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Close, but no conviction
'Junior' Gotti beats a federal racketeering rap when a jury comes one vote shy and can't reach a verdict after deliberating 8 days

BY PATRICIA HURTADO
STAFF WRITER

September 21, 2005

John A. "Junior" Gotti soon may be headed home to Oyster Bay. A federal judge in Manhattan yesterday declared a mistrial in the mob scion's racketeering trial after jurors, in their eighth day of deliberations, repeatedly indicated they were deadlocked.

Gotti, 41, embraced his lawyer, Jeff Lichtman, in a bear hug after U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin declared the trial over. Over the objections of prosecutors, Scheindlin also said she probably would release Gotti on bail as early as next week.

"Now I think the man is entitled to bail," Scheindlin said of Gotti. "After five years, it's my view that the time has come."

The courtroom drama unfolded after lunch yesterday. As the jury acquitted Gotti of a securities fraud count, a burst of applause and cries of joy erupted from his supporters, including his mother, Victoria; sisters, Victoria and Angel; and younger brother Peter. Meanwhile, an aunt of co-defendant Louis Mariani fainted upon hearing Mariani was convicted of securities fraud. She was lifted and carried from the room by U.S. marshals.

The judge indicated she likely will allow Gotti to go home with restrictions after a bail hearing next week. He was ordered held without bail last year after Scheindlin concluded Gotti posed a danger to the community because he originally was charged with directing the attempted murder of radio talk-show host Curtis Sliwa in 1992. Prosecutors later dropped that charge, instead asserting that Gotti had ordered Sliwa kidnapped.

Just how close Gotti came to conviction became clear last night when the judge unsealed the jury's verdict sheet.

It showed the panel was one vote away from convicting him of several racketeering acts. The verdict sheet indicated jurors voted 11-1 for conviction on four racketeering acts under Count 1, a racketeering charge, and 11-1 for conviction on Count 6, a charge that he conspired to extort construction workers. To convict Gotti of a pattern of racketeering in Count 1, the panel would have had to find him guilty of two acts within the count.

The verdict sheet also showed the difficulty that jurors had in resolving Gotti's role in the Sliwa shooting. Prosecutors charged Sliwa was shot in the groin and leg after Gotti directed Michael Yannotti, a mob underling, to kidnap him following the radio talk show host's disparagement of Gotti's father, John J. Gotti, the Gambino mob boss who died in prison in 2002.

The verdict sheet showed the jury split 10-2 for conviction of Gotti on the conspiracy to kidnap Sliwa and 7-5 for conviction on the actual kidnapping.

The jury also split 7-5 for conviction of Yannotti on his role in the Sliwa shooting and kidnapping. In addition, the panel cleared Yannotti of a double homicide in Brooklyn in which Yannotti's beeper was found among more than 30 spent automatic shell casings on the street where the killings occurred.

The jury appeared to struggle with whether Gotti "retired" from the mob after pleading guilty to separate racketeering charges in April 1999, as his lawyer contended.

Prosecutors Michael McGovern, Joon Kim and Victor Hou argued during the monthlong trial that Gotti had been appointed to lead the mob family after his father was convicted in 1992 and sent to federal prison.

McGovern charged that evidence from cooperators established that until early 2002, the younger Gotti still was directing former Gambino capo Michael DiLeonardo to return five machine guns DiLeonardo was holding for the mob scion and laundering loan-sharking money by purchasing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of commercial real estate in Queens.

On Monday, the jury sent out a note that they were deadlocked over whether Gotti had retired from the mob. Scheindlin instructed jurors to renew their deliberations.

About 1:20 p.m. yesterday, the panel said it had a verdict. After conferring with lawyers, Scheindlin noted the jury actually was deadlocked on Counts 1, 2 and 6, and had been unable, in Count 1, to agree on the necessary second racketeering act to convict.

"The question is, do we have a hung jury or an acquittal?" Scheindlin said. "They indicated they were split whenever they can't agree. ... That's the dilemma, it's between 'not guilty' and 'hung.'"

Marc Fernich, a lawyer for Gotti, argued the jury meant to acquit Gotti. McGovern disagreed. After a private discussion with lawyers, Scheindlin decided to take a partial verdict.

"If I enter a judgment of acquittal, the government has the option to appeal it," Scheindlin said.The co-defendantThe victimThe mom
 
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