Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

The Wounding of John O'Connor

In February 1986, the Bankers and Brokers Restaurant in Battery Park City was under construction. The restaurant was "under the management" of Philip Modica, whom police described as a "Gambino crime-family soldier." Modica was not using union carpenters in the construction, which incurred the wrath of John F. O'Connor, 50, the business agent and chief operating officer of Manhattan-based Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners. O'Connor responded by having the restaurant "trashed" one February night, causing some $30,000 worth of damage.

When Modica took his complaint to Gotti, the Gambino crime boss ordered that O'Connor be "busted up" and the assignment was given to members of the "Westies," a gang of Irish thugs from the Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan. At 6:40 on the morning of May 7, O'Connor was waiting to enter an elevator in the lobby of a midtown Manhattan building that housed his union offices. Westies' gang member Kevin Kelly shot four times at O'Connor, wounding him in the buttock, left leg and hip. The union official was rushed to St. Clare's Hospital, where he soon recovered.

On September 23, 1986, O'Connor was arraigned for coercion and criminal mischief in the damaging of the restaurant. Charged the same day was the gunman who'd wounded him---who at the time was a fugitive. Information had been supplied to the Manhattan District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, by the former number two man in the Westies, now government witness, Francis "Mickey" Featherstone.

Nearly two years and four months would pass before Morgenthau's office would indict Gotti for first degree assault and conspiracy in the fourth degree for the attack on O'Connor. On January 24, 1989, Gotti was arrested in the late afternoon as he walked along a Soho street. Thrilled to be making the arrest was State Task Force officer Joseph Coffey. The former New York Police Department detective, who openly referred to the Gambino Crime Family boss as a moron, almost slammed Gotti through a plate glass window before handcuffing him.

The cocky mob boss told Coffey, "I'll lay you three to one I beat it."

 "Forget it, jerkoff, get in the fucking car," replied Coffey.

Also arrested that night on the same charges were Angelo Ruggiero and Anthony "Tony Lee" Guerrieri. Ruggiero was placed under arrest at New York Infirmary-Beekman Hospital in Manhattan, where he was receiving cancer treatments. He passed away before the trial got under way. Guerrieri ran an illicit bookmaking enterprise for Gotti. His rap sheet included a number of arrests for gambling and receiving stolen goods. Although convicted several times, he'd never been sent to prison.

During his arraignment Gotti sat and joked with detectives. When he was placed in the detention cell behind the courtroom, about 50 defendants got to their feet and applauded him. Attorney Bruce Cutler pleaded with the judge not to make Gotti spend the night in jail. Assistant District Attorney Michael Cherkasky stated, "Mr. Gotti needs to be treated like any other defendant." To which Cutler responded, "If Mr. Gotti was like any other defendant, then they wouldn't have used 100 people to arrest him."

At the bail hearing the following day, Cherkasky urged the judge to ensure that Gotti be held without bail. The prosecutor stated that the boss of the Gambino Crime Family was looking at 25 years to life if convicted and had "enormous financial resources." Cutler told the judge that Gotti, "never ran away from a problem, never. We will win this case. We are not concerned." Gotti was released on $100,000 bond and while leaving the courthouse, he then fought his way through a sea of reporters, television cameramen and photographers.


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