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The Online Column
Nov. 11, 1996

WATTS THE STORY ON JOE

By Jerry Capeci

JOHN GOTTI'S longtime pal, Joseph Watts, got to see Staten Island last Friday afternoon for the first time in a year, but not the ritzy Rosebank section he called home.

Watts took a short stroll in the island's St. George business district - from the Staten Island District Attorney's office to the Supreme Court. There, he pleaded innocent to kidnap and murder charges in the 1987 torture slaying of an emotionally disturbed man, who was thought to have pegged a shot at Gotti outside the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club. (right)

After entering the plea in the April 29, 1987 slaying of William Ciccone, Watts was hustled back over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to his home for at least the next couple of months - the Brooklyn House of Detention.

Watts, who pleaded guilty to federal murder charges in February, "was ordered by Gotti to kill Ciccone for allegedly shooting at the Gambino crime boss outside his South Ozone Park social club," said Staten Island District Attorney William Murphy.

Nine years ago, Gotti and his crew were at the top of their game and openly flaunted their gangster lifestyle at the club. That day, Gotti's pals heard a loud noise that sounded like a gunshot. They chased Ciccone, grabbed him, stuffed him in a car trunk and drove him to Staten Island, where he was "tortured for several hours by Watts," and then shot in the head, Murphy said.

The case lay dormant until former Gambino mobster Dominick (Fat Dom) Borghese began cooperating with authorities and told them Watts had pumped six shots into Ciccone's head.

jJoe WattsWatts, 54, will conclude his six-year federal sentence before his 59th birthday. If convicted of Ciccone's murder, however, he faces an additional 25 years to life in state prison.

Despite that very bleak possibility, Watts, (right) looking elegant in a gray suit, white shirt and black tie, was upbeat as he strolled down Richmond Terrace, smiling and chatting softly with the detectives who ushered him along. A silver white mane had replaced the jet black pompadour that had been a Watts trademark. The federal lockup in West Virginia apparently doesn't stock Grecian Formula.


THE betting scandal involving the Boston College football team brought back memories of another dapper and murderous gangster, James (Jimmy The Gent) Burke, who died of cancer in an upstate prison in April.

Burke, who bankrolled a point-shaving scheme with the help of BC basketball players during the 1978-79 season, masterminded a daring, predawn $5.8 million robbery at Kennedy Airport's Lufthansa cargo terminal in the middle of the moderately lucrative betting operation.

The robbery was the focal point of the excellent gangster movie, "Goodfellas," which starred Robert DeNiro (right) in the Burke role. No members of the robbery team were ever charged with the heist, and none of the money was ever recovered. But Burke, three members of his operation and a reserve forward on the BC Eagles were convicted of federal sports bribery charges and sent to prison.

While serving eight years on the federal rap, Burke was convicted of murder and died while serving a 20-year-to-life sentence.


Sonny Franzese in 1967 LEGENDARY Colombo capo John (Sonny) Franzese is in better physical shape than many men half his age, but the 77-year-old gangster keeps pushing the envelope and is back in prison - for two more years.

Sentenced to 50 years in 1967 for heading a Queens-based bank robbery ring, Franzese has been released on parole more times than Gang Land can remember. Each time, however, he manages to do something to work his way back into the joint.

This time, it was a bowl of spinach soup he had back in February at a Great Neck, L.I. restaurant with two Colombo hoods. That's a no-no. He's not supposed to associate with known criminals, even if they're pals.

Franzese got the news two weeks ago, but he's already served nearly nine months so, with good time off, he could be home for the Christmas holidays - but not until next year.

Email Jerry Capeci: mailto:jercap@leland.stanford.edu

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