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A reputed Gambino crime family associate and his wife were sentenced to anger management and ethnic sensitivity training last Thursday after they pleaded guilty to assaulting an Asian woman in January at Bayside's Caffe on the Green.
George Fortunato, 60, and his wife, Jacqueline, 58, of Brooklyn, were charged in March with making racist remarks and beating Connie Coleman, 45, of Roslyn Heights, L.I.
The Fortunatos admitted in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens to physically striking Coleman, who was born in Hong Kong, in a late-night altercation at the restaurant where the Fortunatos were celebrating the engagement of their daughter Camille to her fiancé, Stefano Filippazzo.
After being warned by Judge Douglas Wong that their discharge was conditional pending their completion of the plea deal terms, George and Jacqueline Fortunato left the courtroom appearing distraught.
As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, the elder Fortunatos admitted to a misdemeanor assault but not to the hate crime charges, which carried a maximum sentence of four years in prison had they been convicted at trial.
George Fortunato's attorney, Joseph Mure, said the Fortunatos denied "that what took place that night had anything to do with race."
Coleman suffered cuts and bruises to her face, neck and back in the Jan. 3 melee, which began when the Fortunatos began making anti-Asian comments to Coleman and her dining companions seated at the next table, according to the DA's original complaint.
When Coleman got up to leave, the complaint said, members of the Fortunatos' party punched her repeatedly.
Another Fortunato daughter, Annamarie, had been arrested and accused of bias assault along with her parents, but charges against her were dropped April 9 after prosecutors cited identification problems.
As part of the elder Fortunatos' plea, Camille Fortunato and her fiancé were also obligated to take anger management and sensitivity training, although they were never arrested or charged. Mure would not comment on the role of the younger couple in the incident.
State Sen. John Sampson (D-East New York), who represented Jacqueline Fortunato, called the incident "a basic altercation" that had been "blown totally out of proportion."
"Obviously, all the elements of a bias crime ... were not made out," said Sampson, who is black.
Law enforcement officials have identified George Fortunato, a legal consultant, as a Gambino associate. Mure said the Fortunatos were well-respected in their community and had received numerous awards from civic associations.
In a phone interview last week, Connie Coleman said, "I feel justice has been done."
Asked whether the Fortunatos' avoidance of jail terms disappointed her, Coleman said the lesson learned by her assailants was more important than the sentence.
"I truly believe the next time ... they're going to think twice before they lay their hands on people," she said.
Coleman said her only regret was that Filippazzo, whom she said "did the most damage" to her, was not arrested.
"I hope he learns, too," she said.
Caffe on the Green owner Joe Franco, who was not present at the time of the incident, said Monday, "I'm delighted that it's over."
"This puts an end to everything," he said.
City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) held two news conferences after the incident, one in which Franco apologized to Coleman and another in which Liu called on the Queens district attorney to prosecute the case to the fullest extent of the law after the Fortunatos were arrested.
"I have every confidence that the district attorney made his best efforts. I'm happy with the outcome," Liu said Monday.
"The people know they did something wrong and they admitted to it, and now they are going to atone for that," he said.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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