Son of 'Teflon Don' cleared of Mafia kidnap

Click to follow

The decision of Judge Shira Scheindlin to declare a mistrial marks a startling setback for federal prosecutors as they try to squeeze the last breaths from the once-mighty Mafia families of New York City. It brought delirium to members of the Gotti tribe who had sat through most of the trial. "God hears a mother's prayers," Victoria Gotti, the defendant's mother, told reporters outside.

Mr Gotti, 41, will almost certainly be released from prison on bail, Judge Scheindlin indicated. He was found not guilty by the jury of charges of securities fraud.

On the more serious charges - extortion, racketeering and plotting to kidnap a prominent radio personality - they had become hopelessly divided, leading Judge Scheindlin eventually to send them home.

It remains to be seen if prosecutors think they have enough grounds to seek a second trial. But the Gotti camp ridiculed the notion of a new trial.

"This case, what's left of it, is a limping wreck," said Mr Gotti's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman. "John is very pleased. He's going to be home very shortly with his children, which is all he's talked about for the last year."

The main witnesses for the prosecution were former henchmen of the Gambino family that for years was controlled by the elder John Gotti - who was also known as the "Dapper Don" - until 1992 when finally prosecutors won a case against him. Gotti Snr died in prison ten years later from cancer. In return for giving testimony, the turncoats won immunity from prosecution themselves. What they told the court, however, was often contradictory. They also admitted on the stand to crimes far more blood-curdling than anything that Mr Gotti was being accused of.

They were "pieces of garbage", Mr Lichtman suggested at trial's end. "Everybody knew they lied and the jury agreed."

Mr Gotti had been accused of setting up the June 1992 kidnapping of Curtis Sliwa, a well-known Manhattan figure who founded the Guardian Angels crime-fighting street group and for years has had a popular talk show on local ABC radio. He was ambushed getting into a taxi near his home in the East Village district of Manhattan and shot several times at close range.

Present throughout the trial dressed in his trademark red beret and shiny red jacket, Mr Sliwa voiced dismay at the failure of the jury to convict, describing it as "a page out of OJ" - a reference to the acquittal on murder charges of O J Simpson a decade ago.

"The jury was out to lunch," Mr Sliwa barked to reporters. He said he had been told by prosecutors that they would definitely be seeking a second trial. "So let's make it round two. I can't wait," he continued.

Going into the trial, Mr Gotti had tried to portray himself as a repentant figure who had long ago decided to forgo his Mafia life to focus instead on his wife and young children.