In Life Story of a Gambino Turncoat, Keys to the Gotti Case — (New York Times)

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New York Times


Published: February 24, 2006

His marriage collapsed after his girlfriend gave birth to his son. His income dried up because he could not run his extortion rackets from the federal prison where he was being held on mob-related charges.

But the most frightening moment for Michael DiLeonardo, a captain in the Gambino crime family, was when his girlfriend conveyed a message to him from Pete Gotti, the official leader of the family and the brother of the late boss John J. Gotti.  Mr. DiLeonardo was “on the shelf,” his girlfriend told him. She did not know what that meant, but Mr. DiLeonardo did.

“It means they broke me, they disenfranchised me,” he told a federal jury in Manhattan yesterday, as he testified for a second day in the racketeering trial of John A. Gotti. “I’m not a captain, and I’m not a soldier. I’m the property of the Gambino family, but I have no say, no power. I’m not even to be recognized if other wiseguys want to recognize me.”

He did not say why he was shelved, though he suggested it was because he was an ally of John A. Gotti, who was the rival of his uncle Pete Gotti. Whatever the reason, that exile, in November 2002, after 14 years as a made member of the Gambino family, was a turning point.

Being cast out convinced him to confess to three murders and become a government witness against Mr. Gotti and against a long list of other organized crime defendants.

He immediately began wearing a recording device, which the F.B.I. did not allow him to turn off, even when he visited his mother in the hospital, he said. He confided in his son Michael, who was 16, and felt rejected when his son thought it was wrong to cooperate with the government.

His life as an informant so sickened him, he said, that he became depressed, nauseated to the point of throwing up and unable to sleep. A doctor prescribed Zoloft, used to treat depression and panic attacks, and Ambien, for insomnia.

After waking from a fitful sleep at 3 or 4 one morning at his home on Staten Island, he swallowed an overdose of his prescription pills. He opened the door to take a last look at his sleeping son Anthony, who was 2 years old, “said goodbye to him and went to sleep.”

“On my way down,” he recounted, he started to think about “maybe dying like a good soldier,” like a Roman drawing a hot bath, drinking a glass of wine and slitting his wrists. He started thinking about the samurai, he said, and “how they fall on their swords” in the name of honor.

Then he thought, he said, “I hope John appreciates what I’m going to do.”

“John who?” asked the prosecutor, Michael McGovern.

“John Junior,” Mr. DiLeonardo said.

But after he woke up in the hospital, he said, his resolve to cooperate was renewed when he learned that Mr. Gotti, who was in an upstate New York prison, had summoned Mr. DiLeonardo’s son Michael, to visit him.

“My son’s a civilian,” Mr. DiLeonardo said. “Nobody has a right to use anybody’s children.”

Though it may seem to the jury that Mr. DiLeonardo has been telling his life story, his rambling tale is crucial for the prosecution. Mr. Gotti, son of John J. Gotti, is charged with a broad pattern of racketeering, including the 1992 kidnapping of Curtis Sliwa, the radio host, extortion and loan-sharking.

Under the racketeering laws, the prosecution must show that Mr. Gotti committed some of those crimes within five years of his 2004 indictment.

Because Mr. Gotti was in prison for a 1999 racketeering conviction before he was indicted, the prosecution has been trying to prove that he continued to communicate with Mr. DiLeonardo and carry out Gambino crime family business even from behind bars.

Mr. Gotti’s lawyer, Charles Carnesi, has not disputed Mr. Gotti’s connection to the Gambino family, but he has said that Mr. Gotti turned his back on that life before 1999.

As the cross-examination of Mr. DiLeonardo began yesterday, Mr. Carnesi began chipping away at his account that Mr. Gotti communicated with him from prison, through emissaries, that he wanted some loan-sharking profits and some machine guns returned to him.

Mr. Carnesi questioned why, if Mr. DiLeonardo was under surveillance and regularly meeting with Gotti emissaries, there were no law enforcement photographs of these meetings.

The lawyer also suggested that Mr. DiLeonardo tried to kill himself not out of shame, but because he was an unproductive informant and afraid of being sent to prison for life.