NEW YORK - I was crazy for you, mob boss Vincent Gigante told federal authorities yesterday, admitting to a judge what prosecutors say they knew for years - that he faked mental illness to avoid prosecution.
Unshaven, unsteady and tousel-headed, a thin Gigante was a whisper of the image of a feared crime family boss as he stood in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn.
Judge I. Leo Glasser asked him if it was true that for seven years in the 1990s he deceived doctors who were examining his mental status.
"Yes, your honor," Gigante, 75, answered in a barely audible voice.
Gigante, long known as "Chin" by mob associates but more recently dubbed "The Oddfather" for his unusual public behavior, admitted his deception in a plea bargain that avoided a lengthy trial on racketeering charges. The deal gave some hope that he would get out of prison by 2010, when he would be 82.
His son, Andrew, also pleaded guilty to charges in the case.
"The father wanted it, the family wanted it," a source close to the Gigante family said in explaining why they decided to avoid a trial.
As part of the plea deal, Vincent Gigante, already serving a 12-year prison term on a racketeering conviction as the Genovese crime family boss, will have three years added to his sentence. He could have faced 10 years if convicted.
"Thank you, thank you, your honor," Gigante said to Glasser.
In a rare move, Glasser then allowed Gigante to meet briefly with his son in the well of the courtroom. Blowing kisses to family members in court and talking animatedly, Gigante was in sharp contrast to the bumbling, doddering man he appeared to be when he shuffled around his Greenwich Village neighborhood in a bathrobe.
Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Benjamin Brafman tried to draw a careful distinction, saying Gigante pleaded guilty to deceiving doctors and not a specific charge in the indictment that he feigned mental illness.
"Anyone who has gotten to know this individual and who is completely honest will tell you that the issue of competency is one thing, the issue of whether someone is or is not mentally ill is an entirely separate issue," Brafman said.
"Our position is that for decades he had fooled mental-health experts," responded Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf. "With his guilty plea, there is no further debate of the issue."
Anthony M. DeStefano is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.