TAMPA, Fla. – Making John A. "Junior" Gotti stand trial on racketeering charges in Tampa instead of New York would be like "cutting off the supplies he needs to fight the fight," his attorney told a federal judge Thursday. Charles Carnesi, attorney for the New York Mafia scion, argued that a Tampa trial would be a "crushing burden" for Gotti and his family and make it difficult to get already reluctant defense witnesses to testify.
Carnesi also noted that many of the crimes alleged in the July indictment, including three slayings, happened in New York. And he noted that the three previous racketeering trials — in which prosecutors failed to convict Gotti — also took place in New York.
The next trial will involve many of the same facts and witnesses, Carnesi said. Gotti plans to argue that he had retired from a life of crime and withdrew from the conspiracy he is charged with being part of.
"We know how to fight the case, judge," Carnesi said. "We just need the tools and ability to fight it fairly."
Prosecutors contend the 44-year-old son of former Gambino family crime boss John Gotti was a member and, at times, de facto boss of the criminal organization that engaged in everything from murder and kidnapping to witness tampering and money laundering.
Prosecutor Jay Trezevant argued Thursday that the trial belongs in Tampa because the investigation arose from the activities of Gotti and his crew there, where he said they toiled for years to get a foothold in the city's criminal underworld.
"We brought the case here because this is where it was investigated, this is where Mr. Gotti elected to plant the Gambino crime family flag and elected to expand," Trezevant said.
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday seemed sympathetic to Gotti's argument, repeatedly questioning Trezevant about why Gotti was indicted in Tampa for participating in the same basic conspiracy charged in the three previous New York trials. Merryday suggested it amounted to "serial prosecution."
Trezevant explained that the Tampa indictment included crimes specific to Florida that haven't been addressed in the previous indictments and trials.
He said he will show how Gotti, flush with money from large-scale drug dealing in New York, came to Tampa with his crew in the late 1980s aiming to get a stake in the lucrative valet parking business and then expand the criminal organization to other parts of the state.
"If a defendant doesn't want to be prosecuted in a different jurisdiction, he shouldn't go into this jurisdiction and commit crimes," Trezevant said.
The judge said he will issue a ruling soon.
Gotti, dressed in tight blue jail scrubs, sat with shoulders slumped and did not speak during the hearing. He's been behind bars since his arrest on the new indictment Aug. 5. If convicted, he would face life in prison.
Before the three more recent New York trials, Gotti pleaded guilty in 1999 in New York to racketeering crimes including bribery, extortion, gambling and fraud. He was sentenced to 77 months in prison and was released in 2005.
Federal authorities in Florida successfully convicted other suspected members of the Tampa-area Gambino enterprise in 2006, including Michael Malone, Charles Carneglia and Ronald "Ronnie One Arm" Trucchio. Longtime Gotti friend and former alleged boss of the Tampa enterprise, John E. Alite, is awaiting trial in Tampa after being captured and extradited from Brazil.