Junior Plays Hide and Seek as Gotti IV Goes to the Jury

Two weeks ago, the show in Manhattan Federal Court was 'Blowing Up Gotti,' as matriarch Victoria (Mama) Gotti blew a gut at the judge, accusing him of lynching her son. Last week's episode could be dubbed 'Showing Up Gotti' since it was John (Junior) Gotti himself who threw a snit, refusing to leave his jail cell, and delaying his trial for two hours.

In the end, after some cajoling from his exasperated defense attorney, Gotti decided to put in an appearance for his lawyer's closing remarks, along with those of the prosecution. Junior also was present yesterday as a panel of anonymous jurors began its deliberations in his case.

The next installment could come as early as today. If it's an acquittal, count on plenty of crowing from the Gotti clan. If not ... well ... some throwing could be involved.

For more than two hours last Tuesday, until the former Junior Don took his seat at the defense table wearing a short-sleeved shirt and an angry scowl, his appearance was an open question, even though lawyer Charles Carnesi -- after visiting his client at his federal lockup across the street - had assured the judge that Gotti was on his way.

Eventually, Gotti heard Carnesi rip key prosecution witness John Alite as a "treacherous, manipulative criminal" who took bits and pieces of the truth -- often crimes that he committed -- and twisted them to earn a "ride on the Gotti freedom train out of prison."

The defense attorney reminded jurors of the testimony of a minor prosecution witness -- Alite loanshark victim Joseph DeLuca, a former New York Mets employee who had been befriended by Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez -- and argued that what DeLuca did to Hernandez was exactly what Alite had done to Gotti, albeit on a much grander scale.

DeLuca, said Carnesi, "used the name of Keith Hernandez to place large bets that would not otherwise have been accepted from him. He knew Hernandez, and they were friends, but he had no idea what Joe DeLuca was doing. That's John Alite, trading on John Gotti's name."

The cornerstone of Gotti's defense is that he quit the mob when he pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in 1999. Toward that end, Carnesi offered a moving account of how Junior, some 11 years after he willingly joined the Gambino family, visited his jailed-for-life father and said he was giving up "the life" to be a father to his own kids.

Recalling a videotaped meeting between Junior and the elder John Gotti that jury had seen the day before, Carnesi told the jury that what his client was telling his dad, whom he had "idolized," was: "I can't do this anymore. This is your life. This is not my life."

In his rebuttal, assistant U.S. attorney Elie Honig told the jury that Gotti's "I quit the mob" defense was a "made up claim" that sought to earn him a pass on a lifetime of crime by blaming his late father for his life of crime.

Honig took a page from the closing remarks of prosecutor Victor Hou in Gotti III, citing 14 reasons why Junior's so-called withdrawal defense was a "complete fabrication." Several allegations, including messages from prison to mob cronies about guns and loanshark debts, as well as taking profits from real estate deals, were also on Hou's "Top 20 Reasons Gotti Never Withdrew."

The co-prosecutor in Gotti III, Miriam Rocah -- who now heads the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's organized crime unit -- showed up for the summations, as did the lead prosecutor in Gotti I and II, Michael McGovern. Also putting in appearances were the two former leaders of the FBI's Gambino squad, Philip Scala and Rita Steiner, who joined many prosecution pundits in the courtroom for the closings.

Another interested spectator on the government side of the room was Curtis Sliwa, whose 1992 shooting in a Manhattan cab was the centerpiece of the first three trials. Sliwa's taxi-ride from hell is also an allegation in Gotti IV. The talk show host told Gang Land that Honig "connected all the dots" in his closing. "You'd have to be brain dead not to make the connections and find Gotti guilty," said Sliwa.

Gotti's mother, who exploded in anger last week when Judge P. Kevin Castel dismissed a juror who was viewed as pro-defense, returned to the trial and sat in the middle of the first row of Junior's supporters. Alongside were her son Peter and daughters Angel and Victoria. Cousin John DiGiorgio, a onetime snitch who agreed to testify for the defense at an earlier trial, was also part of the group.

In an obvious expression of anger with Castel, Mrs. Gotti remained seated when the judge entered and left the courtroom instead of standing in the tradition of respect for the bench. And when Honig began his final remarks, she stood up and led her row of relatives out of the courtroom. They remained outside until he was done.

On the defense side, Seth Ginsberg, who represented Gotti in his first three trials, expressed confidence in the outcome for his former client. "Even the brief snippet of John's prison meeting with his father that the judge allowed the defense to play shows that John left that life in 1999," he said. "The best proof of that is the government's feeble attempt to prove otherwise with a convoluted legal theory about the ownership of a rental property that he used to support his family."