NEW YORK - The fourth racketeering trial of John “Junior’’ Gotti began yesterday with the government portraying the mob heir as a maniacal killer and chronic criminal who has dodged prison by intimidating witnesses and obstructing justice.
Gotti’s lawyer, Charles Carnesi, tried to debunk that picture by telling a jury in US District Court in Manhattan that federal prosecutors have assembled a cast of mob killers trying to win leniency for their crimes by testifying that Gotti ordered assaults and murders.
Carnesi said Gotti, 45, never had anything to do with killings in the late 1980s and early 1990s of two drug dealers, despite claims of the witnesses, including one who could have faced the death penalty if convicted of charges he faced before he began cooperating.
Three earlier racketeering trials of Gotti in 2005 and 2006 ended with deadlocked juries. Prosecutors contended Gotti followed his father as the street boss of the Gambinos, one of five New York organized crime families. Gotti’s father died in prison in 2002.
Each of the three trials focused on charges that Gotti had plotted to kidnap and beat Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels crime-fighting group, in retaliation for Sliwa’s radio-show rants about the Gotti family during the racketeering prosecution of his father.
In the last unsuccessful prosecution, the government highlighted Gotti’s finances in an attempt to show he kept participating in mob crimes even after he pleaded guilty to federal charges in 1999.
Yesterday, Assistant US Attorney Elie Honig cast Gotti as a vicious killer since the early 1980s when, the government alleges, he stabbed a man during a bar brawl and then taunted him as he bled to death. Honig said he also ordered the killings of drug dealers in 1988 and 1991 who were obstructing a massive cocaine operation in Queens.