updated 8/28/2008 7:06:23 PM ET 2008-08-28T23:06:23

Looking upbeat and waving confidently to his family in a federal courtroom, John A. "Junior" Gotti entered a not guilty plea Thursday to federal racketeering charges that link him to three mob slayings, cocaine distribution and other crimes.

Prosecutors contend the 44-year-old son of the former Gambino family crime boss was a member and, at times, de facto boss of the criminal organization that engaged in everything from murder and kidnapping to witness tampering and money laundering.

Though the three murders Gotti is being tied to all took place in New York, he is being tried in Tampa, where prosecutors have said the criminal enterprise was "trying to gain a foothold."

At the brief appearance Thursday afternoon, Gotti's defense attorneys did not make a request for bond, but said they planned to seek a change of venue to New York.

"The events happened in New York and it's a disadvantage to transfer everything here," Charles Carnesi, one of three attorneys representing Gotti, said afterward.

Prosecutors have attempted to convict Gotti on racketeering charges three times before in Manhattan. The trials in 2005 and 2006 ended in hung juries and mistrials.

Standing outside the courthouse, Carnesi and Victoria Gotti, the defendant's sister, said they were confident a jury would find him not guilty of the new charges.

"They could try the case on Mars," Carnesi said. "It's not going to make a difference."

Father figure
Victoria Gotti, star of the reality TV show "Growing up Gotti," reiterated what her brother has said before: that he has long since walked away from a life of crime.

Wearing all black under a blistering sun, she told reporters the new charges were akin to a "vendetta" against her family. She said that her sons, who look to Gotti as a father figure, were devastated by his arrest earlier this month at his Long Island home.

"Unfortunately, we're seasoned," Gotti told a stream of reporters before stepping into a black livery car in front of the courthouse. "We're used to it."

Gotti was indicted along with five other men last month. The indictment alleges that John E. Alite directed the Gambino crime family at times and shared the criminal proceeds with members, including John A. "Junior" Gotti. Alite was charged in a 2004 RICO conspiracy case and extradited from Brazil in 2006. The case against him is pending.

"He was a bad kid from the word 'Go,'" Victoria Gotti said of Alite. She said it took her brother "longer than the rest of us to believe it" but he had left Alite behind.

Three other suspected members of the Tampa-area Gambino enterprise were convicted in 2006.

In addition to acts of physical violence, the Gambino crime family allegedly engaged in loansharking, gambling, collecting unlawful debts and jury tampering.

Defense attorney Seth Ginsberg said it had taken Gotti nearly two weeks to arrive from New York, having stopped in four other cities aboard a U.S. Marshals prisoner flight before landing Wednesday in Tampa.

Before his appearance, Gotti and Carnesi made light of the journey. Carnesi said Gotti had asked him how his flight from New York to Tampa went.

"Much shorter than yours," Carnesi said he replied.

Gotti smiled and briefly laughed as they spoke. His ankles were shackled but his hands free.

He is being held at a local jail in Pinellas County, Carnesi said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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