Gerald Shargel, 77, a Manhattan defense attorney who gained prominence...

Gerald Shargel, 77, a Manhattan defense attorney who gained prominence in several high-profile organized crime trials in the 1980s and 90s, has died.

Credit: William Perlman

Gerald Shargel, a well-known Manhattan defense attorney who rocketed to prominence representing major organized crime figures in the 1980s and 1990s, and defended convicted Hampton’s murderer Daniel Pelosi, has died. Shargel, 77, died Saturday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said his son, David, of Rockville Centre.

Known for his combination of legal acumen and skilled, sometimes devastating cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, Shargel was considered by his colleagues to be one of the best trial lawyers in the country.

“He was the consummate defense attorney,” said Gerald Lefcourt, Shargel's friend, colleague and former Brooklyn Law School classmate. Lefcourt cited Shargel’s passion and grace while working on behalf of his clients.

Others shared Lefcourt's praise.

“He was very intellectual, he was with the common man, he never talked down to anybody,” said attorney Barry Levin, of Lido Beach.

Said Murray Richman, a prominent Bronx criminal defense attorney, of Shargel: "“He was one of the top lawyers of our age.”

It was during the big mob trials that Shargel earned his spurs as a defense attorney. Having been associated with the late James LaRossa, who represented Gambino crime boss Paul Castellano, Shargel became something of a go-to lawyer for other mobsters. But it was Shargel’s representation of former Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, and association with late boss John Gotti, that got him more headlines — and some notoriety.

Shargel and Bruce Cutler were involved in defending Gotti in a state assault case that led to a 1990 acquittal. When Gotti was indicted in a major federal racketeering case in late 1990, Shargel was representing Gravano in the case and preparing for a long legal battle when federal prosecutors moved to have both he and Cutler disqualified, alleging both were “house counsel” for the crime family. Prosecutors introduced tape recordings made at Gotti’s old social club in which Shargel explained to the late mob boss elements of the racketeering laws.

Shargel and Cutler denied the government allegations. Nevertheless, in early 1991, Brooklyn federal judge I. Leo Glasser disqualified both from representing their clients. Gravano decided to become a cooperating witness and testified in 1992 against Gotti, who was convicted and imprisoned for life, until his death in June 2002.

Gravano, who is now a podcast producer, said Monday that he considered Shargel a friend and great attorney.

“I think he was one of the best lawyers in the country, without a doubt,” said Gravano in a telephone interview with Newsday. “He would quote law like he had a law book in his head.”

In 2003, Shargel represented Gotti’s brother, Peter, in a federal racketeering case that ended in a conviction for Peter Gotti as well as several other defendants.

Brooklyn Federal Judge Frederic Block, who presided over the Peter Gotti case, said it was very complicated with so many defendants and attorneys but Shargel essentially helped keep the trial on an even keel.

"Otherwise, I would still be trying it today," Block quipped Monday.

The Gotti association didn’t appear to hurt Shargel’s reputation as a tenacious fighter for his clients. He took on cases involving politicians accused of corruption. One of Shargel’s most prominent Long Island cases was in defense of Daniel Pelosi, who was charged in the 2001 killing of Ted Ammon, of East Hampton, the multimillionaire and estranged husband of Generosa Ammon, Pelosi’s lover.

The sensational eight-week trial led to Pelosi's conviction in 2004. Pelosi is now serving a prison sentence of 27 years to life.

Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1944, Shargel attended Rutgers University and graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1969. Along with his legal practice, Shargel also served as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School, according to the school’s website.

A funeral for Shargel was held Monday at Temple Israel in Manhattan. Along with his son, David, Shargel is survived by his wife Terry, and daughter, Johanna, of California, as well as six grandchildren.

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