Mob trials turn on family, with insiders spilling secrets they once vowed to take to the grave. The parade of turncoats in the racketeering trial of John Gotti Jr. have told of cold murder and dirty money and a celebrity kidnapping. But when Michael (Mikey Scars) DiLeonardo took the stand, he aimed his bombshell directly at gangland's most famous and famously tight-knit family. The defendant's father, he said--the legendary Mafia boss John Gotti Sr.--had a secret second family.
That statement, which drew gasps in the stately chambers of the federal courthouse in New York City, has triggered a frenzy among Mob watchers. One might think that the revelation of a love child belonging to a Mafia kingpin--four years after his death, no less--would inspire little more than a shrug. But this being John Gotti, obsessive subject of umpteen books, movies and tabloid tales, the mere existence of a hot scoop buried for so long is nothing short of miraculous. The peerlessly aggressive New York tabloids quickly ferreted out an attractive Staten Island mother of three comely daughters, the youngest of whom they speculate carries the Gotti genes. MORE BADA-BING THAN "SOPRANOS"! shouted the New York Daily News. RANDY DON'S RENDEZ-RUSE! whistled the New York Post.
The media feast was served up by prosecutors trying Gotti Jr., 42, on broad racketeering charges. Made the acting boss of the Gambino crime family when his father, known as the Dapper Don, was jailed for life in 1992, Gotti Jr. insists he has lived on the straight and narrow ever since he was sent to prison for five years in 1999 for racketeering. But U.S. Attorneys think otherwise. That's where DiLeonardo comes in. The convicted Gambino capo-turned-government informer claims Gotti Jr. continued to orchestrate Mob affairs from behind bars. He also fingered Gotti Jr. for ordering the 1992 kidnapping and beating of radio personality and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa in a New York City cab.
A courtroom-battle tactic led to the love-child revelation. When the defense claimed DiLeonardo's philandering had caused him to lose favor long ago with his family-focused boss, prosecutors lunged. Had not Gotti Jr. kept a secret girlfriend well into his marriage? Had not Gotti Jr. sought to emulate his father, who though revered as a family man kept a longtime lover with whom he had a secret daughter?
Gotti relatives have reacted mostly with fury and disbelief. "This is 100% ridiculous," Gotti's daughter Angel, 49, told TIME. "I'm not going to say if my father fooled around or not--I don't know. But he did not have a daughter the same age as his granddaughter." That granddaughter, UCLA freshman Victoria Gotti Albano, 18, is more tempered. "If it's true, she's my grandfather's blood, and she's welcome in my family."