The trial of Mr Gotti, who assumed the leadership of the violent Gambino family after his father, John "The Dapper Don" Gotti, went to prison in 1992, is the government's latest chance further to humiliate mafia leaders. Ridiculed as "Dumbfella" because of his failure to match up to his more famous father, Mr Gotti recently served a five-year sentence arising from racketeering charges. If convicted this time, he faces another 30 years.
The prosecution began laying out its case yesterday, alleging that Mr Gotti was the man who ordered a bungled hit on Mr Sliwa as he was hailing a cab in 1992. It said Mr Gotti was determined to harm Mr Sliwa for repeatedly disparaging his father on a show on ABC radio.
While lawyers for Mr Gotti have insisted he is a changed man, lawyers for the prosecution were expected to build their case on the testimony of as many as 12 former mafia foot soldiers, who have made plea agreements.
It was not clear whether Mr Gotti or Mr Sliwa would themselves take the stand. Known for always wearing a red beret, Mr Sliwa became a symbol of New York in the Eighties when he founded the Guardian Angels to help stamp out violent crime that was rampant in the city.
It was just after Mr Sliwa got into a yellow cab on his way to work in 1992 that a man allegedly popped up from the floor by the front passenger seat and opened fire. Mr Sliwa suffered wounds to his legs and abdomen but was able to escape after diving out the front passenger window.
Until two weeks ago, Mr Gotti, 40, was to be charged with conspiracy to murder. Prosecutors reduced it to conspiracy to kidnap after concluding that their witnesses were not able to say whether the attack was meant to kill or just scare.
Among the co-operating witnesses is Joseph "Little Joey" D'Angelo, the man chosen by the Gambinos to act as a bogus cab driver in the attack.
The Gotti camp has waged a public relations campaign to depict him as a man changed by the years spent in jail. His lawyers said he used the time to undertake "an ambitious course of self-improvement and compile a near pristine disciplinary record". Mr Gotti made similar claims recently to the New York Post. "I do regret my involvement in this life and what it has done to my children and wife," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's not an option for my children. If that happened, it would mean that I have failed as a father."
To bar his children from taking up the Mafia cause is not insignificant. It is one of the central tenets of the code that sons continue in the footsteps of their fathers. It was thus that Mr Gotti found himself in control of the Gambino clan after the imprisonment of John Gotti Snr, who died of cancer in prison in 2002.
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