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Why Tampa for mob trial? It has less Gotti glamour, experts say

TAMPA — Nothing in a federal indictment against John "Junior" Gotti says he ever set foot in Tampa or accuses him of specific local crimes.

Legal experts say it doesn't matter. The government can still prosecute the alleged Gambino crime family boss here in the Middle District of Florida, a practice that some lawyers describe as venue shopping.

"There's nothing you can do about it except whine, because it's legal," said Rick Halprin, a Chicago criminal defense attorney who has represented several defendants in mob-related cases.

Gotti faced three Manhattan juries in 2005 and 2006 on racketeering charges involving a plot to kidnap Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa. All three trials ended in hung juries and mistrials.

"They may feel that juries in this area are more inclined to go the government's way than juries in New York," Tampa lawyer Norman Cannella Sr. said of the Justice Department's decision to charge and prosecute Gotti here on the latest charges.

"If I were a prosecutor, I certainly would take that into account," said Howard Abadinsky, a criminal justice professor at St. John's University in New York. "I don't think that would be the deciding reason. They may feel like juries in New York may be more accepting of Junior Gotti. In New York … it's not at all unusual to see stuff about organized crime almost every week in the newspaper."

Gotti, 44, of Oyster Bay, N.Y., faces a racketeering conspiracy charge involving trafficking in cocaine, which allows federal prosecutors to take him to trial in any city where they believe any part of an alleged conspiracy took place.

Connect the dots, federal authorities say, and Gotti lands at the center of a push by New York mobsters to expand to Tampa.

FBI agents say their Tampa-based investigation led to the charges announced this week against Gotti and five other men, four from New York and one from Tampa. A federal prosecutor described the men as members of a crew committing local crimes at the direction of a known mob associate and close Gotti friend.

The Tampa man, James V. "Jimmy" Cadicamo, 33, faces conspiracy charges, accused of retaliating against a defendant who turned informant and government witness in a 2006 mob trial in Tampa. Prosecutors said Cadicamo tried unsuccessfully to have the witness beaten or killed to prevent his testimony.

"There has got to be a nexus or a connection with the Middle District of Florida," said Tampa area defense attorney Thomas Ostrander. "My understanding is there was extortion and drug distribution (in Tampa) involving John Gotti and pretty much a load of Gambino family crime members."

Ostrander represented a co-defendant at the 2006 mob trial in Tampa, in which a jury convicted Ronald "Ronnie One Arm" Trucchio, 57, of muscling into the local valet parking business and attempting to control it through extortion and threats. He's serving a life sentence.

"I think they figure if they ever are going to take a big bite out of the New York crime family, it's going to have to be (prosecuted) somewhere else," Ostrander said. "John Gotti Sr. had a demigod status in New York. The people kind of look to him and his son like folk heroes. Down in Florida, there's no preconceived notions for that."

Tampa lawyer Eddie Suarez pointed to the successful prosecution of the Trucchio case by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Trezevant, who will also prosecute Gotti and the others, as a possible consideration for bringing the case to Tampa.

"My educated guess is that in Jay Trezevant, they have an experienced prosecutor who has been successful and is well regarded," Suarez said. "It just seems like in the Northeast, organized crime might be more commonplace, and as a result, as a community, they may be a bit more tolerant. The Middle District of Florida may be less likely to view this with any level of tolerance."

Suarez said he expects this trial to gain more attention than the mob trial in Tampa in 2006 because of the bigger names and the more serious charges.

"These cases tend to have a Hollywood flair that most of the cases that are brought in the Middle District of Florida and through the country lack," Suarez said. "Old, traditional mafia organized crime cases tend to have that feel that is colorful and rare."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Why Tampa for mob trial? It has less Gotti glamour, experts say 08/06/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 10, 2008 1:01pm]
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