NEW YORK, DEC. 12 -- John Gotti, reputed Gambino family crime leader whose silky elegance and apparent invincibility helped make him a local legend, was indicted here today in the 1985 shooting death of his predecessor, Paul Castellano.
That killing on the street outside a popular Manhattan steak house propelled Gotti into position as head of what federal law-enforcement officials routinely describe as the nation's most powerful crime organization.
This is the fourth time in five years that Gotti, 50, whose $1,500 hand-stitched suits earned him the nickname, "The Dapper Don," has been arrested or indicted in New York. In each previous instance, Gotti was tried and acquitted, earning him another well-known nickname, "The Teflon Don."
Gotti and two longtime associates were arrested by 15 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents Tuesday night at the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy, where he often spends free time.
Dressed in a finely tailored woolen suit with a silk scarf draped around his neck, he smiled serenely while being led away in handcuffs. "No problem," he said as a crowd gathered around the entrance to the club. "No problem."
"He is a murderer, not a folk hero," said Andrew Maloney, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who described the case against Gotti as very strong. "His real job is boss of the most powerful crime family in this country."
The 11-count, 23-page indictment also charged Gotti with orchestrating three other murders and conspiring to kill a fifth person.
The indictment includes charges of loan sharking, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. Federal officials, who have worked on the case five years, said they are far more confident that they will win conviction than they have been with past cases involving Gotti.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time that we have taken down the entire hierarchy of an organized-crime family -- the boss, the underboss, the consigliere," said James M. Fox, head of the FBI's office here.
The indictment makes clear that prosecutors have collected wiretaps that they say will show Gotti's illegal activities. They also will rely on the testimony of Philip Leonetti, a Pennsylvania informer, who said Gotti boasted at a Philadelphia meeting that he had Castellano killed.
Gotti seems to have acquired an untouchable aura in this city. He was heralded today in the tabloid press, which portrayed him as an amiable "Godfather" who laughingly accepted this latest federal folly. Callers to morning talk shows appeared to wonder why authorities bother to arrest him.
Gotti seemed relaxed and impeccable in a brown-striped suit and a floral patterned tie this afternoon at his Brooklyn arraignment. He pleaded not guilty before U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser, who ruled that he should be held without bail, at least until Monday, when Maloney is to present evidence to bolster his claim that Gotti is a danger to the community.
Gotti's deputies, Frank "Frankie Loc" Locascio and Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano, also were ordered held without bail.
Thomas Gambino, son of the late Carlo Gambino, also was arrested Monday and was released today on a $500,000 bond.
Gotti, who has said he makes his living selling plumbing fixtures and zippers and hangers to the fashion industry, was carrying more than $6,000 in cash when arrested, authorities said.
Federal law-enforcement officials have said Gotti took over leadership of the Gambino family after Castellano and his bodyguard, Thomas Bilotti, were killed. The indictment charges that Gotti was "in the area" of the restaurant on East 46th Street when the shooting occurred.
"This is pure crap," Gotti's lawyer, Bruce Cutler, said of the indictment. "We've gone through it all before. Why did they arrest him with a bunch of agents, on overtime? All they had to do was drop a quarter in the phone and call me."