TAMPA — Moments after John Gotti Jr. pleaded not guilty Thursday to racketeering and murder charges, his sister stood on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa and called the government's case against him a vendetta.
"The government is going to take the calvary out for this because if they lose, it's going to be an embarrassment. And they are going to lose," said Victoria Gotti, mentioning three Manhattan trials on racketeering charges in 2005 and 2006 for her brother that ended in hung juries and mistrials.
"He can win this trial, and he will," she said. "We're confident."
Gotti, 44, wore a blue jail uniform and shackles around his ankles as he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins. He didn't speak during the five-minute hearing but showed an upbeat spirit, smiling and waving to his sister, who hung her head in court and wiped tears when she saw him.
"It's sad," Victoria Gotti said later, before leaving to fly back to her New York home. "I haven't seen or heard from him in a month. … His presence is missed."
Gotti has remained in federal custody since his arrest Aug. 5 at his Oyster Bay, N.Y., home. He left a Brooklyn, N.Y., detention center two weeks ago headed for Tampa. Charles Carnesi, his attorney, said earlier this week that he was unsure where Gotti was being held or whether Gotti would make it to Tampa in time for the arraignment.
Before the hearing, Gotti told Carnesi he had been housed in El Paso, Texas, among other places, before coming to Tampa. Local officials aren't saying where they're keeping Gotti while he's in town. It was also unclear if he would be taken back to New York any time soon.
Gotti's attorneys told the judge they plan to file a motion to have Gotti's trial moved to New York. "You tell me, why are we in Tampa?" Carnesi said, talking with reporters after the hearing. "I don't know. They can try the case on Mars. It's not going to change anything."
Gotti could get life in prison if convicted, but he isn't worried about the charges, Carnesi said.
"He's confident he did nothing wrong," said Carnesi.
The day FBI officials and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa announced the indictment against Gotti, they also unsealed a separate indictment charging four other New York area men and one from Tampa with similar charges that included racketeering, murder and drug trafficking.
The Tampa man, James "Jimmy" Cadicamo, 33, called himself a childhood friend of John Gotti Jr.'s. Victoria Gotti doubts his claim.
"I think we raised my brother's friends," Victoria Gotti said. "I don't know those people."
Prosecutors said Cadicamo and the other men committed crimes in the Tampa Bay area that involved John Alite, a close Gotti associate, who is awaiting trial in Tampa on organized crime charges.
"John Alite distanced himself a very long time ago," Victoria Gotti said. "He was a very bad kid from the go. It took John a little longer than the rest of us to realize it."
Victoria Gotti said alleged mob leaders have said her brother is no longer associated with them and that he hasn't been for years. The indictment charges him with three New York murders in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"He's walked away. He said so. It's been proven. Enough. Enough already," Victoria Gotti said. "He's definitely not a mobster. He doesn't belong here. Maybe years and years ago, but not today and not tomorrow. He's done what he's done, and he's made his admissions."
She said because their father, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, was the onetime boss of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti Jr. "will never be able to live a normal life."
"If they could pull his father out of that grave three more times and try his bones, whatever debris is left, they would," Victoria Gotti said. "It's a vendetta."
Kevin Graham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.