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 Former Gotti Henchman Faces New Charges on Eve of Release

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PostSubject: Former Gotti Henchman Faces New Charges on Eve of Release   Fri Feb 06, 2009 11:04 am

Former Gotti Henchman Faces New Charges on Eve of Release


By ALAN FEUER

Published: January 24, 2001



In his heyday, Joseph Watts was the consummate New York gangster.

He had impeccable underworld credentials. He helped boost John J. Gotti to the top of the Gambino crime family, prosecutors say, by acting as a backup shooter in the curbside murder of Paul Castellano, the former Gambino boss, in 1985.

He went on to serve as one of Mr. Gotti's most devoted lieutenants. He was assigned, the government says, to be the Gambino liaison to the Westies, an Irish gang that controlled city labor unions and frequently shared spoils with the Gotti clan.

He has done his time in prison for his infamous former don. He is now serving the final year of a six-year sentence for burying the corpse of a turncoat killed less than 48 hours before he was to testify in court.

And like many in the Gotti inner circle, he developed a knack for mixing coldblooded deeds with a courtly, Beau Brummel style. He was once a debonair and handsome man who preferred fancy restaurants on the Upper East Side but would unflinchingly dispose of bodies in parking lots and horse farms when Mr. Gotti needed them to disappear.

Mr. Watts, 59, is a legendary gangland figure, federal prosecutors say, a charming and streetwise loan shark who was granted the status of a Mafia captain even though his Welsh heritage kept him from becoming an official ''made'' man. By the end of the 1980's, the golden years of the Gotti regime, he was a bright star in the Gambino constellation, sharing space with the likes of Angelo Ruggiero and Salvatore Gravano, the hitman-turned-informant better known as Sammy the Bull.

Yesterday, however, as Mr. Watts appeared in court to plead not guilty to charges in a new indictment, his star showed definite signs of fading. Earlier this month, he was charged with laundering millions of dollars from a massive loan-sharking business through a bank account in Switzerland and accused of using the money to buy what was said to be his retirement home, a luxurious estate with a pool and a tennis court on Treasure Island in the Florida Keys.

''Watts has been associated with the upper echelons of power in the Gambino family since at least the 1970's,'' federal prosecutors wrote in papers submitted yesterday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. ''Between 1970 and 1995, Watts murdered (and on occasion, tortured as well) numerous victims in order to protect and promote the Gambino family's interests.''

Andrew J. Weinstein, Mr. Watts's lawyer, denied the government's exhaustive allegations. He added that the case being built against his client was based on the word of a single government witness whom he called an ''admitted perjurer.''

Nevertheless, federal prosecutors claim that over the years, Mr. Watts has served as a sort of utility infielder for the Gambino squad, doing a variety of family business while still looking out for himself.

For example, under Mr. Castellano, they claim, he was a loyal servant who acted as the family's emissary to Las Vegas. But when Mr. Gotti took over, he quickly changed his allegiance, they added, and became what is known as an ''earner,'' making money through extortion, racketeering in the construction business and a booming multimillion-dollar loan-sharking trade.

Although he has never been convicted of murder, the government claims that at least six times he was called upon by Mr. Gotti and previous bosses to dispose of turncoats and troublemakers whom the top men wanted dead. He was put on trial and acquitted in the 1987 killing of an emotionally disturbed man named William Ciccone, for example, who made the fatal mistake of firing shots at Mr. Gotti as the crime boss stepped from his onetime headquarters at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in South Ozone Park, Queens.

In that case, the government based its prosecution on the testimony of a Gambino informant, Dominic Borghese, who said Mr. Watts drove Mr. Ciccone from Queens to Staten Island in the trunk of his black Mercedes-Benz (''the guy was kicking up a storm,'' the witness said) then tortured his victim for several hours (''hitting him with boards, poking him, putting cigarettes by his face, by his eyes'') before finally shooting Mr. Ciccone five times in the head.



And according to the court papers filed yesterday, Mr. Watts took part in at least four more mob hits.

The government says that in 1986 he stabbed and shot to death Augustus Sclafani, a Gambino soldier who was spreading rumors that a family underboss, Frank DeCicco, was a ''rat.'' In 1989, he is said to have tried to kill a potential government witness and, though he failed, was brazen enough to have dug his target's grave in advance.

Then there was Anthony Miano, the government says, who was killed in retaliation for the kidnapping of the nephew of Carlo Gambino, a onetime family boss. In court papers, prosecutors claim that Mr. Watts said he wanted to be the first person to attend Mr. Miano's wake. He wanted to see the ''finished product'' of his work, the prosecutors said.

Mr. Watts is due to be released from prison on his murder conspiracy sentence next month. But if the government successfully prosecutes him on the new money-laundering charges, he could return to prison for 20 more years.

He said nothing during his court appearance yesterday. He looked gaunt and feeble and walked with a cane. There was little evidence of his storied underworld past.

''He was never a social club kind of guy -- he liked Manhattan,'' said one investigator who spent a good part of his life tracking Mr. Watts. ''But he was a tough piece of work, a real survivor.''
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