Friday, November 21, 2008

For 'Junior' Gotti, it's all about trial's location

CNN) -- John "Junior" Gotti's lawyers are asking a federal judge in Florida to move his murder conspiracy and racketeering trial to New York.

Gotti, son of the late Gambino family crime boss John Gotti, was indicted earlier this year by a federal grand jury in Tampa, Florida.

"There is strong evidence to support the conclusion that the government's decision to bring this case in Tampa is another in a string of tactical maneuvers designed to deny Gotti his right to a fair trial in what has become an epic quest to convict him," Gotti's attorneys wrote in a motion seeking a transfer of the case.

Gotti's three previous racketeering trials were in New York, where they resulted in mistrials.

A hearing was held Thursday before U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday, according to court records. Merryday took the matter under advisement and said a written ruling would be issued later.

Charles Carnesi, Gotti's defense attorney in New York, and Henry Gonzalez, Gotti's defense attorney in Florida, did not return CNN's calls Friday.

Gotti was among six people indicted in July by a grand jury in Florida. The indictments were unsealed and Gotti was arrested in August.

The indictment alleges Gotti was involved in three slayings in New York City: George Grosso died in December 1988 in Queens; Louis DiBono was killed in October 1990 in the parking garage of the former World Trade Center; and Bruce John Gotterup was slain in November 1991 in Queens.

All six defendants were charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. The law is used to target organized crime groups -- in this case, the Gambino crime family.

In addition to racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder, Gotti also is charged with drug trafficking.

The indictment alleges Gotti, 44, of Oyster Bay, New York, has been an associate, soldier, captain and de facto boss in the organization, as well as a member of a captains' committee formed in the early 1990s to assist in the administration of the family.

Gotti has long said he is retired and no longer involved in organized crime.

Defense attorneys say in their motion that the events at issue probably occurred in New York -- including the three slayings, the most serious of the charges.

In addition, they said, all of the defense witnesses and most of the prosecution witnesses live in or near New York, and Gotti, "who is not even alleged to have set foot in the Middle District of Florida, may well be unable to bear the considerable expense of trying this case 1,200 miles from home."

At the time of Gotti's arrest, Robert O'Neill, the U.S. attorney in the district that includes Tampa, said the Gambino crime family, or GCF, worked to "establish and maintain GCF enterprise footholds, or operational bases, in various parts of the United States of America, specifically including the city of Tampa, Florida."

But Gotti's attorneys say in their court papers that there is an "utter lack of a palpable connection to Tampa" and that the newest case against Gotti is a "last-ditch effort to overcome [prosecutors'] three-time losing streak," a reference to the three mistrials.

Trying Gotti in Florida, they say, is an attempt "to isolate him from his lawyers and the resources that he needs to defend himself effectively."

In their response, federal prosecutors say they plan to subpoena more than 20 people "with knowledge related to the charged criminal activity in Tampa" and argue that, among other reasons, moving the case "would disrupt the government's efforts in other cases and a related investigation."

Trying the case in Tampa would make it easier to address and handle security concerns, prosecutors also said, and "the victims of the most violent specified criminal conduct charged in the case concur in the case proceeding in the Middle District of Florida."

If convicted, Gotti and his co-defendants would face a maximum sentence of life in prison. One co-defendant could receive the death penalty.

In late 2006, a third mistrial was declared in a federal racketeering case against Gotti, with charges including racketeering and extortion.

Prosecutors said they would not retry Gotti, who was accused of ordering attacks on radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa after the Guardian Angels founder criticized Gotti's father on his program. Sliwa was shot three times but recovered and testified against Gotti.

At the time of his latest arrest, attorney Carnesi told reporters that Gotti "was very disappointed to have to go through all this again. You can imagine the toll it took on him and his family to have to fight three times in the course of a year, to feel that, OK, perhaps it's over ... because the government itself came to the conclusion, no more. It's very disheartening for him to be back here again."

Gotti's father was nicknamed the "Teflon Don" because prosecutors had trouble making charges against him stick. He died in prison of throat cancer in 2002.

No comments: