As a kid, Michael Finnerty committed his share of crimes as a member of John "Junior" Gotti's crew in Howard Beach. Last year, as a government informant and cooperating witness, Finnerty testified against his former friend in Gotti's murder-racketeering trial.
Friday, Finnerty - a married, employed father of three who works in the film industry as a set builder and has lived in Oceanside for 17 years - will appear in federal court in Manhattan to ask a judge to spare him jail time on a racketeering conviction based largely on long-ago conduct.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, Finnerty, 45, asks for a lenient sentence based on "who I have become today, and not who I was many years ago," according to a sentencing memorandum from his lawyer filed this week.
Finnerty traces the change in his life to his marriage to wife Stephanie in 1991. While most of his crimes were committed before then, however, he admits that he turned to his mob friends for help in 2000 when Gambino family killer Charles Carneglia tried to extort money from Finnerty's set-building business.
He began paying "tribute" to Gotti for help, and later supplied money to another former mob acquaintance, John Alite, when Alite was a fugitive in 2004. The sentencing memorandum describes those actions as "very bad judgment."
His plea for mercy is supported by a letter from his wife and from film-industry figures, officials of the motion pictures mechanics union, and a New York City fire department captain and others who praise his work and contributions of equipment for the post-Sept. 11 cleanup.
Among other friends and business acquaintances, his memorandum also describes a letter from Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach), who praises Finnerty for stepping in and serving as a role model for her son when her firefighter husband died.
Prosecutors had no comment and made no public filings on the sentence, but they are believed to have filed a letter praising Finnerty's assistance as an informant and cooperating witness in the Gotti case. Typically, the government will neither oppose nor endorse a non-prison sentence for a cooperating witness.
Finnerty faces a maximum of 20 years. Sentencing guidelines call for him to receive 63 to 78 months, but his lawyer, Joseph Conway of Mineola, said that sentence would impose an extreme hardship on the family.
"Since his youth he's been an upstanding citizen, a family man, a working man," Conway said. "We hope the judge can see who he is now, and the last 18 or 19 years will hopefully make up for the bad deeds he did as a young man."