John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon
The Years Were Not Kind
The last half of the 1990s were not good ones for the former "Teflon Don" or for his family. The government was in hot pursuit of Junior and they watched his every move. In March 1997, State Organized Crime Task Force investigators raided Junior's social club in Queens and seized over $350,000 in cash, which the officers suspected came from illegal operations. Junior gave them the implausible story that it was money he received from his 1990 wedding to Kimberly Albanese.
Even John Gotti's old social club, the Ravenite, couldn't escape the law. In October 1997, U. S. Marshals seized the building and threw out whoever was in the club. Later sold, the building was refurbished and the once infamous clubhouse was turned into a boutique.
In January 1998, Junior was arrested along with 39 others, in a massive federal indictment that charged him with a plethora of crimes, from the mob basics, loansharking and extortion, to a modern day telecommunications scam. Adding insult to injury – at least in the view of the Gotti family – was a June 2 indictment charging Junior in a November 1996 robbery of a drug dealer, in which he allegedly stole two kilos of cocaine, four guns and $4,000 in cash. This time Junior's mother came to his defense. In a rare interview, Victoria Gotti called the New York Daily News and stated sarcastically, "He doesn't have enough money, so he gets involved with drugs? Please! Can't they come up with something better than that? ...I wish every mother in America had a son like mine."
Junior's indictment and subsequent legal woes proved to be a family affair, with mom, dad and his two sisters playing key roles. Prosecutors first approached young Gotti with a deal, worked through Gravano nemesis Ronald Kuby, who was representing one of Junior's co-defendants. The deal was contingent upon all the defendants accepting it. Gotti family legal stalwarts – Cutler and Shargel – initially represented Junior, but later, attorney Sarita Kedia emerged as his main counsel.
Junior nixed the prosecution's first deal, but with one of his co-defendants becoming a government witness, the acting boss of the Gambino Family was having second thoughts. In early July 1998, Federal Judge Barrington Parker set a January 1999 trial date. Junior had already been in jail for over five months and his lawyers were determined to get bail for him. This long legal battle was finally resolved, and on October 1, Junior was allowed to return home. The Gottis had to come up with a $10 million dollar bail, the bulk of which came from Victoria and her husband Carmine Agnello's Old Westbury, Long Island mansion. The balance was provided by sister Angel and 25 other family members and friends. There were other conditions that had to be met as well, as Junior was whisked away to his Mill Neck, Long Island home in Victoria's Mercedes. The New York Daily News reported:
"He will wear an ankle bracelet and be unable to leave his home under almost any conditions. The only exception is for legal strategy meetings with his co-defendants at lawyers' offices, and that would have to be approved by White Plains Federal Judge Barrington Parker.
"FBI agents will make random searches of his home, and approved visitors – with the exception of immediate family members – will be kept in one monitored room.
"Gotti's home phone will be tapped, and he won't be allowed to use either a fax machine or cell phone, but he'll have a second phone for private talks with attorneys. Still, he'll have access to his swimming pool and tennis courts."
The government prosecutors had frozen Junior's properties, causing him to claim that he was on the brink of insolvency. Outside the Federal Courthouse in White Plains, New York, Junior railed at reporters, "Who's the racketeers."
Part of the bail agreement was that Junior had to pay for a 24-hour private security firm to monitor his every move. The cost of the security was $21,000 a month. Due to the government's seizures, by early December Junior was screaming poverty. This, along with new charges being generated by the government, was beginning to wear the 34-year-old Gotti down.
As Junior began to give more consideration to a new plea deal from the government, he started to receive pressure from both his mother and father to go to trial. Just after Christmas, Junior rejected the government's latest deal. By early January of 1999, three key defendants, including John D'Amico, had accepted plea agreements. With the additional charges the prosecutors were putting together, the January trial date was pushed back to April 6. By mid-March, only Junior and one other Gambino associate were left to stand trial, out of the 40 men originally indicted. On April 1, Junior told Judge Parker he could no longer afford the 24-hour security and asked to be sent back to jail.
On April 6, the day jury selection was to begin, Junior shocked his family and friends by accepting a government offer to serve 77 months for extortion, loansharking, gambling, mortgage fraud and tax evasion. In addition, he forfeited $1.5 million in cash and property. On October 18, 1999, over six months after pleading guilty, John A. "Junior" Gotti entered a medium-security federal prison in Ray Brook, New York, 300 miles from home and family.
In the middle of Junior's long legal wrangling, it was suddenly announced that his father had been transferred to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. John Gotti had been diagnosed with throat cancer. Acting as spokesperson for the family, Cutler stated, "Doctors found a tumor near his tonsils and lymph nodes at the back of Gotti's throat. It's serious. It's life-threatening."
In late September 1998, The Dapper Don was operated on. Doctors removed a cancerous tumor, but were optimistic that a full recovery would take place.