John Gotti Jr. was ordered held without bail Tuesday despite government tapes that suggest that Mafia scion now harbors deep loathing for his chosen profession.
"If you told me my son is involved in the streets, I'd rather hang myself," the muscular Gotti, 40, said, according to a transcript of tapes recorded while he was in prison. "If you told me my own brother got involved in this life, I would disown him.
"If we are stupid enough to raise our children near this, then we deserve to die in jail," he allegedly added.
Gotti could in fact live out the remainder of his years behind bars. He recently finished a 77-month stretch in federal prison. But before he was released, federal prosecutors indicted him this summer on a collection of new charges -- including conspiring to murder a radio talk show host and plying the Mafia trade of extorting construction foremen -- that could earn him 130 years in prison.
His father, John Sr., was boss of the Gambino crime family and died in prison. John Jr.'s attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman argued that the son suffers from guilt by association and surname. Even if he technically remains a mob captain, they said, it is but a nominal title, a "captaincy without portfolio."
Lichtman portrayed his client as a sensitive man, who earned good grades in prison college classes, wrote a book for children and made a point of talking to his children's teachers from prison once a week. He said his client would happily post a $10 million bond. Gotti, his attorney added, would conduct himself well while out on bond, citing John Jr.'s "impeccable bail behavior" last time.
The federal magistrate, Frank Maas, listened carefully to the arguments and rejected them.
"I don't think I'm able to say that Mr. Gotti has renounced such a role" in the crime family, he said. "The subordinate role of captain in a crime family certainly can't be minimized."
The bail hearing on the fifth floor of the towering federal court building in Lower Manhattan had the feel of a Gotti family reunion. John Jr.'s mother, Victoria Sr., sat in the last row. A day earlier, as FBI agents dug up a vacant lot on the Brooklyn-Queens border searching for the body of a man allegedly murdered by her husband, she had told reporters that "they blame too much on John."
John Jr.'s sister, Victoria Jr., a petite woman with bleached blond tresses that fell below her waist, leaned against the wall. She wore a short plaid skirt and black leather boots, much as she looks in her own A&E reality show "Growing Up Gotti."
The back row was filled out by three large men in Hawaiian shirts, with jet-black hair combed straight back. They cracked knuckles, told jokes during court breaks and were not overly responsive to queries from a reporter.
But the star of the show was John Jr. A muscular and balding plug of a man, he walked into the courtroom in a light-blue jumpsuit with reading glasses propped delicately on his nose. From his late teens, he had been groomed by his father for mob stardom.
But John Jr., if the tapes are to be believed, was a victim of misplaced hero worship of his father. When John Sr. was convicted and sent to a maximum security stay in federal prison, he relied on John Jr. to execute his wishes.
"I wanted to move to Florida at one time, but how could I ever tell him?" John Jr. said, according to the transcript. "My father would have said, 'Well, you enjoyed the beginning of the game, now in the middle you want to walk away?' I got trapped. . . . I couldn't disappoint the guy, I had to stay."
John Jr. blames his father for pushing him into all of this. "I got to question how much [he loved me] to put me with all these wolves," John Jr. said on one of the transcripts. "I never want to go back to these people again. They're garbage."
Prosecutors advise taking these statements with a pound or three of salt. They note that John Jr. delivered several of his choicest soliloquies in federal prison, where he had reason to suspect he would be taped. And as he suggests that friends be "legitimate and stay away from these people" it is worth keeping in mind that he is talking to John "Johnny Boy" Ruggiero, a friend from back in the days when John Jr. ran the family business.
Still, Gotti's distaste for his old buddies sounds heartfelt enough that he might find himself unwelcome on the streets of his native Howard Beach, Queens, the neighborhood so many mob soldiers call home.
"So much treachery," Gotti says on the tapes. "These people mean nothing to me, they mean absolutely zero."
In the end, Gotti took the news that he was remaining in prison until his trial in phlegmatic stride. As marshals came to take him away, he clapped his attorneys on the back and reassured them that he was fine. And in the back, two women with deep tans and diamonds encrusted on their high heels blew kisses and whispered, "Goodbye, Johnny."