NEW YORK -- When John Gotti gets mad, Jerry Capeci gets a wake-up call.
"Why don't you punch him [Capeci] in the [expletive] mouth?" the New York crime boss fumed during a wiretapped conversation played at his murder trial. "Make an appointment, I'll punch him in the [expletive] mouth for you, that rat [expletive]."
In the long and bloody saga of the "Dapper Don," there are many corpses. Wise guys who crossed the belligerent Gotti and paid the ultimate price. Mafia hotshots who wound up in the trunk of a Lincoln, heading for a watery grave.
But you will not find Mr. Capeci's name on any hit list. Instead, he shows up in the newspapers and in the press box every day at Gotti's headline-grabbing trial. Blunt, tough and plain-spoken, he is the city's most respected mob reporter.
Unlike some reporters, who depend on press releases from prosecutors to write about the mob, Mr. Capeci rubs shoulders with underworld crooks. And he covers them like other journalists cover city hall or the board of zoning appeals.
Besides daily stories, Mr. Capeci also writes "Gangland," the city's first gossip column for gangsters. Packed with juicy exclusives and recaps of the latest rub-outs, it has become must reading for Mafia voyeurs, "goombahs" on the run and the district attorneys pursuing them.
"Every Tuesday, when Capeci's column appears [in the Daily News], you can see Lincoln Town Cars with smoky windows pull up to newsstands . . . You can just bet that a 300-pound guy with a pinkie ring lumbers out and says: 'Gimme da Nooz,' " says Nicholas Pileggi, the author of "Wiseguy," on which the movie "Goodfellas" was based.
No one doubts Mr. Capeci's integrity, or his contempt for organized crime and the economic toll it takes on New York. But he believes that it is essential for mobsters to tell their side of the story.
"You have to track these guys down like anyone else," he says.
Less than 24 hours after Gotti's threat made headlines, Mr. Capeci was low-key about the incident. As a group of the Don's
silk-suited friends joked with him in a court hallway, he tried to brush if off.
"I think Mr. Gotti was exaggerating," Mr. Capeci told the men, who were leaning against a wall. "That's all it was . . . I hope."
"So, you gonna give us a break, or what?" said Joey "Jo-Jo" Corrozzo. Mr. Capeci laughed quietly and walked away.
It's all part of the circus atmosphere surrounding Gotti's fourth trial in seven years. But prosecutors are betting that they will finally convict America's most powerful organized-crime figure.
Summations were expected today and the jury could begin deliberations tomorrow.