American culture is full of curiosity about the Mafia. Classic movies, vast numbers of TV shows and nearly everything carrying the name of Joe Pesci bears some relevance to the real-life criminal behavior of those who are involved in “this thing of ours.”
But La Cosa Nostra was supposed to have died when RICO – Racketeering in Criminal Organizations – became federal law. To be tried under this act, a defendant only has to commit two crimes on a list of 35. If convicted on a RICO indictment, the punishment is 20 years in prison, with the possible addition of some very hefty fines. If RICO didn’t kill the Mafia, it at least dismantled it into something far different from the Mafia shown in movies such as Goodfellas and Casino.
But the Italian mafia is far from dead. The federal government still prosecutes wise guys, especially those who have descended from other notorious criminals, such as John A. “Junior” Gotti, the son of the “Teflon Don” himself, John Gotti.
Gotti Jr. – also known as Teflon Jr. in the press – is being tried on racketeering charges, surprisingly enough. He will remain free on $7 million bail, which he was somehow able to pay, and a mistrial was recently declared. It’s the third mistrial he’s been fortunate enough to receive this year.
It’s almost like a scene from a movie. The jurors, whose veracity probably won’t be called into question, were not able to reach a unanimous decision and handed a note that communicated that fact to U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin. Sheindlin therefore declared a mistrial, and once again, a Gotti has ostensibly gotten away with it.
But it would be surprising if there were a lot of Americans who were surprised by this. There’s something about mobsters that makes Americans root for them. Murderers, drug dealers and those who procure prostitutes – the bread and butter of the Mafia that Hollywood loves to make movies about – don’t often garner a lot of sympathy in America; but as a whole, the Mafia seems to. How else does one explain the unbelievable popularity of shows such as The Sopranos?
It isn’t very constructive for America to be so fascinated by the Mafia. There’s little arguing the fact that these people – including James Gandolfini’s character on The Sopranos – are criminal sociopaths. But at the same time, there’s something about Gotti’s mistrial that makes Americans smile. Chalk it up to morbid curiosity.