The fourth racketeering trial of John "Junior" Gotti began Monday with the government portraying the mob heir as a maniacal killer and chronic criminal who has dodged prison by intimidating witnesses and obstructing justice.
Gotti's lawyer, Charles Carnesi, tried to debunk that picture by telling a jury in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that federal prosecutors have assembled a cast of mob killers trying to win leniency for their crimes by testifying that Gotti ordered assaults and murders.
The son of notorious mob boss John Gotti is accused of ordering the killings of two drug dealers.
Federal prosecutor Elie Honig told jurors it was part of a three-decade organized crime career that included extortion, drug dealing and kidnapping.
The prosecutor said Gotti "routinely ordered and gave out beatings and stabbings and shootings.'' Then, for emphasis, he added that there were "too many for me to go through now.''
Gotti's lawyer, Carnesi, said Gotti never had anything to do with killings in the late 1980s and early 1990s of two drug dealers, despite claims ofthe witnesses, including one who could have faced the death penalty if convicted of charges he faced before he began cooperating.
And he said Gotti, 45, should be acquitted of a racketeering charge accusing him of a laundry list of traditional organized crime family crimes because Gotti quit the family business in 1999 and was already punished for anything that happened beforehand.
Just before 45-year-old Gotti's trial began, the judge announced that seven jurors had made a last-minute appeal to be dismissed.
The reasons were not immediately disclosed. They were sworn in anyway.
Gotti is facing a prosecution backed up by a self-described "rat." And like his notorious father -- whose reputation for beating prosecutions earned him the nickname "Teflon Don" -- the son already knows his way around a courtroom.
Gotti, 45, has been tried three times in the same Manhattan court in 2005 and 2006 on charges he plotted to kidnap Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels crime-fighting group and outspoken Gambino gadfly.
All the trials ended in hung juries and mistrials after Gotti used the defense that he had quit the mob for good in the 1990s.
This time, along with the Sliwa plot, Gotti has pleaded not guilty to charges that he was involved in three gangland slayings and that he trafficked cocaine.
"Here I am again," Gotti said last week when introducing himself to prospective jurors.
The Gambinos have been the subject of a steady stream of federal indictments and prosecutions since the elder Gotti, also know as "Dapper Don," was sentenced to life in prison in 1992. The elder Gotti died behind bars in 2002.
Lawyers for his son were again expected to try to persuade jurors that their client had gone straight. They also have accused the government of relying on Mafia turncoats who have lied about their client to protect themselves.
Prosecutors will roll out a new star witness named John Alite, an admitted Gambino associate and former friend of Gotti who previewed his testimony earlier this year at another mob trial in Brooklyn.
In that case, Alite told jurors he grew up wanting to be a mobster. He said he won Gotti's friendship -- Gotti was best man at his wedding -- and allegiance by dealing cocaine and kicking up a cut of the profits to Gotti, even though drugs were considered taboo in the family.
During a "walk and talk," Alite said, Gotti -- who rose through the ranks while his father ruled the New York mob in the 1980s and '90s -- drafted him for a hit on an associate who had dared to ignore one of his father's orders.
"It was his first job as a captain, and he wanted to get it right," the witness said.
Alite said he tried to track the target down in Atlantic City, N.J., but was pulled off the job when Gotti changed plans.
Prosecutors said another mobster gunned down the victim in a parking garage at the World Trade Center in 1990.
The result left Gotti "elated," Alite said.
Alite also implicated Gotti in the other two killings prosecutors have charged he was involved in -- the slayings of two men in Queens amid drug turf disputes in 1988 and 1991. Alite said they were carried out on Gotti's say-so.
The witness also explained that by taking the stand he was breaking one of the family's sacred rules: "Don't do what I'm doing -- ratting."