Editor's note: This story was originally published on Nov. 2, 2006.
John Alite isn't happy. He's stuck in a foul-smelling maximum-security prison outside Rio, a smuggled cell phone his only link to the outside world.
He knows people are trashing him 4,000 miles away, getting on a witness stand in a Tampa courtroom and linking him to the Gambino crime family.
"These things they're saying about me aren't true," he said this week, straining to be heard over the shouts of other inmates without alerting guards. "I'm not the person they're making me out to be."
Alite spends his evenings surreptitiously dialing lawyers in the United States who fill him in on the racketeering trial in U.S. District Court where he is named as a defendant.
Alite, 44, said he's desperate to clear his name. He misses his four children. The conditions at Ary Franco prison are inhumane, he said. Riots break out. Guards rough him up. He rarely gets a shower.
Despite all that, Alite fights extradition to the United States. He refuses to give the government information about his childhood friend, John Gotti Jr., he said.
He's afraid he'll be killed by other mobsters if he's put in an American prison.
"Either way," he said, "I'm a dead man."
Outside court's reach
Alite is the central character in a federal case that tries to link a Tampa valet company to a New York-based crime family. In addition to owning Prestige Valet Inc., authorities say, Alite led a Tampa crime crew that reported to Ronald "Ronnie One Arm" Trucchio, a captain in the Gambino crime family.
The crew is accused of threatening, robbing and assaulting people in New York, New Jersey and the Tampa Bay area. Authorities say Alite also dabbled in bookmaking and drug dealing, and took $20,000 from a Sears in Vineland, N.J.
He isn't being tried in absentia but faces prosecution if Brazil agrees to return him to the United States.
Alite said he couldn't get into specifics about charges while the trial is in progress. He swore he was innocent. He said he hasn't talked to the other defendants in years.
"Where are they going with this?" he asked. "They're trying to create an affiliation between me and the rest of those guys. There is no affiliation."
Alite said he's being smeared by ties he formed as a young man and long ago severed. To understand, he said, you have to go back to the place where he grew up.
Coming up with Gotti
Alite and most of the other defendants spent their childhood years together in Woodhaven, Queens. Alite called it "Deathhaven" because so many of his friends were either killed or swept into a life of crime.
Baseball was Alite's ticket out, and he won a scholarship to the University of Tampa, where he spent three years.
But Alite admitted he was dazzled by the glamour of organized crime and became good friends with John Gotti Jr., the son of the legendary boss of the Gambino crime family, who was from the same neighborhood.
He was never fully accepted in that world, he said, because he was Albanian, not Italian.
"Was I friends with John Gotti? Yes," he said. "Am I friends with him now? No."
Alite said he spent most of the 1980s hanging out with Gotti and his associates. In 1989, he was arrested with Gotti and another man, all accused of beating up two men and a woman in a Long Island night club.
Later, those hurt in the brawl told the grand jury they couldn't identify their assailants and the charges were dropped.
In November 1995, Alite got in trouble again when he was stopped with a gun.
As a felon, he couldn't legally own one. He was sentenced to three years in Allenwood Federal Prison.
While there, he met New York mobster Antonio Parlavecchio. In 2002, Alite was sent to prison again for smuggling sperm collection kits in and out of Allenwood for Parlavecchio's wife.
Alite said he was just trying to do a good deed for a woman over 40.
"Her biological clock was ticking," he said. "I wanted to help her out. She wanted to have a baby. I couldn't believe I got sent to prison for something like that."
Striking out again
Alite said he tried to get his life on track after he left prison. He said he moved out of his old neighborhood and stopped talking to his friends.
He tried opening an employment agency with his sister. When that failed, Alite said, he focused on Prestige Valet, which had contracts at several local restaurants and nude dance clubs, including Thee Doll House.
Prosecutors say he threatened rival valet owners. Alite said he always ran Prestige as a legitimate business.
"I never ordered anybody to beat up anybody," he said. "God as my witness, I didn't. ... I'll admit I've got a big mouth. When I yell, I yell. But I'm not a violent person."
He said he left the United States in 2003 because he was tired of federal harassment. He was arrested Nov. 26, 2004, in the posh Copacabana section of Rio de Janeiro.
Alite said he doesn't know what his future holds. He's awaiting a hearing on his extradition, but no matter what the outcome, his life is ruined.
"I've lost everything," he said. "I don't get to watch my son play baseball. I don't get to watch my daughter go to school."
He sighed as another commotion erupted in the background.
"Am I bitter?" he asked. "Yeah, I'm bitter. Who wouldn't be?"
Times staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.