NEW YORK -- The plate glass facade at Taormina restaurant, in Little Italy here, provides a wide, clear view of Mulberry Street, and for that reason, not to mention the decent food, John Gotti is fond of it.
Because even though Gotti likes to be seen, whenever he sat down to eat with the man said to be his right arm he was more preoccupied with seeing who might want to approach.
But as Gotti scanned the street outside for potential trouble, as did his bodyguards who stood at the bar nursing ice waters, he should have looked no farther than across the table, where Salvatore Gravano broke bread with his friend and mentor.
This week, the government will begin its fourth and perhaps final swing at Gotti, 51, reputed to be the head of the Gambino crime family and "capo di tutti capi" of the Mafia. And the next time Gotti sees his former dining companion and self-admitted underboss, Gravano will be sitting not at a table at Taormina but on the witness stand in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
Gotti -- nicknamed "the Teflon Don" for his ability to escape conviction in three prosecutions over the past six years and "the Dapper Don" for his sartorial extravagance -- is facing the prospect of trading in his $2,000 Armanis for prison blues for the next 50 years.
This time, the racketeering case against Gotti and co-defendant Frank Locascio, reputed to be his "consiglieri," rests heavily on conversations gleaned from FBI bugs planted in the Ravenite Social Club, down the block from Taormina on Mulberry Street. Those conversations, involving Gotti, Locascio and Gravano, are said to be loud and clear.
The 11-count indictment lists five murders Gotti is accused of ordering to facilitate his climb to the top. Chief among them was that of Paul Castellano, the godfather whose 1985 assassination Gotti is charged with orchestrating and whose place Gotti is said to have taken.
This time around, say those familiar with prosecution of the case, the evidence is overwhelming.