Last week, federal judge Denise Cote received a letter from FDNY Captain Liam Flaherty. The letter was about the long hours Long Islander Michael Finnerty put in at Ground Zero in the terrible days and weeks after the attacks of 9/11.
But this was not a court case about, say, compensation for breathing toxic air in lower Manhattan.
No, instead Flaherty was enlisted to show that fellow Irish American Finnerty -- who used to crack skulls for John A. (Junior) Gotti back in the 1990s -- had managed to turn his life around.
Finnerty, now 45, was staring at a six year jail sentence. Though he’d gone legit and even offered up information about Junior Gotti -- son of Gambino kingpin John Gotti -- Finnerty’s past finally caught up with him when was nabbed two years back and charged with a long list of crimes. He cooperated with investigators and, just this week, pled for mercy in federal court, hoping to avoid prison completely.
On Friday, May 14, Finnerty got his wish. He will pay a fine, but so long as he does not violate his probation, he will not serve additional jail time.
As fate would have it, another Irish American who ran with Junior Gotti was back in the public eye recently for the worst of possible reasons.
Joseph O’Kane, who like most of Junior Gotti’s crew hailed from Queens, actually testified on behalf Gotti last fall, when numerous ex-cons were turning on the alleged kingpin.
Back then, O’Kane was up front about the many crimes he’d committed, which had landed him a life sentence in a Waymart, Pennsylvania prison.
Well, in late April, O’Kane -- whose jaw was wired during his 2009 testimony as a result of a prison fight -- apparently got into another scuffle. In fact, O’Kane was ultimately stabbed as many as 10 times and eventually died from the wounds.
It’s hard not to see the almost biblical symbolism in a story such as this. Two Irish Americans in an underworld more or less dominated by Italians, running with some of the same bad guys on the same tough streets.
Finnerty was known to steal cars, rob drug dealers and work as muscle. O’Kane, meanwhile, “made no bones that he was guilty of federal racketeering and murder charges for which he was serving life,” as master crime chronicler Jerry Capeci has written on his website ganglandnews.com.
But at some point, Finnerty decided to get out of the life, whereas O’Kane seemed unable to do so.
In court testimony and published reports, Finnerty said that it was when he met his wife, Stephanie, that he decided to turn his life around.
In 1995 he reportedly wanted a loan from Junior Gotti to start a business, but the alleged boss wasn’t interested.
Eventually, Finnerty found work with Local 52, the union which represents set builders on hit TV shows for cable stations such as HBO and FX. As a member of the Motion Picture Studio Mechanics Union, Finnerty worked on the Glenn Close show Damages and the Ted Danson show Bored to Death.
Acclaimed TV producer and writer Tom Fontana, whose credits include Homicide and Oz, wrote to the judge on behalf of Finnerty, saying, “In the decades I have known him, he has been an outstanding human being who continues to evolve.”
Whether it was luck or fate, O’Kane was nabbed by authorities much earlier than Finnerty ever was.
By 1996, O’Kane was serving life for racketeering, but remained busy with mob business. That’s because the feds kept trying -- and failing -- to convict his ex-boss, Junior Gotti.
O’Kane appeared on the witness stand back in October of 2009, during the fourth trial against Junior Gotti.
The feds were hoping turncoat John Alite would once and for all put the Teflon Don Jr. away.
Why was Michael fate so different from O’Kane’s? Is it because the former repented?
Was it just a matter of timing? Was it God? The dumb luck of the Irish?
You can search for explanations such as this. But if you find a good answer, you also have to explain this -- how, in January 2010, did the feds fail for the fourth and apparently final time to convict Junior Gotti?
If only we all had such luck.
(Contact at [email protected] or facebook.com/tomdeignan)