7 of the 8 fired U.S. attorneys

were all right by this top aide

WASHINGTON - A former senior Justice Department official yesterday defended seven of the eight U.S. attorneys the Bush administration fired, saying he had concerns about the performance of only one of them and wouldn't have recommended that the others be removed.

Former deputy attorney general James Comey told a House Judiciary subcommittee that although it was his responsibility as the department's second-in-command to supervise the nation's top prosecutors, he was never told that the department and the White House had targeted some prosecutors for replacement.

Comey's successor, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, told congressional investigators last week that he, too, was kept in the dark about the White House's role in the firings.

Comey's and McNulty's accounts further undermine claims by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other department officials that the prosecutors were fired for professional, not political, reasons. It also raises questions about the accuracy of statements made by other top Justice officials who've claimed that career lawyers helped decide who should be fired.

Cops say couple put son in cage,

forced him to wear shock collar

TOLEDO, Ohio - A couple locked their 10-year-old son in a dog cage while his father used drugs, and at times they forced him to wear a shock collar meant for training animals, authorities said.

Jessica Botzko, 28, and John Westover, 37, were arrested Wednesday, a day after the boy and his 5-year-old brother were left alone at home and ran away. The couple appeared in court yesterday facing child-endangerment and drug charges.

The couple had a daughter who died a few years ago of sudden infant death syndrome, and police plan to take another look into the death, police Capt. Ray Carroll said.

House votes to expand definition of hate crimes, but veto is vowed

WASHINGTON - The White House threatened to veto a bill that passed the House yesterday to add gender and sexual orientation to categories such as race and religion that are protected under federal hate-crimes law. The current hate crimes law applies to violent crimes committed against a person due to their race, color, national origin and religion.

"These crimes constitute an assault not only against the victim but against our communities," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and author of the bill. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the only openly gay House member, presided over the vote.

But the Bush administration issued a statement saying the measure is not needed and arbitrarily offers special protections to some Americans, such as gays, while leaving out other classes, such as the elderly and military personnel.

Couple chose a bad career path:

They stole from mob, got killed

NEW YORK - Thomas and Rosemarie Uva liked to rob Mafia-run social clubs, which is a really good way to get killed. They even had the audacity to force mobsters to drop their pants as they swiped cash and jewelry and cleaned out their card games. Predictably, the Uvas got whacked on Christmas Eve 1992.

Fifteen years later, the story of the bandits who made the stupid mistake of stealing from the mob is playing out at the trial of the man accused of murdering them, a reputed Gambino crime family captain named Dominick "Skinny Dom" Pizzonia.

"There's virtually no greater insult than robbing the Gambino family where they socialized and hung out," federal prosecutor Joey Lipton said last month in opening statements in Brooklyn.

Prosecutors claim that John A. "Junior" Gotti sanctioned the killings - a charge he has denied. Pizzonia's attorney, Joseph R. Corozzo Jr., told the jurors they would hear testimony that members of the Bonanno crime family were the culprits.

Exactly why the Uvas gambled with their lives by robbing mobsters remains a mystery. *- Daily News wire services