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Consumer Reports

Mobster fooled medical experts | (KRT) For at least two decades, Vincent "Chin" Gigante led the most powerful Mafia family in the country.

Dubbed the "The Oddfather," he was notorious for wandering through the streets of Greenwich Village, N.Y., wearing slippers and a ratty bathrobe, mumbling and appearing disoriented.

Court documents show he managed to deceive some of the most brilliant minds in psychiatry and psychology who found him to be suffering from varying degrees of dementia in evaluations from 1990 to 1997.

His reign over the New York-based Genovese family continued even after he was transferred to Federal Medical Center Fort Worth in 1999 to serve out a 12-year sentence for labor racketeering and related charges after his conviction in New York in 1997, prosecutors said.

Gigante, 75, admitted in a New York federal court this year that his bizarre behavior had been an act to avoid prison.

On April 7, he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was returned to Fort Worth later the same month to serve an additional three years in prison. In return, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges of extortion conspiracy and extortion from a January 2002 indictment accusing Gigante of running the crime organization from prison and using intermediaries, including his son Andrew, 46, to ferry orders.

For psychology professor Richard Rogers of the University of North Texas, who is nationally known for developing a standardized test for detecting malingerers, Gigante's act is bound to become a textbook case.

"I think it's a fairly unusual case," Rogers said. "In terms of what he was feigning, it was a combination of dementia, depression and an assortment of medical problems. That created a much more complex clinical presentation than what you typically see with malingering."

Faking dementia and speaking in rambling sentence fragments, Gigante managed to trick some of the experts into believing that he did not understand their questions, said Rogers, editor of the book "Clinical Assessment of Malingering and Deception."

New York prosecutors say Gigante's long-running Oddfather act places him in a league of his own.

"I can't recall a similar case," said Bill Muller, an executive assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn.

Like Gigante, the bosses of the other New York-based crime families have called the shots from behind bars, organized-crime experts said.

Like Gigante's Genovese family, the Bonanno, Gambino, Lucchese and Colombo families of the Cosa Nostra continue to run labor and extortion rackets, even though indictments and convictions of bosses and underbosses in recent years have weakened their organizations, prosecutors said.

Gigante "is truly the boss of the Genovese crime family," said Barry Mawn, New York FBI assistant director in charge, announcing the January 2002 indictments. "He is not a figurehead; he is not the boss in name only. He is a `hands-on' leader who remains actively involved in the running of the organization."

Federal Medical Center Fort Worth has apparently been good to Gigante. He has made "a truly remarkable recovery," in the words of Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Dorsky, one of the three prosecutors who won the conviction against Gigante in 1997.

In a Dec. 22, 2000, letter to U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, Dorsky detailed Gigante's "recovery."

Dorsky cited medical records that said Gigante had walked a mile every day while incarcerated in Fort Worth, a sharp contrast to his "apparent catatonic state at trial three years ago, in which he needed both a wheelchair and a cane for transportation."

Gigante also filled out a 100-question form about his medical history, noting that he is allergic to some medications and that he has a pacemaker and had an aortic valve replacement.

"For a man who, in the care of his private physicians claimed to be unable to form a sentence of more than three words or understand basic English, this is striking," Dorsky wrote.

In 2001, Gigante's defense attorney Michael Marinaccio told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "His mental state is confused and lethargic. He is not able to run such a large operation, absolutely not."

Last week, Marinaccio declined to talk about his famous client.

"Mr. Gigante being incarcerated, it's time for everybody to leave him alone and let him do his time," he said.

With good behavior, Gigante is expected to be released June 28, 2010, prison records show.

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services