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 Gotti Witness Recounts a Life of Violence

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little vic

little vic

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Gotti Witness Recounts a Life of Violence


Published: January 27, 1990

Husky voiced, his eyes panning around a Manhattan courtroom, the star witness against John Gotti yesterday described his life of violent crimes and his relationship with a Mafia family that prosecutors say Mr. Gotti leads.

Through the witness, James Patrick McElroy, prosecutors hope to implicate Mr. Gotti directly in the shooting and wounding of a carpenters union official in 1986. But in an apparent attempt to defuse defense lawyers' efforts in cross-examinations later, the prosecution began Mr. McElroy's testimony with admissions to a gory catalogue of crimes and lies.

Starting at age 14, Mr. McElory said, he participated in murders, assaults, knifings, armed robberies, drug deals, loan-sharking and bookmaking operations. As a member of a violent Hell's Kitchen gang, the Westies, he routinely lied on the witness stand and to the police and prosecutors, he said.

But in testifying against Mr. Gotti, Mr. McElroy, 45, said he had decided to be truthful because ''I have no reason to lie.'' Mr. McElroy is serving a prison sentence of 10 to 60 years on a Federal racketeering conviction in 1988 and a concurrent term of 6 to 18 years on a state conviction for narcotics trafficking. The sentencing judge recommended no parole before 60 years.

Responding to questions from a Manhattan assistant district attorney, Michael G. Cherkasky, Mr. McElroy said he hoped his cooperation with state prosecutors might reduce his 60-year sentence. Mr. McElroy said state prosecutors had promised to inform the sentencing judge of his aid in the trial of Mr. Gotti but had not given him any guarantees of leniency.

Mr. McElroy is the prosecution's most vital witness against Mr. Gotti, who the authorities say is the head of the Gambino family and the nation's most powerful Mafia leader. Mr. Gotti, 49, and a co-defendant, Anthony (Tony Lee) Guerrieri, 60, are accused in State Supreme Court in Manhattan of assault and conspiracy in the wounding of the union official, John F. O'Connor, in May 1986.

Prosecutors maintain that Mr. Gotti, as the new leader of the Gambino family, directed members of the Westies to shoot Mr. O'Connor in retaliation for a labor dispute. Mr. Gotti, the prosecution asserts, held Mr. O'Connor responsible for wrecking a restaurant owned by Gambino family members.

In an opening statment last Saturday and through court papers, Mr. Cherkasky and other prosecutors said Mr. McElroy would testify that the leader of the Westies, James Coonan, had told him that Mr. Gotti wanted Mr. O'Connor ''whacked.'' Mr. McElroy is the only witness who apparently can be used to corroborate secret tape recordings of Mr. Gotti that the prosecution says implicate Mr. Gotti in the shooting.

The tape recordings were made in early 1986, but it was only after Mr. McElroy agreed to cooperate in 1988 that an indictment against Mr. Gotti was sought, according to investigators.

Mr. McElroy, who was wearing a glen plaid gray suit, gray shirt and charcoal gray tie, glanced occasionally at Mr. Gotti during breaks in his two and a half hours of opening testimony.

Often vague about years and precise names of his victims and answering questions with a raspy ''Yeh,'' Mr. McElroy admitted that he had killed two men and shot two others who had survived and had cut the throat of another man who survived. The Westies, he said, were an Irish gang from the West Side of Manhattan and that in the mid-1970's Mr. Coonan had forged an agreement to work for the Gambino crime family.

Mr. McElroy said Mr. Coonan told him in 1986 that Mr. Gotti had become ''the boss'' of the Gambino family and that Mr. Coonan met frequently with Mr. Gotti. Asked by Mr. Cherkasky if he recognized either of the two defendants. Mr. McElroy answered, ''One, John,'' motioning at Mr. Gotti.

Mr. McElroy was convicted in Federal District Court in Manhattan in 1988 on rackteering charges, including the assault on Mr. O'Connor. In a presentencing memorandum, Federal prosecutors said Mr. McElroy had ''confided that he actually enjoyed killing people,'' and the prosecutors recommended that he ''be removed from society for the rest of his life.''
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