Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.

President Barack Obama’s nomination last week of respected former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to head the SEC seemed designed to signal a crackdown on financial crime to Wall Street. “Don’t mess with Mary Jo,” Obama said.

But in listing the ex-prosecutor’s ample credentials, the president appeared to exaggerate one. “In the early 1990s,” said Obama, with White standing near as he began praising her career-long pursuit of malefactors, “she brought down John Gotti, the head of the Gambino crime syndicate.”

She did?

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John Gleeson, now a federal judge in Brooklyn, led the trial team that convicted Gotti. The U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time was Andrew Maloney who, because of the big stakes in trying to finally nail the “Teflon Don,” took the unusual step of helping try the case in court.

In December 1992, when Atty. Gen. William Barr gave a Distinguished Service Award to the Gotti team, he cited Gleeson, Maloney and three other prosecutors – James Orenstein, Laura Ward and Patrick Cotter. “This highly competent and dedicated team of attorneys is responsible for the most significant organized crime prosecution in recent memory,” Barr said.

White wasn’t mentioned.

Already a respected federal prosecutor, White had been hired by Maloney as his top assistant in 1990, and in 1992 – when he resigned after helping win the conviction of Gotti – she replaced him, eventually moving across the river to become the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan in 1993.

During the Gotti trial, she played a part in strategic discussions and reviewing filings, according to people familiar with the history. But they called it a “stretch” to suggest that she “brought down” the Don – or, as one New York Times article (click here) put it last week, “led” the prosecution.

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A spokesperson for White, in response to questions on Friday, read a statement that said, “When Ms White was the First Asst. United States Attorney, she worked closely with the trial team on the investigation and prosecution.”

The statement also noted that later, as chief prosecutor in Manhattan, White “supervised” the racketeering case against Gotti’s son, John A. Gotti, that led a guilty plea and his imprisonment.

But the spokesperson said White had no direct comment on the accuracy of Obama’s wording.