A convict, a lawyer and a minister testified for John "Junior" Gotti Wednesday as the mob heir tried to convince jurors in his federal racketeering trial that he has left the Gambino family and that star prosecution informant John Alite lied about him.
Appearing in federal court in Manhattan, one of the witnesses - former Queens cocaine dealer Joseph O'Kane, nicknamed "Joe Cocaine" - said former drug associate Alite had never linked Gotti to the 1988 murder of a rival coke dealer, George Grosso, until Alite claimed in court that Gotti ordered the hit.
O'Kane said Alite killed Grosso to take over some of his drug turf and settle a personal beef, and took independent credit for the 1988 hit at the time. Gotti lawyer Charles Carnesi asked O'Kane if Alite ever said Gotti had a role in ordering the killing.
"Absolutely not," O'Kane testified, speaking through a clenched jaw wired shut after a football accident in the Pennsylvania penitentiary where he is serving a life sentence for murder.
O'Kane also disputed witnesses who said Gotti himself ran the Queens drug trade in the 1980s, and said Alite - a former Gotti pal and lieutenant who tied Gotti to murders and violent assaults during seven days on the witness stand - was singing a different tune back in the day.
"Johnny Alite would tell me John Junior was a coward, he had no --, and would never even bust a grape," testified O'Kane, who said he had spurned an offer from the FBI to shorten his life term in return for testifying against Gotti.
But in a withering cross-examination, prosecutors portrayed O'Kane as a "small-time drug dealer" who, unlike Alite, barely knew Gotti. O'Kane admitted that he once was robbed at gunpoint by Alite and later conspired to murder him, and that he got visits and financial support in prison from alleged Gambino family associates and other mob-linked sources.
He also denied knowing anything about the mob links of a long list of alleged gangsters - including Gotti.
"My understanding would be he was a well-respected person in the neighborhood," O'Kane said. "If he had some position, I wouldn't know about it."
Gotti, 45, of Oyster Bay, is being tried for the fourth time in five years on racketeering charges. The last three trials ended in hung juries. He claims that he withdrew from the Gambino crime family in 1999, when he went to jail in an earlier racketeering case, and that all of his mob activity occurred before then.
Other defense witnesses Wednesday included lawyer and former radio-talker Ron Kuby, who described discussions he had with Gotti in 1998 in which the son of the late Gambino boss John J. Gotti said he was "sick of this life."
The defense also called Robert Hargraves, a Westchester County correction officer who has since become a minister, to describe heart-to-heart conversations he had with Gotti in the county lockup while he was awaiting trial in White Plains in 1998.
"He wanted to move to Canada. He wanted to get completely away from that life," said Hargraves, who admitted on cross-examination that he had no way of gauging Gotti's sincerity.