Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

Final Trial

On the first day of jury selection, January 20, 1992, the prosecution called for the removal of another Gotti defense team member. George L. Santangelo, who was representing Frank Locascio, was accused by the government of being another of Gotti's "house counsel." The defense reacted by seeking the removal of John Gleeson, claiming he had "an intense personal interest in the case" due to losing the earlier RICO trial. When Glasser ruled in favor of the prosecution and removed Santangelo, Locascio pointed to the flag behind the judges bench and shouted, "That's the American flag – not a swastika!" Santangelo was replaced by Anthony M. Cardinale.

As the jury selection process got under way, approximately 500 prospective jurors were handed a 21-page questionnaire to complete. A week later, while the selection was still going on, prosecutors asked the judge to limit the cross-examination of three government witness by the defense. The prosecution was trying to prevent the defense from "inflaming the jury" by having the witnesses describe the graphic details of the murders they were involved in. The three witnesses were Gravano, Philip Leonetti and Peter Chiodo, a Genovese Family capo who had admitted involvement in four murders. During the trial, Chiodo's sister would become the target of mob hit men. She was wounded after returning home from dropping her children off at school.

One day while the completed questionnaires were being reviewed, Judge Glasser informed Gotti that flyers depicting Gravano as a "rat who lies" had been left on automobiles around the courthouse and in the neighborhood around the Ravenite. Glasser advised Gotti, "It might be a very good idea if you could put an end to it."

The jury selection proved to be a tedious one, as outside influences affected the process. Most of the problems were caused by the print media, who published what was supposed to be sealed information regarding six additional murders Gotti was rumored to be charged with. In addition, the New York Post published a headline article claiming that jurors were "petrified" of serving. In the courtroom on February 6, an irritated Judge Glasser let the defense know, "I am giving serious thought to moving the trial to another venue if this kind of media coverage and poisoning of the jury pool continues."

An angry Gotti, seated with his attorneys, waited for the judge to leave before blurting out, "Where is he going to move it, Stuttgart, West Germany?" Gotti then called the judge a faggot. Turning to the prosecution table, the well-coifed mob boss complained, "When was the last time those punks washed their hair?"

On February 11, a jury was finally seated and on the following day, the opening statement by US Attorney Andrew Maloney was delivered. Maloney told the jury, "This is not a complex case.  These defendants will tell you in their own words what it's about." In describing Gravano's anticipated appearance, the prosecutor stated, "He is no different and no better than John Gotti." He then broke the news to the jurors that Gravano had been involved in 19 murders.

Defense attorneys Krieger and Cardinale delivered their opening remarks on February 13. Krieger began by apologizing for his client for the language the jurors were going to be subjected to on the government's tapes, claiming Gotti had grown up on the streets and that, "he learned to speak what they speak." While the lawyer admitted that profanity laced every sentence, he assured the jurors that, "It never intruded on his conversations with women and children." Of Gravano, Krieger described the government's key witness as "a little man full of evil…cunning, conniving, selfish and greedy…who has tried to clear his slate by admitting to 19 murders."

The early days of the trial were taken up by the testimony of FBI Agents George Gabriel and Lewis Schiliro, who described the Gambino Crime Family organization to jurors and explained the various audio and video tapes from the Ravenite Club surveillance. On February 19, Deena Milito testified. Fighting back tears, she described her relationship with her father Louis Milito, whose body was never recovered after he disappeared on May 8, 1988. Prosecutors claimed Gotti ordered his death. Also called to the stand was Jack Zorba a gambler whose small operation was closed after a pointed message, caught on tape was, was delivered to him, "You tell this punk, I, me, John Gotti, will sever his mother-fuckin' head off."

The jury next heard in Gotti's own words how he told Locascio about how he had ordered the murders of Robert DiBernardo, Louis Milito and Louie DiBono. This conversation had been recorded in the Cirelli apartment above the Ravenite on December 12, 1989. It was this tape, where Gotti blamed Gravano for requesting these murders, which chased Sammy into becoming a government witness. Gotti's defense lawyers tried to elicit from FBI Agent Schiliro that the mob boss did not speak with "Churchillian" eloquency and used exaggerations routinely in his speech.

During the last week of February, the prosecution slowly put their case together on the Castellano murder charge. Beginning with the tapes, where Angelo Ruggiero is caught discussing heroin sales with Gene Gotti and John's former attorney Michael Coiro, the prosecution moved on to talk about Castellano's ruling on drugs. This sets the scene for Gotti to want to murder the Gambino Family boss to save his brother and friend Angelo. Two witnesses then testified that they saw John Carneglia and Anthony Rampino, associates of John Gotti, in front of Sparks Steak House the evening of the shooting. Both witnesses kept what they saw a secret for over a year and a half after the killing, out of fear for their lives.

Sketch of Gravano testifying while Gotti watches on
Sketch of Gravano testifying while Gotti watches on (AP)

On Monday, March 2, 1992 the moment everyone anticipated arrived: Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano was sworn in.

There are three side notes to events that took place while Gravano's testimony was going on. On March 3, the trial was interrupted when an elderly women let out a mournful wail in the courthouse corridor. Anna Carini said she had come to spit in the face of Gravano because she held him responsible for the deaths of her two sons, Enrico and Vincent. The two, however, did not appear on Sammy's hit list. The following day, Judge Glasser dismissed two jurors. Although Glasser sealed the record on his decision, it was rumored that one, a 20 year-old man, asked to be dismissed because his girlfriend was frightened. Finally, as in an earlier Gotti trial, a bomb threat was called in which temporarily halted the proceedings.

The prosecution's case after the Gravano testimony was anti-climatic. Videos were shown to back up much of Gravano's claims and then prosecutors moved forward to bolster the other charges in the indictment. Chief among these was the obstruction of justice charge involving New York Police detective William Peist, who through Gambino associate George Helbig provided intimate details of the police intelligence department's activities to the mob.

During this stretch in the case, additional audiotapes were played, including conversations that included attorneys Gerald Shargel and Bruce Cutler. The last charge the prosecution covered was a count to defraud the government. Called to the stand was an IRS supervisor who testified that Gotti had not filed taxes for the previous six years.

Near the end of the prosecution's case, the defiant and arrogant attitude that Gotti had expressed during previous trials spilled out, and Judge Glasser admonished him. The judge interrupted the testimony of a witness, ordered the jury out of the courtroom and then stood and glared down at Gotti from the bench. "Mr. Gotti, this is addressed to you. If you want to continue to remain at this trial and at that table, I am going to direct you to [stop] making comments which can be heard in this courtroom, [and making] gestures which are designed to comment upon the character of the United States attorney," the judge sternly said, "I will have you removed from the courtroom. You will watch this trial on a television screen downstairs. I am not going to tell you that again." 

On March 23, amid yet another bomb threat to the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, Andrew Maloney announced that the government was resting its case. The long awaited Gotti defense was a total shambles. The only defense witness lawyers were permitted to call was a tax attorney who claims he advised Gotti not to file tax returns while under indictment. Five other witnesses were ruled ineligible for a number of reasons, causing an outburst from attorney Cardinale that resulted in a contempt charge issued by Glasser. "What happened to our defense?" a disappointed Gotti inquired. "I should have put on a little song and dance."

John Gleeson began the government's summation on March 27, telling the jury that the combined evidence – Gotti's taped words and Gravano's testimony – provide "absolutely overwhelming evidence" to convict John Gotti. Describing the "Dapper Don" as the leader of the Gambino Crime Family, Gleeson stated, "Murder is the heart and soul of this enterprise."

Both defense lawyers attacked Gleeson and Gravano in their summations. Cardinale described Gleeson's attitude as, "get Gotti at any cost" and claimed the prosecution's case was "nothing but a gloried frame-up." Krieger called Gravano a "sick serial killer," and said he delivered "John Gotti's head on a silver platter." Krieger told the jurors Gravano would receive a minimal sentence of no more than 20 years for his part in 19 murders as "long as he fulfilled his sick and distorted and manic promise to supply the testimony that you heard here."

On March 30, the prosecution gave its rebuttal summation. John Gleeson, who had handled the bulk of the prosecution's case, asked the jury to, "Look at all the evidence as a whole." He pointed out that during the defense's summations, they ignored the evidence and instead attacked him and Gravano.

In a move that almost proved disastrous U.S. Attorney Maloney completed the government's summation. He pointed to the defendants and told the jurors, "this is the leadership of the Gambino Crime Family. If you accept the proof of what you are dealing with here, the boss of a murderous and treacherous crime family and his underboss, you would be less than human if you didn't feel some personal concern." Defense lawyers jumped to their feet, screaming objections, which Judge Glasser quickly sustained. After the jury left the courtroom defense attorneys angrily demanded a mistrial. Glasser rejected their demands.

The following day, after a third juror was dismissed at the request of the prosecution, Judge Glasser spent nearly four hours giving final instructions to the jury. As the day's court session ended, Gotti stood, pointed toward the prosecution table and called out to reporters, "the 1919 White Sox," indicating that the prosecutors had fixed the case.


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