03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Intrigue at Gotti IV; Sammy Bull for the Defense?

Salvatore (Sammy Bull) Gravano helped sink Mafia boss John Gotti but mob scion John (Junior) Gotti thinks Sammy Bull just may be the lifeline he needs right now.

In a mind-boggling turn of events, Gravano is one of three federally protected mob turncoats that the onetime Junior Don may call to rebut key prosecution witness John Alite's testimony that that Junior supervised the 1990 murder of a Gambino mobster who was marked for death by the late Dapper Don.

In interviews with the FBI, and from the witness stand at two trials, Sammy Bull testified that he oversaw the October 4, 1990 murder of Louis DiBono but never included Junior as a participant in the slaying, one of three murders that he is charged with in Gotti IV.

In addition to Gravano, lead defense lawyer Charles Carnesi has indicated during his questioning of Alite -- and in sidebar discussions with prosecutors and the trial judge -- that he also expects to call at least two other cooperating witnesses whom the government has called in several mob trials as defense witnesses at the Gotti trial.

One, Kevin McMahon was on the scene when DiBono was shot to death in the parking garage of the World Trade Center. McMahon, who testified about the rubout at the Brooklyn trial of convicted triggerman Charles Carneglia, disputes key aspects of Alite's account of the murder.
Carnesi has contended from the first day of the trial that Alite has used information about murders and other crimes that he has gleaned from numerous other sources, including his crew members, news accounts, official court transcripts, as well as private investigators and FBI agents, and used it to fabricate accounts that include Junior.

In one sidebar at which the lawyer explained why seemingly unimportant jailhouse talks Alite had with Carneglia while both were in prison together were relevant discussions about the DiBono murder, Carnesi implored Judge Kevin Castel to "let me finish" before ruling.

"He spoke to Carneglia in jail about that murder. It's my position that it was at that point that he comes to learn who was involved in the murder because Carneglia tells him he is upset because he thinks McMahon is a rat and he thinks McMahon may talk. So he gets some information.

"He understands now at that point that Carneglia was involved. He understands McMahon was involved. He told you and this jury a while ago that he assumed if Kevin McMahon was going to have a role, it would be as a driver. He then comes up with this fictitious conversation he claims to have had (with a dead gangster) to corroborate that, but it's not accurate," said Carnesi.

"McMahon will say he was not driving the car," added the lawyer.

Last week, under questioning by Carnesi, prosecution witness Michael Finnerty, a former Gotti crew member, testified that on the day of the DiBono murder, he was told by Carneglia and a second member of the hit team to never tell anyone, "especially John Junior," that the diminutive McMahon, known derisively as The Midget, was part of the rubout team. That contradicts Alite's testimony, and gibes with the defense contention that Gotti had no prior knowledge about the slaying.

Another turncoat whom Carnesi has indicated he intends to call, Peter (Bud) Zuccaro, contradicts Alite's account of the 1996 murder of John Gebert, a marijuana dealer whose murder Alite claims to have ordered on Gotti's say so.

Calling government cooperators can be a dangerous game, of course. When Gambino soldier Thomas (Huck) Carbonaro called Sammy Bull as a defense witness to contest a single point, prosecutors effectively used him to testify about other crimes that they committed together, and Huck went down to defeat.

But in a case in which the defense concedes Gotti was a gangster for many years and is seriously contesting only the murders and drug dealing charges, it's a risk that Carnesi -- who called hardened criminals and cooperating witnesses in the prior Gotti trials -- may feel is necessary. As the sixth week of the trial begins, it is critical for the defense to convince jurors that Alite is a devious, opportunistic liar whose only purpose has been to use Junior as a get out of jail card.