NEW YORK — Defense lawyers for John "Junior" Gotti on Tuesday tried to portray mob turncoat John Alite as an exaggerator who shortchanged his own family and had the temper and motive to commit on his own a killing that he now blames on Gotti.
Alite, a former Gotti lieutenant and enforcer, claimed during four days testifying at Gotti's murder-racketeering trial in Manhattan federal court that he made $10 million working for the Gambino family heir by the mid-1990s.
But he admitted that his wife, Carol, received no alimony or property and $275 a week in support for their two kids when they divorced in 1994.
"How'd it come about?" said a smirking Alite, 47, after he had finished describing his New Jersey estate with three houses, a pool, a lake, a boxing ring and batting cages. "I cheated on her every day. That was it. … I was a nut."
On his first day of cross-examination, Alite used questions from Gotti lawyer Charles Carnesi as opportunities to deliver lectures on mob customs and admitted that he had been a liar most of his life.
"On the street, lying is what keeps me alive. In here, not lying is what keeps my agreement with the government," said Alite, who pleaded guilty to racketeering last year in Tampa and is hoping for leniency on his sentence.
Gotti, 45, of Oyster Bay, was tried on racketeering charges three times in 2005 and 2006. Each case ended with a hung jury, but this is his first trial with Alite as a government witness. Alite faces life in prison and is hoping for leniency in return for cooperating.
The case began with federal prosecutors in Tampa, but defense attorneys won a change of venue to New York. Authorities said Alite, who once attended the University of Tampa, led a Gambino family effort to gain a foothold in the area.
In his most damaging testimony, Alite alleged that Gotti ordered him to murder George Grosso, a Queens cocaine dealer, in 1988 after Grosso had bragged too much about his Gotti connections and also had helped another drug dealer take a gunshot at Alite. Alite testified that Gotti had to approve every act of violence by his crew.
But Carnesi pressed the informant to admit that from his earliest days as an enforcer, he needed to project strength. The implication: Alite couldn't have allowed Grosso to get away with taking a potshot at him, and needed to retaliate with or without Gotti's permission.
"You wanted people to fear you?" the lawyer asked.
"Of course I did," Alite answered.