United States Attorney
Southern District of New York
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
APRIL 20, 2011 ELLEN DAVIS, JERIKA RICHARDSON
PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York, announced that JOSEPH WATTS, 69, a
longtime associate of the Gambino Organized Crime Family of La
Cosa Nostra (the “Gambino Family”), was sentenced today to 13
years in prison on murder and assault charges. WATTS pled guilty
on January 20, 2011, to a two-count Superseding Information that
charged him with participating in murder and assault conspiracies
in order to maintain and increase his influence in the Gambino
Family. The sentence was imposed in Manhattan federal court by
U.S. District Judge COLLEEN MCMAHON.
U.S. Attorney PREET BHARARA stated: “Today’s sentence
should serve as a sober reminder that if you kill or harm an
actual or potential Government witness, no matter how powerful
you may think you are, we will find you and send you to prison
for a very long time. The sentence Judge McMahon imposed today
ensures that Watts will spend the next decade of his life paying
for his crimes.”
According to documents previously filed in Manhattan
federal court and statements WATTS made at his guilty plea
WATTS was a close associate of one-time Gambino Family
Boss JOHN J. GOTTI and others. Although WATTS was never formally
inducted into the Gambino Family as a “made” member because of
his non-Italian lineage, he was afforded the status of a Gambino
In 1989, FREDERICK WEISS was a defendant in a case that
was pending in the Southern District of New York. JOHN J. GOTTI,
then Boss of the Gambino Family, suspected that WEISS was
cooperating with the Government because he terminated a lawyer
who regularly represented Gambino Family members and associates.
GOTTI ordered WEISS to be murdered — an order that GOTTI
communicated to WATTS and others. WATTS then put together a
murder team to carry out the hit.
In September 1989, WATTS and others went to a house on
Staten Island where they expected WEISS would be. WATTS assigned
different Gambino members and associates to different tasks,
including digging the grave where WEISS would be buried. WATTS
himself stood in the garage, holding a gun and waiting to shoot
WEISS upon his arrival. Because WEISS did not show up to the
house as WATTS had expected, he was not killed that day.
However, a different team of shooters to whom GOTTI had also
assigned the task of killing WEISS successfully located him the
next day. He was shot to death in front of his apartment
While WATTS was serving a prison sentence in connection
with his 2001 conviction for money laundering, he met Victim-1,
whom he came to admire because of Victim-1’s purported stockpicking
abilities. When Victim-1 was released from prison, WATTS
sent an emissary to deliver approximately $350,000 to $400,000 —
all cash — to Victim-1 to invest on WATTS’s behalf. The
investment failed. In 2002, WATTS demanded his money back from
Victim-1, who returned some, but not all, of WATTS’s money.
To force Victim-1 to give him back all the money, WATTS
began threatening Victim-1. On one occasion, WATTS and another
individual confronted Victim-1 in Manhattan and physically
assaulted him. On a subsequent occasion, WATTS threatened
Victim-1 and physically shoved Victim-1 against a wall.
* * *
In addition to his prison term, Judge MCMAHON sentenced
WATTS, of Staten Island, New York, to three years of supervised
release and ordered him to forfeit $250,000.
During the sentencing proceeding, Judge MCMAHON stated
that the murder of Frederick Weiss was “heinous,” “hideous,” and
the work of a “cold-blooded killer.” Judge McMahon further
stated that the maximum sentence, which she ultimately imposed on
WATTS, was “the consequence of the choice he made.”
Mr. BHARARA praised the investigative work of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Organized
Crime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys ARLO DEVLIN-BROWN and CHI T.
STEVE KWOK are in charge of the prosecution.