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Gambino associate sentenced to 13 years in prison

By David Ariosto, CNN
  • Prosecutors say Watts helped organized a hit crew to track down Frederick Weiss in 1989
  • Joseph Watts pleaded guilty in January to murder and assault conspiracies
  • Watts will be 82 upon his release from prison if he lives out his sentence

New York (CNN) -- A longtime associate of the Gambino family was sentenced Wednesday to 13 years in prison for conspiring to kill a garbage company owner believed to be a government informant more than two decades ago.

Joseph Watts, 69, pleaded guilty in January to murder and assault conspiracies in order to maintain and increase his influence in the family, according to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Prosecutors say that in September 1989 Watts helped organize a hit crew to track down Frederick Weiss at a Staten Island, New York, home on the orders of then-Gambino boss John Gotti.

Gotti believed Weiss -- who ran a trash collection company in Staten Island -- was cooperating with the government after he got rid of a lawyer who represented Gambino family members and their associates.

On Gotti's direction, Watts waited in the garage with a gun, giving members of his crew different tasks, including digging the grave where Weiss would be buried.

But Weiss never showed up. He was instead killed by a separate hit squad ordered by Gotti on the following day in front of his apartment building, according to prosecutors.

Years later during a prison stint that stemmed from a 2001 money laundering conviction, Watts met a purported stock market expert and gave the man between $350,000 and $400,000 in cash to invest on his behalf.

He then demanded the money back when the investment went bad, threatening his investor and shoving him against the wall. Watts eventually reclaimed some of the money, but later pleaded guilty to assault charges.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon also handed down a sentence of three years of supervised release and ordered Watts to forfeit $250,000, describing the murder of Weiss as "heinous," "hideous" and the work of a "cold-blooded killer."

Watts' attorney was not immediately available for comment.

Though he was never formally inducted into the Gambino family as a "made" member because of his non-Italian lineage, Watts was afforded the status of a Gambino family capo, prosecutors said.

In January, 14 members of the Gambino family -- including Daniel Marino, who was then considered the family head -- pleaded guilty to charges that included racketeering, murder, sex trafficking, extortion and wire fraud.

Just over a week later, federal authorities announced one of the largest single-day operations against the Mafia in FBI history, arresting 127 members and associates of the so-called five families -- the Gambino, Colombo, Bonanno, Genovese and Lucchese families.

Watts will be 82 upon his release from prison if he lives out his sentence.