Niagara County tree trimmer Daniel T. Gollus says he genuinely feared one of his business competitors -- a man named David Cain Jr.
According to police, Gollus had good reason to fear Cain.
Gollus, 55, who has run Dan's Tree Service in Hartland for three decades, testified as a government witness Tuesday and Wednesday in Cain's racketeering trial in U.S. District Court.
Visibly upset at times, Gollus told jurors he endured the following after having a couple of run-ins with the hot-tempered Cain:
Cain threatened to kill him and twice ran Gollus off the road, forcing him to drive his pickup truck into deep ditches.
After Cain became enraged at Gollus for referring a few jobs to another tree trimmer, someone did $13,000 damage to Gollus' equipment, flattening tires, destroying engines, smashing windows and stealing hydraulic lifters off two trucks.
A day after Cain threatened him again, Gollus' beloved 1949 vintage airplane was set afire and destroyed at a small airport in Royalton.
"I went through years of torment and hell because of David Cain and his gang," Gollus said in an interview after his testimony. "I used to sleep with a loaded gun next to my bed and a light that would go on if I tapped it . . . That's no way to live."
Gollus is the 39th prosecution witness in the racketeering trial of Cain, 37, and his brother, Christopher, 34, of Somerset, and their cousin, James Soha, 31, of Lockport.
Witnesses have described David Cain as a vulgar, explosive individual who was determined to dominate the businesses of logging and tree-trimming in rural Niagara and Orleans counties.
They allege that Cain employed a small mob of henchmen to steal, vandalize and set fire to equipment owned by Cain's business rivals. The trial before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara has been similar to last year's Laborers Local 91 trial, which featured a parade of witnesses telling horror stories of extortion and violence.
Defense attorneys contend that Cain and his co-defendants are being blamed for things they didn't do by lying government witnesses, including hoodlums who took plea deals.
Gollus disagrees. He testified that Cain was clearly in charge of a group of men who have harassed and threatened him for years. He said his problems with Cain began in 2000 and lasted until his airplane was torched in July 2004.
According to Gollus, Cain told him about six years ago that he planned to "hit" every other tree-trimming business in the region.
"I'm going to hit everybody, put them out of business, and I'm going to demand any price I want," Cain allegedly threatened.
In early 2000, after vandals destroyed much of the equipment of an Orleans County logger named Keith Kent, Cain allegedly boasted that he was behind the attack.
"I'm going to get [Kent] and keep hitting him until he can't get insurance anymore, and then, I'm going to put him out of business," Gollus quoted Cain as saying.
Testifying more than four hours, Gollus described a number of incidents in which Cain confronted and threatened him.
In 2003, Gollus said, he was lining up a shot at the pool table in a Lockport bar when Cain walked up next to him and thrust his face a few inches in front of Gollus' face.
"You know what I'm going to do?" Cain allegedly said. "I'm going to [mess] you up good. I'm going to kill you."
"Were you afraid of David Cain Jr.?" federal prosecutor Anthony M. Bruce asked Gollus.
"Yes, I was," Gollus answered. "I knew the man meant what he said."
In the months after that, Cain twice forced him to drive off the road and into a ditch, Gollus said. The witness testified that Cain -- driving a big logging truck -- drove right at Gollus' pickup truck on rural Orangeport Road.
Acting out of anger and frustration, Gollus said, he "stupidly" made some threats against Cain one night in 2004, including a telephone message calling Cain a "walking dead man." That led to Cain's filing menacing and harassment charges against Gollus and obtaining a court order of protection against him.
In July 2004, Cain asked a Town of Somerset judge to issue another court order prohibiting Gollus from flying his plane over Cain's property. According to Gollus, Cain became upset and stomped out of court when the judge began asking questions about the locations of the property.
"Just forget it. I'll take care of this myself," Cain allegedly said as he left the courtroom.
According to another witness, Assistant Niagara County District Attorney Elizabeth Donatello, the angry Cain also made threats that night against her, Gollus, Gollus' attorney and the judge.
One day later -- on July 9, 2004 -- Gollus' $70,000 plane and the hangar it was stored in were destroyed by a massive fire.
In an interview with The Buffalo News, Gollus was asked why so much violence and crime would surround the business of tree-trimming. He said Cain's temper was the reason for the violence.
"David had this concept of himself as a gangster, with all these henchmen," Gollus said. "He made a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of people."