Saturday, March 9, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Former New York mob boss John Gotti recently underwent a tracheotomy as part of his throat cancer treatment and can no longer talk, a longtime family friend confirmed Friday.

Friend Lewis Kasman described the terminally ill Gotti as "stable," but said he is bedridden and unable to speak with family and friends by telephone because of the medical device that helps him breathe.

"I'm not God, but certainly his condition is not good," said Kasman, who remains in close contact with Gotti's relatives and has served as their spokesman. He declined to be more specific.

The 60-year-old Gotti has suffered throat, head and neck cancer since 1998. He has been allowed bedside visits in recent days from his wife and daughter in his cell at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, prison spokeswoman Diane Smith said. But the visits are limited to "immediate family," and that does not include Kasman.

Kasman has pursued permission to visit Gotti since 1998, when the former mob boss was transferred to the Springfield facility from a prison in Marion, Ill.

He stepped up those efforts in recent weeks when Gotti's health appeared to be failing. He has written to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a Springfield native, in hopes of getting to see the man he says has been like a father to him.

Prison spokeswoman Diane Smith is prohibited from discussing Gotti's medical condition because of privacy laws. She did release a statement that Kasman falls outside the criteria approved by the warden for visits.

Traci Billingsley, spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said officials follow the warden's decision.

Once the most notorious Mafia don, Gotti was sentenced to life in prison in 1992 on racketeering and murder charges.

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