Is Vincent Gigante a persecuted invalid who has to be cared for by his aging mother, or is he a despotic Mafia boss who feigns mental illness by walking around Greenwich Village in his bathrobe?
For 41/2 years, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have vainly tried to bring Gigante into court on murder and racketeering charges. Now, in what appears to be a final attempt to try Gigante, prosecutors have asked a federal judge to order him confined in a federal jail for 28 days so that psychiatrists and physicians can "comprehensively monitor Gigante's mental and physical condition."Gigante, 66, has been identified in federal and state indictments as the boss since 1980 of the Genovese crime family, one of the five major Mafia clans in the New York area. Law-enforcement officials say that he is the only mob boss in the city to escape conviction and imprisonment in the past decade.
Robert J. Kelly, a professor of social science at Brooklyn College and the former president of the International Association for the Study of Organized Crime, described Gigante's claim of mental incompetence as a "shocking break with the Mafia's traditional machismo culture."
"If this is a ruse, it is a clever ruse," Kelly added in an interview. "No other Mafia boss has ever demeaned himself by admitting he had weird dreams and heard voices."
The issue of Gigante's competence to stand trial has been disputed since he was indicted in May 1990 on federal bid-rigging and extortion charges. In June 1993, he was accused in a superseding indictment of conspiracy in the murders of eight mobsters and of plotting to kill John Gotti, the boss of the rival Gambino crime family.
Since the early 1980s, Gigante has been observed behaving oddly in public. He has strolled near his home in Greenwich Village in pajamas and bathrobe, mumbling incoherently. FBI agents said that once when they tried to serve him with a subpoena, he bolted into a bathroom and stood under a running shower with an umbrella over his head.
In March 1991, four psychiatrists chosen by Gigante's relatives and a federal judge concluded that he was mentally unfit to stand trial.
But in June 1993, federal prosecutors said that four Mafia turncoats, who had recently defected and who knew Gigante, would testify that he deliberately acted erratically to fake mental instability. A hearing on Gigante's competence, however, has been post-poned for more than a year while he underwent medical examinations.
Barry Slotnick and Michael Shapiro, lawyers for Gigante, said in a memorandum filed last month in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that Gigante's physicians have found that he is suffering from a cardiac ailment and that his life would be endangered if he were brought into court.