Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

'I Forgotti!'

The newly crowned boss of the Gambino Family was busy preparing for two trials. The first was for assaulting Romual Piecyk, a refrigerator repairman.

On September 11, 1984 the beefy looking, 6-foot-2 Piecyk, 35, found his car blocked by a double-parked automobile outside the Cozy Corner Bar in the Maspeth section of Queens. No stranger to criminal acts, Piecyk laid on his horn until the owner of the offending vehicle appeared. Frank Colletta, a Gambino Family associate, smacked Piecyk in the face and ripped $325--the repairman's weekly pay---from his shirt pocket. Piecyk jumped out of the car and began fighting with Colletta. Just then John Gotti exited the bar and entered the fray by slapping Piecyk across the face. Gotti then made a motion to withdraw something from his waistband, and as he did, he warned Piecyk, "You better get the f*** out of here."

Gotti and Colletta returned to the bar while Piecyk went to notify the police. He then returned to the Cozy Corner in the company of two officers, who arrested the two Gambino hoods. A few days later Piecyk testified before a grand jury. Gotti and Colletta were indicted and charged with felony assault and theft. More than a year would pass before the case came to trial. By that time, Gotti's face had been seen all over the newspapers and television in the wake of the Castellano/Bilotti murders.

With the trial approaching Piecyk was in fear for his life. He purchased a handgun and temporarily moved his pregnant wife out of their home. A week before the trial was to get under way, a sergeant from the Queens District Attorney's detective squad stopped at the Piecyk home to discuss the case.

"I ain't testifying," Piecyk told the sergeant.

In his report, the detective noted that Piecyk was afraid of Gotti's men. He had received anonymous phone threats and said the brakes on his work van had been cut. The threats prompted Queens District Attorney John J. Santucci to request an anonymous jury. The trial, scheduled to begin March 2, 1986, was delayed five days while Justice Ann B. Dufficy considered, and then denied, the prosecution's request. On March 5, Piecyk spoke to a New York Daily News reporter. He denied receiving any threatening phone calls or having his vehicle tampered with. Piecyk then stated that he would appear as a witness for John Gotti.

"I am not going to go against Mister Gotti," he said. "I'm going in his behalf. I don't want to hurt Mister Gotti."

Testimony finally began on March 19. The next day when Piecyk was scheduled to take the stand, he didn't show. Members of Santucci's staff went to pick him up, but he could not be located. Despite his disappearance, law enforcement believed he had not met with foul play but rather was too scared to appear in court. Assistant District Attorney A. Kirke Bartley, Jr. told the judge that the prosecution was unable to proceed, due to the absence of the People's witness.

Late on Thursday, March 20, Piecyk was located at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre, Long Island. The reluctant witness had gone there to have elective surgery performed on his right shoulder, thinking that he could avoid having to testify. At Friday's court session, Bartley told Justice Dufficy that Piecyk would appear in court on Monday. Gotti's defense attorneys, who claimed that Piecyk had assaulted Colletta and that their client had simply come to his aid, called the story a "sham." Bruce Cutler, appearing for the first time in defense of the soon-to-be christened "Dapper Don," claimed, "We don't know where he is, what hospital, who his doctor is."

Gotti's other attorney, Michael Coiro, Jr., who would later be found guilty of helping Angelo Ruggiero hide drug profits, told the court, "I think it's obvious the complaining witness is reluctant to testify."

On Saturday morning when Piecyk checked out of the hospital, detectives from the Queens district attorney's office took him into protective custody as a material witness. On Monday afternoon, sporting dark glasses and with his right arm in a sling, he took the witness stand to begin two hours of direct examination by prosecutor Bartley. In the hushed, packed courtroom in State Supreme Court in Queens, Piecyk was asked if he saw in the courtroom the men who had assaulted him.

"I do not," Piecyk replied.

When pressed to describe the men who had assaulted him, Piecyk stated, "To be perfectly honest, it was so long ago I don't remember." He claimed that his pocket had been ripped and his cigarettes and money taken, but he could not recall what had happened beyond that.

With this testimony, Justice Dufficy declared Piecyk a "hostile witness" and the trial was recessed. On March 25, prosecutor Bartley tried to resurrect the case by asking to introduce Piecyk's grand jury testimony. Dufficy denied the request and dismissed the assault and robbery charges against the two defendants. The New York Daily News printed its famous headline, "I FORGOTTI" in front page trial coverage. The Queens district attorney's office considered filing perjury charges against Piecyk but ultimately declined.

Yet this was not the last to be heard from Romual Piecyk. On August 27, 1986, during the jury selection for Gotti's RICO trial, prosecuted by Giacalone, Piecyk appeared at the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn. After being denied the opportunity to speak in the courtroom, Piecyk held an impromptu press conference outside the courthouse. He told reporters that Gotti was being treated unfairly by the media, who had portrayed him as a "human monster." Piecyk's appearance coincided with an affidavit he'd prepared for Gotti's lawyers that admitted the mob boss had never threatened or intimidated him. These actions took place after Gotti had been denied bail. In that decision, Federal Judge Eugene H. Nickerson had cited the fact that Piecyk had been "frightened" into changing his mind during Gotti's assault trial.

The Piecyk assault trial, the first of four trials, was over. The second trial, Giacalone's RICO trial, was scheduled to begin on April 7, 1986 just two weeks after the conclusion of the Piecyk case. Meanwhile, the basis for the third trial---the assault of a carpenter's union official---commenced with the wounding of John F. O'Connor on May 7, 1986.

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