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Gotti complains of prison conditions

By CATHY BURKE

NEW YORK -- Reputed mob boss John Gotti has been jailed in relative isolation since Dec. 11 in a tiny, dark cell under conditions both unconstitutional and inhuman, his attorneys argued Wednesday.

But Gotti, accused of heading America's most powerful underworld crime family and ordering four mob murders, will remain under 'administrative detention' at the Metropolitan Correctional Center until a federal judge decides whether to either release him, change jail conditions, or hold a hearing on the matter.

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Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge I. Leo Glasser, in Brooklyn, lashed out at leaks to the media of supposedly sealed material in the much-publicized case, admonishing U.S. Attorney Andrew Maloney: 'Whatever the source of the leak may be, I want it plugged.'

During a 90-minute hearing in the Brooklyn federal courthouse, where Gotti and co-defendants Frank Locascio and Salvatore Gravano were not present, attorneys said prison officials had failed to give an adequate reason for keeping the reputed mobsters segregated from other inmates in a ninth-floor block.

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Jailmates refer to the administrative detention block as 'Roach Motel.'

In addition, Gerald Shargel, who represents Gravano, told Glasser the three were being deprived 'of basic human rights.'

Shargel asked Glasser to hold a hearing so he could prove his case that the conditions amount to 'punitive' detention.

The government argued that Gotti and his associates are being treated no differently than any other inmate accused of such crimes, and that they have been isolated in fears they might intimidate other prisoners.

Among the complaints made by Shargel and Bruce Cutler -- Gotti's attorney -- are that the reputed mobsters have been locked in a small cell with inadequate lighting for 23 hours a day; have been denied any access to newspapers, radio or television; have been kept away from any exercise equipment -- and only 'invited to the roof of the MCC at 7:45 a.m. in freezing temperatures and in snow;' and are limited in their ability to help lawyers put together their defense -- kept to one 10- minute phone call a day.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Cotter denied any improprieties in the jailing, however, telling Glasser prison officials had every right to fear the reputed head of the Gambino crime family.

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'There are hundreds of cases' involving Gambino mobsters, some involving prisoners at the MCC who might be vulnerable to intimidation, Cotter argued.

But while Glasser said he would need some time at least to decide the issue, he got right to the point about a 'very, very disturbing' leak of information in the case.

'I feel strongly about not trying this case in the newspapers,' Glasser said, referring to a published report in The New York Times, and a broadcast on WNBC-TV, referring to a surveillance tape of the FBI in which Gotti was allegedly overheard talking about trying to fix a jury in his state case in Manhattan.

'How does this information get out?' he asked. 'I want it to stop. '

Gotti faces federal charges of racketeering and murder in Brooklyn -- the fourth time in five years state or federal officials have tried to convict him.

In three cases, Gotti has won acquittal. In his most recent case last year in Manhattan, he was acquitted of the assault of a carpenters' union official. It was that case on which electronic surveillance tapes were allegedly leaked to the media.

The latest federal indictment in Brooklyn charges that Gotti engineered a rise to head the nation's biggest crime family by ordering Castellano's 1985 slaying, in addition to three other murders.

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