Feds' Mob Takedown Includes Union Crooks

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Colombo mobster Thomas "Tommy Shots" GioeliThere are few things quite like a mass arrest to serve as a reminder of the Mafia's continuing presence in American life. The mob roundup last Thursday morning, the largest in U.S. history, at once underscores the large dent that the Justice Department has been making in organized crime and how deeply entrenched so many organized crime operations have been. Some 800 FBI agents, U.S. marshals, state police and New York City cops fanned out and arrested nearly 120 wise guys and associates named in an 82-page, 16-count indictment for acts of murder, racketeering, money-laundering, loan-sharking, extortion and other offenses going back three decades. The takedown includes crime soldiers from each of New York's "Five Families," plus the DeCavalcante (Northern New Jersey) and Patriarca (New England) families. A number of the arrestees were heavily involved in labor corruption. 

The operation was as swift as it was efficient. Most of the arrests had been made by 8 A.M., with most suspects being held at Fort Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn, N.Y. until their arraignment in Brooklyn federal court. By the end of the day, 119 of the 127 persons named in the indictments were arrested. Another five already were in prison for separate offenses, while three more were at large. Nearly three dozen arrestees were full-fledged members of New York's Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese crime families; indeed, the entire leadership of the Colombos and two top Gambinos were taken into custody. But good news shouldn't instill false public confidence, caution federal agents. "Arresting and convicting the hierarchies of the five families several times over has not eradicated the problem," remarked Janice K. Fedarcyk, head of the New York FBI office. It is "a myth," she emphasized, to call the mob a thing of the past.

The bust, the result of years of investigation, is even bigger than the one three years ago, known as Operation Old Bridge, that arrested more than 60 Gambino crime family members and associates, virtually all of whom eventually pleaded guilty (the operation also netted a couple dozen arrests in Italy, in cooperation with that country's authorities). Federal prosecutors and agents worked in tandem to conduct electronic surveillance and develop key witnesses, especially Bonanno soldier Salvatore Vitale, who until his 2003 arrest and eventual guilty plea had a hand in 11 murders; his testimony helped put away more than 50 mobsters and associates. The latest batch of arrestees included individuals possessed of little compunction about using violence to protect their flow of funds or exaggerated sense of honor. Attorney General Eric Holder, who traveled to Brooklyn to announce the arrests, said: "Many of them (mobsters) are lethal. Time and again they have shown a willingness to kill." Similarly, Bruce Mouw, the former FBI agent who led the probe of now-deceased Gambino boss John Gotti back in the Eighties, also noted, "(Y)ou still have five families [in New York], you have captains, you have crews; they still control a lot of labor unions, they still control a lot of the construction industry, different companies; still commit crimes; and according to the indictments, they still kill people."

Control over labor unions remains on the radar screen. Dozens of unions in the New York City and New England can be said to have some connection with one or more of the latest arrestees. A complete flow chart and accompanying discussion would be worthy of a monograph. What follows, then, is a summary of the most flagrantly mobbed-up unions, each likely familiar to regular readers of Union Corruption Update.

Cement and Concrete Workers Local 6A. An affiliate of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local 6A for many years has operated as a Colombo crime family branch office. And the branch managers are the Scopos. Patriarch Ralph Scopo was a Colombo made man who ran the union for years until his 1986 conviction based on evidence gathered by the President's Commission on Organized Crime. His sons, Joseph and Ralph Jr., inherited the family business. Joseph served as president of Local 6A until his 1993 murder, part of a bloody Colombo civil war between members loyal to acting boss Victor "Little Vic" Orena and those loyal to imprisoned boss Carmine "Junior" Persico (the Persico faction - what was left of it - prevailed). Reputed Colombo street boss Anthony Russo was charged last Thursday in that killing.

Ralph Scopo Jr. has proven himself something less than a model of virtue. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to extortion, managing to avoid prison by convincing the judge he had only two years to live. He must have had an excellent medical plan because he's still alive. Federal prosecutors allege Scopo handed out jobs to cronies and took a cut from Local 6 benefit funds. In addition, back in the late Eighties he created the so-called "coffee boy" scheme in which the crime family would receive cash kickbacks from lunch orders taken at union work sites. Scopo the Younger wasn't above using muscle to make his point. In 2007, for example, when he learned that a Ground Zero reconstruction site foreman had complained about the union being under mob control, he had a chat with the foreman, bringing along Colombo capo Dino Calabro and his own son Ralph III for good measure. After the "discussion," Ralph Jr. admitted to Calabro that he brought along his son just in case the foreman "needed to be physically assaulted." Ralph Scopo III, not among those arrested last week, is now president of Local 6A, although the union since last December has operated under LIUNA trusteeship.

Teamsters Local 282. Though under federal receivership for more than 15 years, the arrests last week of Gambino crime family soldier William Scotto and an associate, trucking industry executive Anthony Licata, brought home just how deep the Lake Success, L.I.-based union had been in hock to the Gambinos. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 282 represents roughly 4,000 truckers and related workers in New York City and Long Island who deliver concrete and building materials to construction sites. It also has a long pedigree of Mafia involvement. John O'Rourke, union president during 1931-65, was a close associate of Lucchese crime bosses Johnny Dioguardi and Anthony "Ducks" Corallo. Later on, the Gambino family asserted control during the successive Local 282 reigns of John Cody (1976-84) and Robert Sasso (1984-92), both of whom ended up in federal prison on racketeering charges. Frank DeCicco, a Gambino made man, delivered payoffs from union bosses to crime bosses until he died in a 1986 car bombing; Genovese and Lucchese enforcers, enraged that Gotti had seized power the previous year by whacking Gambino boss Paul Castellano, had done the deed.

With Gotti at the helm, Local 282 became more of a Gambino profit center than ever. Aided by underboss Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, Local 282 funneled about $1.2 million a year to mob coffers. Here is how a federal circuit court summarized the process in 2000, in its rejection of the appeal of former President Sasso and four other defendants:

At the pertinent times, the individual defendants were officers of Local 282. Between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, by means of threats of physical, economic and financial harm, including work stoppages, the individual defendants unlawfully obtained cash payments from representatives of companies whose employees were members or were eligible to be members of Local 282. Such companies were assured of lax enforcement of their agreements with Local 282 or were allowed to operate in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement without experiencing labor unrest.

Gravano, whose eventual flipping for the prosecution was crucial in securing Gotti's conviction in 1992, long had been a ruthless enforcer for Gotti, committing or ordering 19 murders, any number related to Local 282 business. The corruption didn't end with Gotti's conviction or Gravano's subsequent move to Arizona. Federal prosecutors filed a civil RICO suit, winning in 1995 an agreement with the local and the parent Teamsters under an agreement for court-supervised monitoring. More than 50 local officials and shop stewards thus far have been forced from their posts due to links to organized crime. Evidence of corruption continues in fits and starts. One of the defendants in the 2008 Justice Department Gambino takedown was Staten Island, N.Y. trucking executive Joseph Spinnato, who allegedly skimmed scheduled Local 282 health and pension fund contributions by underreporting hours worked. The arrests of Scotto and Licata last week served notice of additional unfinished business.

Longshoremen Local 1235. For decades, the Genovese crime family ran the Newark, N.J.-based International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) Local 1235, which represents port employees working the docks in Newark and Elizabeth. The arrest of former local President Vincent Aulisi on conspiracy and extortion charges last Thursday was an appropriate coda. According to prosecutors, Aulisi, now 78, and several Genovese associates forced port workers to hand over thousands of dollars in "tribute payments" each year around Christmas bonus time. The ILA Local 1235 extortion racket had gone on for at least three decades until federal prosecutors dismantled it. It's worth adding here that a federal grand jury reportedly is looking into corruption at ILA Local 1478, also based in Newark, whose longtime boss Nunzio LaGrasso was arrested last April along with several other individuals for: 1) extorting cash from dock workers as tribute for promotions and raises; and 2) loan-sharking. 

This was not the only problem area. In September 2005, then-President Albert Cernadas pleaded guilty to benefit fraud; two months earlier he settled a civil racketeering suit against him in Brooklyn federal court whose defendants had included ILA International President John Bowers. Another alleged co-conspirator in the criminal case, Genovese capo Lawrence Ricci, a witness during the fall 2005 criminal trial, suddenly went missing for weeks - until he turned up dead in the trunk of a parked car at a New Jersey diner. Another Genovese mobster, Michael "Mikey Cigars" Coppola, had been on the run since 1996, when he was the target of a federal probe of the 1977 murder of fellow mobster John "Johnny Cokes" Lardiere. Captured in August 2008, he pleaded guilty to fugitive charges and is serving a 42-month sentence. A federal grand jury in Brooklyn indicted him for ILA Local 1235-related racketeering and the Lardiere murder. He went on trial in July 2009. While found not guilty of murder, he was convicted of extortion and flight charges, and in December of that year was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

This is not a comprehensive guide to mob-union links. In the world of organized crime, the dots have a way of connecting in unexpected places. That's why this latest round of arrests probably won't be the last. If the recent past is any guide, many arrestees will plead guilty. In exchange for a lighter sentence, some will provide information of use in prosecuting additional suspects. Nobody is suggesting this should become a witch hunt or that the accused should be denied due process. But if evidence is sufficient to convict, defendants should pay a price regardless of how many years ago their offenses took place. Mafia financial rackets, enforced with murderous violence, have corrupted a whole range of American institutions. Labor unions are among them.

Related:

Colombo Mobsters Charged with Extortion, Theft of Teamster Benefits.

Colombo Crime Boss, Ex-Underboss Convicted of Murder.

Dockworkers Boss in N.J. Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy.

Body in Car Trunk Was Ricci's; Funeral Held.