecutor further argued that "the lawyers had conflicts of interest because they had previously represented other defendants who could be witnesses in the Gotti trial." One tape had Gotti calling the lawyers "high-priced errand boys." After his court appearance Cutler stated, "We are proud of the way we have represented these men."

Despite the fact that Gotti was behind bars and could possibly remain there for the rest of his life, Vincent Gigante and Anthony Casso were still seeking revenge for the murder of Castellano. Just weeks before Gotti's arrest, Edward Lino, one of the shooters at Sparks Steak House, was gunned down. On April 13, Bartholomew "Bobby" Boriello, a close friend, confidant and chauffeur to both John Gotti and his son, Junior, was murdered outside his Bath Beach home in Brooklyn. In each killing, Gotti was unaware that it was a Gigante plot.

Federal prosecutors won a tactical victory on July 26, when Judge Glasser disqualified Cutler, Shargel and Pollok from representing the defendants. The defense lawyers claimed the taped conversations fell under the attorney-client privilege, but Glasser disagreed. One legal expert reviewing the judgement said the decision was "not common." The trial's commencement, scheduled to for September 23, was now in doubt (it would eventually be rescheduled for January 21).

On June 2, after constant pressure from the news media, Judge Glasser unsealed the FBI tapes of conversations recorded in the Ravenite, the club's hallway, and from the Cirelli apartment. Gotti's recorded conversations with Frank Locascio and Sammy Gravano spilled out into the newspapers and onto the six o'clock news. Included in these gems were the private conversations between Gotti and Locascio about Gravano, which would later lead to his defection.

In early August, Gotti, Gravano and Tommy Gambino appeared before Judge Glasser. The judge wanted to know if they had obtained new counsel. Gotti whined about having Cutler removed from the case. Calling Gleeson a "bum," Gotti stated, "He can't handle a good fight, and he can't win a fair trial." When Glasser asked Gravano if he had a new lawyer, Sammy responded with an incredulous, "In five days? It took six months to get rid of my lawyer, and you give me five days to find a new one? From the MCC, that's pretty hard." Glasser gave the men another week and told them he might consider appointing counsel if they didn't have representation by then.

There was much speculation as to who would take the case. Names being thrown around included F. Lee Bailey, Albert Krieger, Jay Goldberg, Benjamin Brafman, James LaRossa, William Kunstler and Alan Dershowitz. When asked by reporters if he were interested, Kunstler replied, "No lawyer worth his or her salt should take this case while Gotti's being deprived of Bruce Cutler. It's wrong, politically and legally. But someone will succumb to the money or the publicity or both."

Some lawyers, speaking anonymously, didn't want to touch the case, due to Gotti's demeaning attitude towards attorneys. In addition, Gotti had been recorded on tape bragging about how he had made the careers of both Cutler and Shargel. Once, when he was upset with Shargel, Gotti stated that he had "a better way than an elevator" to show Shargel out of the attorney's law office, which happened to be on the 32nd floor of an office building on East 58th Street. On August 20, Gotti selected Albert J. Kreiger as his attorney and Benjamin Brafman to represent Gravano. Thomas Gambino would be severed from the case and tried separately.

Against the objections of defense counsel Judge Glasser ordered that the jurors in the case would be sequestered and their names kept secret to "protect the integrity" of the trial. Along with this setback, the defense counsel had a more pressing issue to deal with – the defection of Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano on November 8, 1991.


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