John Gotti, the infamous former head of New York City’s Gambino crime family, was dubbed the Teflon Don for his ability to gain acquittals whenever the law took him to court. In fact, from the time he ascended to the throne in 1985 until his conviction in 1992 for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Gotti and his lawyers had made a habit out of beating up on prosecutors. But Gotti had been convicted and served time while he was making his way up the career ladder. And the sentence for his only conviction while he was the boss was a beauty: life without the possibility of parole.
Although Tony Spilotro never officially attained “Don” status, the attention he received from the law was nearly the same as that bestowed on higher-ranking mobsters. In spite of being almost continuously under investigation, and a suspect in some 25 murders and countless other felonies, Tony conducted his affairs for more than a decade without being convicted of even a minor offense. Part of the reason for that impressive run could be his skills as a criminal; another likely factor was that his reputation and willingness to use violence made witnesses against him scarce. A third and equally important aspect was his lawyer, Oscar Goodman.
Goodman was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. After moving to Las Vegas in 1964, he opened his own law practice. It wasn’t long before he became one of the city’s premier criminal defense attorneys, representing many high-profile clients. Among them were Harry Claiborne, a federal judge who was convicted of tax evasion in 1983 and impeached by the United States Senate, Allen Glick and his Argent Corporation, Lefty Rosenthal, and Tony Spilotro.
Goodman was a fiery advocate for his clients and he wasn’t shy about attacking his law-enforcement foes, both in and out of court. In Of Rats and Men, author John L. Smith chronicles the life and career of Oscar Goodman. At the beginning of that book are quotes from several people, including two from Goodman that may illustrate his attitude toward his opponents and the existence of organized crime. “I’d rather have my daughter date Tony Spilotro than an FBI agent,” and “There is no mob.”
Whether these words accurately reflected Mr. Goodman’s feelings or were only issued for public consumption, one can imagine that Tony, Allen, and Lefty appreciated hearing their legal representative say such things. But Goodman wasn’t merely rhetoric; he produced for those who placed their trust in him.
Together, Tony and Oscar, each using his own unique talents, made a team that prosecutors seemed unable to beat.