Friday, August 08, 2008

Got Gotti? We do!

Back in the early '80s, civic leaders branded Tampa "America's Next Great City". Since then, we've been on a quest to gather as many sports franchises, high profile events, aquariums and streetcars as possible in an effort to legitimize that claim. Another brick in that wall was added this week when it was announced a big name was coming to Tampa. No, not quarterback Brett Favre who was traded to the New York Jets instead of the beloved hometown Buccaneers, but a much, much bigger fish. Or rather, someone who...allegedly...sends others to sleep with the fishes.

That's right, you guessed it, Tampa is getting the impending trial of the former head of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti Jr! Wooo! Yeah! Take that, Tucson! (note: the author is not actually aware of whether or not the city of Tucson was ever considered a potential venue for this proceeding, or even where Tucson is, believing it to be "somewhere in either New Mexico or regular ol' Mexico")

Gotti was arrested Tuesday at his Long Island home in connection with three murders committed in New York during the late '80s and early '90s and are related to a drug ring that operated in New York, New Jersey and Florida at that time. The latest charges emerge from a widening investigation by federal prosecutors based here in Tampa. Five suspects have already been charged, including Ronald "Ronnie One Arm" Trucchio who has already been sentenced to life in prison. Gotti has faced trial three times previously, all of which were held in New York and all of which ended in hung juries (relax, not literally) and mistrials. Prosecutors feel conditions somewhere farther away may lend themselves to getting a more favorable outcome (ie: a verdict of guilty). Between that circumstance and the efforts of Tampa's Media Circus Task Force, a lesser known but extremely hard working and frighteningly effective arm of the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, it was a virtual slam dunk! Don't think for a minute that this is not a pretty big "get". Maybe not Republican National Convention (ooh!) or 2012 Summer Olympics (ouch!) big, but hotels will be booked and media coverage will be intense.

Naturally, we as a community could not possibly be more excited. Well, except maybe for Rays skipper Joe Maddon, who when he first heard Junior was coming to town thought a late waiver wire deal had been worked out to get Ken Griffey. But for the rest of us, while we love justice, we really love spectacle on a grand scale. And this has all the makings of an epic, just the way we like it. Word is that negotiations are already underway for either Joe Redner, Debra LaFave or a couple of Hogans to throw out the ceremonial first affidavit (I'm pulling for Redner; having been arrested over 140 times, the guy really knows his way around a courtroom).

It's not known whether the annual Gasparilla festivities will be re-scheduled to coincide with the trial, as was the case when Tampa hosted Superbowl XXXV in 2001, since it's not yet known when the trial will even take place. But whenever it eventually happens, there is one thing you can count on: There Will Be Beads.

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