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Gotti Given Life Term as Backers Storm the Court

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Gotti, the swaggering, tough-talking leader of the nation’s most powerful Mafia family, was sentenced to life in prison without parole Tuesday. Moments later, hundreds of his supporters stormed the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, overturning one car and smashing others before being forced back by police reinforcements.

Gotti, known as the “Dapper Don” because of his colorful behavior and dress, arrived in court Tuesday with his usual sartorial splendor--dark suit with bright yellow silk tie and matching handkerchief. But he had nothing to say as he was sent away.

Gotti had decided beforehand not to make a statement, and the words that would put him behind bars for life were brief.

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“The guidelines in your case require me to commit you to the attorney general for the rest of your life,” U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser said.

Gotti smiled.

In the end, long years of government investigations were reduced to a court proceeding of less than 15 minutes. With little fanfare, Gotti and his co-defendant, former Gambino Family underboss Frank Locascio, departed quietly by a side door, in stark contrast to the greeting they received when they entered the courtroom Tuesday and 14 organized crime associates stood in courtesy.

Gotti also has been known as the “Teflon Don,” because prosecutors had failed to win convictions at three previous trials. This time, a jury took less than two days to find Gotti guilty.

The April 2 convictions of Gotti and Locascio covered a broad range of charges, including murders, murder conspiracies, racketeering, extortion, obstruction of justice, gambling, loan sharking and tax fraud.

At the heart of the government’s case was the accusation that Gotti masterminded the assassination of his predecessor, Paul Castellano, head of the Gambino organized crime family. Castellano and his bodyguard were gunned down in front of a Manhattan streak house on Dec. 16, 1985.

America’s best known organized crime boss may have remained silent in court, but more than 800 demonstrators outside had plenty to say. “Free John Gotti!” they chanted, suddenly breaking out of a park across the street from the courthouse and converging on the building.

Marshals rushed to the front entrance and locked the big glass doors, trapping scores of people in the lobby. Other officials grabbed wooden clubs and hurried outside to defend the court. In the melee that followed, seven people were arrested, eight police officers were injured and six government cars were smashed. The protesters broke front and rear car windows, turned one of the vehicles upside down on the sidewalk and hurled wooden police barricades into the air.

When order was finally restored, the demonstrators departed in chartered buses and Gotti and Locascio went back to prison, where they have been held since their arrest in 1990.

Locascio, 59, like Gotti, 51, was fined and received life in prison. But Gotti’s companion declined to remain silent when he appeared before Glasser.

“I am not guilty,” he said in a firm and loud voice. “ . . . I am guilty of being a good friend of John Gotti. If there were more men like John Gotti, we would have a better country.”

Staring at the judge, he added:

“Your honor knows, I am not guilty of these charges.”

Atty. Gen. William P. Barr called the sentencing another sign of the government’s “accelerating success” against the Mafia and said “25 years of pressure” against organized crime was paying off.

With the conviction of high-profile suspects such as Gotti, “we are now down to the third string” of mob leaders, Barr said in Los Angeles during a discussion with Times reporters and editors.

During the trial, Gotti’s handpicked successor Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, testifying as a turncoat for the prosecution, told how Gotti sat behind dark tinted windows in a Lincoln Continental and watched Castellano being driven to his death. Later, the car paused for a second in front of the bullet-ridden bodies, Gravano said.

Gravano, who has confessed to murdering 19 people during his long mob career, will be sentenced later--after testifying at other Mafia trials.

Albert Krieger, Gotti’s lawyer, stressed both defendants would appeal the sentence and guilty verdict that followed a 10-week trial.

Before Tuesday’s sentencing, Krieger said, Gotti told him that he would not address the court. “Get it over without anyone making speeches. I know what the sentencing is going to be, and I am prepared to take it,” Gotti said, according to his lawyer.

And when the court appearance was over, Gotti patted Locascio on the shoulder.

“We have just begun to fight,” Gotti said, according to Krieger.

When the demonstration was finished, Gotti’s lawyer had further comment as he stood down the block from the overturned U.S. marshal’s car.

“He (Gotti) regrets any injury, any damage to property, but understands how people can assemble here to express displeasure at the criminal justice system,” the defense lawyer said.

Later, at a news conference in Manhattan, U.S. Atty. Andrew J. Maloney and James M. Fox, head of the FBI’s New York field office, charged that Gotti’s son, John Gotti Jr., had organized the protests and could face charges for damaging of federal property.

The demonstration seemed to be carefully put together. At first, the protesters, one of whom said he had been bused in, peacefully carried signs and American flags as they gathered in the park just across from the courthouse.

The signs read: “No man or government is above the law” and “Free John Gotti.”

“What do you want for John? Fair trial,” the protesters chanted.

Suddenly, Gotti’s supporters moved from the park and marched toward the front doors of the court, catching U.S. marshals and police by surprise. Reinforcements were hastily summoned as violence erupted.

Lawyers, court clerks, spectators and guards watched from the lobby as cars were smashed and arrests were made. Police and marshals brought some of the demonstrators in handcuffs into the building; ambulance attendants wheeled in several injured policemen.

As he stood trapped in the lobby, Krieger said Gotti was confident the verdict would be overturned.

“His mind is fixed on the prosecution of this appeal,” Gotti’s lawyer said.

Before sentencing, Judge Glasser denied defense motions to have the verdict overturned and for a new trial, and he denied charges of misconduct by the prosecution.

In large measure, the head of the Gambino crime family--the city’s most powerful with links to construction, labor unions and the garment industry--was done in by his own words. FBI agents succeeded in bugging Gotti’s social club and an apartment in the same building where mob leaders held private meetings.

The explicit tapes, replete with curses by Gotti, painted a riveting portrait of mob rule.


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