John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon
Giacalone RICO Trial - Round One
No sooner had John Gotti returned from his Florida vacation (and celebration) in the Piecyk trial than he was back in court. On April 7, 1986, jury selection began in the Giacalone RICO trial. In addition to Gotti and his crew – brother Gene, John Carneglia, Anthony Rampino and Willie Boy Johnson – Gambino Family members Nicholas Corozzo and Leonard DiMaria were being prosecuted. Missing from the case were the Dellacroces, father and son. Neil had passed away the previous December, and Armond had disappeared.
Armond Dellacroce had told his lawyer he was not up to standing trial and pled guilty on December 6, just four days after his father died. This decision upset Gotti. Although he was not going to testify against the others, the fact that Armond pled guilty to the same counts the others were charged with did not reflect well on the group. Gotti let it be known, "No matter how good a deal a prosecutor might offer, no member of the Gambino family could ever admit in a plea agreement that it (the family) existed." In April 1988, after being a fugitive for two years, Armond Dellacroce died of a cerebral hemorrhage brought on from acute alcohol poisoning in the Pocono Mountains area of Pennsylvania.
Also missing were John Carneglia's brother, Charles, who was officially listed as a fugitive, and William Battista, who Giacalone was going to call as a government witness. The seven defendants were accused of Federal racketeering charges and racketeering conspiracy counts. The indictments listed criminal acts that took place over an 18-year period. All the men were looking at prison terms of 20 years, in addition to stiff fines.
Because of the success Gotti had achieved intimidating Romual Piecyk, he decided to use the same tactics again. The first government witness to be approached was Dennis Quirk who was subpoenaed to testify regarding the 1976 murder of court officer Albert Gelb. The 25 year-old official, described as the "city's most decorated uniform court officer," had been murdered shortly before he was to testify against fugitive defendant Charles Carneglia. Giacalone told Federal Judge Eugene Nickerson that Gotti's people had tried to contact Quirk on two occasions. The prosecutor told the judge she would move to have the defendants' bails revoked if any future contact were attempted with the government's witnesses. Nickerson agreed to keep the names of government witnesses secret until they testified, and ordered the defendants to steer clear of them.
On the morning of April 9, a bomb threat was telephoned into the courthouse, clearing it immediately. Gotti told a friend, "Tell them it's not me. They'll be blaming this one on me." He was partially correct. The man who made the call claimed he was John Gotti. It was later discovered the culprit was Alexander Galka, a hospitalized mental patient who was due in court that afternoon for sentencing for making threats against President Ronald Reagan.
Also on April 9, the two mob attorneys, Cutler and his one-time law partner Barry Slotnick, let the underworld know where their loyalties lay. The two withdrew from representing Joseph Colombo, Jr., and his brother Anthony, sons of the former mob boss of the Colombo Family. Slotnick claimed that one of the former defendants in that case, Alphonse Merolla, had become a government witness. Merolla had been defended by Cutler, and the lawyers decided that any further representation in the trial would constitute a conflict of interest.
Four days later, Gambino Family underboss Frank DeCicco was murdered in a sensational car bombing. The trial was not yet a month old and it had already experienced missing defendants, a bomb scare, intimidation of witnesses and the murder of a high-ranking associate of the group. This was only the beginning of what would turn into a circus-like atmosphere and complete mockery of the justice system. On April 28, Judge Nickerson's decision to postpone the case came as no surprise. In announcing it, the judge had cited, "events of the past few weeks," his own observations during the jury selection process, and the extensive news coverage of the case, which had only intensified with the murder of DeCicco.
Nickerson refused to elaborate, or to explain why he chose a four-month moratorium for the trial. Yet despite the postponement, Gotti's legal woes weren't over. Prosecutor Giacalone moved to have Gotti and three other defendants' bails revoked, claiming they had "violated the conditions of their release" and "continued participation in the activities of the Gambino organized-crime family." Several witnesses testified during the three days of hearings. Lieutenant Remo Franceschini, commander of the Queens' District Attorney's detective squad, testified that his informants had said that Gotti was "involved in illegal activities, including gambling and shylocking."
John Gurnee, who was an organized crime specialist with the New York Police Department's Intelligence Division and who had taken dozens of photographs of the mob boss and his associates, also testified. He told Judge Nickerson that while Gotti was out on bail, the new mob leader had received "unusual respect" from mobsters following the murder of Paul Castellano, and was "accorded even greater respect" at the wake of Frank DeCicco. Edward Magnuson, a supervising agent for the DEA, testified that a confidential informant had told him that Gotti was "very angry relative to the murder of Frank DeCicco, and when he was out on bail, or when the trial was over, there was going to be a war, and John would take his revenge."
After hearing from eleven government witnesses, prosecutors Giacalone and John Gleeson stated in a 40-page memorandum that if Gotti and the other defendants were allowed to remain free, "they would try to intimidate witnesses or jurors." On May 13, Judge Nickerson revoked John Gotti's bail, stating that there was substantial evidence that while out on bail, the mob boss had been involved in the intimidation of Romual Piecyk. Therefore Gotti was considered "reckless" and "dangerous" and "worthy of detention." Not even a Bruce Cutler-induced affidavit from Piecyk stating that he was "never harassed" could prevent the Dapper Don from being locked up. However, none of the other defendants were held, although prosecutors had requested it.
On May 19, 1986, after Cutler's arguments failed before a panel of three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Gotti was searched, fingerprinted and photographed in Brooklyn's Federal Courthouse. He had arrived in a black Mercedes Benz and he left in a dirty blue Dodge prison van that was headed for the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan. "Let's go," Gotti told his captors, "I'm ready for Freddy."