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Roy Cohn

Mob Lawyer

In his late years Roy Cohn, a major figure in McCarthy-era anti-communist activities, became a popular lawyer for top mafiosi, including Fat Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante and several members of the Gambino crime family. Among the latter were Carlo’s sons Tommy and Joe Gambino, Carmine Fatico, Angelo Ruggiero and John Gotti.

If not for Cohn’s counsel, Gotti’s career might have ended more than a decade before he catapulted to boss of the Gambinos. In 1973 Gotti was looking at a long prison term for a killing he participated in at the orders of Godfather Gambino. The victim was James McBratney, who had kidnapped for ransom and killed one of the don’s nephews. Gotti and two other hoodlums, Ruggiero and Ralph Galione, cornered McBratney in a Staten Island bar. They flashed phony police badges and tried to hustle their quarry away to a more private location where he could be dispatched in the horrible fashion the don wished.

McBratney was not fooled and resisted. Galione produced a gun, which he was forced to turn on menacing bar patrons. A drunk tried to intervene and the gun went off accidentally. Galione panicked and fired three shots into McBratney.

The job had been slightly botched, but Gambino was not displeased. Unfortunately witnesses easily identified the killer trio, and Ruggiero and Gotti were arrested. In the meantime gunner Galione hadbeen shot dead, apparently by McBratney pals. Gambino decided to get Gotti the best lawyer money could buy, Roy Cohn.

Cohn devised a strategy that satisfied Gambino. Gotti would plea-bargain down to attempted manslaughter, since he had not done the shooting and merely held McBratney. Cohn, the precocious son of a New York judge, was said to have a network of compliant judges, prosecutors and district attorneys and other law enforcement officials who could help things go his way. Carlo bought the idea and ordered Gotti to cop the plea.

Gotti wanted to fight the charge. Aniello Dellacroce, Gotti’s mentor in the family, dissuaded him: “Carlo says you take the fall, and that’s it.”

Gotti remained bitter until he saw the strategy play out. He was sentenced to a mere four years and actually served less than two. Gotti had been certain such a deal was impossible, but everything went smoothly. The district attorney’s office didn’t even label either Gotti or Ruggiero as “persistent offenders,” which both were and which under state law would have earned them very harsh sentences. In Goombata, authors John Cummings and Ernest Volkman found Cohn’s legal magic “not especially surprising in the history of the Staten Island District Attorney’s office, which had a notably lax record in dealing with organized crime defendants.”

Still, in his later years the apparently still-smarting Gotti exhibited no desire to utilize Cohn’s services.