NEW YORK, JUNE 23 -- Mob kingpin John Gotti was sentenced today to life in prison without parole, sparking a pro-Gotti protest outside the courthouse that turned ugly when the crowd battled police and flipped over a federal marshal's car.
Smiling and dressed in a charcoal suit and yellow tie, Gotti shook his head when Judge I. Leo Glasser asked if he wanted to say anything.
Gotti wisecracked his way through his 10-week trial, but when given center stage today he did not protest the jury's guilty verdict on charges of masterminding five murders, evading taxes, bribing a police officer, loan-sharking and running an illegal gambling ring.
But outside the Brooklyn courthouse, his supporters chanted "Justice for John" and waved American flags. Storming the glass courthouse doors, they pelted police with wood ripped from barricades, leaving at least two officers bloody and bruised. Seven people were arrested. The crowd ballooned to almost 1,000 with the arrival of seven chartered buses from New Jersey, Queens and the Bronx.
"We want a fair trial for John Gotti, like anybody else on Earth in the United States of America," Steven Barrucci said into a megaphone. "He has a constitutional right to be not guilty."
"I'm here because John Gotti got a raw deal," Barrucci said in a brief pause from the megaphone. "If your name ends in a vowel," he said, alluding to Italian Americans, "you get what's not coming to you."
Gotti had eluded the government's grasp in three previous trials, winning one surprise acquittal after another at the side of his pugnacious lawyer, Bruce Cutler.
But in the last trial, prosecutors had their heaviest artillery: hours of tape recordings the FBI surreptitiously made in meeting places Gotti believed secure, and a witness named Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano, the number three man in the Gotti crime family. Gravano had been arrested with Gotti, but made a deal with prosecutors after 10 months in prison.
On top of that, Gotti faced this trial without Cutler, who had been disqualified by Glasser because his voice is heard on several of the FBI tapes.
Gotti, 51, and his associate, Frank "Frankie Locs" Locascio, 59, were convicted April 2 after anonymous and sequestered jury members deliberated less than two days. Locascio also was sentenced today to life in prison without parole. Both were ordered to pay fines of $250,000.
Loyal to the last, Locascio stood and told Glasser that he was innocent of all charges, but concluded: "I am guilty though. I am guilty of being a good friend of John Gotti. If there was more men like John Gotti on this Earth, this would be a better country."
Gotti's friends and associates, who filled the spectators' rows of the courtroom, rose when Gotti and Locascio entered for the sentencing. In the moments before the judge's reckoning, Gotti patted Locascio on the back and said, "We've only just begun to fight," according to Gotti's attorney, Albert Krieger.
"He accepts the sentence," Krieger said of Gotti, "because he feels that it will probably not outlast the appeal."
A team of attorneys, including civil rights lawyer William Kunstler, is planning Gotti's appeal. Kunstler Monday urged the court to delay Gotti's sentencing, charging that the government engineered the dismissal of a juror believed sympathetic to Gotti. And Kunstler produced a letter from another juror who said he was pressured into voting to convict.
But Glasser today denied a hearing on these allegations.
Among the protesters today were older women and young men, some Gotti's friends and neighbors, some who appeared to be employees of businesses associated with Gotti. Angelo Zuena, 27, said he and 200 other construction workers from New Jersey boarded a bus from Newark that he said was chartered by his bosses. "I'm laid off right now," Zuena said. "That's why I could come."
James Fox, head of the FBI's New York office, said that John Gotti Jr., Gotti's son, had organized the protests and would be charged if federal property was damaged. Protesters smashed the windows of five cars and overturned one belonging to the federal marshal's office.
Kenny Saricka, 18, a busboy from Cedarhurst, Long Island, said he had no reservations about shouting support for a convicted murderer. "That's the Mafia," he said. "They're not killing innocent people; they're killing each other. That's how Gotti lives. It's his lifestyle."