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A few days before Christmas of 2002, Timothy Such was drinking at Kettle’s bar in Orchard Park when he and Michael J. Caggiano got into it.

The two men had crossed paths before, but this time the altercation escalated, and Caggiano, a union apprentice, stabbed Such, a contractor, in the neck with a knife.

Was it a simple bar fight between two men who had been drinking for several hours?

Or was it the work of a union, Operating Engineers Local 17, trying to extort jobs for its members?

“He stabbed me right in the neck,” Such told a federal court jury this week.

“Did you see the knife?” asked prosecutor Robert Tully.

“No, but I felt it,” Such said.

Prosecutors claim the stabbing – Caggiano was later convicted of misdemeanor assault – was one chapter in a 10-year criminal enterprise the union ran.

Caggiano and four other members of the union face allegations that they used violence and vandalism to persuade contractors to hire Local 17 members.

Such, during cross-examination, admitted that he had been drinking for about five hours prior to the altercation and that he had at least 10 beers and maybe a few shots.

He also acknowledged breaking a beer bottle on the bar and thrusting the jagged end into Caggiano’s face after he was stabbed.

“Move and I’ll kill you,” Such is alleged to have said, according to court records.

Michael O’Rourke, Caggiano’s defense lawyer, noted that Caggiano was still an apprentice at the time and suggested the incident was nothing more than a bar fight with no connection to the union.

At one point, O’Rourke tried to minimize the extent of Such’s injuries that night, suggesting the cut in his neck was roughly the size of a pencil eraser.

“Do you want me to do it to you?” Such asked O’Rourke.

“Mr. Such, it was a very small cut,” the lawyer replied.

“It could have killed me,” Such said.

Such, president of defunct STS Construction, is the latest in a string of contractors who have testified at the trial.

Most have testified about alleged threats and vandalism by union members, but Such is the first to claim he was physically assaulted as part of the union’s campaign for jobs.

Such made no mention of that link this week. But one other witness, former Local 17 leader Carl Larson, testified that Caggiano told him he had stabbed Such in order to help the union.

Larson recently pleaded guilty to attempted extortion and, as part of his plea deal, agreed to testify against his fellow union members.

Such’s testimony was often spirited and colorful, filled with stories about his run-ins with the Operating Engineers, a union that represents heavy-equipment users.

He said the union’s leadership was constantly urging him to sign a contract with Local 17 and that he usually resisted those efforts.

“Why would I sign?” he said he asked Larson at one point. “What are the positives to signing? There’s only negatives.”

“By signing, the negatives go away,” Larson responded, according to Such.

Eager to damage Such’s credibility with the jury, O’Rourke repeatedly brought up Such’s drinking that night in 2002, as well as the seriousness of his injuries.

He also asked Such about hospital reports indicating he had lung cancer at the time.

“Do you recall telling them that you had lung cancer,” O’Rourke asked Such.

“I was diagnosed with lung cancer,” Such replied.

“You never did have lung cancer, did you?” the lawyer asked.

“I was diagnosed,” Such said.

He later indicated the cancer was gone, but that didn’t stop O’Rourke from suggesting Such’s cancer claims were an attempt at sympathy.

And when Such said he could have died, O’Rourke responded, “You don’t look dead to me.”

The defense will continue its questioning of Such today.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com