The gleaming twin residential towers known as “77 Hudson Street” in Jersey City, N.J., is an urban landmark made possible by a lot of hard work. Unfortunately, not everyone who was paid to build it actually worked. And not everyone who did work was on the schedule. During last November and December, six persons, including a reputed mob associate, pleaded guilty in Newark federal court to fraud and other offenses committed during 2006-08 that deprived Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 325 and Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association Local 780 of nearly $2.25 million in wages/salary and benefits. The heart of the activity was classic graft: A contractor bribes a union boss to look the other way in order to skirt collective bargaining hiring requirements. The ultimate losers in the case were union rank and file.
Since its 2010 grand opening, 77 Hudson Street, formally known as the Hudson Greene, has been a prestige address in Jersey City. Located one block from the riverfront, the Hovnanian Enterprises development’s two 48-story buildings, one condo and the other rental, provide a wide range of amenities, including a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. What piqued the attention of federal investigators, and eventually led to two indictments totaling 33 counts in March 2011, however, was what happened prior to the opening: a series of sweetheart deals during construction. The focal point here was a New York City-based subcontractor, Broadway Concrete, also known as 160 Broadway Concrete Corp., and its project manager, Anselmo Genovese. A reputed associate of the Gambino crime family, Genovese organized scams that enabled his company to reduce wage/salary and benefit payments required by existing collective bargaining agreements and to steal from the would-be payments.
Prosecutors charged that Genovese, now 44, a resident of Staten Island, N.Y., twice in 2007 bribed a LIUNA Local 325 business manager who later became a government witness. He paid this individual, indicated in court papers only as “L.M.,” cash sums of $4,000 each. Genovese sought to avoid having to hire construction workers from that union and to make scheduled contributions to the New Jersey Building Laborers’ Statewide Benefit Fund. In return for the $8,000 in payoffs, he could hire workers from presumably less costly New York-based LIUNA locals without worrying about problems from the Local 325 leadership. Broadway Concrete eventually short-changed the New Jersey LIUNA benefit fund by about $1.7 million and embezzled a sizable sum of that money.
Genovese would have help. One of his co-conspirators was Eric Haynberg, 45, a resident of Manhattan and a timekeeper for Broadway Concrete at the Hudson Street site. Haynberg provided a no-show job for Rocco Mazzaferro, 64, a Brooklyn resident who collected more than $143,000 in wages and benefits at the expense of Cement Masons Local 780. The person who did show up was Vincenzo Genovese, an uncle of Anselmo Genovese. The elder Genovese, now 75, a retired mason and pensioner from Staten Island, assumed Mazzaferro’s name and worked part-time for a full-time paycheck and benefits. Haynberg concealed the fraud by logging Vincenzo Genovese’s hours next to Mazzaferro’s name.
There were other pieces to the puzzle. Pasquale Zinna, a project superintendent for Broadway Concrete at the Hudson Street project, with the help of Haynberg, provided a no-show job to Zinna’s wife, Janeen Zinna, who received approximately $477,000 in salary and benefits. The Zinnas, each now age 43, residents of Hackettstown, N.J., disguised this income by making cash withdrawals from their joint checking account at Commerce Bank, now known as TD Bank, in order to avoid federal reporting requirements for financial transactions in excess of $10,000. In a separate charge, Mr. Zinna was charged with Social Security disability fraud of slightly more than $100,000. Prosecutors alleged that Zinna, though claiming to be “disabled,” applied for and collected disability checks by using the names of other individuals, one of whom was his wife.
Uncovering the network of fraud required a wide range of resources. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman credited the IRS, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration and Office of Inspector General, and the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General with tracking the movement of complex financial transactions. It all added up to a conspiracy. Count One, for example, read in part:
From on or about September 25, 2007 through on or about July 29, 2008, in the District of New Jersey and elsewhere, the defendants…did knowingly and intentionally conspire and agree to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud, and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises, and for the purpose of executing such scheme and artifice to cause to be transmitted by wire communications in interstate commerce, writings, signals, pictures and sounds…
The defendants surrendered to authorities in March 2011 and appeared in Newark federal court that month. At the time, they did not submit a plea, and were released on bail. But as the evidence of wrongdoing became clear, each eventually copped a plea. Rocco Mazzaferro and Vincenzo Genovese pleaded guilty last November 22; Anselmo Genovese and Eric Haynberg did likewise on December 16; and the Zinnas followed suit on December 20.
It should be added that reprehensible as the under-the-table sweetheart payments were, they were enabled by union shop rules. New Jersey is a non-Right to Work state; that is, a state in which union dues payments are compulsory for construction workers who seek to remain employed in trades with an active collective bargaining agreement. Contractors had an incentive to cut costs by violating its union agreements. Corruption at the Hudson Greene project was real, but it might not have happened if Broadway Concrete was free to hire whom they wished.