Michael “Mikey Cigars” Coppola spent more than a decade on the lam before being caught this August. The Genovese mobster and suspected hit man, formerly the scourge of the New Jersey docks, now might be concerned primarily with protecting himself. In October 2008, a federal grand jury in Brooklyn, N.Y. indicted Coppola, now serving a 42-month sentence for separate offenses, on racketeering charges related to business deals of International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1235, based in Newark. The local, which represents dock workers in Newark and Elizabeth, N.J., was seized by the international union in August, just three days before Coppola’s capture, and has been under trusteeship since.
The takeover, argues the union’s ethical practices counsel, Milton Mollen, was necessary to protect the union from outside influence. Whether done out of principle or public relations, the move proved beneficial to the union. In November 2007, U.S. District Judge Ira Glasser rejected the Justice Department’s 2005 civil racketeering suit against the international union, ruling that the action stretched the definition of the RICO law beyond legislative intent. The union won a major victory. But that doesn’t mean evidence necessarily was on its side. Recently-released transcripts from wiretapped conversations and informant testimony strongly suggest the union’s New York and New Jersey locals for decades had been under Genovese and Gambino crime family control. Coppola, now 62, wasn’t much of a help. “His (Coppola’s) answer to every single question that I asked, other than his name, was the Fifth Amendment,” Mollen remarked at the time. Coppola may have more to say this time around.
An unnamed mob informant is expected to testify in court that Coppola and other mobsters had a longtime pact to run the docks through several Longshoremen locals. The agreement, in the words of a prosecution motion filed on December 9, was “to divide control of the waterfront and the involvement of members of Coppola’s crew in…(a) long-term conspiracy to extort unions and businesses.” Wiretapped conversations support this assertion. In one recording, Coppola can be heard discussing the mob’s share of receipts from ILA Local 1235. He and the son of current local President Vincent Aliusi can be heard talking about the monthly payments to the Genoveses and the Christmas bonus payments made to the mob each year. Coppola is told that payments have “almost doubled” under the current local leadership. Elsewhere in the conversation, Coppola turns down a request from a former president of the local who wanted a union job for his daughter, referring to a similar case in which a trucker’s union gave a union boss’s daughter a job. “It created nothing but problems with the men,” he said. “You get a kid out of left field, where’s the respect going to come from and where’s everything else going to come from?”
“Everything else” referred, among other things, to money. And the Genoveses long have excelled at extracting it. A report issued last year by two court-appointed administrators for the Bayonne, N.J.-based Local 1588 revealed that the mob took in at least $1 million – and probably a lot more – by way of union employee kickbacks. The overseers, former FBI Organized Crime Strike Force Attorney Robert Stewart and former New York City Police Commissioner Robert McGuire, have run the local since 2003. “If you wanted work, you had to pay,” said Stewart. “It was a racket-ridden local dating back to the 1970s.” Authorities allege that the same kinds of extortion have been at work in Local 1235 and other New York-area ILA affiliates.
Michael Coppola was just the person to enforce such a regime. In addition to labor racketeering, he’s charged with the 1977 murder of John Lardiere at a motel in Bridgewater, N.J. He went into hiding in 1996 after New Jersey authorities sought a DNA sample from him in that case. Former Genovese wise guys Thomas Ricciardi and Michael Taccetta are set to testify that Coppola boasted about the hit afterward. He’s also suspected in the murder of reputed Genovese mobster Lawrence Ricci, a co-defendant of ILA officials Arthur Coffey and Harold Daggett. Ricci during the fall 2005 trial went missing for several weeks before turning up dead in the trunk of a car on the parking lot of a New Jersey diner. He and the other defendants were found not guilty that November on conspiracy and fraud charges related to a scheme in which the Genovese family had siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars in union health and welfare benefits (then-Local 1235 President Albert Cernadas pleaded guilty before the trial). The feds point to wiretapped conversations in which Coppola and his son discussed ways of getting rid of one of the guns used in the murder. If Coppola testifies on the witness stand, he risks the same fate as Ricci. If he doesn’t testify but is found guilty, he’s probably going to spend the rest of his life behind bars. The man needs a good lawyer – and maybe a good bodyguard, too. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/22/08; other sources).