Unless the feds stumble across some new and deeply disturbing behavior on the part of John (Junior) Gotti, last week's mistrial should be the final racketeering prosecution against the embattled mob prince.
For our money, Manhattan Federal Judge P. Kevin Castel waited at least a week too long to finally put an end to Gotti IV. Castel called it quits on Tuesday, after receiving the third deadlock note from the jury. This was a week after most neutral observers in the courtroom clearly read the 'no-way-this-is-happening' expressions on the jurors' faces.
Now, after four successive losses in five years -- and there's no question but that this was the worst defeat of all -- it's time for the FBI and federal prosecutors to give up the ghost, and move on. They should instruct their depleted mob-busting teams to go after still active wiseguys -- not has-beens with only the thinnest remaining ties to current gangsterdom.
Don't get us wrong. It's a good thing for the good guys to seek justice and prosecute mobsters for old crimes -- especially murders -- when they've gone unpunished.
But before the feds bring those cases, they should make sure they have real evidence, not what Gang Land and at least half of the New Yorkers on the jury -- and by some accounts all of them -- saw at trial. That is, the too good to be true testimony of John Alite, an admitted drug-dealing killer whose accounts of decades-old murder and mayhem were contradicted at almost every turn.
Again and again, Alite adopted the "he told me to do it" response used so often by turncoats these days. Government witnesses employ it to deflect particularly vicious and senseless crimes they commit away from them and onto the shoulders of the defendant.
"The whole jury agreed he was the least credible witness," said one juror, a software manager, who told reporters outside the courthouse that Alite seemed too anxious to pin everything he could on Gotti. "That was unanimous."
"He just wasn't credible," said a second juror, a real estate lawyer. "He would tell a story that would be 98 per centaccurate ... and then said, 'John told me to do it.'"
It happened again and again, but the one that stuck in Gang Land's craw was the story of the stunningly brutal beating that Alite doled out to an electrician who had used Alite's New Jersey home to have sex with his girlfriend while Alite was off on his honeymoon. Why this offense required such vicious retribution was one question that surely gave jurors pause. Another was the casual and long-after-the-fact way that Alite inserted Gotti's name into the episode.
In his direct testimony, Alite said he lured the electrician back to his house with a promise of more cash. When he arrived, Alite beat him senseless and tortured him while the guy's wife waited for him outside in their car to drive back to Delaware, where they lived. He told the tale with great relish:
"I stripped him down. I piped him. I broke his ribs, his jaw, I believe his arm, and I threw him in my lake. It was about 30 degrees. I said, 'You want to make an asshole out of me, I'm gonna make one of you.' I was shooting at him, and I told him to stay under water," he testified. "Then I took him out of the lake, tied him up naked, put him in my garage, and I had all the security dogs (12-to-15 of them) so he couldn't leave the garage, and I went to dinner..."
A few days later, on cross examination, defense lawyer Charles Carnesi raised the incident in an effort to stress how wildly Alite "reacted" on his own because he felt he had been made a fool of. That's when Alite suddenly recalled that before he "hurt the guy" he drove to Queens and "got permission" from "John Gotti Junior."
The convenient interjection of Gotti's name in a story that had been told in excruciating detail the first time around must have served as a bright red warning flag to jurors about the government's top witness.
But that's all behind the erstwhile Junior Don now.
After spending 15 months behind bars awaiting trial, Junior was released on a $2 million bond, and is now home with his family in Oyster Bay Cove, Long Iisland. Gotti, 45, is obviously the big winner in the case. And lucky, too.
Lucky that Carnesi and co-counsel John Meringolo were able to stymie the feds, considering all the obstacles that the judge -- as well as Gotti -- placed in front of them during the two month trial.
Gotti could not -- or would not -- pay for the lawyer who worked with Carnesi during his first three trials, or for daily trial transcripts. And when Castel refused to authorize court funds for either, Carnesi hired Meringolo himself, and made do without daily trial transcripts, an unheard of occurrence for any major murder trial in Gang Land. On top of that, Gotti's longtime friend and investigator quit when he stopped getting paid.
All told, after a two month trial, prosecutors Elie Honig, Jay Trezevant and Steve Kwok were able to convince just six jurors that Gotti was guilty of racketeering. Only five voted that Junior had ordered two drug-related murders in Queens that Alite committed in 1988 and 1991.
Last week, Gang Land got wind that the feds intend to pull the plug. But don't count on it. Like Judge Castel, who just couldn't see some pretty clear signs the jury was sending him in his own courtroom, the feds have seemed blind to the harsh reality of their expensive but futile six-year-long effort to send the onetime Junior Don off to prison for life.