John Gotti is a thug and a racketeer. He is the head of the largest organized crime gang in greater New York and probably in the country. Federal prosecutors say he is a murderer. He is also an anachronism.
Which is not to brush aside Mr. Gotti's trial on murder, conspiracy, extortion, racketeering, gambling and loansharking. It's a lot more than "GoodFellas" or "Bugsy" without the popcorn. Mr. Gotti commands a force of perhaps 400 hoodlums, one of the five notorious Mafia families in New York. They infest the docks, a few labor unions and some essential industries. They also bribe politicians, rig public contract bids, feast off the profits of prostitution, gambling and in some cases narcotics. And they kill people -- often each other.
Mr. Gotti has been tried in New York's federal courthouse three times before this, since he took over command of the so-called Gambino family in 1986. Each time he has walked away, dapper and smirking, earning himself the tabloid title "The Teflon Don." This time the smirk is forced, as he listens to an intimate associate describe how they plotted the murders of Mr. Gotti's ++ predecessor, Paul Castellano, and one of his men.