| showdown: Peter Gotti (left) and Steven Seagal
New York, Jan. 12 (Reuters): Like a scene from an oldtime gangster movie, seven accused mobsters face trial this week in a case replete with anonymous jurors, whispers of jailhouse murder plots and defendants named Gotti, arguably the most famous name in recent organised crime lore.
Peter Gotti, reputed head of the Gambino crime family and the older brother of the late mob boss John Gotti, his younger brother Richard V. Gotti, nephew Richard G. Gotti and four others face an array of federal charges accusing them of laundering money and infiltrating the city’s waterfront unions.
The eldest Gotti, 62, bears a slight resemblance to his late brother John, who died of cancer last June while serving a life prison term, but without the sartorial elegance or visible charisma that earned his late brother the moniker of the “Dapper Don”.
With his loose jowls and ill-fitting suits making him look more like union boss Johnny Friendly, as played by Lee J. Cobb, in On the Waterfront, Peter Gotti has spent the last seven months in prison.
Almost three months of that time was spent in solitary confinement while authorities investigated a plot, allegedly pinned on him, to kill the warden of the Missouri prison where John Gotti was held.
Clad in trademark double-breasted suits and surrounded by a cadre of defense attorneys, the seven accused men whispered and nodded to one another last week as US District Judge Frederic Block quizzed prospective jurors to determine if they could consider the case fairly.
Each prospective juror filled out a 47-page questionnaire, asking them about everything from the state of their health to whether they watch HBO’s The Sopranos series about organised crime to whether they believe there is a Mafia at all.
Lawyers for John Gotti, who was convicted of murder and racketeering in 1992 after surviving three previous trials, used to deny there was a Mafia. John Gotti always claimed to be a plumbing supply salesman. Some of the same defense attorneys who worked on earlier Gambino family cases are back for this one.
Among the witnesses to be called is actor Steven Seagal, the alleged victim of a shakedown by the accused for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Jury selection is expected to conclude tomorrow, with opening arguments on Tuesday.
Among the evidence to be presented are tape recordings made years ago by the FBI of John Gotti and of former Gambino boss Paul Castellano. On John Gotti’s orders, Castellano was slain in 1985.
In a folksy, chatty style, the judge asked one juror about his sinus condition, recalling his personal success with a particular anti-histamine. He asked another where he liked to fish and reminded each one who professed to watching The Sopranos that it was only a fictional television show.
Typical of jury pools, the prospective jurors range from sanitation workers to website designers to mechanics. “I’m just a regular guy who likes power tools,” said Juror No. 37 when asked about his life.
Some people were anxious to serve, others groped for excuses not to spend the next several weeks in the Brooklyn federal courthouse and one simply said he feared being identified. He was dismissed.