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Preparing to face travail of trial

June 24, 2002

Amid a scattering of family and friends, former Deputy Insp. Dennis Sindone appeared in the Police Department trial room last week.

Sindone, the highest ranking officer accused of corruption in recent department history, faces charges similar to those a jury acquitted him of in federal court three months before - conspiring with a rogue cop to stage a drug dealer's arrest and stealing $60,000.

The rogue cop, Robert Noyer, 31, and the drug dealer, Che Che Taveras, testified last week. Both pleaded guilty last year to drug-related charges and face long prison terms.

In return for leniency - Noyer is now out of jail attending school - they testified that Sindone and Noyer had staged Taveras' arrest on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx on July 2, 1996, then split the money he was carrying.

Noyer described himself as having four uncles who were drug dealers in Washington Heights. He said he joined the Police Department in 1990. He also admitted to robbing drug dealers and planning an armed robbery.

"I messed up," he said after his testimony, as though trying to explain himself to a reporter.

Taveras, who speaks no English although he has been in the country since 1989, testified in prison garb and with a translator at his side.

He described his low-level drug dealing in Washington Heights, saying it amounted to about $70,000 a week in transactions.

Sindone, meanwhile, a tall, dark-haired man with a pencil thin moustache, sat stoically.

In a criminal trial, the burden of proof to obtain a conviction is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt."

In a department trial, Deputy Trials Commissioner Rae Koshetz, who is hearing the case, needs only to find Sindone "guilty by the preponderance of evidence."

By department standards, Koshetz is pretty independent. Yet the smart money says her guilty verdict is pre-ordained.

In the hours after John Gotti's death, federal and state investigators watched for signs of gangland warfare over who would succeed the mob boss.

Little did they suspect the first signs of violence would break out in a newspaper city room.

Simmering tensions between New York Post organized crime reporters Murray Weiss and Al Guart boiled over on June 10.

Sources who asked not be identified said Weiss, who is known to his friends as "Big Mur," had been personally summoned while attending a family funeral in New Jersey to coordinate the paper's Gotti coverage and to write his own story of the don's final days.

Weiss has close ties to the Gotti family. Gotti's wife, Victoria, sent him a personal note about her husband's death. Weiss also facilitated the entry of the don's daughter, Vicki, as a Sunday columnist.

None of this appeared to impress Guart, who is known as "Al the Upstart" and who also has ties to the Gambino family but via the government - witness his story of Debra DeCarlo, the girlfriend of Gotti son-in-law Carmine Agnello, which enraged Vicki and was headlined "Junkyard Girl."

Four years ago, Guart made his bones on the federal court beat when he was accused of revealing that Gotti federal prosecutor William Heintz spoke to a rival reporter. Result: former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, removed Heintz from the Gotti case.

We come now to June 10. As Big Mur entered the newsroom, Guart ambushed him with a machine-gun-like riposte.

Referring to Weiss' assignment to coordinate the Gotti coverage, the Upstart quipped, "That should be easy. Read my clips for the past year."

Weiss, who occasionally refers to himself in the third person, pointed his Poland Spring water bottle at Guart and squeezed one off.

A sneak water attack.

Fear hung in the newsroom air. Would Guart, known for his stealth and slyness, retaliate? How? When?

Sure enough, Guart lurked outside the men's room. When Big Mur appeared, the Upstart tossed a container of water at him.

Pandemonium. Someone's hands around the other's neck. A torn white shirt. Implications and accusations that included two of gangland's meanest appellations: "Coward" and "Little Man."

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.