The RICO conviction came after he avoided conviction on three separate occasions after becoming head of the Gambino Crime Family. This time, however, was different. The FBI built its case through bugging Gotti’s principal place of holding court, the Ravenite Social Club. Over one hundred hours of conversations of Gotti were recorded. These bugs captured, among other things, Gotti gloating that he “was in jail when [he] whacked [Robert DiBernardo].” Gotti was later charged with murdering DiBernardo along with four other people – two of which he was also caught on tape discussing.
On December 11, 1990, John Gotti was arrested for a violation of RICO based primarily on these tapes. Congress expressly enacted this Act to counteract the growing influence of organized crime (although this was not RICO’s exclusive use). To demonstrate a RICO violation, the government had to first establish that a RICO enterprise existed. Such an enterprise exists where two or more people gather with the purpose of conducting illegal activity. Thus, establishing that Gotti was the head of the Gambino Crime Family was critical because otherwise a RICO case would not exist. In theory, this was not too difficult, but for many years, made members refused to even acknowledge the existence of the mob, let alone whether an individual was the boss of a family. Fortunately, the U.S. Attorneys were able to persuade a Philadelphia mobster to flip and testify that John Gotti was in fact the head of the Gambino Crime Family.
Next, the government had to show that: (1) Gotti committed two or more predicate acts (in this case four murders and an attempted murder) within a ten-year time period; (2) the predicate acts were linked to one another; and (3) the predicate acts demonstrated criminal conduct of a continuing nature.
Around the clock surveillance produced a breadth of evidence to prove these elements. His fate was truly sealed, however, when Sammy The Bull flipped on Gotti and turned state’s evidence. Ironically, on FBI recordings, John was heard bragging to the eventual turncoat, Gravano, that “everybody in the city's got rats near them . . . but we ain't got 'em near us . . . .” Sammy The Bull was the highest-ranking member of a crime family ever to flip, and the information he possessed was overwhelming. Gravano himself admitted to committing nineteen murders.
On the witness stand, Gravano testified about John’s plot to kill his former boss, Paul Castellano and Tommy Bilotti to become boss of the Gambino Crime Family. Gravano also implicated John in the three other murders with which Gotti was charged. Jury deliberations were quick and swift. After fourteen hours of deliberation, on April 3, 1992, Gotti was found guilty of RICO violations in relation to five murders, related murder charges, conspiracy to commit murder, gambling, loansharking, obstruction of justice, and tax fraud. On June 23, 1992, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
During this period, John Gotti was somewhat of a people’s champ. He received thousands of letters from adoring fans while incarcerated (both during trial and after his conviction). Spectators lined the outside of the courthouse each day and applauded Gotti as he entered and departed from court. The New York Times’ coverage of the trial was later criticized for being pro-Gotti. Gotti’s stardom waned while in prison, and he eventually succumbed to cancer in 2002.
His conviction ushered in a new era of mafia operations. Mafia influence began to wane considerably in the ensuing years. The Government made a definitive statement in this case, one that was heard by the entire mafia world. Although many believe Gotti’s hubris is what really led to his downfall, the government officials working on this case took down, as the New York Post dubbed him, the Last Don.
Blog Editor, Criminal Law Brief