Mob-union alliances never quite went out of style in Providence, Rhode Island. Federal prosecutors are determined that one day they will. On October 28, a grand jury charged two men, Harold Tillinghast, Jr. and Gerald Diodati, with conspiracy to commit labor racketeering. The defendants, respectively, a former organizer for Laborers International Union of North America Local 271 and a Providence building contractor, allegedly facilitated a project kickback scheme that involved the union and New England’s Patriaraca crime family. The charges are the result of an FBI probe that began in 2002.
Harold Tillinghast, Jr., 44, a resident of Cranston, had a Mafia legacy running through his family. And for most of his adult years he lived it down. His father was the late Harold Tillinghast, Sr., a longtime Patriarca member and convicted murderer who had been arrested, by his count, more than two dozen times. His uncle, Gerald M. “Gerry” Tillinghast, had been a feared Patriarca hit man during the 1960s and 70s. The pair collaborated in the first-degree murder of a Rhode Island loan shark, George Basmajian. Uncle Gerry also ran a gambling ring from his state prison cell whose convicted participants included Harold Tillinghast, Sr.
The son, Harold Tillinghast, Jr., by contrast, chose a career in public service. He worked on various political campaigns, most notably that of U.S. Congressman James Langevin, D-R.I. He’s also served as a part-time employee in Langevin’s home office in Warwick, an administrative assistant and constituent services representative in the Rhode Island secretary of state’s office, and since 2003, a member of the Cranston Board of Contract and Purchase. In 2001 Tillinghast would make a fateful decision to augment his career by becoming a Laborers organizer. It wasn’t as if he’d born yesterday. He knew LIUNA Local 271 was mobbed up and faced a potential federal investigation. He was aware that his boss, Nicholas P. Manocchio, a nephew of reputed Patriarca boss Louis “Baby Shacks” Manocchio, was no choir boy himself, having done time for manslaughter for the 1980 beating death of a rock band stage manager outside a North Providence nightclub. The younger Tillinghast simply wanted to make a positive difference. Unfortunately, so did the FBI.
The construction industry in Rhode Island is a tightly-knit club. And infiltrating it requires extra guile. The FBI long had been on the trail of the Patriarca crime family, headquartered in Providence. In 2002, law enforcement agents launched a sting operation: They would open up a fictitious firm called “Hemphill Construction,” offer bribes to contractors and labor officials, and secretly tape conversations. A few months later, an undercover agent acting as a Hemphill officer met with Tillinghast and a contractor, Gerald Diodati, a resident of Seekonk, Mass. They signed a collective bargaining agreement with the Rhode Island Laborers District Council, whose members included LIUNA Local 271. In April 2003, Tillinghast allegedly told Diodati and the agent that he would try to get Hemphill a demolition contract on the Rising Sun Mills redevelopment project in the Olneyville section of Providence. Diodati prepared a $977,000 bid on behalf of Hemphill Construction. A few weeks later, Diodati and the agent met at Hemphill’s office and discussed a $2,000 kickback to Tillinghast if he’d award the contract to Hemphill. The payment allegedly was made according to plan.
Tillinghast became sucked in further when Diodati formed a new company, Rhode Island Demolition, to do subcontracting for Hemphill. A few months later, on October 7, 2003, the FBI agent met with Tillinghast at a Starbucks coffee shop in Cranston, informing him that one Matthew Guglielmetti was a silent partner in Hemphill. Guglielmetti, as Union Corruption Update has noted more than once, wasn’t just any “investor.” He was a capo with the Patriarca family who in January 2005 would be arrested by an FBI undercover agent for agreeing to receive $1,000 per kilo for storing 67 kilos of cocaine en route to Canada and launder at least half the proceeds. He’s now serving a lengthy sentence in Fort Dix, N.J. federal prison. According to the FBI affidavit, Tillinghast responded that “because of Guglielmetti’s involvement, he now had to work harder on behalf of Hemphill Construction to get it more contracts.” Tillinghast was especially irritated that Diodati was using nonunion labor at the Rising Sun Mills site. Diodati told an undercover agent and Gugielmetti that Hemphill should offer a “package” – small bribes – to a Local 271 official. The FBI raided Tillinghast’s union office in 2005, and turned over evidence to federal prosecutors. This past October, after a long wait, a Providence federal grand jury charged Harold Tillinghast, Jr. with accepting $2,500 in kickbacks and making a $2,000 bribe to a person identified only as “LIUNA Official Number One.” The jury also charged Diodati, now 57, with conspiracy.
In terms of dollar amounts, this was small stuff. The real significance of the case lies in its revelation that a culture of backroom deals between unions, contractors, local government and the mob isn’t quite extinct. Even people professing high standards of integrity can be prone to seeing it as a minor cost of doing business. Tillinghast may lose his job with the Cranston contract and purchasing board. He’s hoping his reputation, at least, remains intact. (Providence Journal, 10/29/08, 11/16/08).