NEW YORK – A radio host known for mouthing off against the Mafia testified Monday about how a 1992 cab ride became a botched kidnapping that prosecutors say was ordered by John A. "Junior" Gotti (search).
Taking the witness stand at Gotti's conspiracy trial in federal court in Manhattan, Curtis Sliwa (search) told jurors that after hailing the cab, a masked gunman hiding in the front passenger seat "popped up like a jack-in-the-box," swore at him and began shooting.
"I'm saying to myself, 'This has got to be a nightmare,'" Sliwa testified.
Wounded in the stomach and bleeding profusely, Sliwa discovered the stolen cab had been rigged so he couldn't open the back doors. He said he saved himself by throwing himself into the front seat and out the passenger window as the cab sped down the street.
He testified that he calculated, "I'll take my chances and become a human speed bump, but I have to get out of this cab."
Prosecutors allege Sliwa was targeted after angering the Gambino crime family with his on-air tirades against late mob boss John Gotti (search), who had been sentenced to life in prison for a racketeering conviction.
Sliwa recalled telling his listeners that the mob was fueling the city's violent drug trade, and labeled the elder Gotti "America's No. 1 drug dealer." After he was jumped and beaten with baseball bats in an earlier attack, he responded by turning up his anti-Gambino rhetoric.
Testifying last week as part of plea deal, the driver of the cab, Joseph "Little Joey" D'Angelo, quoted the younger Gotti as saying of Sliwa, "He's getting personal. I want us to get personal."
Gotti, 41, whose father died in prison in 2002, is accused of a conspiracy to silence Sliwa as part of racketeering charges that could keep him in prison for up to 30 years. He has said he had nothing to do with the attack.
During cross examination, Gotti's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, sought to portray Sliwa as a con man who repeatedly lied to police and the media in the 1970s and 1980s to promote his Guardian Angels crime-fighting group. The witness conceded that he once concocted a story about personally fighting off a would-be rapist he described as a "6-foot-6 gorilla."
Sliwa also admitted that he made headlines by falsely claiming that police, annoyed by the Guardian Angels, had kidnapped and threatened him.
He later told reporters he wasn't surprised his credibility came under attack.
"Frankly, some of the things I did in the past, I deserved that line of questioning," Sliwa said.