- Last Updated: 9:49 PM, May 8, 2012
- Posted: 9:48 PM, May 8, 2012
He used to be a Gambino thug and drug dealer — now, he’s a saint.
The lawyer for accused Mafia killer John Burke today insisted at that start of the reputed wiseguy’s Brooklyn trial that his client had renounced crime, conquered substance abuse and found the word of God.
“He finally came to believe he could no longer live the life he was living. Unfortunately, his awakening came in jail,” Burke’s lawyer, Richard Jasper, told a federal-court jury.
Burke — who is already behind bars for various Mafia crimes — had an epiphany that brought down the curtain on his previous Mafia existence, the lawyer argued.
“Johnny Burke finally realized that the mob life — that gangsters, so called friends — are not friends at all,” Jasper said.
Since his alleged conversion, Burke has created an Internet blog to proclaim his innocence and try to show he now finds solace in religion.
“I will continue to put my trust in Jesus Christ who is my Lord and Savior,” Burke wrote on his blog. “My Lord has a way to set a person free - even when they are locked up in prison.”
But Brooklyn federal prosecutors clearly aren’t convinced — they say that the real John Burke is a mobster who once murdered men who ran afoul of the powerful New York crime family.
“You will learn about the drugs he dealt, the robberies he committed, and men he killed over the course of 25 years as a Gambino family associate,” Assistant US Attorney Whitman Knapp told jurors.
The jurors at Burke’s racketeering trial were told that he is accused of three different hits — including one dating back to the iron-fisted mob days of John “Dapper Don” Gotti.
Among those slated to testify against the 51-year-old Burke are ex-wiseguys-turned government informants who will deliver “devastating evidence” that Burke is a killer, the prosecutor said.
“These are not men of honor,” Knapp said One of these former mobsters, Anthony Ruggiano, Jr., is expected to take the stand as a government witness as early as today.
In addition to drug and weapons charges, Burke is on trial for the shotgun murder of Daniel Zahn in August 1982, just months after Zahn allegedly shot him in the throat.
He’s also charged with the murders of John Gebert and Bruce John Gotterup, two killings allegedly linked to drug dealing.
Burke has been incarcerated for nearly a decade because of an earlier conviction for other mob crimes.