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Witness says martinis led to Gotti knifing

A self-styled construction coordinator testified Tuesday on how he once won a martini-drinking contest with John Gotti Jr. and got knifed in the shoulder for his trouble.

The appearance of Michael Finnerty, 43, came after seven days of colorful and sometimes horrific testimony from John Alite, a one-time top Mafia sidekick and buddy but now the sworn enemy of Gotti, a Howard Beach native.

Gotti lashed out at Alite, the star witness for the prosecution, after the jury left the courtroom last Thursday, calling him a dog and a punk.

Gotti is on trial for the fourth time since 2005 in Manhattan federal court on charges of racketeering and two murders. The prosecution contends he was kingpin of the Gambino crime family after his father died.

The first three trials ended in hung juries.

The defense, headed by attorney Charles Carnesi, maintains Gotti had turned his back on organized crime by 1999, disillusioned and chastened by the death of John Gotti Sr., his colorful father, the Teflon Don, who was serving a life prison term for murder after avoiding conviction three times.

Finnerty told the jury about a night “in the mid-1980s” at the Shellbank bar on Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach.

“John [Gotti] Jr. challenged me to a vodka martini contest and after we had been drinking awhile he left to go to the bathroom,” Finnerty said. “When he got back, I pointed to his glass and reminded him that he didn’t finish his drink.”

Finnerty said Gotti raised his arm as if to strike his drinking companion, “but at first I didn’t see the knife he had. He stabbed me twice in the shoulder blades.”

Finnerty said he fled the bar to a hospital.

“Did you give your real name at the hospital?” he was asked by the prosecution.

“No, they would have called the police,” Finnerty said. “The Gottis ran that neighborhood.”

Finnerty said he hid out until he got word through the grapevine that Gotti no longer was angry with him.

He said Gotti explained to him their altercation was about “respect.”

Finnerty pleaded guilty to racketeering charges on the condition that he testify in the Gotti trial in the hope his sentence might be reduced. Finnerty, raised in Howard Beach, testified he dropped out of Christ the King High School as a senior and fell in with friends who operated a car theft ring, selling stolen automobiles to a junkyard.

Finnerty said he later saw Gotti and other Gambino crime family members in various bars and other locations in Queens.

Asked by a prosecutor what his occupation was, Finnerty replied “construction coordinator.”

On his seventh and final day of testimony last Thursday, Alite was being escorted out of the courtroom when he passed the defense table where Gotti was seated.

“You got something you want to say to me?” Alite said to Gotti, who shouted, “You’re a dog and a punk. A dog all your life.”

Judge Kevin Castel admonished Gotti, who apologized.

“You are not doing yourself any favors,” said Castel, who had prior to testimony in the case directed the defendant to remain silent throughout the proceedings.

Meanwhile, a juror in the trial was excused Tuesday after reporting that an incident in which a car nearly struck her had made her afraid to continue. The 55-year-old secretary had asked last week to be excused.

Judge Kevin Castel announced as the trial resumed that she would be released and replaced with an alternate. The juror explained that a car grazed her as she crossed a Manhattan street Oct. 2.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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