The Gottis: Putting the fun in dysfunctional

Analyze this! With Junior's sentencing scheduled for this week, transcripts of a visiting room chat between the Dapper Don and his darling daughter reveal a family that's got some issues. And who the hell's Sigmund the Sea Monster?

By Jerry Capeci
July 7, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Nobody looks forward to the humbling experience of being publicly sentenced to prison. And this week, John A. (Junior) Gotti has even more reason to want to stay home rather than show his face at the White Plains, N.Y., Federal Court.

The 35-year-old would-be Gambino crime family boss was branded a dummy by his jailed-for-life father -- over and over again -- during videotaped conversations at Marion federal penitentiary with Junior's sister Victoria and uncle Peter. And to make matters worse, Victoria, a bestselling author, often agreed with her father's criticisms, even chiming in that her mobster husband Carmine was as much of an "asshole" as her brothers John and Peter.

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The feds filed the titillating transcripts along with scads of less sexy material last week in an effort to convince Judge Barrington Parker that Junior deserves 87 months -- the maximum sentence under his plea bargain agreement. Junior's lawyers are looking to postpone the sentencing, scheduled for Thursday.

John J. Gotti, the onetime Dapper Don now behind bars for racketeering and murder, voiced the opinion on Jan. 29, 1998, a week after Junior was indicted for racketeering, that his son was guilty of "stupid acts" and should be sent to an "insane asylum."

Separated by a glass partition, Gotti spoke to his daughter and brother, a reputed Gambino capo, on a telephone hookup. In an angry rant, the elder Gotti called Junior an "imbecile," an "asshole," "a babbling idiot" and much more.

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Using his words like knives, Gotti mocked his son, his son's associates and the evidence they left in a Queens basement that tied Junior to criminal activity -- some $358,000 in "wedding gifts," two guns and a list of men who had been inducted into the Mafia.

"This is stupidity from down the line," he said, singling out Junior's codefendant, Steven Sergio, whom the elder Gotti has never met. "I can't even identify two people in the indictment -- uh, uh, the Sea Monster, Sigmund the Sea Monster. I'm not away 100 years. I'm only away seven years. Where do these creatures emerge from?

"All I know is one thing. I don't think I'll ever find myself in a position where I'll put my wedding money, 380 thous ... whatever it is, in the basement near a broken safe, with a bunch of old jewelry."

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He couldn't believe his son kept guns, including an old derringer ("The derringer was my derr -- that derringer was minding it's business on top of a goddamn dresser for 10, 12 years and didn't bother nobody") in the basement "behind a sealed wall? Let's assume I keep this gun here for protection, or two guns for protection. I see some people coming, I need the protection, I got to first break the wall, [no], first I gotta go downstairs, then I got to break the wall, then I got to hope it's clean."

As to the list of mobsters -- Junior's fingerprint was on it -- let alone that it was left it in the basement of a building owned by a close associate. "Maybe somebody somewhere down the line could tell me what the reason for this list is to begin with ... What do you need a list for? I don't understand that. Assume, uh, well, say you wanted to be a nice guy. Your wife was feeling under the weather, you wanted to go shopping, she gave you a list. After you bought your groceries, what do you do with the list, you put it away for posterity? To show that you went shopping one time?"

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Gotti repeated the same points over and over. When he pressed daughter Victoria for her opinion, she usually agreed with him. He said he couldn't understand how lists of guests at Junior's gala wedding and amounts of money they gave as gifts were left in a basement if he lived twice as long as the 2,000-year-old man in Mel Brooks' classic routine. Victoria shook her head and said it made no sense. She also agreed with her father's assessment that whoever put guns behind a sealed wall, "if there were guns behind the wall," had to be an idiot.

But the senior Gotti himself comes off as the head of a dysfunctional Mafia family who has apparently forgotten that he's largely responsible for the prison term his son is about to get. He brought his son to his Ozone Park, Queens, social club and into his sordid world when Junior was a teenager. After Gotti engineered the assassination of Mafia boss Paul Castellano and moved from Queens to the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy, he brought his son there, too, and inducted him into the Gambino crime family in his early 20s.

By age 27, Junior was a capo; by 30, the acting boss of the family, following in his father's footsteps. And as silly and amateurish as some of his mistakes may have been, Junior never made any as big or as dumb as the ones that landed his father in Marion for life, where he could pontificate and second guess his son's mistakes from behind bars. Junior never sat around in a bugged apartment above his social club in these high-tech times, chatting and boasting about ordering three murders and scores of other crimes, which he committed with the likes of 19-time killer Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano.

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John Gotti's remarks about his son's trials and tribulations give more insight into the father than the son. Yet they were submitted by White Plains federal prosecutors to the judge who will sentence Junior, whose lawyers cannot oppose the government's motion that Junior receive the full 87 months, according to the plea bargain signed by both sides.

In a 17-page letter to Judge Parker that accompanied the transcript of the elder Gotti's remarks -- it was part of a three-inch-thick pile that ranks as the largest pre-sentencing package Gang Land has ever seen and we've seen hundreds and hundreds -- Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carol Sipperly, Marjorie Miller and Bart Van De Weghe wrote that because Junior's lawyers could not object, they were submitting "a more limited presentation of its proof to assist the Court in imposing sentence." Guess they would have needed a truck if Junior's lawyers were allowed to argue against an 87-month sentence.

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My brother made me do it

Robert Spinelli, 36, has an IQ of 63. A user and abuser of drugs since he was a teenager, he was never viewed by the Luchese family as even an associate. Mobsters and associates refrained from using the lowest of salutations-- "a friend of mine" -- when they introduced Robert when he showed up at a Christmas party or other gathering with his mobster brother Michael (Baldy Mike).

"This is Mike's brother," is all they'd say, recalled turncoat gangster Frank Gioia Jr. when he testified at the brothers' attempted murder trial last fall.

At the same trial, Dino Basciano, the trigger man in the rub-out attempt for which the brothers were convicted, said he never would have chosen Robert to be part of the team that tried to kill Patricia Capozzalo, the innocent sister of a Mafia turncoat, in 1992. The crime is one of the low points of the mob legacy in this country. "If it was up to me, Robert would not be on the hit," said Basciano. "It was up to Michael."

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Citing Robert's low IQ and his "hero worship" of his older brother, lawyer Gail Laser has asked Brooklyn Federal Judge Raymond Dearie to mete out a much lower sentence than the 14 to 17 years that sentencing guidelines mandate.

In court papers, Laser noted that Robert was not involved in the planning, wore no disguise and carried no weapon in the shooting, but was selected by Michael to sit in a "switch car" far from the scene and drive the shooters away when they finished their work. Nonsense, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Lesser in her reply papers. Lesser noted that Robert has a history of violent crimes back to the age of 16, including 11 robberies of senior citizens, and asked Dearie to impose a full sentence within the guidelines.

Robert is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.

Michael Spinelli, who drove Basciano during the attempted hit, was last month sentenced to 19 years, seven months. Mobster Jody Calabrese, who drove a "crash car" in the scheme, received 10 years.


Jerry Capeci

Jerry Capeci has been a crime reporter in New York for more than 30 years, during which time he's won numerous awards including a John S. Knight Fellowship from Stanford University. Capeci is the co-author of three books: "Mob Star" (1988), "Murder Machine" (1992) and "Gotti: Rise and Fall" (1996), which was the basis for the HBO movie "Gotti."

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