Anthony Casso (L) was a guest at the wedding of Burt Kaplan’s (R) daughter
Of all the Mafia books I’ve read, there’s only one that I felt was objectively improved in its conversion to audiobook format: Jimmy Breslin’s rambling 2008 Mafia Cops book The Good Rat.
When you’re dealing with someone with a reputation like Breslin, it doesn’t feel right for the first review you write to cover something that was, to put it bluntly, phoned in.
I should explain; in 2005 retired NYPD detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa were arrested and charged with, among other things, selling information to and carrying out a hit for mobster Anthony Casso of the Mafia’s Lucchese family. They’d first been accused in 1994 when Casso tried to cut a deal to get out of jail, but prosecutors couldn’t build a case until 2004, when the Cops’ handler Burton Kaplan was finally persuaded to cooperate after serving years in jail himself.
Even before the “Mafia Cops” case came to trial in 2006 the scandal detailed in the indictment was enough to get book deals started. Two NYPD detectives who’d helped make the case, William Oldham and Tommy Dades, got to work on what would become The Brotherhoods and Friends of the Family. The New York Daily News’ Greg B. Smith was preparing his Mob Cops for release the same year as the trial.
Breslin himself was reported in a 2005 Vanity Fair article to have made a broader book proposal on the history of the American Mafia, with the Cops’ trial as its centerpiece. But as the author himself explained in the final product, what he saw in early court proceedings wasn’t promising. For one thing the case had serious statute of limitations issues; most of the Cops’ crimes took place over a decade prior with only a largely unrelated drug case to show for the “continuing criminal enterprise” required to prosecute a racketeering case. Breslin wasn’t even sure if the case would go to trial at all, and when it did he found Eppolito and Caracappa so odious he had to question if there was a story worth telling.
And then star witness Kaplan took the stand with his own rich history, criminal and otherwise, and our author decided he would be the main subject instead. When he talks about a busted attempt to convert a hair cream production facility to a drug lab Breslin proclaims “Marvelous! He should be teaching at Harvard Business School, but instead these lessons come to us free of charge.”
The testimony of Burton Kaplan, as laid out under direct examination by prosecutor Robert Henoch, is the framework the book is laid upon, as well as a large chunk of its 270 pages. Through this, the reader is told the story of Kaplan’s dirty deeds with Eppolito and Caracappa. Unfortunately, in the book, it’s rendered in a dull transcript format, with Breslin’s prose only occasionally interjected for context or a snide comment. His admitted lack of early enthusiasm for the project shows through with how heavily he relies on the transcripts to fill pages.
Thankfully, while the book is lacking, the people who recorded the audiobook went the extra mile to make it presentable. Two additional readers were brought in to reenact Henoch and Kaplan’s revelations, and by far it’s Richard Mover’s portrayal of Burton Kaplan that makes it all work out. Following the description of the witness Breslin provides, Mover’s Kaplan is generally cold and nonchalant as he recalls the murders that were enabled by the Cops’ corruption, frequently irritated when Henoch fails to comprehend the intricacies of his crimes, and at times, completely deflated.
Part of Kaplan’s appeal, as a character and a witness, was that he was one of the last mobsters of his time to stick to the mob code of silence despite not even being eligible for Mafia membership because he was Jewish. Arrested in 1996 for trafficking marijuana, leading to a conviction and effective life sentence, he still refused to cooperate for years. And when he finally did – becoming the book’s title character, as Breslin explained in an interview, for finally doing the right thing – he hated himself for it. But the way Kaplan told it, if he didn’t, Eppolito and Caracappa would cooperate against him when the government finally found a way to make a case against them.
I’ll repeat that. Kaplan asserted that prosecutors would cut a deal with two of the most corrupt cops in NYPD history to make a case against an old man who would never get out of jail anyway.
Jimmy Breslin was probably the only person in the world who took Kaplan’s official reason for cooperating at face value. Far more likely is William Oldham’s interpretation: this was simply the only way Kaplan could rationalize what he was doing to himself.
The exchanges between Henoch and Kaplan provide the basis for a good audio drama of sorts, and the testimony is broken up with stories to fill in details of the crimes. Here, Breslin applies himself and makes the book worth a read. Usually these segments show the perspective of those who were hurt as a result of the crimes. Sometimes this can be as abstract as the misfortune of Timmy Byrnes, an NYPD detective turned funeral director, who saw his legacy tarnished. After he was promoted in the force, his detective shield badge number was inherited by the vanglorious, corrupt Louis Eppolito, who would go on to participate in the murder of mobster Eddie Lino on Casso’s behalf. Ironically, and conveniently for Breslin’s narrative, Byrnes would be one of the first responders to the Lino murder.
Usually, however, the harm inflicted is much more tangible, such as in the case of “Good Nicky Guido” – aka “The Wrong Nicky Guido.”
After the cops tracked down and abducted a mobster who’d tried to kill Anthony Casso, and turned him over to his would-be victim, Casso set out to eliminate the rest of his would-be killers – one of whom went by the name Nicky Guido. Breslin then gives us a brief biography of a good, caring, hard-working young man by that name who wanted to become a firefighter. This is “Good Nicky Guido” – roughly the same age as the failed hitman “Bad Nicky Guido” – which leads to Stephen Caracappa confusing the two when he tries to track down the assassins on Kaplan and Casso’s behalf.
Casso subsequently refuses to pay the Cops to confirm their results, fingers “the Wrong Nicky Guido” in his own haphazard investigation, and puts a hit out on him – executed Christmas Day 1986.
As described by Breslin, Nicky Guido is a naive goody-two-shoes to the nth degree, but he doesn’t dare make fun of the victim of such a senseless crime. He instead tries to find a silver lining; sitting in his car with his uncle and seeing gunmen approach, Good Nicky Guido’s final act is to shield his passenger with his own body. Breslin thus declares “he died the hero he wanted to be.”
In a few chapters, Breslin sets the trial aside to tell stories giving a short course on the history of the American Mafia. These can be loosely grouped into two themes; first is autobiographical tales of Breslin’s coverage of the mob. The author doesn’t focus too heavily on major events because that’s Selwyn Raab’s job, but instead gives us slices of everyday mobster life. He recalls, for instance, visiting the formidable grandmother of Crazy Joe Gallo and being gifted with a valuable writing prompt when she berates Larry Gallo (“Larry, what’s the matter? You no can shoot straight?”) after complaing to Breslin about another member of the gang stupidly fumbling a bank robbery.
Breslin’s history is far from perfect. He prematurely reports the death of reputed Paul Castellano hit MVP John Carneglia Discussing one of the acquittals of John Gotti, Castellano’s successor as Gambino boss, he says the prosecutor was hampered by not knowing one of Gotti’s co-defendants, Willie Boy Johnson, was an informant. In reality said prosecutor, Diane Gaicalone, was the one who outed Johnson to try to get him to cooperate. By far the worst error he makes is claiming that the Gambino family mobsters who arranged the attempt on Casso’s life were retaliating for him trying to blow up Gotti. In and of itself this isn’t the worst in terms of deviating from reality. This problem is, while Anthony Casso was guilty of this, the Gambinos didn’t actually know this at the time; they simply threw that claim out there as an excuse. The real story would’ve better served Breslin’s narrative – painting the Mafia as incompetent thugs who’ve never lived up to their pretensions of being “men of honor.”
The second theme is the decay of Omerta – the Mafia’s code of silence – beyond the Kaplan case study. Specifically Breslin shows us the betrayal of Bonanno boss Joseph Massino by his brother-in-law underboss Sal Vitale, which in turn motives Massino to cooperate to avoid the death penalty. When we return to the Bonannos they’re still recovering with their elderly new acting boss “Tony Cafe” Rabito getting pickpocketed and presiding over a table of codefendants in a gambling case complaining of their age-related health woes. Tony Cafe blames the flashy John Gotti for provoking a government crackdown on the mob after he beat a racketeering case by bribing a juror. This lets Breslin segway into talking about how Gotti was done in by his own underboss, Sammy Gravano, testifying against him.
I wish The Good Rat could’ve dug deeper into the decline of Omerta – if only to live up to its title. Breslin, for example, includes an encounter he had with Lufthansa heist mastermind Jimmy Burke, but doesn’t say anything about the associate who sold Burke out to save himself. I dunno – maybe someone else covered it.
Around the same time I started thinking of The Good Rat as an audio drama rather than a book I realized what its most glaring omission was: Jimmy Breslin leaves out Burton Kaplan’s cross-examination. Defense lawyers Eddie Hayes and Bruce Cutler weren’t able to do much to mitigate the damage the star witness did, but the latter did question Kaplan’s stated reason for cooperating, which would have given him more angst for Breslin to write about.
Continuing on that thought I ask myself: if this is a drama, and Burton Kaplan our protagonist, who exactly would we consider our antagonist? As far as I’m concerned it should have been Bruce Cutler, Eppolito’s attorney. He’d been John Gotti’s lawyer in his three acquittals as Gambino boss, so his background and earlier antics would have been easy enough to squeeze into Gotti’s own chapter. If only the book included the cross-examination.
The Cops themselves? Unfortunately, Breslin wasn’t able to dig up any telling details on Stephen Caracappa that I didn’t already read in The Brotherhoods, so he’s not developed well enough for that role. And our author tears down Louis Eppolito at every opportunity, painting him as a petty thief, pathological liar and unconvincing tough guy as well as a dirty cop. He’s not a credible threat.
Ironically, the closest I saw to a credible antagonist in The Good Rat is one of the good guys, and someone Breslin spoke of highly: presiding Judge Jack B. Weinstein. Breslin praises his merciless sentencing of mobsters, but also for not bending the law. At the very start of the story he makes it clear he doesn’t think the new charges against the Cops can be connected to their old crimes to bypass the statute of limitations, but lets the trial go ahead anyway. Then, after the Cops have been convicted on all charges, he threw out the verdict on said statute of limitations issues.
The verdict was reinstated on appeal in 2008, and Eppolito and Caracappa died in prison. The Good Rat was released shortly before this decision, leaving Jimmy Breslin with the same problem Oldham and co-author Guy Lawson had when they rushed out The Brotherhoods in 2006: how do you give this a satisfying ending?
But, Breslin found a way.
Among other things, the final chapter of The Good Rat includes a speech Louis Eppolito gave at his initial sentencing hearing. There’s nothing of substance in it – just denials and self-aggrandizement. The only reason it holds any significance is for what happened when he was talking: he was interrupted by one Barry Gibbs, a man he’d framed for a murder by intimidating a witness.
Though Breslin couldn’t find the time to speculate on a motive for this particular act of corruption, he does point out Gibbs’ case only came under review when the relevant files were found in a search of Louis Eppolito’s home – something that would never have happened if Burton Kaplan hadn’t flipped. This is brought up in the final scene of The Good Rat, at a hearing where Kaplan’s original sentence for his marijuana conviction was reduced to time served in return for his testimony.
And so Burton Kaplan, who died a year after The Good Rat was published, got a happy ending. And Jimmy Breslin assures us he’d earned it.
Disclaimer: I am a big fan of Tony’s book reviews and I uploaded this review so that he can hopefully get even more visibility.
 Jerry Capeci, “A Closet Full of Turncoats,” New York Daily News, April 26, 1994. As reprinted in Jerry Capeci’s Gang Land (Alpha Books, 2003, pages 151-152.)
 These three pre-trial projects, among others, are listed by Oldham and co-author Guy Lawson in The Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia (2007 Pocket Books edition, page 607.)
 Lawson and Oldham’s The Brotherhoods, page 621.
 Though never charged, of the four designated shooters of the December 16 1985 hit, Carneglia is named as the one who killed Castellano personally. (Jerry Capeci, “20 Years Later, a Mob Hit Reverberates,” New York Sun, December 1, 2005.) One witness also said he finished off Castellano’s driver and short-lived underboss Thomas Bilotti. (Arnold H. Lubasch, “Witness Describes Scene At Murder of Castellano,” The New York Times, February 27, 1992.)
 Jerry Capeci and Gene Mustain, Gotti: Rise and Fall (1996 Onyx, page 198.) Sammy Gravano also told biographer Peter Maas in Underboss (1997 HarperCollins, pages 209-210) that he was blindsided by the news of Casso’s involvement.
For me, Space, Time, and Organized Crime written by Alan A. Block in 1994 was a game changer and it remains my favorite book on organized crime. Staying faithful to the historical method and grounding the contents in their sociological context, Block played both the role of a critic and journalist to write incredibly detailed essays on all manners of topics intersecting organized crime, the American labour movement, Big Business, and politics. This was the first academic book that I read on “the mafia” and it changed my understanding of how great literature can be in this genre. I was not longer stuck having to read books written by journalistic hacks (cough cough Larry McShane cough cough Phillip Carlo) and even respected authors like Jerry Capeci and Scott Burnstein failed to meet my desire for rigour. Although a niche subject, some scholars and academics did not treat this topic as an amusing novelty and dedicated a great deal of time and effort in trying to inject some much-needed standards and accuracy. Block was one of them. Yet, it wasn’t just the lack of quality that I lamented; reading this book I realized just how narrow biographies are in their scope. Although that should have been readily apparent, the limited nature of the popular (auto)biographical books was not apparent until it dawned on me that I was reading about a tree and missing the forest around it. What Alan A. Block’s book did for me was place people, things, and events into context, both from within organized crime and the surrounding sociological setting.
My initial ambitions with Space, Time, and Organized Crime were very limited at first. The sole purpose for my purchase was to read chapter 10 entitled, “Racketeering in Fuels: Tax Scamming by Organized Crime”. At that time, I was desperate and determined to find an overarching history and explanation of fuel racketeering only given in bits and pieces by popular books. What I read was astonishing to me; the butterfly effect was real. It was never explained in any book (or video for that matter) that the seeds for this racket were sown a decade before any Italian got involved due to geopolitics in the Middle East (Yom Kippur War and the subsequent 1973 oil crises) and the success of which was enabled by the gutting of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Intelligence Division because of internal battles in the backdrop of the Watergate Scandal. Smarmy criminals bragged in their books about how clever they were only to forget to mention how their exploits were only possible because Richard Nixon was an angry and vindictive man that the IRS took until 1982 to recover from. What made this chapter so compelling to me was the ability of Block to place this criminal endeavor into what was going on in America at the time. The irony is that the criminals that executed the scheme and now write or talk about it make it seem much smaller and more boring than what truly took place. Getting towards the end of the chapter I was disappointed because I didn’t want it to end and then I started scrolling through the notes to hit upon a key strength of the book. First, so much wonderful and crucial information is tucked away in the endnotes, details that enrich the characters and events Block wrote about. More crucially, however, they indicated the richness of the book’s bibliography. His research skills and ability to sift through documents to extract key information were bolstered by his access to important primary sources, including affidavits and other crucial files. It’s hard for other authors to match this kind of quality because Block simply had people outgunned with the wealth of information he had. The foundations of the book are great because of the author’s academically skeptical approach backed by vast amounts of resources to draw upon for data.
Rejecting the commonly held view of the “alien conspiracy theory”, Block stressed throughout the book that organized crime in America was not synonymous with “La Cosa Nostra” or “the Mafia” despite the claims made by law enforcement and preceding historians/sociologists. In fact, the opening chapter of the book is dedicated to debunking popularly held myths (that, unfortunately, persist to this day) about the supposed purge of “Mustache Petes” following Maranzano’s murder or Murder, Inc. in the heydays of Albert Anastasia. Seeking to improve upon the historiography of organized crime, he corrects the record on several key events and instead promotes the notion that modern organized crime was born from the marrying of machine politics, vice entrepreneurs, and waves of Southern and Eastern European immigrants in a mixing in a pot of a rapidly urbanizing prejudiced industrial society. Supporting the notion that organized crime =/= Italian organized crime, Block highlighted that modern drug racketeering was popularized by criminals of Jewish heritage in which Italians played second fiddle. It was only through the tragedy brought upon by World War II and the shattering of international Jewish networks, that Italians finally became dominant players in opiate importation. The in-depth coverage of so many varying topics is what I feel makes this book so great; there is something for everyone.
The sections that stood out the most to me were Part IV: New Ventures and Part V: Dilemmas and Ambiguities in Crime Control. Those chapters are filled with such meticulous detail and intricate research that in many cases it feels like you are reading a mystery thriller novel. Every page uncovers some new connection between politicians, criminals, and business executives highlighting an intricate web of relationships that permeated the fabric of American society and outlined mind-boggling conspiracies. From Florida judges using the Watergate Scandal to deflect their alleged connection with organized crime to alleged Lucchese associates sitting on the same board of directors as Britain’s Prime Minister’s husband, the connections uncovered were just fascinating. Of course, there is so much more as well from the League of Nations’ failed policy that led to the creation of the modern illicit drug market to deflating organized crime’s inevitable march towards bureaucratization as purported by some academics. As wonderful as the book was, it isn’t without some flaws, and I will comment on two particular grievances I had.
First, the biggest issue I found with the chapter on fuel racketeering is the fact that it was not brought to a satisfying end. This is strange in the view of preceding and subsequent chapters where Block makes an effort to methodically chronicle all major characters, corporations, and dates to sketch out a complete understanding of the evolution of conspiracies. This is more of an individual complaint, but Block dedicated a whole book to LCN’s infiltration of the garbage industry and two books on organized crime within the global financial system yet he only managed to produce two essays on fuel racketeering. Come on man… Finally, the main criticism has to do with chapter two regarding the testimonies of Cleveland underboss Angelo Lonardo and the issue of the Commission at large. It seems most academic scholars (including James B. Jacobs) dismiss the regulatory powers of the Commission and its perceived ability to meaningfully direct La Cosa Nostra affairs across the country. By noting Scalish’s ignorance of national affairs and important mafiosos and Licavoli’s lack of knowledge about proper protocol, Block concluded that it meant the Commission was fairly if not entirely irrelevant in the running of the various crime families. And yet Block ignored a major aspect of Lonardo’s recollections, specifically concerning a request for the Genovese “boss”, Anthony Salerno, to permit Cleveland to make ten individuals since the Commission banned the induction of new members after 1957. Clearly, the Commission was influential enough for families to follow this important policy and decades later Cleveland wanted the permission of the Genovese family (which was a proxy for the Commission since it represented them) to enlarge the size of their membership, a vital function for the success of any organization. The national significance of the Commission at large was yet still dismissed from the revelation of a certain Italian document that outlined how New York-centric its composition was. Block determined that this showed how the Commission, if really functional, was largely just a New York affair in its ability to exert any significant influence. Of course, a simple alternative explanation could be that while “the mafia” was a national criminal network, it was most concentrated in the urban areas of America’s East Coast and the make-up of the Commission reflected that fact. Proportional representation, if you will. Finally, Block used the chaos of the Philadelphia organized crime family starting with Angelo Bruno’s death in 1980 to highlight how utterly powerless the supposedly powerful Commission was at regulating violence, the very purpose of its origin. I thought that was a weak example for two reasons. First, by the 1980s, the Commission was losing national relevancy and did become the local affair Block assumed it was from the very beginning and so its ability to enforce its edicts was unravelling in the face of sustained law enforcement attacks and general attrition of the smaller families that impeded the networks that underpinned this national criminal fraternity. Second, many of the murders done in the wake of Bruno’s death were done on either the Commission’s (or proxy) orders or as a way to instill discipline into members or associates who broke the rules that underpinned the organization. Thus, what might look like general chaos and breakdown of the family was just waves of new leadership trying to bring the perpetrators of “unlawful” murders to “justice”. As such, I feel like using and analyzing the events of “the Bannana War” or either the First or Second Colombo War might have served as a more relevant example for the type of analysis or conclusion Block was trying to deliver. With all that being said, these minor nitpicks pale in comparison to the great material one can find and learn from reading this book.
Alan A. Block was my introduction to academic writing on organized crime and maybe he can be yours too. A link to his obituary.
“They could go to jail if anyone knew what they were doing.” These words, forever immortalized in a Manhattan courtroom, were said by Joseph Biasucci, secretary-treasurer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Local 531. His union pension fund invested about $100,000 into Resource Capital Group, a loansharking ring masquerading as a legitimate leasing and financing firm in Lake Success, New York. The principals running the firm, and the men Biasucci referred to on tape, were Melvin Cooper and Dr. Jesse Daniel Hyman. These two men had a long history of rubbing shoulders with individuals connected to organized crime and are the focus of this piece. Before coming together to create Resource Capital Group, Melvin Cooper was the waste industry’s loanshark and involved with some of the most prominent carters and mobsters controlling the garbage industry of New York, New Jersey, Long Island, and Florida. Jesse Hyman, on the other hand, was involved with labor racketeering and organized crime’s infiltration of union dental care plans in Buffalo, Cleveland, and New Jersey. These associates helped connect La Cosa Nostra families from coast to coast.
Cooper Funding and the Mob’s Soft Power
Cooper Funding Ltd. was incorporated on January 1st, 1973, and jointly owned by Melvin Cooper, his father Samuel Cooper, and uncle Jack Cooper. Sister and affiliated companies included Etna Leasing Services, Cooper Equities, M. Cooper Motor Leasing, Keelntainer Inc., and Cooper Tank and Welding. On the surface, Cooper Funding was in the business of manufacturing, selling, leasing, or purchasing, refuse containers, trucks, truck chassis, compacting equipment, and other items in the waste industry. An assistant Vice President to Banker’s Trust Company explained that Cooper Funding acted as a “lease broker”, which, “entered into equipment leases with companies in need of financing and then arranged financing for the purchase of the equipment with banks or other lending institutions by selling the lease paper at a discounted rate”. In theory, the bank received lease payments directly from the company with Cooper Funding taking a commission for bringing them the deal. It is worth mentioning that Banker’s Trust would eventually stop doing business with Cooper Funding, although inexplicably it continued to do so with Cooper Tank & Welding. In reality, however, the firm was in the business of arranging fraudulent leases for waste companies connected or controlled by organized crime. In plainer terms, a report on organized crime’s involvement in the waste hauling industry described the company as the, “loanshark of the garbage industry”. In essence, Cooper would lend companies money on non-existent or overpriced equipment on a leaseback agreement. Harold Kaufman, former assistant administrator to the president of the Sanitation Union, Local 813, and FBI informant said if companies could get a loan without security then they would do it because the rates at the time were between 20% and 25%.
It is worthy giving a few examples to make sense of how it all worked and what the businessmen did with the money. In one instance, a waste hauler out of Babylon, Long Island, who purchased containers from Cooper’s company in 1974 needed $10,000 the following year. Cooper Funding loansharked the money by arranging a phony lease for the same containers at an inflated price. In the fall of 1976, a cooperating New York carter described to the FBI their experience with Melvin Cooper’s services. The carter, desperately in need of capital, ended up dealing with one of Cooper’s salesman, Joseph Gluck. The owner received an invoice reflecting the order of a jet brine injector costing $25,000 to be used as a collateral for a loan provided by the National Bank of North America. Of course no such equipment existed and the bank officer handling the loan knew it. By making sure his deals weren’t bust-outs and spreading out Cooper Funding’s paper across numerous lenders, Melvin protected both his ongoing loansharking operation and its legitimate agents in the banking world. Cooper’s money was put out on the streets and carters would use that money to buy additional routes and expand. By servicing friendly solid and toxic waste firms and arranging loans in at least nine states and the District of Columbia, Cooper Funding spread organized crime’s influence in the industry across the nation, providing the mob with an added layer of soft-power over the garbage sector.
Melvin “Mel” Cooper
Besides loansharking, however, Cooper also engaged in numerous other financial frauds and schemes as a service for the Mafia or just to enrich himself. For instance, on October 13th, 1976, the FBI filed a report noting that Cooper Funding was involved in fraudulent leases for use by a “notorious” organized crime figure in the carting business for the purpose of bankrupting a third party. It seems then that besides given Mafia connected carters a financial advantage, Cooper was also used to financially harm their competitors. Another one of Cooper’s schemes involved a trucking scam pulled on victims supplied by the East Coast Truckers Association, Roadmasters Incorporated, and the Independent Truckers Association. The scam worked by leasing trucks of poor mechanical quality at high rates to individuals who were “encouraged” to form their own trucking businesses. When they inevitably failed to keep up with payments, their trucks were repossessed, and the scam was repeated. Richard and Marge Cornelius are the quintessential case study of a scam of this nature. The couple saw an ad placed in the Asbury Park Press, by the International Truckers Association (ITA), offering their services to people attempting to get into the trucking business. With the ad offering earnings of up to $100,000 per year, the couple paid $11,063 for ITA’s services that promised to obtain jobs, work, and contracts for the couple. After authorizing the ITA to secure financing for the equipment, they were referred to Etna Leasing Services, which fraudulently misled the couple into thinking they signed a lease-purchase agreement, when in reality it was just a lease agreement. Although the fair value of the truck was only $18,000, Etna required a $10,000 “security fee” to Cooper Equities, an $8,113 down payment and $73,458 in “interest” over the 66-month period. Etna, also falsely led the couple to believe that they would pay for repairs, yet no such provisions existed in the contract. The company ended up repossessing the truck on February 11th, 1981 after Cornelius failed to make the monthly payment of $1,100, even though Cornelius claimed Cooper gave him permission to lapse the payment to repair the truck. When this case became public Lou Acinapura, President of the ITA would tell the press that while some truckers did earn $100,000 per year, 70% of drivers failed. It really was a self-perpetuating scheme. Finally, Cooper’s operation also included other complex financial scams such as “advance fee” and “add-on” fee schemes, false billing, and theft of services. Phil Gentile, another Cooper Funding salesman, executed such a scam when he arranged a lease for Briggerman Sanitation in Los Angeles for 10 garbage truckers in November 1975. George Briggerman was told that the bank approved the leases, and he subsequently made the initial advance payment to Cooper Funding. Unbeknownst to him, however, the bank rejected the leases and Cooper Funding just pocket the money that was advanced to him about which George could do nothing. Cooper Funding’s office in California also employed as a salesman one Jerome Zimmerman.
Melvin Cooper operated organized crime’s largest loansharking operation in the waste industry and enjoyed a financial relationship with even the largest legitimate firms. Consider the fact that he arranged a sizable loan in the mid-1970s for Waste Management with the Chemical Bank of New York. Waste Management was already an $800 million a year multi-national operation then; today it is the largest trash hauler on earth. As such, during the firm’s operations there was hardly a significant carting firm linked to organized crime that did not work in some shape or form with Cooper’s corporations and his ability to get financing was indispensable to organized crime’s ability to exert control and spread their influence all over the country. Here is a list of some of the garbage companies Melvin lent to:
Sanitary Haulage, Inc. – Controlled by Anthony Ricci (Genovese member)
Carmine Franco and Co. – Controlled by Carmine Franco (Genovese associate)
Schaper Disposal Works, Inc. – Controlled by Carmine Franco
Anthony Rizzo Carting – Controlled by Anthony Rizzo (Associate of Carmine Franco)
Rapid Disposal Service, Inc. – Controlled by the DiNardi Family and connected to Carmine Franco through the New Jersey Waste Trade Association
Middlesex Carting Co. – Controlled by the DiNardi Family
Coney Island Rubbish Removal – Controlled by Michael Morea and connected to the Brooklyn Waste Trade Association
Rosedale Carting Corp – Controlled by Angelo Paccione (Gambino member)
Round Lake Sanitation – Affiliated with Mario Gigante (Genovese member)
Mongelli Carting – Tied to Mario Gigante and Thomas Milo (Genovese members)
Andrew Fiore & Sons – Tied to Tino Fiumara (Genovese member)
The Brooklyn Trade Waste Association and Cooper Funding’s Secret Owner
In August 1976, Mel Cooper was working Joe Lombardo and Salvatore Sindone, an officer in the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association, in putting together shylock loans for a number of waste hauler companies. Putting together these criminals and loansharking enterprise was Tommy Lombardi, a relative of Carmine Persico, whose restaurant on Avenue X in Brooklyn hosted monthly meetings for organized crime members. Another official of the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association connected to Mel was Sam Galasso Sr. who was both a salesman for Cooper Funding (and a secret owner) and the vice president of the Association. Galasso Sr. (sometimes spelled Calasso) was also an associate of the Colombo Crime Family and part of John “Sonny” Franzese Sr.’s crew. In fact, Sonny Franzese enjoyed the loyalty of this family for generations as both Sam Galasso Jr. and Sam Galasso III were involved with him and committed a litany crimes that included stock fraud as part of a crew under his protection. Given Cooper’s close relationships with the Association, it is important to discuss its history and contextualize the garbage rackets of Brooklyn.
The extent of organized crime’s control over the carting industry would not be possible without political and criminal justice corruption. One has to look no further than the guestlist attending Thomas R. Abatemarco’s, president of the Brooklyn Trade Waste Removers Association (as it was known at the time), dinner honoring his third term in 1941. The star-studded guest list included: Supreme Court Justice Charles L. Lockwood, Municipal Court Justice George J. Joyce, Federal Judge Matthew T. Abruzzo, District Attorney William O’Dwyer, with the Toastmaster being Deputy Sanitation Commissioner Matthew J. Deserio. A little over a decade later, Mayor Wagner would speak at the Commodore Hotel in November 1954 for a testimonial dinner hosted in Sam Galasso Sr.’s honor. A similar testimonial dinner was held in 1956 for Patsy D’Avanzo, president of the Brooklyn Waste Trade Association, which was attended by Mayor Impelliterri and commissioners of the Department of Sanitation. This political clout was beneficial in numerous ways. For instance, in 1956 License Commissioner Bernard O’Connell failed to report a bribe offered to one of his employees to the district attorney until a newspaper published the story. The incident involved president Pasquale “Patsy” D’Avanzo, offering in a not so round about way, “a shiny new Cadillac” if the maximum rate for garbage disposal were lifted. The official being offered this new Cadillac served on the committee that set-up the maximum rates carters’ could charge New York’s 122,000 businesses. After the telephone call ended, the official sent an official report to O’Connell with the latter ignoring it after he decided that Patsy offered the Cadillac, “in a joking matter”. Later when this incident got public O’Connell remarked that the incident, “seemed rather silly to have brought it to my attention” and further went on to say that D’Avanzo was, “hardly the one from whom such an offer would come.” It should not surprise anyone that later reports would come out saying that Patsy D’Avanzo was associated with the Joseph Colombo Mafia Family.
(L:R): Sam Galasso Sr., Pasquale “Patsy” D’Avanzo, and James “Jimmy Brown” Failla
By 1974, the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association, was overseeing a $60 million a year private carting industry, which included approximately $20 million a year worth of overcharges resulting from “collusive practices in the industry”. Running the association were members or associates of the Gambino, Genovese, and Colombo crime families. D’Avanzo and Galasso, as mentioned above, were Colombo associates with Patsy being responsible for assigning most of the routes. James “Jimmy Brown” Failla helped arrange collections and was said to be “influential” in its running. Joseph Schipani, improperly identified as a Lucchese captain, was actually a Genovese member and served as a mediator between the carters and approved sales of stops. The last significant Association official and member of the board was Joseph D’Antuono who was associated with the Gallo faction of the Colombo Family. Them and others would gather every Wednesday at the Gondola Restaurant or their penthouse offices in the Granada Hotel above the restaurant to dispense mob rule over the waste industry of Brooklyn. In 1955, the Association represented 120 members, but by 1974 it has been consolidated to 89 haulers which represented almost every carter operating in Kings County (Brooklyn). As with other Associations, the Brooklyn system was based on the concept of property rights or a customer allocation agreement. The Brooklyn Trade Waste Association allocated carters the right to service a particular establishment or route and prohibited rival firms from competitively bidding for that customer. This created a monopolistic control whereby it was almost impossible for customers to change their waste hauler if they were unhappy with their services. The Association acted as the exclusive broker for carters seeking to purchase or sell commercial accounts. Carting companies seeking additional business had to pay large fees to the Association for this right which usually amounted to 30 times the customer’s weekly carting costs. In some cases, the Association had, “taken in fees of $100,000 or more for assigning private carters their territories in the borough.” In one instance, the District Attorney’s office caught an official of the Association in the cookie jugger. In December 1957, an unnamed official was taken before a grand jury probing a connection between private cartmen, hoods, and racketeers. The official, “accounted rather shakily for $4,000” and produced a receipt for a purchase of a $3,000 diamond ring for his wife. Of course, it was a lie since the seller of the ring actually died in 1954, with the DA suspecting that the money was used to pay off racketeers or union men.
Speaking of unions, the Association had its fair share of run-ins with it over the course of its history. In the summer of 1946, for instance, both the Greater New York Trade Waste Removers Association and the Brooklyn Trade Waste Removers Association were involved in a dispute with Teamsters Local 27. The union sought a reduction in the work week from 48 hours to 40 hours and elimination of Sunday work. All sides ended up agreeing to an undisclosed deal right before the union was about to organize a strike. In the winter of 1953, Local 813 organized a strike after seeking a $10-a-week wage increase and other benefits from the three major Associations at the time. 2,000 private sanitation workers went on a strike and city of New York’s Sanitation Department had to pick up the slack. In late November of 1966, Local 813 was ready to call for another strike after the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association and others “refused” the union’s demand for a $30 increase to the weekly wage. However, these ploys were not necessarily about Adelstein’s wish to improve the lives of the “working man” and rather any benefits were incidental to his real goals. As it turns out these types of strikes demanding wage increases ultimately assisted the Associations in lobbying the city to raise the maximum allowed collection rates. The city determined the maximum rates that cartmen were allowed to charge customers under the principles that there would be “a fair and reasonable return to the licensees”. As such the increased costs were dumped on the customers in a “routine pass-through of costs”. The union enriched itself with a fatter benefits and a fuller pension fund at the expense of Brooklyn businesses and their consumers, not the Mafia.
(L:R): Patsy D’Avanzo, Joseph Schipani, and James Failla
The final lever of power the Mafia had was good old-fashioned intimidation and violence over both its clients and upstart competitors. The profit margins in the waste industry were phenomenal. In 1974, carters would charge an average of $3.5 a square yard for collecting garbage and in turn pay $2.85 a square yard to dispose of it in the city dumps. However, trash haulers would insist that the garbage would be “loose” and measure the volume on that basis, compact it to one-fifth its size and pay a dumping fee of only 75 cents per square yard. Thus, carters that were part of the Brooklyn Waste Trade Association strongly supported the organization’s policies as it greatly improved their economics and they wanted to keep it that way. Given the lucrative nature of the industry it was estimated that a value of a trash removal route for a small carting company might be as high as $250,000 to $300,000. Thus, they were very keen on protecting their margins and the Association would even go after the city whenever it raised dumping prices. For instance, in 1971, the Associated obtained a court order that temporarily stymied an increase in dumping fees of compacted trash from $2.15 to $3.35 per cubic yard. Despite the city raising the maximum price to $4.9 in March of 1973, most cartmen charged less than that to gain leverage over their customers. This way if a client asked for a new trash hauler due to being unhappy with their current carter’s services, they would be quoted the maximum allowed price to discourage them from switching. Patsy D’Avanzo tried to explain that this system protects the customer, because if they switched to a new cartman, and then tried to go back to their old cheaper hauler, the old one would be in the “driver’s seat”, have more leverage and could charge a higher price than the one found in their original agreement. In reality the customer was always the loser in this arrangement with the “property rights” impeding on their ability to get quality service. For instance, one store owner was dissatisfied with his hauler Lomangino Brothers because of soaring prices and subpar service. For six months, he couldn’t find another carter to pick up his trash and had to go back to paying Lomangino. In another instance, new business owner was approached by Angelo Mondrone, of Bay Ridge Carting, explaining that they had property rights to this stop with a monthly charge of $75 regardless of how much garbage was put out. Another businessman, fed up with the services provided by his carter ABC Rubbish, stopped paying them and started dumping his own trash. Several days later, a “representative” of ABC explained to the store owner that, “if you keep dumping your own trash, we’re going to blow your business up”. It wasn’t just the customers that were threatened and intimidated, rival businesses who were not part of the Association experienced arson and violence. Consider Tom Pugliese’s experience in the Brooklyn carting industry in 1970. Pugliese’s grandfather left Calabria by 1910 after getting tired from constant harassment for tribute money from Messina, Sicily Mafiosi. He immigrated to New York like so many other Italians, and started a carting business that would become a family business for generations. Unfortunately for Tom’s grandfather and many Italians, the Mafia followed them over the Atlantic Ocean to Brooklyn and started demanding protection money or face reprisals for disobedience. Pugliese ran American Salvage Company (ASC) using three trucks and owned a garbage yard and a paper-balling plant in Brooklyn. By salvaging the waste paper instead of just dumping it, Pugliese had a financial advantage over mob run carters and could serve a stop for $400 and still make a $100 profit. The mob would charge $800 dollars for those stops and so waste-paper men like Pugliese were specifically targeted by the racketeers to either join “the club” or get out of Brooklyn. By 1970, the pressure was turned up and ASC was one of the few remaining independent carters in Brooklyn with Pugliese lamenting that previously independent haulers joined the Association and started paying them fees. The Association then started taking stops from Pugliese by either offering to do pick-ups for cheaper or using their influence with Teamster Local 813 to threaten the picketing of Pugliese’s customers lest they drop him. This happened in spite of the fact that ASC’s drivers were card carrying members of the union. After Tom took over some of the Association’s stops, thing got violent as the “mob’s firebomb squad” set fire to his plant and damaged trucks by either burning them, slashing tires or ripping out the wiring. The mob seemingly had pull in the Department of Sanitation as they refused to help once when one of Tom’s truck was on fire, and in other instances sanitation “cops” would harass his business. Doing business in Brooklyn was hazardous it seems to those that didn’t play ball with the Mafia.
It was long rumored that the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association was mobbed and yet periodic investigations into it were small in scale and ultimately ineffective. As far as back 1955, Commissioner of Investigations Charles H. Tenney was investigating a “great many complaints” made by customers about monopolistic practices exhibited by private sanitation companies across New York, including Brooklyn. These complaints ranged from rate-hiking to customers’ inability to switch carters if they were dissatisfied with their services. Jack Kenny, treasurer of the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association, denied the characterization of the industry and went to say that, “there is no situation like that – we just wouldn’t tolerate it” and added that if it was going on it was, “just one or two fellows.” Arnold Roseman, attorney for the Greater New York Cartmen’s Association back up Kenny and said that these complaints were, “planted calls by people who want to make trouble for us.” Although now we know these complaints were valid, nothing concrete came from these investigations and the private sanitation industry continued in its nefarious ways. A year later, Brooklyn District Attorney Edward Silver declared “all-out war” against racketeers and hoodlums that took over the carting industry in the borough. Judge Samuel Leibowitz organized a Kings County grand jury to sift through the charges of shakedowns and intimidation and hear testimony from several witnesses. Among those who testified were two editors of the Brooklyn Daily who recounted to the grand jury about threats made against their lives by hoodlums as a result of a series of expose articles on Brooklyn’s garbage rackets. A couple of days before their testimony, one editor was warned to lay off and an another was visited by three goons who suggested that the articles should be dropped if the editor wanted to remain “healthy”. Patsy D’Avanzo was also among the individuals brought before the grand jury who testified about his dislike for the new Refuse Law and stressed how his organization fines their members $100 if there is any evidence of an overcharge. The president then announced this organization would open the books to law enforcement and proposed a plan that would make it more suitable for local dealers to do business with private cartmen than the city. He hoped that the New York public wouldn’t judge all cartmen by the actions of a few. In a predictable fashion, nothing ever came from these investigations. In 1970, the government once again started investigating racketeering in the waste-removal industry in Brooklyn and Long Island. The FBI and a Federal strike force convened a special Federal grand jury to investigate the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association, a Teamster Local, and a Brooklyn organized crime family to look for charges relating to restraint of trade, conspiracy, and violation of labor laws. Simultaneously, a Kings County grand jury was investigating allegations of assault, arson, and coercion partially involving the experiences of the aforementioned Tom Pugliese. Inevitably, nothing came from those immediate investigations and it was time for the government to go undercover.
Eugene Gold, Brooklyn’s District Attorney was determined to break the power of the mob over his country’s waste hauling industry. In March 1972, Eugene met with former Deputy Commissioner William McCarthy to set-up their own carting business using undercover cop “John Green” to infiltrate the Brooklyn carting business. They ran it as a legitimate business to avert any suspicion, bought a used truck for $3,800, spent $225 on license plates, put up $1,500 for workman’s compensation, paid $226 in New York taxes to set up the business, and got a certification from the Department of Consumer Affairs. The undercover business was publicly known as Green Carting Inc. and it was staffed by a rotating crew of cops that acted as John Green’s helpers. By late June 1972, the undercover company was officially in business in the Cooney Island area. Over the course of the investigation, Green solicited over 2,000 customers to do business with him, but only got 19 clients even after he offered a 30% reduction of all charges. One merchant told Green, “Are you kidding? I could get killed if I changed my carter”. The operation never broke-even and on Green’s best month he grossed a measly $600. The operation, however, was never about making money and throughout the course of the investigation, Green got more and more tips about the nature of the industry, the shady characters that inhabited it, the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association, and where it met. Gold even directed to Green to apply to it, but his membership was denied and he was followed and threatened by hoodlums. Finally, by September 1973, Gold had enough information to start a grand jury investigation. This time it would yield some results. The Association’s board members were among those called to testify before the grand jury and unsurprisingly, no one knew anything.  Here are some funny exchanges that resulted in perjury charges:
Joseph D’Antuono’s Testimony
Q: Has Mr. Schipani discussed sanitation with you?
A: No Sir.
Q: What do you discuss with Schipani when you run into him?
A: How is the family and things like that.
Patsy D’Avanzo’s Testimony
Q: With reference to that Key Food stop, in any of the discussions you have ever had with any of the carters involving that stop, did you ever say that Mr. Murraya (one carter) sold his rights to Mr. Vulpis (another carter)?
A: Did I ever say that Murraya sold his rights to Vlupis?
A: What rights, what rights?
Q: I am asking you.
A: I don’t know what ‘rights’ is. I never knew we had rights to any stop.
These exchanges resulted in perjury charges, because the Association’s meetings were bugged. As a result of this investigation, Eugene Gold announced on March 28th, 1974, an indictment charging 55 individuals and firms on charges of conspiracy and restraint of trade. This was significant as the 55 carters indicted represented over 60% of the trash haulers in Brooklyn. Nine men were indicted on perjury charges which included Patsy D’Avanzo, Sam Galasso, Joseph Schipani, Joseph D’Antuono, Salvatore Sindone, Sabino Colluci, Dominick Colluci, Michael Russo, and John Cassillo. Despite testifying before the grand jury, James “Jimmy Brown” Fialla escaped perjury charges and the indictment as a whole. Very lucky guy! Gold thought this indictment would purge the mob’s control over Brooklyn’s waste industry. Most of the carting companies pled guilty alongside two officials, Sam Galasso and Michael Russo. They should have waited because the charges against those who didn’t cop plea were thrown out because of a technical error made by law enforcement officials when building the case! New York’s Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) fined the carters $500 per truck, which is laughable since this represented less than 1% of the extortion revenue calculated by the District Attorney’s office. This ought to teach the racketeers and hoodlums a lesson! Justice Milton Mollen of the State Supreme Court also ordered the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association dissolved in September of 1975. Despite Gold’s best efforts his hard work proved futile as all it all unravelled over the course of two years.
(L:R) Eugene Gold and ‘The Big N’ truck used in the undercover operation
Despite their indictment, all the cartmen received “unusual” temporary extensions to their old licenses to continue servicing their clients. As part of this investigation, the grand jury recommended that the Sanitation Department take over refuse collection from commercial establishments as a way to put an end to organized crime’s control over the garbage industry. A new municipal administration, however, became much less interested in taking over the private sector and a high source within the Consumer Affairs Department said that, “everybody [in the Mayor’s office] wishes it would just blow over. Can you imagine the private carting industry just sitting by and waiting to be driven out of business, especially if it is controlled to organized crime?” Following the indictment, the city conducted a study showing that they would be able to do the job more cheaply, despite the higher labor costs, than the private sector but the conclusions of it were minimized and it seems it was pretty much shut lost amidst all the paper pushing. The DCA was delaying renewing licenses to the cartmen during this confusing time because it didn’t want to make it seem like they were condoning criminal activity. Of course at the same time Patsy D’Avanzo denied that the city could do a better job and was highly critical of the grand jury’s recommendation stating, “what does a Tom, Dick, and Harry on a grand jury know about the business?” One former high Sanitation official summarized it best by saying, “private cartmen are considerably more efficient, getting 20 to 30 percent more productivity than the city. But whether the costs to the citizens are any less depends on how much the gang siphons out and how much goes to political contributions to protect their business.” In what must have devastated Eugene Gold and any legitimate cartmen still left in Brooklyn, the DCA finally issued permanent renewals to the licenses of the guilty cartmen. Just a year after the grand jury exposed the violence and intimidation that was happening in Brooklyn, Consumer Affairs Commissioner, Elinor C. Guggenheimer, said that, “we have no evidence now that the industry is ridden with crime.” Leo Pollack, who headed the department’s Trade Waste Division added that he had no evidence strong-arm tactics were now being used in normal operations. The $500 fine really scared the Mafia away… To add insult to the matter the Brooklyn Waste Trade Association, which was ordered to be dissolved months before, was deeply involved in contract negotiations with Teamster Local 813 in December 1975. Eventually, the Association was disbanded, only to immediately reappear as the Kings County Trade Waste Association, this time under Genovese control. However it is now that our attention changes from Brooklyn to the chaos of Long Island’s carting industry.
Mob Wars: Attack of the Wastemen – Long Island Edition
The Colombo’s aren’t exactly the first Mafia Family one thinks of when talking about the mob’s garbage rackets. Indeed, the Genovese, Gambino, and Lucchese families were much more famous for their involvement in this business and yet for a brief period of time, the Colombo’s were operating at a fairly high level. We have already seen associates of the Colombo Crime Family exerting some influence in Brooklyn, but through various other individuals they controlled numerous firms across Long Island’s two counties. Andrew “Mush” Russo, another cousin of Persico and a captain in the Family, owned A&S Carting Co. of Valley Stream. By 1978, it seems he divested from the business as he was described as a “former” owner of the firm. Just because he didn’t have a carting company under his own name didn’t mean he wasn’t powerful anymore and law enforcement witnessed Russo host other top mob figures at parties in his five-acre estate and meet with Aniello Mancuso to rule on carting disputes. In fact, federal sources described Russo as being part of the mob’s “national council for the waste disposal industry” alongside James Failla, Paul Vario Sr., and Joseph Schipani. The council’s purpose was to coordinate the Mafia’s efforts on a national scale to takeover the garbage industry across America. I’m very skeptical that such a panel existed, but nonetheless it highlighted Russo’s influence within the garbage rackets of Long Island. Additionally, Russo was also involved with Hickey Carting of Central Islip, a prominent trash hauler operating since 1960 worth $2 million in 1979 (about ~$8 million in today’s money). It’s owner, Dennis Hickey was described as an industry insider who acted as a broker in arranging the sales of routes among carters. Miraculously, despite not having a Smithtown permit for 9 years, a Brookhaven permit for 5 years, and never having a North Hempstead license, the firm was collecting garbage for years at all three towns! The municipal corruption and/or incompetence was astonishing back in the day. One example of this was an auto supply store in Central Islip getting “inherited” by Hickey Carting as its private carter for $25 a month, even though it was entitled to a tax-funded free pick-up service by the municipality. More about municipal fraud, “ghost” stops, and unholy alliances between local politicians and mobsters will be talked about shortly. Anyways, Hickey was also involved with disposing toxic waste and illegal dumping. In early June 1978, the company picked up 60 to 70, 55-gallon drums, filled with carcinogenic chemicals that were supposed to be disposed at safe site off Long Island. Instead, the company dumped it in the Hauppauge landfill that threatened groundwater servicing dozens of households. It was also convicted 14 times in 1970 for illegal dumping in Smithtown and yet it continued to illegally dump trash well into 1979. Andrew Russo was still involved with the firm through 1995 in a conspiracy to use front companies to retain routes in Islip after Hickey Carting was banned from operating there due to its role in a bribery scheme. One of the people involved in that scheme was Frank Carione, another prominent Colombo garbage racketeer and a brother-in-law of Andrew Russo. Elsewhere, Frank has been described as Russo’s cousin and owned Riteway Sanitation and Quickway Sanitation. He was also questioned and released in connection with a Suffolk bombing incident involving two waste management firms. Frank also had a brother Anthony, who owned Grand Carting in Babylon and had marquee carting contracts for the State University at Stoney Brook and Nassau County buildings in Mineola. Andrew Russo was also a business partner of Pasquale DiMatteo in a refuse container corporation. DiMatteo also owned Haulage Enterprise Corp. which won the contract to haul away all the ash and other wastes produced by Hempstead Town’s $110-million garbage recycling plant. A federal strike force was probing whether payoffs or political influence were involved in the awarding of the contract and others involving the plant’s construction that involved unusually high labor costs as a potential price for labor peace. Anthony Carione, alongside Carmine Persico and Andrew Russo were also identified as active racketeers in Florida’s garbage industry. Another pair of Colombo affiliated sibling garbage racketeers on Long Island were the Garafalo brothers. Angelo “Fat Angelo” Garafalo, who operated Royal Sanitation, was described as a central figure in garbage industry troubles that included arson, territory takeovers, beatings, and sugared gas tanks. His brother Vincent operated ABC Sanitation Co., V. Garafalo Inc., and V&D Carting Inc. Unfortunately for the Colombo’s, Angelo turned informant after pleading guilty to possession of hijacked goods and fingered various Colombo soldiers like Anthony “the Gawk” Augello in a hijacking case.
(L:R): Andrew “Mush Russo, Angelo Garafalo, and Vincent Garafalo
The Colombo’s influence in the waste management industry did not end there, and John “Sonny” Franzese Sr. was another individual who had interests in it. Besides his connection through Sam Galasso Sr., the man enjoyed quite a direct relationship with Melvin Cooper and was identified to be his secret controller. Another Franzese associate was Felice “Philly” Vizzari, a soldier in the Colombo Family, who was described by authorities as an influential individual in Nassau and Suffolk’s garbage carting industry. His power derived from Standard Commercial Cartage Inc., a company that had Philly on its payroll as a solicitor of business. When asked how a mob figure could end up working as a salesman in his firm, John P. Haynes, Standard’s owner, replied, “He asked me for a job. He said he could do well on selling… He could solicit new work. I didn’t have anyone at the time who was soliciting, and we weren’t brining in any new work.” Well Vizzari sure could work, and one of Standard’s marquee contracts was servicing the municipal Suffolk County office building complex in Hauppauge. They company had that contract since the complex was first opened in the late 1950s and it continued to win bid after bid until 1977 due to big rigging. After almost twenty years another company dared to compete for the contract and Jet Sanitation owned by Pat DiMatteo offered to service the complex for just $10,692 per year. This was an unacceptable for the mob and soon after DiMatteo won, he began receiving threats and was told that the complex “belonged” to Standard. The cost of doing business must’ve gotten up tremendously because when it bid again for the contact the next year, Jet said it would charge the county $24,760. Standard’s bid clocked in at $22,284 but the county actually split up that route and awarded it to both Newport Carting and C&C Carting whose yearly price totaled just $10,968. Officials with the county were flabbergasted to discover in April 1978 that neither company was picking up its trash, Standard was! Vizzari had a “talk” with one of the companies and explained to the man that he should back off and the other company’s owner soon “realized” that he didn’t have the necessary license to do business with the Town of Smithtown. After the third lowest bidder refused to take the contract, the town had no choice but to contract out waste pick-up, officially this time, to Vizzari’s company. I guess he was a pretty good salesman after all. Another Colombo garbage associate was Joseph Morea, owner of Coney Island Rubbish Removal and Long Island Rubbish Removal, who also did business with Melvin Cooper. An affiliated company, Morea Carting, and Coney Island Rubbish Removal were part of the 55 carters group that was indicted by DA Gold in Brooklyn. But the most interesting individual affiliated with the Joseph Colombo Mafia Family on Long Island was Salvatore Spatarella, and as it turned out Melvin Cooper got caught up in a mob war.
(L:R): Felice “Philly” Vizzari, Dennis Hickey, and Joseph Carione (Anthony’s son)
In a July 1977 memo drafted by the Suffolk county police, it was reported that Joseph Petrizzo and Aniello Mancuso were “incensed” over Melvin Cooper for lending money to the late Sal Spatarella. There is a lot to unpack from this one statement alone, and it is thus imperative to outline the history of Long Island’s garbage industry after the 1957 McClellan hearings and see how the Lucchese’s beat both the Gambino’s and Colombo’s to take it over. Unfortunately, the chronology between the Inter-County Cartmen’s Association of Vincent Squillante’s time and the Private Sanitation Industry Association of Nassau/Suffolk (PSI) is a bit confusing and at times conflicting. The Inter-County Cartmen’s Association of Nassau went defunct in May 1956 after Squillante left the county that spring as result of intense legal pressure. To fill the void, Long Island carters formed two smaller organizations. The first group was called the Nassau-Suffolk Trade Waste Association (NSTWA) and its original president was John Casagrande. The second group was known as the Waste Removal Institute of Nassau and Suffolk (WRI), headed by John Licausi and Umberto Velocci, came into existence in March 1958 and characterized itself as a “clean” organization. This dual association was quickly upset by the “newly” formed Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association. Finally, after a mob war for control of Long Island’s garbage rackets, PSI was formed in 1978-1979 by Salvatore Avelino through which the Lucchese syndicate gained control. This was the sequence of organizations presented by Alan A. Block, and while his research is outstanding, it did leave me somewhat confused. First, I cannot find a single reference in contemporary newspapers or government reports about the NSTWA and John Casagrande does not appear in records until after he already joined the Waste Removal Institute in 1967 (which made no mention of his prior position). Then there is the characterization of the Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association as a “new” organization when, in fact, it appears in newspapers to have existed concurrently with the Inter-County Association and Squillante himself was asked about his association with it. To Block’s credit, however, The New York Times did report that Spatarella’s ‘Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association’ was formed in 1965. As such, I’m not sure if this was the same organization that Squillante interacted with, or simply a new organization that chose to resurrect its name. Moreover, there was a mysterious organization called the ‘Nassau-Suffolk Carters’ Association’ (NSCA), that only appeared in newspapers for the year of 1974 in relation to a strike organized by Local 813. It purported to represent 96-members that collectively accounted for about 75% of Long Island’s garbage collection. Neither the Waste Removal Institute nor the Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association were reported to have had problems with the union in 1974 and so I’m completely puzzled as to what the NSCA was meant to be or if it was involved with organized crime. Finally, Peter Reuter described that the PSI was a successor organization to the ‘Nassau-Suffolk Cartmen’s Association’. Sadly, outside of his wonderful report, only one other reference exists to such an organization featured in a November 1957 article written in the Daily News that said Carmen DeCabia was president of that association. This was likely a mistake since Carmen DeCabia confirmed in the McClellan hearings that he was president of the Inter-County Cartmen’s Association. Confusion all around. Luckily for me, Mel Cooper’s lending activities on Long Island were centered around the Waste Removal Institute and the Suffolk Cartmen’s Association and so I will focus on those two institutions.
On March 12th, 1958, eleven-chapter members created the Waste Removal Institute of Nassau and Suffolk, an organization “above reproach” and free from mobster elements. Ten out of eleven members belonged to the Inter-County Cartmen’s Association (ICA), while nine were due paying union members of Adelstein’s Teamster Local 813. The new group vowed that it had no connection to the defunct mobster controlled ICA or the hoodlum ridden union and its attorney Sol Gordon assured the media and citizens alike that after his thorough investigation, the Waste Removal Institute was a legitimate organization filled with legitimate businessmen. Former members of the ICA could join the organization so long as they severed their association with mobster, followed the letter of the law, and most importantly, followed the spirit of the law as well! Carters could also join regardless if they were part of the union. John Licausi was named the president of the organization, Salvatore Giordano its first vice president, and Umberto Velocci its second vice president. By 1962, Giordano succeeded as the organization’s president. In 1966, the Institute lobbied the Town of North Hempstead against raising refuse disposal rates from 80 cents a ton to five dollars citing their reluctance to increase prices for consumers by 50% to bear this cost growth. The town was trying to fight the smuggling of trash collected from nearby towns like Oyster Bay that charged $2/ton, a real problem if you recall from the aforementioned Hickey situation. Considering the nefarious nature of the Institute, it is likely some of their very own members practiced in trash smuggling and so had a vested interest in keeping dumping costs low. There was also an interesting dynamic developing between the Local 813 and the Institute. Harry W. Rosenberg, who was WRI’s lawyer, also represented Donno & Co., a large refuse collector that fought a unionization effort of its workers. Donno, which was once part-owned by Nunzio Squillante, openly alleged in 1959 that Adelstein’s local was a phoney institution that served as nothing more than a vehicle for extortion used to shake-down legitimate businesses. Given that such a large carter was able to openly defy Adelstein and the WTI’s acceptance of non-union drivers highlights the temporary waning of the local’s power and the racketeer’s ability to use it to influence Long Island’s carting industry.
Whatever “clean” image the Institute attempted to maintain was shattered on December 22nd, 1967 when Nassau District Attorney Cahn began to probe allegations of a link between key Cosa Nostra figures and the county’s carting industry. Specifically, Cahn’s detectives observed some officers of the Institute consort with major underworld figures including Colombo captain Carmine “the Snake” Persico and Gambino soldier Aniello “Wahoo” Mancuso. The investigation was trying to determine whether the Mafia was “taking over” private carting companies and sought to dominate the membership of the Institute. As part of the investigation, John Casagrande (who must have left the mysterious NSTWA by 1967), president of the WTI and Five Counties Carting, and institute vice president Umberto Velocci were summoned to answer questions before Cahn’s Rackets Bureau Chief Norman Levy. Besides some basic answers, the duo refused to cooperate with law enforcement which earned them a grand jury subpoena. It was also revealed that U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office was conducting a simultaneous federal probe into both the WRI and the Suffolk Cartman’s Association by examining their records and attempting to link both groups in an overarching conspiracy that was bonded together with mob figures. A couple weeks later, right before their scheduled appearance before the grand jury, Casagrande and Velocci had a change of heart and decided to “cooperate” with Cahn’s investigation. Of course it was all make belief and they were not really cooperating. By April of 1968, Cahn had interviewed about 500 carters, businessmen, homeowners, and others in his investigation and while nothing was brough forth to a grand jury he did make recommendations to Nassau’s municipalities about making certain regulatory changes. Chief amongst those were to create carting licenses, fingerprint all garbage industry operators serving their areas, and set maximum collection rates to prevent monopolistic price fixing. Later that month, the five leaders of the Waste Removal Institute proposed a five-point model to Nassau’s three towns that in Casagrande’s words would, “keep undesirable elements out of the industry.” The proposals were: full disclosure of corporate structure and financial assets when applying for a license, fingerprinting of applicants, bonding of licenses, establishment of maximum prices, and establishment of a commission in each town to administer the law. Why would crooked carters insist on stricter regulations? Well for one they knew none of these changes would actually be effective in combating garbage racketeering. All these measures were already in place in Brooklyn, and that didn’t stop those businessmen from running a successful and long-lasting cartel under the nose of the government. Second, this helped alleviate some of the public stink created by Cahn’s investigation and cultivated some political and public goodwill by making it seem like they were ready to help. Some of the proposed changes such as licensing requirements were eventually approved in 1970 in the Town of Hempstead. Neither Peter Reuter or I were able to find references in Newsday or elsewhere of indictments resulting from either Cahn’s or Morgenthau’s investigations. What is interesting is that District Attorney William Cahn accepted $1,500 (~$12,000 in today’s money) in campaign contributions from eight carters that he was actively investigating prior to his 1968 election… Two officials of the WTI also personally donated $425 (~$3,500 in today’s money) to his campaign. In his defense, Cahn said, “There were no indictments, no charges, nothing that came out of that investigation which would warrant me not accepting support from people in the industry”. I guess that explains why I couldn’t find any follow-up stories about any tangible results from his investigative efforts.
After Cahn’s public investigation of WTI’s leading officers, the organization decided to shakeup its leadership, and by 1972 its new president was Joseph Petrizzo and Nicholas Ferrante was its vice president. Not to worry though, we will re-visit the subsequent adventures of John Casagrande very soon. Besides brand image troubles, another major issue plaguing the WTI was around price increases and labor disputes. In 1968, 1971, and 1972, the WTI raised prices charged for waste collection in all of Nassau County, Oyster Bay Town, and then all of Nassau County again, respectively. In Babylon, carters got their last hike in April 1970, but demanded more because cost of fuel, equipment and insurance dramatically increased by late 1971. Joseph Petrizzo contended that the last rate hike actually occurred in 1969. As of September 1971, Local 813 negotiated an additional pay increase of $20 a week with the unionized carters of Long Island, another cost increase carters sought to pass down to consumers. Things finally came to ahead in summer of 1972 when carters and the Town of Babylon clashed over their refusal to give the carters more. On August 20th, 1972, the WTI representing 15 carting companies that serviced most of the town, announced that they would halt garbage collection services to more than 25,000 homes. Joseph Petrizzo justified the move by saying, “We have found that the former administration under Supervisor Joseph Stabile had bargained in bad faith because while we were given a 49 cent increase from $3.65 to $4.14 per home, per month the town incinerator fees jumped from 25 cents to 90 cents per yard”. In his words the carting industry of Babylon was facing an existential crises if the town did not give them a $1 hike from $4.14 a month to $5.14 to pay for increased labor costs As such the carting companies began to pick up garbage later in the day and less often per week and Nick Ferrante commented on how 15-20% of the town’s 100+ sanitation workers would be laid off and that the situation could result in a strike. On August 24th, the Town of Babylon rejected the carter’s demand, but it was overshadowed by Bernie Adelstein’s announcement that Local 813, representing 75% of private cartmen in Nassau and Suffolk, would go on strike on September 1st, if his union’s demands were not met. It is likely Adelstein’s tough rhetoric was meant to add weight to the carter’s justification for a rate hike, but relationships between the union and the racketeers was not always collaborative on Long Island as we will soon see and it is possible that this threat against the carters was legitimate. On August 25th, the carters ended the four-day slowdown as negotiations heated up between the garbagemen and the sanitation commission and hopes for an amicable resolution increased. By September 8th, 1972, negotiations broke down again after the town only offered a 30-cent increase which Petrizzo found unacceptable stating that the cartmen would now only pick-up organic waste, leaving residents stranded with an ever-growing pile of rubbish. Unfortunately I was unable to find in either Newsday or the Daily News any follow-up articles describing a resolution of this specific incident and references to the WTI disappeared until March 1974.
(L:R): Aniello “Wahoo” Mancuso, Richard H. Wyssling, and Joseph “Joe Mooney” Petrizzo
On March 17th, 1974, Newsday broke a story tying Joe Mooney, Suffolk County’s personnel commissioner, Richard Wyssling, and Edward Waldman, a powerful GOP politician involved in town affairs, in a series of shady business transactions. Besides being a political figure, Edward Waldman was also the president of Babylon Carting Inc. That corporation acquired a once-acre parcel on Gleam Street across Babylon’s garbage incinerator for $20,000. After Waldman disposed of his garbage interests in 1969, he then “sold” that parcel of land to Wyssling for a “consideration less than $100” on December 11th, 1973. There was clearly something not right about this transaction because the value of the land was appraised at $50,000. The following day Wyssling transferred the property to Bi-County Bale & Trash Corp. in which Petrizzo was a secret owner with a 50% stake that was given to him at no cost! The purported purpose of the company was to operate in the automobile salvage industry, but the town denied a special exception from the zoning code to allow for the salvage operation to commence. While this transaction was technically not illegal, it was highly questionable and Wyssling resigned after the attorney’s office began to investigate this business transaction. It was Edward Waldman who originally recommended Wyssling, then director of labor relations for Babylon Town, for the newly created $24,000-per year personnel director’s job. Curiously on the day after Waldman signed over his Gleam Street lot over to Wyssling, he also signed over his $36,500 water-front house in Amityville to Joseph Petrizzo for a “consideration less than $100”. Two weeks before this scandal broke out, a witness who saw Waldmen described the politician as looking injured saying, “He got out in a hurry. He came into his office, picked up some papers and took off. I think he is hiding out in Florida”. This certainly demonstrates a peculiar relationship between carters and town officials and there is more to come. Yet why was Wyssling’s relationship with Joe Mooney so scandalous?
In 1978, Joseph “Joe Mooney” Petrizzo was described by law enforcement and industry officials as the single most powerful carting executive on Long Island. Salvatore Avellino was quoted saying, “Peterizzo is a big operator, a giant of the industry”. Resembling actor Anthony Quinn (famous in mob circles for playing Gambino Underboss Aniello Dellacroce in HBO’s 1996 film Gotti), Petrizzo’s complex and extensive garbage operations were run from his 311 Winding Rd. headquarters. He owned at least six garbage companies in the 1970s which included: Mooney Riteway Carting, Ace Garbage and Rubbish Removal, Long Island & Paper Stock, P&P Operating, Mets-Rolloff and P&P Recycling. He controlled major garbage routes in both Nassau and Suffolk servicing at least 6,000 residential customers in Islip Town, at least 6,000 in Massapequa Park, and at least 1,000 in East Farmingdale. His companies also held major public contracts including those for Central Islip State Hospital, the Wyandanch Head Start program, Oyster Bay Town’s metal recycling program, the Deer Park and Massapequa Park post offices and public schools in Amityville, Copiague and Massapequa. In the Town of Babylon, he and his associate Sidney Fenster essentially maintained monopoly control over its four municipal garbage districts. Commenting on his well-deserved reputation, Petrizzo had this to say, “[the police] have built me into a god, and I’m not a god… I just want to leave my business to my kids”. Some of Joseph Petrizzo’s power derived from his extensive connections with key local politicians and town officials that helped him get preferential treatment (corruption really) mixed with good old public sector incompetence.
Police reports indicated that Nassau County’s assistant director of labor relations, Salvatore Giordano, frequently met with Joseph Petrizzo. As you will recall Giordano was one of the original founders of the Waste Trade Institute. Their relationship is especially interesting in the face of suspected bid-rigging when it came to the awarding of public contracts for refuse hauling from Nassau’s government buildings. Ever since the county began to award those contracts, starting in early 1972, the same three companies Grand Carting, Westbury Rubbish Removal Co. and East Meadow Sanitation Service kept coming out on top during the bidding process. Grand Carting was owned by Anthony Carione, a Colombo associate, and an executive with the Waste Removal Institute. East Meadow Sanitation Service was owned by John Montesano, the garbage carter who testified before the 1957 McClellan hearings about Squillante’s infiltration of Long Island’s garbage industry. Curiously, despite his testimony he continued to operate at a high level in a Mafia riddled industry, and associates of organized crime freely interacted with him. In fact, he would play an important role in the upcoming mob war. Finally, Westbury Rubbish was an affiliate of one of Long Island’s major carting firms, Jamaica Ash & Rubbish Removal Co. Jamaica Ash was owned by John Casagrande’s brother-in-law, Emedio “Mimi” Fazzini who was identified in hearing held by President Reagan’s Commission on Organized Crime in 1985 as s an associate of the Lucchese Crime Family. Salvatore Giordano owned his own carting firm, the Nassau and Suffolk Rubbish Removal Co., which subcontracted its work out to Jamaica Ash after he got his county post in 1971. A public official directly working with the Mafia… In 1975 the three firms’ contracts expired with the county, and it solicited bids from multiple firms in an attempt to have a competitive and fair bidding process. Nassau’s yellow pages book listed 83 carting companies, and yet not a single competitor submitted a bit. Only those three firms submitted bids, and won a new contract, at higher prices, running into 1980. Grand Carting got $2,257 a month to service the county’s courthouse (the irony) and other buildings in its main complex in Mineola. East Meadow Sanitation Service got $7,290 a month for the East Meadow complex and Westbury Rubbish (Jamaica Ash) got $10,982 a month to service Nassau County Coliseum, the county’s children shelter, and other buildings. In November 1978, the country tried to solicit new bids on the contracts to see if they could get a better deal. The move completely backfired as only the same three companies bid again with Grand Carting seeking a 45% price increase and Westbury bidding for a 19% increase. Thomas F. Darcy, the county’s deputy general service commissioner in charge of buildings had the following to say, “When I saw those bids, I said to myself ‘These guys are off the wall’. I’ve sent them letters saying, in a gentlemanly fashion, ‘This defies understanding – what are you talking about’. We’re very concerned about it.” Unfortunately, the county was at the mercy of bid-rigging orchestrated through Long Island’s industry trade associations which carved up territory and dictated who can bid on what jobs. This is not the only example of shenanigans happening between municipal officials and private carters, and Petrizzo personally had a few “funny” encounters.
(L:R): Joseph Petrizzo, Edward Waldman, and Sidney Fenster
No license? No problem. That was the case for Joseph Petrizzo in the Town of Huntington. Petrizzo took over carting service at the Big H Shopping Center in Huntington from fellow racketeer Salvatore Spatarella, then under indictment for extortion in 1970. Problem was that Metts Roll-Offs didn’t have the required license necessary to operate in the town, something Donald Dilworth, the town’s code compliance officer, noticed. He issues several summonses to Petrizzo’s company both for operating without a license and for dropping garbage on the streets. To remedy the situation, Petrizzo filled out a license application, but lied that he had no criminal convictions (he had one for a gun procession) and that Metts already held a license in Brookhaven. After hearing that the town clerk approved of Petrizzo’s license, he complained to town officials who began an official license revocation proceeding to be discussed on February 23rd, 1971 in a town board meeting. This was becoming a real problem for Joe Mooney first because there was now a chance his license would be revoked and second, the press regularly reported on such meetings which could generate even more unwanted publicity for Long Island’s ‘Godfather’ of garbage. Joseph Petrizzo got the town’s Democratic chairman, Lawrence Delaney to intervene on his behalf with Rep. Jerome Ambro (D-East Northport), Huntington’s supervisor. In an interview Delaney freely admitted that he got involved with town officials to help Petrizzo avoid losing his license saying, “He needed a favor, and he got it… I got it fixed up.” Not only did Ambro respect Petrizzo’s wish to disallow the press’s attendance, but the public meeting was also held behind close doors in Ambro’s office. A stenographic transcript revealed the town meeting was nothing more than a charade as Ambro’s promise to hold a town board vote on the issue of Petrizzo’s license never happened. Instead, an internal town memo showed that Petrizzo got his license without a public vote ever happening and for their help, Joe Mooney gave the Huntington Democratic organization a $1,000 (~$7,000 in today’s money) campaign contribution. In the immortal words of William Rawls from The Wire, “American democracy. Let’s show those Third World fucks how it’s done.”
Whereas Huntington Town had no problem giving out licenses to anyone willing to grease the wheels a little bit, Babylon Town was extremely restrictive to the point of stifling the competitive process of capitalism. Since 1966, Babylon enforced a highly restrictive licensing system preventing new companies from operating in the town. Actually between 1966-1977, the town maintained a moratorium against issuing new licenses and in 1977 changed its policy to allow the granting of a license only if a carter buys a route worth more than $150,000 from an existing licensed Babylon carter. Thus, not only did this policy prohibit small carting companies from ever getting a license, but it enabled racketeers to effectively dictate who could enter the county by allowing friendly companies who would not disrupt the status-quo to buy routes from them. This created situations where Petrizzo’s Ace Garbage held an effective monopoly on Babylon’s East Farmingdale district since 1962. His company got $78,936 a year in public funds to service 871 single-family homes, 51 two-family homes, and ~100 apartment units year after year since instead of awarding contracts through competitive bidding, the Town of Babylon simply kept voting to award him with contract renewals. Since 1962, Ace received bizarre overpayments totaling $14,689 and the company was allowed to bid on contracts without a performance bond (which was against the rules). In 1973, another company, Pan Carting, bid $150,264 to Petrizzo’s $205,200, and yet Ace Garbage won nonetheless because Babylon denied Pan a carting license even though it would have benefited the taxpayer. Raymond Allmendinger, Babylon Town supervisor, and who previously served on the sanitation commission and as town councilmen, defended this policy saying that, “The licenses protect the little guys, one-man truck operations. If we opened it up, the big guys would run the little guys out.”It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Allmendinger has a special relationship with carting executives and Edward Waldman. Waldman, a GOP zone leader and the town’s deputy highway superintendent was then Babylon GOP’s chief fundraiser from carting companies. Remember his real estate dealings with Petrizzo and Wyssling? Well in 1976, both Joe Mooney and Waldman pled guilty to attempted contempt as a result of a grand jury investigation. Bizarrely, Waldman also amended his will to disinherit his 13 children and made Petrizzo and Wyssling the chief beneficiaries of his estate. Waldman’s close relationships with Petrizzo and other carters came in handy when it came to campaign and political finances. For instance, allegedly $20,000 was raised from carters to contribute towards the Republican organization’s Lincoln Day Dinner in February 1977. That same year Raymond Allmendinger was campaigning for election to become town supervisor when a Republican dissident accused him of planning to grant a rate hike for garbage collection in exchange for political contributions. It never became a campaign issue because Allmendinger only received a few meager contributions from the garbagemen. Once supervisor, however, Allmendinger almost immediately co-sponsored a legislation approving higher carting rates that cost town homeowners an extra $435,000 per year alongside a 30% dumping fee reduction to the town’s landfill that was already operating at a $100,000 deficit per year. Eight days after Allmendinger voted to approve the bill, 31 out of the town’s 36 carting firms contributed $16,900 (~$80,000 in today’s money) to the town Republican organization, helping pay back an earlier loan used finance the campaign. They barely tried to hide the obvious corruption. I could go on and on about the town of Babylon and other instances of shadiness such as when Petrizzo’s associate Sidney Fenster, who sat on the town’s sanitation commission, promptly won the contracts for two new municipal garbage districts right after the commission created them. If municipal corruption wasn’t enough, the taxpayers and businessmen of Long Island also had to suffer from their incompetence which enriched the trash haulers even more.
I promised to elaborate on Hickey’s ghost stops and the Town of Islip, Long Island provides a case study of how racketeers turned a $693,000 a year commercial contract business into one that paid ~$1,200,000 per year. Generally, Long Island’s towns were divided into garbage districts and non-garbage districts. Within garbage districts, homes and businesses would receive garbage pick-up services that was negotiated on their behalf by the town through a municipal contract and paid via property taxes. In non-garbage districts, businesses and homeowners would individually set-up garbage pick up services with a carter of their “choosing” and pay them a direct monthly fee. Municipal contracts were considered highly lucrative and more desirable than private routes because a carter’s income was guaranteed, and they would not have to potentially deal with the hassle of delinquent clients. A quarter of Islip’s area and ~45% of its 315,000 population was situated in the town’s garbage districts. Unfortunately for the town’s residents, their officials’ incompetence would make them pay. In District 35, for instance, officials estimated the number of stops to be 1,410 and tendered a contract based on that amount. It took the town over a month to discover its error as the actual number of stops was just 696 which resulted in $16,778 worth of overpayments to Detail Carting. The town did not try to recover that amount, instead it re-negotiated the contract with Detail at a higher rate for each house. Residents were paying more due to the town’s ineptitude. In fact, the town used interns to try and come up with an accurate map of their garbage districts and concluded that, “Analysis indicated that there are residents paying tax in districts in which they do not reside…” In 1977, the town changed its contract design by awarding separate contracts for houses and businesses within a garbage district. The increases in prices witnessed by the town were staggering and in 17 districts costs more than doubled, with some districts experiencing a tripling or even a quadrupling of prices. In Bay Shore, Islip, a major lucrative contract, was won by Justice Carting, a firm with next to no equipment, that bid just $743,040 for four years which came way under the next lowest bid of more than $2 million. As it turned out Justice couldn’t fulfill its contract requirements properly, meaning that shops which were entitled to free pick-ups (paid for by their taxes) had to contract a different carter to remove their garbage and effectively pay twice for the service. Thus cartmen in the area were collecting about $500,000 extra per year from businesses in Islip that shouldn’t have been paying. Thus, Long Islanders either paid for “ghost stops” which did not exist or double-paid for services they should have gotten for free. This was a problem experienced across Long Island as everyone was getting ripped-off by the Mafia.
(L:R): Joseph Pagano, Joseph Petrizzo with his 800lbs pig, and Aniello Mancuso
While connections with politicians certainly helped accentuate Joseph Petrizzo’s reputation, a great deal of his power derived from the people who stood behind him. For instance, one of Petrizzo’s partners was John Pagano, brother of Joseph Pagano, a member of the Genovese Crime Family. While the Genovese were involved in garbage racketeering in Weschester and New Jersey, their influence in Long Island appears to have been limited. As it turned out, the real source of power behind the Waste Removal Institute and Joseph Petrizzo was Aniello “Wahoo” Mancuso. Already in 1969, he was identified as active in garbage rackets, and as a nephew of the deceased Albert Anastasia lieutenant Vincent Squillante, Mancuso was a soldier in the Gambino Crime Family. Joseph Valachi identified Wahoo as one of the members brought into the Family by Gambino underboss Frank Scalice implying that he paid his way into Cosa Nosta. Police surveillance often spotted Mancuso at Petrizzo’s Bethpage complex, meeting with influential carters like Sidney Fenster, and sitting in on policy meetings. On paper, Mancuso was Petrizzo’s employee, working for Mooney Riteway Carting, although by 1967 he had told a grand jury he was fired. However, when he was arrested for drunk driving in March 1973, Wahoo gave Petrizzo’s office address as his own business address. Drunks don’t lie. Petrizzo later described his relationship with Mancuso by saying, “He worked for us for a while as a salesman. The law would bother us because of him, so we let him go. He’s the best hunting partner I ever had. He taught me how to hunt”. He also described Mancuso as a, “friend… he’s a broker, that’s all”. We will revisit Mancuso’s relationship with one other organized crime figure in Long Island shorty.
By 1975, Nicholas Ferrante was bumped up to be the WTI’s president and was in the news again after being subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury investigating a $3,000 secret cash contribution that related to a $6,000,000 bond issuance by Oyster Bay Town authorizing the buying of a 65-acre property to be used as a site for a new dump. Apparently the WTI, among other organizations, was an important source of political contribution funding that helped Republicans in Long Island outspend their Democratic opponents during various local elections and made local Democratic candidates quite bitter. In 1976, the Republicans of Oyster Bay Town appointed Nick Ferrante to the town’s sanitation committee that was in charge of adjudicating on customer complaints. The town’s sanitation department handled trash pick-up from ~67% of the homes, with private carters servicing the remainder. Ferrante’s two companies, Paragon Carting (ironic name) and Unique Sanitation, both serviced the town, and yet a spokesman for supervisor John Burke claimed there was no conflict of interest. Add in another price increase here and there and this bring the timeline for the Waste Removal Institute of Nassau and Suffolk, Joseph Petrizzo, and Aniello Mancuso up to 1977. It is now time we go back in time to discuss the parallel developments of the Suffolk County Cartmen Association and its principal racketeer, Salvatore Spatarella.
(L:R): Edward Waldman, Joseph Petrizzo, and lawyer Kenneth Rohl
As mentioned before, despite the Suffolk County Cartmen Association existing during Vincent Squillante’s time, for our purposes, we will treat Spatarella’s organization as having been started in 1965, as corroborated by The New York Times. The association was formed in 1965, as a response to an unsuccessful effort by the Teamsters Union to organize private carters in Suffolk. In 1965, there was a joint-alliance between William DeKoning Jr., boss of Local 138, International Union of Operating Engineers, and Bernard Adelstein, boss of Teamsters Local 813, to organize workers publicly employed by Nassau and Suffolk’s counties. Unsurprisingly DeKoning and Local 138 was also affiliated with organized crime by being under the yoke of the Lucchese Crime Family. The unionizing drive initially focused at highway department employees of both counties. Starting in the summer of 1965, however, Local 813 pivoted and had the ambition to unionize all of Suffolk’s private sanitation firms and began the process by attempting to organize 11 carting firms in Smithtown and Huntington, which serviced 15,000-20,000 homes between the two towns. Among the firms being targeted was Angelo Ugenti’s North Shore Sanitation, Jerry Kubecka, and ABC Sanitation. This is one of the first indications mob racketeers and the union were not always aligned, as ABC Sanitation was owned by Colombo associate Vincent Garafalo. This would not be the last time, either, that a mob-controlled carting firm was pressured by the Teamsters local. By May 25th, 1965, the local claimed to represent more than half of the ~50 workers employed by the 11 firms but was delayed in calling a strike. Ultimately, the union organization drive faltered, and Suffolk carters formed the Suffolk County Cartmen Association or Suffolk Cartmen Association. Yet the two organizations would soon find themselves working together to punish those who were stepped out of line. Scores of carters were required to pay $25 per truck per month to the Association. In return, the Association promised its members, “good commercial routes without the problem of competition.” The emphasis on commercial stops is relevant because that’s where the carter’s customer allocation agreement was strongest, and most easily enforced. I could not find who the first president of this Association was, but in 1966, Frank Carione was the vice president of the organization and was slated to takeover as the president in January 1967. In the late 60s, fugitive dumping of out of town garbage in Islip was a major concern, but the issue was downplayed by Frank Carione who indicated that his Association would kick out anyone caught in garbage smuggling from his 60-70 members strong organization. Another problem plaguing the sanitation sector and one which was on the mind of both government officials and mob connected cartmen was that of dwindling space. As Suffolk’s population grew, there was less and less land available for garbage dumps and incinerators causing concerns around garbage overflowing the streets. As of 1967, officials said, “Smithtown is going to run out of dumping ground in five years” while Babylon had, “enough land for 10 to 12 years of dumping.” Frank Carione, now the president, was also featured in the newspaper and said, “The garbage is overflowing and there’s no place to put it.” The supply crunch would resurface in an interesting way in the future for garbage racketeers.
(L:R): Robert Kubecka, Jerry Kubecka, and Nicholas Ferrante
Jerry Kubecka, father of Robert Kubecka, got into the garbage industry as an evolution of the milk delivery business he started in the early 1950s. It is significant that in an industry dominated by businessmen of Italian descent, Kubecka’s heritage hailed from Poland and as such other carters frequently commented on his ethnicity and referred to him as the “Polish ham”. In 1967, he personally experienced the extreme lengths racketeers went to protect the customer allocation agreement in a battle against Salvatore Spatarella. The two fought over stops in Huntington and Spatarella threatened the Polish carter’s commercial customers by breaking their windows and warning of union picketing. One of Kubecka’s drivers quit because the mob threatened to break his legs and his other drivers refused to cross picket lines. As further punishment, Kubecka’s supermarket stops in Huntington and Northport were raided by another carter that promised to give the stops back if Kubecka “went union”. It didn’t end there as all of Kubecka’s trucks had their windows broken and some had their gas tanks filled with sugar and honey. Finally, a gas station owner saw Spatarella and an organizer for Local 813 call Robert and say, “Get in line or we’ll rub you out.” Kubecka had no choice but start hiring union members and began attending Association meeting, although he never did get those stops back. This example demonstrated the strength of the customer allocation agreement and that multiple sources of power, the association and the union, were willing and able to enforce it. This also showed that a Colombo associate was able to leverage a Gambino controlled local to maintain mob control over carting stops, but also served as a somewhat contradictory example to the often-complex relationship between the racketeers and the union. We’ve already seen that the union’s motives didn’t always align with racketeer interests, and this relationship will only get more complex from here. If you thought Spatarella had a good relationship with Local 813 in 1967, just give it a decade’s time.
In September of 1967, Suffolk District Attorney Aspland began an investigation into mob influence in the county’s multi-million garbage industry. The investigation was parallel to the federal probe mentioned earlier and was triggered after multiple complaints from private citizens and garbage collectors who alleged assaults on trucks, route take-overs, and coercion by underworld figures. The investigation centered on the western half of the county where town official downplayed any possible mob control, with Smithtown supervisor John Klein saying, “You always have rumors of the mob moving in, but if I had any evidence at all, I would have gone right to the DA.” The county investigation targeted a similar list of individuals as the concurrent federal probe and included Aniello “Wahoo” Mancuso and Angelo “Fat Angelo” Garafalo. Garafalo, introduced before, was described by authorities as an influential figure in the Suffolk Cartmen’s Association, and troublemaker both within and outside the garbage industry, reputed to have been involved in arsons, loansharking, and burglary. He served as a key member of grievance committees and was an organizer for the organization. The Association itself, which boasted 70 members and represented 60% of the garbage collectors in the five West End towns, including 90% in the towns of Brookhaven, Islip, Smithtown, and Huntington, was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury. Frank Carione, when asked about the investigations, commented, “We are a good organization. The public benefits. It isn’t like years ago, like that Nassau racket. We keep getting harassed.” That was not the opinion of disgruntled carters in the region. One operator who had the nerve of infringing upon the territory of a mob-connected carter had his trucks damaged and was told that his wife and children would be “taken care off” if he broke the customer allocation agreement. Another operator said that connected carters were able to illegally dump garbage in town dumps because they “knew the right people”. That operator described a common tactic used by mobsters to pressure legitimate competitors. Company A, a legitimate firm, would be approached by Company B, a mob front, who serviced customers in the same vicinity as A to be bought out at a price of 10-1 ($10 dollars for each dollar collected from a customer per month). Company C, another racketeer run company, would appear and start to undercut collection prices in A’s area, doubling the amount of services at a lower price, and would offer a solution: either sell-out or join the Association to get rid of all your troubles. Apparently, this was quite persuasive, and most joined forces with the mobsters.
The Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association also periodically tangled in protests and disputes with local towns regarding their evolving garbage policies and guidelines. Harry Rosenberg, the lawyer that represented the Waste Removal Institute, was also the attorney for the 71-member (1968) Suffolk Association and publicly complained about Huntington’s new garbage ordinance that required carters to post $1,000 performance bonds, set maximum rates, and allow the town to step in 24 hours after a private cartmen failed to meet their collection schedule, among other things. The law was used for the first time in April, 1968 after Angelo Ugenti, owner of North Shore Sanitation Co., failed to collect. Interestingly Rosenberg said the Association would only intervene if an investigation showed that Ugenti was being wronged by the town, implying he was part of it. The Association had to be careful in situations like these because the customer allocation agreement was weakest in the residential sector precisely because homeowners could complain about price increases (as they couldn’t pass on the extra cost to anyone else) to their elected officials causing issues for the carters. In July 1968, the Town of Islip finally instituted dumping fees in its town landfills which caused cartmen to raise their monthly rates an average of $1.5 per house, with some residences paying $5.1 per month from the previous average of $2-2.5. Residents obviously complained about the hike and town supervisor Harry J. Kangieser said that, “unless they [carters] got reasonable about their fees,” the town would investigate setting up its own municipal garbage collection department. This is partly why racketeers had less influence in the residential collection market as charging an obvious extortionate rate allowed by the set-up of the cartel could draw the ire of residents and municipalities alike and take away their ability to profit of this sector in the first place. Similarly to Brookhaven, Islip in September 1968 was considering implementing maximum rates on collection fees after numerous complaints by residents, which Harry Rosenberg once again publicly opposed.
That same news story about Ugenti also reported that the Town of Brookhaven considered eliminating their dumping fees in favour of increasing residential property taxes after owners complained that private cartmen raised prices by $1-1.5 per month as a response to the town’s own 50 cent dumping fees hike. Frank Carione, who was reported as the president of the Brookhaven Cartmen’s Association representing 70 members, said he’d welcome the town’s new plan. My God, is this another garbage association that we need to start tracking? Thankfully, no since it was only ever mentioned once and considering it had the same number of members (and the same president) as the Suffolk Cartmen’s Association, it was the latter organization it was likely referencing. In May 1968, Brookhaven suspended their dumping fees after carters threated to halt services in some areas. Salvatore Naggio, an official with the Suffolk Cartmen’s Association, commented on this developed by saying, “Although the cartmen are not making much money anyway, we hope that we can work something out as far as fee reduction goes,” and promised to look into cutting private carting fees. The year 1970 would be monumental for the Association, and frankly changed the trajectory of organized crime’s control over Long Island’s waste hauling industry forever.
Salvatore Spatarella was organized crime’s leading figure in Suffolk County during the 1970s. He was also an associate of the Colombo Crime Family. Unlike Aniello Mancuso, who (probably) did not have any direct carting interests, Spatarella owned All-American Refuse Removal Corp. and the Gallagher Sanitation Co. with his business partner James Griffin. This would have an interesting possible implication later on. Sal Spatarella also owned multiple garages in Brooklyn where he stored some trucks for himself and the Lucchese Crime Family. He was described as “an aggressive enterpriser” who wielded a lot of influence in the trash hauling industry. In 1965, he was accused by Riverhead Town officials of trying to muscle in on local cartmen by cutting prices and taking over commercial stops, tactics that caused the town to deny him a permit to operate there. I cannot find what his initial title was with the Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association, but by 1968 he was the vice president of the organization and by 1970, its president.
(L:R): Salvatore Spatarella and James Griffin
Spatarella’s companies serviced private residences in Smithtown and commercial stops in the Town of Huntington including the Walt Whitman, Cold Spring Hills, and Big H centers. All-American Refuse Removal also held marquee municipal contracts, thanks to bid-rigging, with Stoney Brook University. In fact, between 1967-1977, the university carting contract was awarded on the basis of a single bid, alternating between Spatarella and Frank Carione, the two leading figures in the Association. As one carter put it, “Every government bid in both counties results in collusive bidding”. The Suffolk Cartmen’s Association served as the vehicle for this, and rigging of municipal contracts were regularly discussed during meeting. One former associate member said there were two tiers of discussions during gatherings, “At the general meeting only so much comes out. The talk is, you know, ‘What’s the problem, can you get bonds? Which contract can you take?’. They want to make sure that nothing is left on the table – that there aren’t any districts without bids. After that meeting there are other meetings to set things up. I’m not part of the other meetings. They make deals on the big-money jobs.” Who held the ultimate decision-making power on Long Island?
The relationship between Sal Spatarella and Aniello Mancuso was extremely interesting. Mancuso served as a ‘consultant’ to the Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association, receiving regular paychecks for his services. He was also seen either driving a car leased by Sal’s All-American Refuse Removal or a luxury vehicle registered to the Association. Although Alan A. Block described Spatarella as “organized crime’s prime controller” in Suffolk County, I think the evidence points to the fact that he was ultimately the junior partner in their relationship. Such was also the opinion of contemporary carters who dealt with both men. A former member of the Suffolk Cartmen’s Association who was familiar with the Stoney Brook University contract described that Spatarella and Carione always won the bids because, “that’s the way Wahoo [Mancuso] said it was going to be. It was a reward. No one in the association was allowed to bid against them.” Another illuminating example of their distribution of power was highlighted by the recollection of another carter. There was a dispute over a Suffolk North Shore school district and a route comprised of 500 residential stops between Spatarella’s partner and a business associate of Joseph Petrizzo, Wahoo’s loyal associate. As a result, Salvatore Spatarella was summoned to a sit-down (really just a grievance meeting) by Petrizzo to resolve this issue. The two feuding cartmen sat on one side of the table, and Spatarella, Petrizzo and Mancuso sat on the other making the decisions. Despite Spatarella arguing on behalf of his partner’s right to the stops and the school district, Petrizzo shook his head and dictated his own decision, “I’m going to tell you, Sal, how it’s going to be. He [Petrizzo’s associate] gets the school district, and he keeps the 500 stops. Wahoo will agree with me that that’s the way it’s going to be.” Spatarella’s friend tried to argue, but Sal shut him up – the ruling was final. Thus it seems to me that Spatarella was part of a three-men panel dispensing mob rule over Long Island’s carting industry where each man had an equal vote. The problem, for him, was that the Colombo vote was simply outnumbered by the Gambino’s and thus in major disputes Sal was outmatched. It probably didn’t help Sal’s case that despite his power and influence, he was still just an associate while Mancuso was card carrying member of the Mafia, not to mention the Gambino’s sway over the major private sanitation union. I guess in a way Block’s statement can be true if a caveat is added; Spatarella was organized crime’s prime control in Suffolk County, but Mancuso ruled over Long Island.
Unfortunately for Sal, he wouldn’t get to enjoy his position of power for long as the early 1970s brought a whole slew of indictments and he was no Teflon Don. On June 22nd, 1970, a Suffolk grand jury handed down a 16-count indictment charging Salvatore Spatarella and his business partner James Griffin with varying degrees of grand larceny, criminal mischief, coercion, and conspiracy. The heart of the indictment had to do with a business dispute between the racketeer and Angelo Ugenti Jr., a non-Association member. Ugenti Jr. tried to set up a route in Huntington for his firm, Suffolk Community Sanitation, that was infringing on Spatarella’s stops. Among the commercial contracts he won to service were at three shopping centers which included Walt Whitman, Cold Spring Hills, and Big H centers. While the value of the contracts were not disclosed, District Attorney Maurice Nadjari disclosed that just a single bakery paid $3,600 per month to have its trash collected and a restaurant paid $700 to $800 a month in collection fees. That were some profitable stops and you could see why Sal got mad. As a result of Ugenti’s infraction upon the scared customer allocation agreement, Spatarella threatened to put him in the hospital. Sal and Griffin also stole and destroyed one of Ugenti Jr.’s trucks on June 6th and a pick-up truck owned by Ugenti Jr.’s father, Angelo Ugenti Sr. In all, these charges carried a total maximum sentence of 82 years in prison. The funny thing is that apparently Spatarella was already awaiting a separate grand larceny charge and so things were getting serious for him, legally speaking. Initially, bail was set at $150,000 by Judge Gordon M. Lipetz, but after Spatarella’s lawyer, George Rockman, appealed the enormous sum, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Pfingst reduced it to $35,000. Spatarella’s lawyer also asked to a change of venue in Sal’s trial, but was denied. Now before those charges could even be sorted, Sal Spatarella and James Griffin were re-indicted by the Suffolk DA on February 11th, 1971 on new charges concerning their possession of a tractor section of a tractor-trailer owned by Gerocki Trucking Co. of Newark, New Jersey. The partners apparently contracted a body shop to repaint and stretch the tractor’s body so that it could be used for trash hauling. If that wasn’t enough, in March he appealed a six-month jail sentence for driving without a license, an offense Spatarella had three prior convictions for, not to mention seven more traffic charges. Luckily for Sal, he received a fine of $1,660 after pleading guilty to twelve traffic charges which cleared up most of his minor legal troubles.
Salvatore Spatarella and James Griffin’s trial finally began in April 1972 and proved to be a comedic affair with some of the remarks made in court. The prosecutors stated that the duo threatened bodily harm, even death, to Ugenti Jr. unless he stopped soliciting their customers. The threats did actually work as Ugenti stopped servicing one of All-American Refuse Removal’s old customers and also gave up a second customers to Sal and James. Ugenti Jr. then took the stand during the trial and testified that he recovered two big waste containers he said Spatarella stole from him and, as revenge, Sal and James stole and damaged one of his trucks and a pick-up truck belonging to his father. Salvatore took the stand in his own defense and testified that it was Ugenti Jr. who stole the containers that he (Sal) went to repossess them after Ugenti Sr. pleaded with Sal not to complain to the cops and have his son arrested as a thief. Harry Rosenberg, Spatarella’s attorney, summed up their case by saying that Ugenti would have been the defendant, “if Sal didn’t have such a big heart.” The 12-day trial ended with a mixed verdict for the defendants. The jury acquitted Spatarella of nine charges and Griffin of ten, but Sal was still convicted of grand larceny by extortion first degree, criminal mischief second degree, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and petty larceny. They both remained free pending appeal. In late June 1972, Salvatore Spatarella was sentenced to a seven-year prison term and James Griffin to a three-year bid, but both still remained free on a $35,000 bond. During the bail hearings, it came out that Sal offered Ugenti $20,000 to change his testimony and that he was no longer the president of the Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association. Unluckily for Sal, 1973 brought no legal reprieve. On March 27th, 1973, Sal was indicted on charges of failing to file returns for nine quarters, failing to file annual unemployment tax returns for 1968, 1969, and 1970; and with failing to file quarterly annual employer’s federal tax returns for All-American Refuse Removal for the third quarter of 1968, a total of 13 counts. In December 1973 he was sentenced by Judge Jacob Mishler (the very same one who presided over Sonny Franzese’s bank robbery case) to a year in prison and dished out a $90,000 fine. Mishler showed him some mercy and allowed him spend his Christmas at home as Sal was ordered to begin serving his prison term on March 1st, 1974.
Despite his legal troubles, Spatarella continued his work in the trash hauling industry of Suffolk. For instance, during the summer of 1971, the DA investigated the Town of Islip’s garbage bids after existing contracts expired and the community was temporarily left without any carting services. Spatarella blamed town officials saying, “The whole situation would never have arisen had the town acted properly.” The new bids raised the town’s total cost of garbage collections from $1.4 million to $1.8 million, representing a ~29% increase. The fishy situation arose from the fact that 22 of the 36 garbage districts received only one bid. Spatarella, despite his legal troubles, continued to engage in bid-rigging, using the Association as a tool to facilitate the customer allocation agreement. That summer, Spatarella also sent a letter to Smithtown’s board and other western Suffolk towns about issues plaguing the waste hauling industry. As president of the Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association representing 86-members, Sal asked that bond requirements for sanitation licenses were raised to $5,000 from the then-$1,000 and to deputize two cartmen who would issue warning notes to cartmen operating without a license or engaging in illegal dumping. A higher performance bond requirement would further increase barriers to entry, advantageous for a group operating an illicit cartel, and what amounted to self-regulation would only aid in maintaining their property rights system. Huntington’s supervisor wasn’t a particular fan of Spatarella’s suggestions, and it seems these letters didn’t get much traction from municipalities. One of Sal’s companies, A&M Carting Enterprise, got into a dispute with the village of Asharoken when it took over the route in May of 1973, and doubled the collection rates for residents. Villagers got angry at this move and the Mayor began to negotiate with other carters who refused to service the route because they were threatened. Looks like Spatarella’s reputation in 1973 was still strong enough to deter most competitors, although not all. In 1976, Sal was once again indicted, this time for allegedly embezzling $20,000 from his own company, All-American Refuse Removal. The issue arose that after selling some collection stops, that included a supermarket, to another carter in May 1973, Sal didn’t turn over the proceeds to his company and instead used the twenty grand to buy himself some property. That was illegal and was a dumb move that just piled-up (pun intended) his legal woes.
By January 1975, Salvatore Maggio was the new (and most likely final) president of the Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association. A great part of his reign would be defined by his battle with Lake Grove, a village in the Town of Brookhaven that again demonstrated the vulnerability of their garbage cartel in the private residential pick-up subsector. The town was served by 11 carters, each of which served ~3,000 customers, and represented by the Suffolk Cartmen’s Association. The carters wanted to raise monthly pick-up rates by one dollar to $6 per month, but in December of 1974, the town only approved a fifty-cent hike. This resulted in a dispute that forced trash haulers to stop picking up trash on New Year’s Day after the town’s mayor Alex Pisciotta told residents not to pay their carting bills. Pisciotta criticized the carters for their constant demand for more money, poor service, and aggression and according to Salvatore Maggio, the mayor claimed the carters were involved with the Mafia. To counter the carters, the village began collecting its own garbage and planned to covert itself into a municipal garbage district whereby only one contracted cartmen would service the entire community. In February 1975, the private cartmen were dealt a blow when the State Supreme Court ruled against their suit that claimed the village had no power to make garbage collections. Another blow came in March when the court allowed the town to accept bids for municipal garbage service. The mayor claimed that they received seven bids ranging from $3.25 a month to $5.50 a month, figures that were far lower than what the cartmen demanded. The three-year contract was finally awarded in April to CGI Sanitation Inc. of Amityville. Although I could only find two newspaper mentions of this mysterious firm, it does appear in Melvin Cooper’s records as a garbage company Cooper Funding lent too and so was probably connected to the racketeers. I didn’t forget about him, we’ll get back to Cooper eventually. Municipal garbage districts were not a cakewalk either, sometimes, due to excessive charges and obvious collusion. For instance, Brookhaven rejected bids in October 1975 because garbage collection rates would have increased by 350% in some areas. Only two companies submitted bids for the three-year contract, with Tony’s Sanitation Service offering their services for an annual sum of $252,000 and Taurus Waste Disposal bidding $239,000. Tony’s, which was then the current contractor, previously charged $66,000 for the district’s 2,800 homes. It is worth mentioning that both firms were associated with the Colombo’s and Sal Spatarella. Less egregiously, the Suffolk County Cartmen Association merely advocated for a 26% increase in refuse collection rates for Smithtown private residential customers, citing rising in-put costs as their justification. Bud Maggio continued to be the Association’s president into 1977, but it seems like at that point he, and the organization at large, were puppets of Aniello “Wahoo” Mancuso. This brings the timeline of the Suffolk Cartmen’s Association to 1977 and we can finally discuss the conflict that took place, the players and organizations that participated, and how an unlikely garment trucker became Long Island’s new Garbage Don.
(L:R): John Montesano’s firm, Damaged Garofalo trucks, and Local 813 members on strike in 1977
The Long Island garbage war of 1977 was a complex and layered conflict that was fought across several arenas. One of the factors was purely economical; the jockeying for control over valuable garbage routes. Contemporary sources noted that various garbage factions angled for dominance over major new carting routes that would be formed as a result of new waste recycling programs springing up across Suffolk County. One such project was the $75+ million (~$330 million in today’s money!) Tri-Town Waste Disposal Project planned by the towns of Babylon, Huntington, and Islip. The project, which sought to raise $30.5 million in state aid and $45-55 million from revenue bonds, would recycle materials such as aluminum and glass and burn other waste to generate electricity. Smithtown was originally part of this multi-town project, but pulled out in 1971 and built their own $5 million garbage compacting plant that began operating in July of 1977. This was another lucrative operation various crime groups wanted to get their hands on. Besides a feud over new and existing garbage routes, another potential source of the conflict may have derived from the desire of some carters to expand their share of the market by neutralizing the power of the private sanitation union. Contracts between Teamsters Local 813 and private cartmen representing 75% of Long Island’s garbage pick-ups, were set to expire on September 1st, 1977 and that year presented the perfect opportunity to try and make the union weaker. As mentioned previously, the relationship between the union and the carters was not always straight forward and loosening its powers would be advantageous for garbage haulers. There is also reason to believe that the local’s leader, Adelstein, received money independently of the mob racketeers (Mancuso) likely through his own agents from carters. A weaker local meant more favourable terms for employers and less power for mob or union racketeers to extort them. Finally, the conflict was also the reflection of a struggle between three organized crime families for control of Long Island’s garbage industry as the Colombo’s were being pushed out by the Gambino and Lucchese families. What’s interesting about this statement is that it was only realized in hindsight as contemporary accounts of the war painted it as a struggle between factions aligned with either the Colombo’s or the Gambino’s. In the infamous words of Tony Soprano, Sal Avellino was, “a come-from-behind kind of guy”.
To better understand the conflict, it is important to understand the composition of the various factions. Broadly, I categorized participants in three categories: the Colombo/Rebels faction, the Gambino faction, and the Lucchese/Others faction. For the Colombo’s, I noted every single individual/carter/organizer that was explicitly stated to have backed either Sal Spatarella or the rebel union. For the Gambino faction, I noted every single individual/carter/organizer that was said to be an associate of the Family and/or ultimately followed its orders. Finally, while the Lucchese/Others faction was allied with the Gambino’s, I noted it down separately and categorized Lucchese carters into it, as well as victims of arson campaigns, since the media highlighted that they formed a somewhat “independent” group.
The Colombo/Rebels faction was composed of mobsters, union organizers, and businessmen. The initial primary leader of the group was Salvatore Spatarella, the noted associate of the Joseph Colombo Mafia Family. Andrew Russo, by then a captain, also backed this faction in their struggle for control, although his contribution to this conflict is highly questionable and he was partially responsible for the demise of any extensive Colombo influence over Long Island’s carting industry. Next, Daniel Cunningham (initially), Rubin Gonzales, and Raymond Aponte were aligned with the Colombo faction and spearheaded the creation of a new union to counter Local 813 and undercut Gambino power. In terms of businessmen, John Montesano of Taurus Waste Disposal, Joseph Tuozzo (son of Tony Tuozzo) of Tony’s Sanitation, Clyde Thweatt of C&C Refuse Removal and Frank Carione of Riteway Carting formed the core group of rebels that supported Sal Spatarella and the new union.
(L:R): Rubin Gonzales, Raymond Aponte, and Daniel Cunningham
The Gambino faction anchored on soldier Aniello “Wahoo” Mancuso and associate Joseph Petrizzo of Mooney Riteway Carting. Dulio “Danny” Cagnoli of Justice Carting was also described as an associate of Wahoo. In terms of union muscle, Bernard Adelstein the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 813 was also aligned with this faction as he nominally answered to the Gambino’s and wanted to maintain his monopoly as the only union able to represent garbagemen. Daniel Cunningham eventually switched over to the Gambino side at the behest of its leaders. I think it is safe to assume that Petrizzo’s partner Sidney Fenster was also aligned with this faction. There were probably a lot more carters and mobsters (such as James Failla) that aligned with this group, but I have not seen any other names/firms explicitly identified.
Finally, the Lucchese/Others Faction was really just a collection of carters targeted by the Colombo faction and comprised of independent carters that happened to cross Sal Spatarella. One of the early victims happened to be Salvatore Avellino Jr., owner of Salem Sanitary Carting with other targets including Joseph Viccardo of Jolin Refuse Removal, J. Cannistra Carting, J.T. Carting and Vincent and Ralph Garofalo of Royal Sanitation & Rubbish Removal. It is also interesting that there were many other prominent carters that had no reported involved in the conflict. Paul Vario Sr. and Peter Vario of the Lucchese Crime Family were described as prominent men within the carting industry, holding sway over Sun Mar Carting and Crest Sanitation, and yet had no recorded involvement in the conflict.
The conflict, at first, began as a result of a very cliché vendetta carried by an Italian man. Salvatore Spatarella was furious that other carters took advantage of his legal troubles and grabbed numerous routes that previously belonged to him. It was reported that Spatarella had fallen out of favor with the mob combine that dominated the industry and was being pushed out by Mancuso and other carters. This began as early as 1970, when Joseph Petrizzo took over garbage collection at the Big H Shopping Center, the route that led to Spatarella’s initial conviction. Thus, Sal began plotting his revenge with Rubin Gonzales, a violent individual who served time with him, promising to “take care of” those who moved in on routes his company controlled. Gonzales was previously involved in a burglary and safe cracking ring in the New York metropolitan area and was ultimately convicted of a 1975 robbery of a LILCO office in Central Islip. Spatarella was serving time in Fishkill, NY and that was probably where they met. Another visitor to Spatarella’s prison cell was John Montesano, a businessman that helped the toppled garbage czar with his conspiracy to regain power over those who wronged them. These two men were instrumental in enacting Spatarella’s dream of creating a fresh association and a brand new employer-friendly Gambino-free union. However grand Sal’s plans were, however, he would never live to see them executed (or fail) as he died from a heart attack in March 1977, just several weeks after he was released on parole. Spatarella was at the height of his power in the late 1960s when the books were closed and so he never had the opportunity to get straightened out. Would his influence over an important industry be warrant a potential sponsorship into the Colombo Crime Family? What if he just lived for a several more years, would that have changed the outcome of this conflict? Maybe the 1989 civil RICO case would have been directed at another family (although I’m sure the Colombo’s in retrospect were glad to dodge that bullet).
In spite of Sal Spatarella’s premature death, his allies carried on with their vision to reorganize the power dynamics within Long Island’s trash hauling industry. One avenue of attack was through arson campaigns meant to terrorize rival carters. Although they had been used in prior years, their intensity picked-up in 1977. Prior to Spatarella’s death, in 1975 and 1976, J. Cannistra Carting and J.T. Carting, respectively, experienced arsons attacks that targeted their garbage trucks. A Spatarella associate (likely Tony Tuozzo) was behind those arson campaigns. J. Cannistra Carting was associated with Dulio “Danny” Cagnoli who had a business dispute with Spatarella over a loan. Several years prior to 1977, Danny loaned a large sum to Spatarella who promised to give a house in Commack in return. However, due to Sal’s legal troubles and subsequent prison sentence, Cagnoli never got the house and in retaliation took over a large commercial stop belonging to Sal. As a counter retaliation, in November 1975, three trucks belonging to J. Cannistra were burned down as they were parked in a yard belonging to another company Danny ran. Subsequently Cagnoli sold Spatarella’s stop to Jolin Refuse Removal, which soon got a taste of Sal’s flames. Between March 13th to April 4th, 1977, fourteen garbage trucks worth $500,000 ($2.3 million in today’s money) belonging to three carting firms were damaged or destroyed on the orders of the Colombo faction. V. Garofalo Inc. was the first company to be hit on March 13th which resulted in the destruction of one truck and serious damage to five others including one owned by Vincent Garofalo’s nephew Ralph Garofalo of Royal Sanitation & Rubbish Removal. The motivation for this attack stemmed from the fact that he operated garbage routes in some areas of Huntington formerly controlled by Spatarella. This event is interesting given that just a year later police and industry sources identified Vincent as a Colombo associate. Spatarella, it seems, was hitting anyone and everyone that wronged him, irrespective of their affiliation although I’m not sure how he would be able to explain it to the Colombo higher-ups had he lived longer. About a week late on March 21st, six trucks valued at $250,000 were torched at Salem Sanitary Carting’s facilities. Like Garofalo, Salvatore Avellino Jr., owner of Salem, had taken over routes once held by Spatarella and one of his associates (likely Tuozzo of Tony’s Sanitation) in Brookhaven and Islip. By 1977, Salvatore Avellino was already on record as an associate with the Lucchese Crime Family and given he was made that year, it is possible he was already a member when these attacks took place. These were certainly bold choices of attack from Spatarella and the last arson strike he would live to see. On April 4th, after Spatarella died, an arson that damaged two trucks took place at Jolin Refuse Removal, the firm that acquired an old stop Spatarella used to service from Danny Cagnoli. A later newspaper article, however, claimed that four trucks were burned during the arson strike and that it had actually taken place on March 13th. This campaign of arson terror was carried out by Sal’s cellmate, Rubin Gonzales. John Montesano was also suspected by other carters of being behind the “hated” arson campaign, which is slightly hypocritical since it turned out a score of carters contributed $40,000 to Gonzales’s arsons and union organization attempts. A month later, on May 18th at 9:30, Dulio “Danny” Cagnoli was shot three times by two men as he approached a Long Island Railroad overpass. One bullet hit his shoulder, while the rest struck his pick-up truck and he managed to survive the murder attempt. Police suspected that Gonzales was the triggerman. On August 7th, another Garofalo truck was burned with evidence that the perpetrators tried to burn two more. Enemies of the Colombo faction struck back the following day as three trucks parked in a yard belonging to Tony’s Sanitation were burned. Police suspected that Rubin Gonzales was behind the arson on Tony’s trucks. This doesn’t make sense at first since Gonzales was aligned with the Colombo faction, but as it turned out for a period of time he jumped over to the Gambino side and then back to the Colombo side. This duplicity would come back to haunt him. Overall, the arson campaigns of 1977 destroyed 22 trucks and caused over a million dollars worth of damages to Long Island’s carting industry. Besides being a prolific pyromaniac, Rubin Gonzales also aspired to become a union boss and the creation of a new union was another way the Colombo/Rebels carters used to fight Gambino dominance.
(L:R): Emedio Fazzini, Thomas Rogna, and Salvatore Avellino Jr.
The relationship between Local 813, New York garbage racketeers, and Long Island garbage racketeers was a fascinated one. Harold Kaufman, in his testimony, painted the relationship between the Gambino’s, James “Jimmy Brown” Failla and Bernard Adelstein as very close with Bernie at one time reporting directly to Carlo Gambino. The New York racketeers and the union seemed to coordinate quite a bit with each other, especially when it came to conducting strikes. This seems to be in stark contrast to what was happening in Long Island. The union’s reluctance to carry through forcefully on some of Sal Avellino’s requests caused considerable irritation to Avellino and his associates. Whereas strikes in New York were done to the mutual benefit of the union and racketeers, in Long Island it was done almost to their detriment. For instance, when Avellino and his carters prepared to negotiate with Local 813 and Adelstein they appeared very distraught with Avellino caught on tape saying, “He [“Tony Ducks” Corallo] said don’t let [Adelstein] get away with anything. You tell him no, this is it, this is what you want and that’s it. Stick to your guns about it”. In fact here is a lengthy conversation between Avellino and Thomas Rogna (another carter) about the relationship between the union and the racketeers:
Salvatore Avellino: No, we’re, we’re gonna have an understanding now. We, the only thing is we gotta make him under or whatever. We can’t give away the store ’cause there’s no store to give away. Things are very bad. The men are all complaining, bosses are all complaining. We got a few Indians out there robbing all kinds of work, which is not your problem, Bernie. That’s our problem, that’s an association problem, but in the meantime we got Indians, they’re work, losing work. The union is not, can’t do nothing to stop them. The union doesn’t do nothing to help it. We have in Brookhaven, in Islip, in Smithtown, nine out of ten of the, of the garbage men are non-union. So when municipal bids come up, county bids come up, they’re in there bidding away. This, oh, ah, this, ah, prevailing rate don’t mean a fucking thing to them. Nobody abides by it. So when you get a guy that is, uh, uh, that’s a, a union man, and he toes the line, he hasn’t got a chance to win the bid.
Thomas Rogna: Got his hands tied.
Salvatore Avellino: You’re, you’re completely ineffective. You’re completely ineffective. We can work, we can work with a strike. We can work with a strike. Now we don’t wanna do that. We wanna do this thing in a, in a friendly manner. But we can’t give away the store. Now we wanna give the people.
This certainly doesn’t paint the picture that the Long Island racketeers had a great deal of influence over the Teamsters local. In fact, the carters talked about whether it was in their best interests to offer Adelstein a bribe to bargain less aggressively with Avellino saying, “He [Adelstein] wants to talk envelope, we can talk envelope… Instead of you brining us an envelope, I’ll bring you an envelope.” The following conversation between Avellino, Ronga, and Emedio Fazzini (Lucchese associate and prominent carter) further illuminated the strenuous relationship between the carters of Long Island and Bernie Adelstein:
Salvatore Avellino: We’re higher than a, than a, the city.
Thomas Ronga: Sal, what I can’t understand, Sal, all these fuckin’ years how they made him [Adelstein] get away with that.
Salvatore Avellino: I don’t know.
Thomas Ronga: (Inaudible.)
Salvatore Avellino: I know.
Thomas Ronga: He gets very little of that. We get more from the garbage than what he gives up, Sal.
Emedio Fazzini: Why do they sell?
Salvatore Avellino: Why they let him get away with it.
Emedio Fazzini: Yeah.
Salvatore Avellino: Cause they don’t really control. What do ya that a that.
Emedio Fazzini: Who controls?
Salvatore Avellino: Nobody anymore.
Salvatore Avellino: I says, Jimmy, you guys claim him but you don’t control him. In other words, I, I’m a firm believer, you can’t claim anybody unless you control him. If you can’t say to this guy stop, you don’t have him then.
In fact, to outside observers, Adelstein enjoyed a reputation for negotiating excellent contracts from the garbage workers’ point of view. This, of course, didn’t jive with racketeers who suffered worse profits as a result of actions undertaken by a union that went rouge to an extent. So why did carters and racketeers have to put up with Adelstein and why was the creation of a rival union so momentous? Salvatore Avellino, once again, kindly spelled it out:
Thomas Ronga: Different society we live in today, different society, different society.
Salvatore Avellino: See, they made a deal many, many years ago that no other union –
Thomas Ronga: Could take this.
Salvatore Avellino: — would come into the garbage. And they’re honoring the deal.
Thomas Ronga: Yeah.
Salvatore Avellino: Cause we have a Teamster local that could come out here.
Thomas Ronga: 522.
Salvatore Avellino: 522. Break his fuckin’ crawler. You, you know what I’m bring out? And, and take all these house guys, another different contract, and really stick it up his ass. Then he would come to us. That’s what he needs.
Thomas Ronga: (Inaudible)
Salvatore Avellino: But he’s the only game in town.
Thomas Ronga: That’s what he needs.
Teamsters Local 522 represented lumber drivers, warehousemen and handlers in the New Jersey and Greater Metropolitan Area. Anthony Di Lapi, a cousin of Lucchese underboss Salvatore “Tom Mix” Santora, was a business agent for the local and presumably could have been used to come into Long Island to represent garbagemen given the chance. This hard stance against a rival union to Local 813 is somewhat contradicted by the retellings of Daniel Cunningham, the infamous president of the Allied International Union of Security Guards. Rubin Gonzales and Raymond Aponte approached Cunningham to assist them in organizing the carting industry in Long Island. His testimony, however, made it seem like the ‘Mafia Bosses’ didn’t mind their organizing efforts in Nassau and Suffolk, only drawing their ire when they breached ‘the rules’ by attempting to organize carting workers in Brooklyn and Queens, an effort forbidden by the mob. Further backing this notion that the Gambino’s would let a rival union in Long Island slide is the following conversation that Salvatore Avellino had with other carters:
Salvatore Avellino: This is what I’m looking for, see. Ah, let’s designate somebody. I don’t want 813. You notice how I threw in 813A.
Salvatore Avellino: Then it’s our fuckin’ union. Not that it’s Jimmy Brown’s union, not that it’s Paul Castellano’s union. It’s, it’s, it’s, theirs and ours, in other words, you understand?
Salvatore Avellino: Let Bernie have all the five boroughs, Nassau/Suffolk is “A”.
Thomas Ronga: What them two rebels [Gonzales and Aponte] wanted to do.
Salvatore Avellino: Right.
Thomas Ronga: Could do it now.
Salvatore Avellino: Right.
Thomas Ronga: Could put it in the package.
Salvatore Avellino: Right, and I can get, and believe me, I know I didn’t want to say nothing, I can get permission from Joe Tarantolla (phonetic).
Thomas Ronga: I know it, I know it.
Salvatore Avellino: Joe Tarantolla will say don’t worry about it, you know what I mean.
Emedio Fazzini: Start talking, Sal.
Teamsters Local 813 “A” never materialized because they all got hit with indictments, but it seems from this conversation and Cunningham’s testimony that the Gambino leadership were more or less fine with another private sanitation union in Long Island as long as it stayed away from New York City. Thus, with the context of the union out of the way, we can finally discuss the Colombo/Rebels faction’s attempt at forming their own union and garbage association that would try to chip away at Gambino power.
The torching of trucks belonging to rival carters was part of Salvatore Spatarella’s plan to organize a new union to rival Local 813. This was a deliberately employed in an attempt to wrest power away from Adelstein by committing arson against uncooperative companies. Apparently, the rebel carters approached Salvatore Avellino to lobby for his support for the breakaway union, and the torching of his trucks was their way of trying to punish him for his refusal to join them. After Spatarella’s death in March, a number of meetings took place during the months of May and June at the Hostway Inn in Hauppauge between carters and their employees where Rubin Gonzales, Spatarella’s ally and cellmate, was the most vocal proponent for the formation of a new union. Gonzales expressed to multiple persons in the industry about his desire to become a union boss and in August his dreams became a reality when the Brotherhood of Cartmen (Carters) and Haulers of North America union was formed. Rubin Gonzales earned a fearsome and violent reputation within the industry, and alongside his bodyguard Raymond Aponte, went to work in trying to build up the union. On August 17th, 1977, the U.S. Labor Department in Washington was notified that the Brotherhood of Cartmen and Haulers of North America union was formed with Buffalo, NY serving at its headquarters. Officially, Ismael Arce was its secretary-treasurer. In reality though, many carters within the industry suspected that John Montesano, Spatarella’s friend and prison visitor, was the real “behind-the-scenes” boss of the union. A rival union also needed a rival association and John Montesano was also the principal founder of the Suffolk Solid Waste Association, an organization meant to replace the Suffolk Cartmen’s Association dominated by Aniello Mancuso. Montesano said this of Wahoo, “We didn’t want to be associated with him”. As for Adelstein, he was much less kinder saying, “I told them the new union was more advantageous… This Bernie Adelstein had been raping them over the years”. The new Suffolk Solid Waste Association came to existence on August 23rd, 1977, which was registered by Joseph Tuozzo (Tony’s son) of Tony’s Sanitation. The fate of Long Island’s waste industry would be decided in just two short weeks.
Most of the carters on Long Island signed a contract with Teamsters Local 813 that was effective from March 17th, 1975, to August 31st, 1977, via their employer associations. A great deal of animosity existed between the local and carters like John Montesano sought to avoid dealing with it via the formation of this new union. On August 19th, Montesano, the chairman of the Suffolk Solid Waste Association (sometimes called the Suffolk County Solid Waste Institute) invited ~30 Nassau carters to a meeting at the Hostway Motor Inn in Hauppauge to discuss the new union and the advantages it could bring to the employers. On the same day, the rebel union distributed literature and filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for union elections to represent Jolin Refuse’s seven employees, a firm that was non-union at the time. If you recall this was one of the victims of Gonzales’s arson campaign and as such made for an interesting first target. Local 813’s attorney rightfully saw through this effort and said, “We’re convinced it is an employer dominated union”. He was right. Gonzales and Aponte used Montesano’s Taurus Waste Removal office for several months as a base for their unionizing efforts. On August 24th, Local 813 filed charges with the NLRB accusing Taurus and Tony’s Sanitation of unfair labor practices for allegedly backing the new union by arranging organizational meetings for the new union with their employees, and for refusing to bargain with the Teamsters for a new contract. Ismael Arce said these bold words in response to this situation, “This man [Adelstein] can come up with anything he feels like because he lost. The employees don’t want him.”. Of course the charges made by Local 813 were very much real as Montesano was a driving force behind the union and Tony Tuozzo supported the rebel’s efforts as both Gonzales and Aponte were former employees of his firm. On August 30th, the carters and Local 813 were still deadlocked in their negotiations for a new contract. Agusto Rodriques, recording secretary of the Cartmen, claimed that his union organizers had membership pledges from 60% of the 300 member strong Teamsters local as well as an additional 680 pledges from workers in non-union garbage firms. These claims were obviously bogus, but Local 813 and Adelstein were shaken enough that they enlisted the support of Teamsters Joint Council 16 which seldom got involved in strikes. Nicholas Kisburg, a representative for the Joint Council which represented all the Teamsters local in the New York Metropolitan Area, said, “If I recognize fear, these guys are really scared”. On the eve of the strike, the Cartmen union claimed that between 25-30 non-union firms signed on to bargain with it and Ismael Arce commented, “If there is a company on strike, we will supply the workers and pick up their route”. By this point in time, it seems like the Suffolk County Cartmen’s Association ceased to exist or became dormant because only the Nassau Waste Removal Institute (Nassau Solid Waste Disposal Institute) and the Suffolk Solid Waste Association (Suffolk County Solid Waste Institute) were reported to be negotiating with Local 813. One goal of the Colombo/Rebels faction seemed to have at least been achieved, but as it turned out their position was much weaker than they projected.
The strike finally happened on September 1st, and by 6 A.M. picket lines were drawn up at most town dumps and incinerators in both counties. The struck firms collected garbage from 10,000 homes and 75% of businesses in Nassau and western Suffolk, but overall, the strike had little impact on garbage collection across the region. One major player that was expected to make a splash didn’t show up; the Brotherhood of Cartmen and Haulers of North America union was nowhere to be found. Adelstein commented, “We haven’t seen hair or hide of them. Our men haven’t seen them. Their phony statements are as phony as their union.” Although the Brotherhood didn’t show up, violence did. For instance, a watchdog guarding a truck garbage was killed on September 2nd, and a shotgun blast destroyed a door of a garbage truck belonging to a struck firm. The dog belonged to Carl Montesano of Monbro Sanitation. This company was owned by Anthony Montesano, John Montesano’s brother. The police also arrested a group of three men carrying rifles (one of them was stolen) to a Brookhaven landfill site where a large group was picketing. One of the men arrested was Steven Cannistra of J.T. Cannistra and J&S Sanitation Service, the firms targeted by Spatarella and his associates. Naturally, both the union and carters denied inciting violence. There were three primary points of contention between the carters and Local 813 that led to the strike, with the major once centering on weekly pay raises. The union wanted a $65 increase in weekly wages over a three-year period, while the WRI was willing to increase wages by $33 from the $286 average salary at the time. The WRI caved first and on September 2nd, after an all-night bargaining session, Nicholas Ferrante announced that an agreement was reached between Local 813 and the 26-member association he headed. The total agreed upon weekly wage increase was $51, much closer to the union’s demands. By September 8th, the Suffolk group acquiesced and signed a similar agreement. Although carters like Clyde Thweatt companied about the agreement, Teamsters Local 813 and Bernard Adelstein won. The dream of a viable rival union led by the Colombo and rebel carters was dead.
(L:R): Anthony Montesano, John Montesano, and Andrew Russo
So why did the Brotherhood of Cartmen and Haulers of North America fail? To be honest, I have not been able to find an exact concrete and definitive answer, but I can speculate it was due to a combination of several factors. First, I think the Colombo/Rebels group simply underestimated the complexity, resources, and the capabilities it took to create a union that would be able to rival an established incumbent. While the group talked for months about the need for a new union, the Brotherhood was not established until two weeks before the strike. It took another week before the union actually started to distribute literature and attempted to organize carting firms. I honestly think they just didn’t have enough time to set up the proper infrastructure in place to lead the union to success. It also didn’t help that its chief organizers were career criminals with no background or experience in the labor movement. The right people were not in place and that crippled their efforts from the jump. Furthermore, according to contemporary industry sources, many carters hated Gonzales’s arson campaign and his involvement in the union tainted its reputation. This negative stain rubbed off on John Montesano who overestimated the power of his new Association. It is true that the Suffolk Solid Waste Association boasted anywhere between 47 to 60 members, depending on who you asked, but its actual influence was very limited. Martin H. Scher, WRI’s attorney, said that the Suffolk organization held only a handful of representation cards from Suffolk firms, and that other companies would not be bound by an agreement approved by the Suffolk Association. This new organization also lacked sway over Local 813, since their firms only employed about 50 unionized sanitation workers, compared to the WRI’s 250. WRI’s swift negotiations with Local 813 probably had the added effect of knocking a lot of wind out of Montesano and the Brotherhood’s cause. The WRI was obviously a lot more influenced by Mancuso, Local 813, and the Gambino’s since Joseph Petrizzo was part of it. A final nail in the coffin was that Montesano and Tuozzo couldn’t get the ball rolling on the unionization of their own workers by the rebel union as to set an example for other carters. Of course that doesn’t fully explain by the core Colombo/Rebels carters didn’t simply hold out and unionize with the Brotherhood at a later time, but I guess they realized pretty quickly that their gambit failed. The Brotherhood of Cartmen and Haulers of North America was effectively dead, but Rubin Gonzales and Raymond Aponte didn’t give up that easily on their union boss aspirations.
Despite originally being intended to organize garbagemen in Nassau and Suffolk, Gonzales and Aponte had the bright idea of trying to organize sanitation workers in Brooklyn and Queens. When their failure to raid sanitation workers failed, Gonzales and Aponte turned on their ally Daniel Cunningham by attempting to raid his security guard union.As Cunningham could not stop Gonzales and Aponte’s “unauthorized” unionization attempts, he helped lure them into a diner in Queens, where they were grabbed. A different account of the events following the failed union plot somewhat undermines Cunningham’s testimony. Newsday reported that their industry sources claimed that once the Brotherhood’s efforts fizzled out, Gonzales and Aponte ran to mob powers within the industry to make amends. Among the people they sought to placate were Joseph Petrizzo and a “Lucchese family associate” (almost certainly referring to Salvatore Avellino Jr.). The two rebels essentially “ratted out” their former allies and gave Petrizzo and Avellino a complete list of carters who contributed $40,000 to their arson campaign and unionization efforts. A week after seeing Petrizzo, the two rebels were dead and Mancuso, Petrizzo, and Avellino promised retribution against all those who supported the Colombo/Rebels faction. The bodies of Gonzales, 31, and Aponte, 33, were found in an abandoned 1978 Pontiac registered to Aponte’s brother-in-law at a long-term parking lot at Kennedy Airport on December 12th, 1977. They were estimated to have been in that trunk since December 6th. Shortly after their murders, their union was dissolved and the Brotherhood of Cartmen and Haulers of North America was officially dead. Violence, however, still persisted and the Colombo/Rebels ranks thinned out over the next couple of years.
Shortly after the dual murders of Rubin Gonzales and Raymond Aponte, on December 6th, 1978, Nathanial Morgan, a driver for Tony’s Sanitation died after spending 12 days in a hospital following a shooting. Morgan was previously employed by Justice Carting, Danny Cagnoli’s firm, before he jumped over to work for Tony Tuozzo, a leader in the carter rebellion. What complicated the motive for his murder was that Morgan was apparently close to Adelstein’s subordinates and functioned as an unofficial spokesman for Local 813 at Tony’s Sanitation. Regardless, that was a third employee of the company that murdered and troubles for Tony’s Sanitation intensified. On December 1st, 1979, Joseph Tuozzo was arraigned on a 197-count indictment that alleged Tony’s Sanitation falsely billed the Town of Islip $614,780 between January 1977 an August 1978 since he only served half the stops he was actually contracted to service. Shortly after, on May 3rd, 1980, Clyde Thweatt of C&C Carting and C&C Refuse Removal, died of a heart attack. Just a couple of days later, on May 7th, 1980, Joseph Tuozzo died as well after he went to an after lunch nap that he would never wake up from. In February 1981, the Colombo/Rebels faction suffered another blow when Frank Carione suffered a heart attack and was reportedly trying to sell his garbage company. Finally on April 14th, 1981, John Montesano met his end when he was gunned down in front of his home. After the failure to create a rival union, conflicting reports describe Montesano’s position in Long Island’s garbage industry. One newspaper article reported that his organization, the Suffolk Solid Waste Association, folded shortly after the double murder of Gonzales and Aponte. However, a more contemporary piece said that his fledgling organization survived well into 1978, while Mancuso’s Suffolk Cartmen’s Association continued to remain dormant. Montesano had no illusions about where he stood in the carting industry, telling Newsday, “You know there is a contract on me? I heard it from the feds. I heard it from friends… I hear they’re going to whack me out – leave my brains on the street”. Not only did he try to defy Local 813 and (Gambino) mob rule, he also testified against the Mafia before the 1957 Senate Committee. He continued to be cautious, erecting a 7-foot fence topped by barbered wire around his company lot and installed powerful floodlights. He even joined the new industry association, the Private Sanitation Industry Association of Nassau/Suffolk, about six months before his death. He was lulled into a false sense of security and suffered at the hands of the Mafia. With his death, the last vestiges of a Colombo dominated garbage industry died, their role forever relegated to that of a mere background player. This leaves me with just one question. Where the heck were Andrew Russo, Felice “Philly” Vizzari, and others and why did they allow Colombo power to unravel so spectacularly on Long Island under their watch? Now Andrew Russo reportedly backed the rebel carters and “bucked orders” from Gambino family representatives. It’s unclear what he actually did, but by all accounts, I didn’t get the impression that he was that hands on in his involvement with either the rebel carter union or the new Suffolk Association. Russo tried to help garbage owner Steve LoMiangino of Adak Carting with the fixing of a tax case by introducing him to an undercover IRS agent that played the role of a “rouge agent” for hire. Sure I guess he was pre-occupied with trying to get Carmine Persico out of prison and his involvement with the undercover IRS agent came back to haunt him in November 1980, but that doesn’t excuse or explain his inaction in 1977-1978. Felice Vizzari was involving in arbitrating garbage disputes for Standard Commercial Cartage in 1977 and 1978 and was with the company until his death in 1984. He was neither in prison nor under indictment during the garbage war and again begs the questions as to why he was uninvolved in a conflict that directly impacted the Colombo Family’s trash interests in his territory. This almost complete apathy from captains and soldiers within the Colombo Crime Family was just bizarre. The waning of Colombo influence can be seen in reports and indictments that dropped during 1980s. In 1983, the Private Sanitation Industry Association board of directors consisted of Nick Ferrante, Fiore Persichilli, Fenster, John Casagrande, Sal Avellino, Emedio Fazzini, and Frank Carione. I guess in such a capacity Frank served as a bridge between the old regime and the new Lucchese-dominated Association, truly one of the last Colombo Mohicans. Frank Carione and his garbage company would be named in a suit by New York Attorney General Robert Abrams in 1985, alleging he was involved in a conspiracy to control the garbage industry of Long Island through bid-rigging. In 1986, when Dennis Hickey got in trouble for bribing landfill workers, he was identified as a close associate of Andrew Russo who was described as a major figure in the carting industry in the past tense. The real testament to the irrelevance of the Colombo Family in the garbage industry after 1978 came in 1989 when the Eastern District of New filed a massive civil racketeering suit against 112 defendants that sought to eliminate organized crime’s stranglehold over Long Island’s carting industry. First, the suit didn’t bother naming the Colombo Crime Family as a defendant, like it did with the Lucchese’s and the Gambino’s. Second, going through the individuals and corporations listed, only Hickey’s Carting/Dennis Hickey can be definitively identified as a Colombo influenced company. After that, John Haynes of Standard Commercial Cartage could maybe be assumed to have retained some residual Colombo influence since Philly Vizzari only died in 1984, but it’s doubtful. Then you have, Glenn Thweatt of C&C Refuse Carting, the son of Clyde who supported the Colombo/Rebels faction; maybe he retained some sort of Colombo influence? The same logic could be applied to Anthony Montesano of Monbro Sanitation, brother of John Montesano, who was also involved with Hickey in the 1986 case. Thus, at best you have four firms under Colombo influence out of the 44 corporations named in the indictment, representing a measly ~9% of the total. It is still baffling as to why Andrew Russo & Co. dropped the ball so hard.
Now just because the Colombo’s lost, doesn’t mean the Gambino’s won. This begged the question that irked me for a while, how did the Lucchese’s emerge as the victors and new overlords of Long Island when on paper, the Gambino’s and Local 813 prevailed? Once again, I could not find a concrete answer and it seems to be an accumulation of numerous factors and just a good ole’ right place at the right time situation. First, let’s start on the Gambino side by focusing on Aniello Mancuso and Joseph Petrizzo. One fact industry sources kept stressing throughout the conflict was the indecisiveness both individuals displayed by characterizing them as sitting on the sidelines watching the feud unfold. That would not inspire confidence from carters watching their industry leaders do nothing as their sector experienced multiple murders and violence that caused a million dollars worth of equipment to go up in flames. Another aspect it seems was that Wahoo wasn’t really that well liked towards the end and was aggressive in his dealings with (mostly) legitimate businessmen. Now we already read about Montesano and his breakaway group’s opinion on Mancuso, but it’s probable others felt that way too. It was said that one of Avellino’s predecessors (almost certainly a reference to Wahoo since he never directly owned a company) made, “a partner out of everybody that he bumps into”. Since he never owned a company directly, he relied on extortion money for all his income from the carting industry and people generally don’t like being extorted. The fact that he acquired this reputation probably did not help him in his standing among Long Island’s refuse haulers. Finally, Mancuso seemed to have also been stretched thin during the late 1970s as he was reportedly busy spreading Gambino carting influence in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. It is also clear from sit-downs and general industry sentiment that Mancuso relied greatly on Petrizzo, who served as his primary associate/liaison, to maintain Gambino power over other carters. Well, the late 1970s was a bad time for Joe Mooney which probably contributed to the deteriorating position of the Gambino Crime Family in Long Island and its ability to directly influence its carting industry. According to two garbage industry investigators, Petrizzo’s operations diminished after the garbage wars that engulfed the region in the late 1970s to early 1980s. He went from controlling substantial residential and commercial routes across Nassau and Suffolk in the early 1970s to being relegated and geographically confined mostly to the Town of Babylon. Further compromising Petrizzo’s position of authority were legal troubles brought forth from his dealing with Leo Ucchiuto. In June 1979, Joseph Petrizzo was charged with two counts of first-degree usury, one count of first-degree extortion and one count of conspiracy over a $2,100 loan given to Ucchiuto. He was convicted in October of 1980, but won an appeal in March 1982 since the trial judge had erred by allowing jurors to take notes without instructions on how to use the notes. As with Spatarella a decade earlier, the time and energy spent by Petrizzo to keep his freedom must have sapped away at his position within the carting industry. Therefore, the opening left by Aniello Mancuso and Joseph Petrizzo created a gap of opportunity that Salvatore Avellino Jr. was in a prime position to exploit.
Salvatore Avellino Jr. entered the garbage industry in 1974, having bought a small residential carting firm from a Colombo associate. The company was called Star Refuse, and he purchased it for $400,000 using money loaned from a Philadelphia firm that listed him as an employee. He was previously an owner of a garment manufacturing firm, a Lucchese staple. Avellino’s family was well-connected with organized crime, as it is likely his father was a made member of the Lucchese Crime Family, and his uncle was a captain in the family. Yet despite this prestigious pedigree, he had no connection with Local 813 or other carters and seemingly did not enjoy any advantages over otherwise legitimate operators. Indeed, during the mid-1970s, he was subjected to intense pressure from Local 813 to unionize his workers. One of the curious aspects about Avellino was the route in which he built up his business. In the 10 years since he transformed Star Refuse into Salem Sanitary Carting, Avellino purchased at least twelve routes from other carters paying market prices. It is curious his carting business specialized in servicing private residential customers, a segment were the racketeers’ customer allocation agreement and the union were least powerful. Likewise his connections to organized crime did not prevent him from being a target of Salvatore Spatarella nor preclude him from being able to buy routes at a discount to market valuations. By 1978, he was already recognized by peers as a prominent carter, showing that the arson campaign did not slow down his meteoric rise within the industry. As mentioned previously he was made sometime in 1977, and that undoubtedly boosted his ability to become the industry’s next Mafia overlord. He became Anthony Corallo’s chauffer and grew close with Salvatore Santoro, the Boss and underboss of the Lucchese Crime Family, respectively, putting two powerful individuals in his corner. He also networked extensively with other, more experienced, and more prominent garbage executives, further increasing his connections within the industry. Furthermore, Avellino was also a very charismatic and dynamic individual who stood out amongst his peers and this helped grow his prestige with the other garbage businessmen. Part of the growing respect for him came from the way he carried and conducted himself with other carters. As stated before, Mancuso was seen as more aggressive and extortive whereas Avellino was able to persuade others that he sought an almost altruistic arrangement that benefitted them all. Multiple carters made repeated references as to how everyone’s lives improved after Avellino entered the industry. On one of the tapes Avellino mentioned how a carter by the name of Freddy came one day to talk with him about his newfound prosperity:
Salvatore Avellino: [Freddy] Came to my house one Sunday with a brand new Mercedes, the small one, the fifty thousand dollar one, so I walked out, it was a Sunday morning and I said, “Congratulations, beautiful, beautiful.” He says, “I just wanted you to see it, cause this is thanks to you and to PSI that I bought this car”.
In another conversation, again Avellino portrayed his fair character in what must have felt like a breath of fresh air for carters who had been dealing with the likes of Sal Spatarella and Aniello Mancuso for over a decade:
Salvatore Avellino: Ya see, out here, Frank, in Nassau, Suffolk County . . . we don’t shake anybody down, we don’t steal anybody’s work, we don’t steal it to sell it back to them like they do every place else, in five or six years… whenever I got a stop back for a guy because somebody took it, never was a price put on it, because if it was his begin with and he was part of the club and he was payin’ every three months, then he got it back for nothin’ because that was supposed to be the idea… So I never let them think that we were interested or that I was interested in just taking money from them.
Thus, by the end of the decade, Salvatore Avellino had strong connections within the Mafia through his membership in the Lucchese Crime Family and an extensive network with incumbent garagemen who viewed him in a more favourable light compared to his Long Island predecessors. This coupled with the weaking of the Gambino’s, who sole strength now derived from its influence over Local 813, and the decimation of Colombo-affiliated carters meant that the Lucchese were in a prime position to takeover via the formation of a new garbage association. On March 7th, 1979, the Private Sanitation Industry Association of Nassau/Suffolk, was born under the nominal direction of James Corrigan. Avellino helped organize this new Association that also served as a symbolic transition with the Lucchese’s succeeding the Colombo’s as the principal controllers. Initially the Association consisted of about 40 members, but by 1983 it had 142 members which represented at a minimum ~71% of all carters on Long Island. With Avellino’s rise as the new garbage czar, Aniello Mancuso really dropped off the radar. By 1986, he was described as a major figure in the carting industry in the past tense, highlighting his lessened or non-existent status. The story of the Mafia’s control over the garbage industry of Suffolk and Nassau is well-known after Avellino’s takeover and it is not worth repeating. The final piece of this transition that is interesting to me is the nature of extortion after Avellino’s takeover. With the creation and growth of the PSI, police and carters said that the hierarchy of the Lucchese and Gambino crime families tightened their grip on the Long Island carting industry. The following conversation between Sal Avellino and Thomas Ronga showcased Avellino’s bitterness for not getting the recognition he thought he deserved from the Bosses for his stellar performance:
Salvatore Avellino: Yeah, well, you know, he and I told him that. Now the other guy, he bet it’s double already and he more than double, he more than double, more than double from the beginning, more than double. He, now, ah, you want to know the fuckin’ thing, Tom. Never says a word like doesn’t even say.
Thomas Ronga: Thank you.
Salvatore Avellino: Yeah, forget thank you, thank you. I don’t expect, I’m not expecting, but he doesn’t even say Jesus, you know, this is really getting then, you know, like I mean it went from —
Thomas Ronga: Thank you.
Salvatore Avellino: — two thousand, five thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand, fifty thousand. Now when you give him these (inaudible) I can’t even fuckin’ carry them, they, they, they (inaudible), hey, you know, cause you gotta most of the time, it’s in a restaurant when you gotta (inaudibleJ like, you know, it doesn’t say how much. It’s all sealed up, and the accounting is inside, all the notes are inside, you know. But you would like, say Jesus, is there a mistake, like the next time.
Thomas Ronga: Yeah.
Salvatore Avellino: Like would they say is there a mistake over here?
Thomas Ronga: Take five dollars out and see if they find it, Sal.
Salvatore Avellino: But, ah, so they all, everybody’s doing good, knock on wood, everybody doing good.
Thomas Ronga: Can’t complain … yeah.
Salvatore Avellino: Let’s hope that we can keep it going for the next fifteen to twenty years.
(L:R): James J. Corrigan, Salvatore Avellino Jr., and Bernard Adelstein
Paul Castellano, chief of the Gambino Family, was extremely pleased with the way Avellino handled the garbage industry since he took over, and the continued flow of ever more money probably eased any potential hard feelings over the Gambino’s effectively losing direct control over the industry. As long as the money kept rolling and the Lucchese’s honored the deal the Gambino’s made with Adelstein and Local 813, I guess Paul didn’t mind the new arrangement or Mancuso’s absence from the dealings on Long Island. By 1984, Avellino was giving each family $200,000 annually. What’s interesting is that Avellino claimed he more than doubled the extortion money that was being funnelled to the respective administrations, meaning that prior to his involvement less than $200,000 total was given to the Bosses. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that the total amount extorted from the industry increased, it could have just meant that more of it found its way to the top. Previous racketeering representatives (mainly Aniello Mancuso) who were less directly involved in the industry may have taken more extortion money for themselves since they received no income from operating a carting business like Avellino. Thus, it could have simply been the case that more was being delivered to the senior members of the families under Avellino, while the total extortion amount stayed the same. While it is clear that both the Gambino’s and Lucchese’s received direct extortion money from the garbage industry, with the Colombo’s it is more ambiguous. If you recall, the old Suffolk County Cartmen Association charged $25 per month per truck. In the late 1960s, it had between 60-70 members, so we will take the lesser number to be conservative. In 1983, there were ~200 firms carting firms with ~500 garbage trucks, yielding a ratio ~2.5 trucks per firm. Thus, assuming that truck ratio was similar to the old Suffolk Association, the organization pulled in ~$45,000 per year from its members in 1969 dollars which would be worth ~$127,000 dollars in 1984. This organization was jointly controlled by the Colombo’s/Gambino’s and so theoretically profits would be split evenly, meaning that the Colombo’s could have conceivably received direct extortion money from the industry in addition to the firms that members/associates owned. Just for fun, the Waste Removal Institute, which was almost certainly fully controlled by the Gambino’s, represented 26 members and assuming identical assumptions used in the Suffolk Association case, yielded about ~$19,500 in 1969 or ~$55,000 in 1984 dollars. That means from the two organizations the Gambino’s could have been pulling ~$118,500 in 1984 dollars, meaning that Avellino did indeed just about double the amount of money that the Gambino Family received from its Long Island garbage rackets. Finally, it is also curious to see who benefited the most from the customer allocation agreement enforced by the Mafia: the racketeers or the cartmen? According to Peter Reuter’s brilliant study, he estimated that the customer allocation agreement conspiracy yielded a return of $13.6 million in 1984. Therefore, the Mafia Families extracted only ~3% of the money that their conspiracy generated, meaning that carters were overwhelmingly the benefactors of this arrangement. The relative passiveness of organized crime’s involvement in Long Island’s carting industry coupled with the extraction of a relatively low share of the excess profits generated by the customer allocation agreement were some of the factors that contributed to the stability of the cartel, enduring for decades even as occasional conflicts and disputes flared up within the industry. While Mancuso and Petrizzo were mad that Cooper lent money to Sal Spatarella, ultimately their opinions didn’t matter and Melvin went on to work with the ultimate winners of the conflict, the Lucchese’s and their many carting associates.
Casagrande/Velocci Garbage Clans and the Pursuit of Warmer Weather
One unique aspect of the Mafia’s involvement in the garbage industry was the sheer scale of it. While La Cosa Nostra exercised dominance over numerous industries, its influence was usually contained to the Northeast region of the U.S. The garbage rackets, however, were truly operated on a national scale as mobsters began to spread their influence south. This section will deal with the migration of garbage racketeering activities to the sunbelt states, Florida, and Melvin Cooper’s dealings with members of the Casagrande and Velocci garbage clans.
Harold Kaufman remarked, “New York is pouring out into the southwest sunbelt because of the influx of industry and they are worried sick in New Mexico and Arizona and New York garbage companies are buying in there like it’s going out of style”. Yet New York mobsters were not the only ones that were interested in Arizona’s waste management industry. Louis M. Sarko was the owner of Sarko Demolition. Co and chairman of the executive board of the National Demolition Contractors Association. While he mostly specialized in wrecking homes, he handled some marquee contracts such as demolishing the Majestic building in Detroit and the Indianapolis courthouse (must have been a cathartic experience). He was also a high-roller patron of Caesar’s and travelled to Las Vegas about three times per year. In the late 1960s, Sarko decided to diversify and tried to enter into the incinerator business. Incineration, Inc. which was owned by William Dee and Louis and Harold Sarko, sought to build an $18 million (~$148 million in today’s money) private incinerator in Detroit. They wanted a minimum 10-year contract with the city to burn 2,000 tons of refuse daily for $5 a ton. The hitch to the project, however, stemmed from its possible connections to organized crime. Allegedly, on July 5th, 1967, William Dee, Louis Sarko, and an unnamed public official sat down with Anthony Giacalone to discuss the construction of the incinerator at the foot of Lycaste in Detroit. Anthony and his brother Vito Giacalone were repeatedly referred to as two-high ranking leaders within the Detroit Partnership and Anthony’s associations with this project were curious. As the plans were examined by public officials, the city asked the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Division to probe any potential links between the underworld and the firm due to their suspicion that Anthony Giacalone held an interest in Incineration, Inc. In an effort to spruce up their reputation and shake off any organized crime connections, the company reorganized itself to Thermal Conversion Co. removing William Dee and Harold Sarko and brining Richard Ankerson in as an officer. The company even had several wins in the approval process after an engineering consultant expressed Detroit’s need for such a facility. Any positive progress, however, were negated after Louis Sarko and Giacalone’s attorney were indicted on tax evasion charges in December of 1969. That certainly didn’t go as planned, but Sarko would try again, this time in Arizona.
(L:R): Louis M. Sarko, Anthony Giacalone, Vito Giacalone
Louis Sarko moved to Arizona with his two sons and stepbrother to buy a 23-acre property for a million dollars. Chemcon Inc. was founded by the family in 1981 and proposed to use this property to recycle electroplating-waste solutions to recover reusable metals. Remarkably on September 23rd, 1983 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the plant a license to built the facility because according to their policies mob involvement did not constitute grounds for denying or revoking a hazardous-waste-disposal permit. Equally troubling was that the permit was issued after a federal-state public hearing that no one attended because an EPA employee advertised the meeting in the wrong newspaper. A second properly advertised meeting attracted 200 concerned citizens that voiced their opposition to the project. Not only was Louis M. Sarko involved with the company, Allen Sarko (his son) was also a vice president at Chemcon Inc. which was worrying since he was charged with giving $20,000 worth of bribes to a Laborers’ Union official to exempt Sarko’s firm from contributing to the union’s health and welfare fund. Leonard Sarko (Louis’s other son), the president of Chemcon, eventually dropped the bid to build the toxic-waste treatment facility in South Phoenix after realizing the insurmountable opposition from residents and the bad publicity generated by alleged connections to organized crime. Leonard tried again in February 1984, this time trying to correct for previous mistakes by using a new company I.R. Industries that did not have Louis or Allen listed as corporate officers. It was too little too late and regardless of the name of the company, the location, and potential benefits (or drawbacks) the Sarkos had too much baggage with them to proceed with this project anywhere in Arizona. Detroit organized crime ultimately was unable to gain a foothold in Arizona’s waste management industry through this project. And yet where some fail, others succeed, and New York mobsters pursued a more conventional route; set-up carting companies and bully the competition.
It was 1974 and in neighbouring New Mexico, Peter Marcello arrived with $200,000 to fulfill the American Dream by becoming a refuse entrepreneur. Marcello was no rookie in the garbage business as he was a relative and former partner of Joseph Petrizzo. His uncle Ralph Mondrone owned a carting firm called Atomic Carting in West Babylon and as such Marcello was well versed in New York’s way of doing business. Marcello’s firm, A-1 Disposal Service, got to work by taking over garbage routes in the Rio Rancho development (just north of Albuquerque proper) and a nearby landfill. Rio Rancho was a rapidly growing suburb and New Mexico authorities began to notice Marcello putting pressure on local carting firms to either sell their business to him or get out of his way. Uncooperative competitors began to receive threats, had their equipment stolen, or sugar put into gas tanks. Through aggressive expansion, A-1 Disposal, became the state’s most lucrative carting company and Petrizzo came down to visit Marcello in New Mexico. In March of 1977, Marcello began to move into Santa Fe through a company jointly owned by him and Joseph Jarvies creatively called Waste Disposal Inc. The company got 34 customers in just a couple of months, but had its license revoked for breaching the city’s ordinance by hauling food wastes. Only the city was allowed to collect rubbish considered “wet garbage” like food waste, and Waste Disposal was barred from doing business in the city. The city and the firm battled it out for a bit and the company even obtained a district court restraining order that allowed them to continue their operations until a final resolution was concluded regarding the license, but the firm gave up on September 8th, 1977 and existed Santa Fe. Peter Marcello didn’t just limit himself to New Mexico and the mob began to move into Colorado.“We know the mob is moving in”, said an investigator as three carting firms became victims of sabotage. The violence first began in Denver and then started spreading out to the western part of the state as the racketeers did their thing. One paper recycling plant, Friedman & Sons Inc, in Denver suffered an arson caused by an explosion that killed one person and injured eleven others on September 10th, 1974. Marshal Friedman, the owner, received a call from Peter Marcello after the violence began demanding more money from the deals he was involved in with the company. If he didn’t get what he wanted, Peter threated to have “friends” from back East including P&P Recycling take care of the situation. P&P, of course, was a Joseph Petrizzo company. The tentacles of the mob were spreading.
(L:R): Peter Marcello and Joseph Jarvies
Peter’s hopes and dreams in Albuquerque collapsed over a petty scheme. On October 23rd, 1976, a Crane Carrier truck was stolen from South Bay Sanitation Co. in Lindenhurst, NY. The company’s owner, Michael Antonacci, purchased the truck for $66,000 in August of 1976. Peter Marcello, flew out to New York the next day and on October 27th entered New Mexico driving that stolen truck. To disguise the fact that it was stolen, the truck carried a 1973 Peterbilt truck serial numbers that came from a burned salvage truck Marcello purchased from the city of Albuquerque. When caught, Marcello played dumb and claimed he didn’t know that the truck was stolen and invented a story involving “gypsy” drivers and such as his defense. The first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury became hopelessly deadlocked. The case was tried again and on May 10th, 1978 and Peter Marcello was found guilty of interstate transportation of a stolen garbage truck. Marcello asked the judge for leniency promising to return to New York after which he was sentenced to a maximum term of five years in federal prison. Back in New York, Peter went to work as a general manager for uncle’s firm, Atomic Carting, for several years before a “family feud” turned in a state indictment. Marcello demand “half of the business” from Mandrone who refused and this led to a pattern of thefts involving forged checks that helped Peter siphon $50,000 from the firm. The money was used to pay Peter’s mortgage, taxes and contractors that were doing work at his home. Eventually the two split and Peter founded a new carting company called Metro Waste with his son Peter Marcello Jr. that began to aggressively compete with Atomic Carting and landed sizable accounts such as the Bethpage School District. Peter Jr. allegedly even tried to run over Mandrone with a truck. A 1987 audit of Atomic turned up all of Peter’s financial discrepancies and he was indicted in February 1988 on a 33-count indictment that included forgery, grand larceny, and criminal possession of a forged instrument. In February 1989, however, Peter was acquitted of all charges by a jury. Later that year Peter Marcello and his firm were indicted as part of the massive civil RICO suit against Long Island’s garbage industry. What is really interesting is the choice of target by Peter Marcello, South Bay Sanitation. It’s owner, Michael Antonacci, was the brother of Frank and Thomas Antonacci, who were officers in John Casagrande’s Five Counties Corp. In a Suffolk police memo dated November 17th, 1976, that concerned itself with the movement of Long Island carters to the Albuquerque, NM area, an informant described Frank Antonacci as the “mob’s contact man to get loans” from the Chemical Bank. Chemical Bank was frequently used by Mel Cooper for many of his phoney leases and as such Antonacci was either working with Cooper or ran a Cooper-like operation. They both worked directly with Casagrande and used the same bank so it is likely they at least knew of each other. What is weird is that Peter Marcello was a potential beneficiary of Antonacci’s services and so it’s puzzling as to why he was involved in stealing his brother’s truck. Joseph Petrizzo and the Casagrandes both worked together for decades and so the friction between their respective associates is puzzling.
Just because Peter Marcello was now out of the game didn’t mean that the Mafia gave up on its carting interests in New Mexico. Gary Curreri and Joseph Capone Jr. became interested in Marcello’s A-1 Disposal Service after discovering that it was for sale in a tradeshow magazine. Travelling form New York to New Mexico, they purchased the business on October 1st, 1978, for $317,500. At least that’s the story they gave to a commission investigating organized crime in the garbage-hauling business in New Mexico. A New York police intelligence report painted a different story however, claiming that the duo was sent to the ‘Land of Enchantment’ by Nicholas Stilo, an associate of Joseph Pagano, the Genovese carting executive in Westchester County. Further intelligence reports said, “Stilo… told associates in New York that he had gone to New Mexico to arrange for the take over of carting firms… and to control carting operations.”This transition could have also represented a transition from Gambino influence in New Mexico in favor of the Genovese Crime Family. Curiously after the duo purchased the company, they renamed it to A-1 Carting Services, the same name used by one of Nick Ratteni’s firms who also happened to be Joseph Pagano’s superior. Capone Jr.’s father was an active carter in Brooklyn and at one time an active member of the Brooklyn Trade Waste Association. The firm continued to expand under new management and even secured a $500,000 contract for Kirtland Air Force base, the state’s biggest missile testing site. In the summer of 1980, a commission was set-up to investigate organized crime in the state and among the areas being looked at was the private hauling business. Joseph Capone Jr. responded to this “harassment” by saying, “It’s our last name. Because we come from the East Coast and have Italian names they think Mafia.” Silvio Dante would be proud. The hearings outlined close relationships and numerous transactions between the major carters operating in the area. Two interesting facts came from the hearings. One, the New York carters brought with them at the very least a proto-customer allocation agreement to New Mexico that while had no formal agreement between companies concerning territories and services, did have a general understanding on which companies would focus on commercial or residential clients. A-1, for instance, specialized in picking up commercial waste while Action Disposal Service concentrated on servicing residential pick-ups. Now they probably downplayed the extent of the “general understanding” between carters since they wouldn’t want to incriminate themselves by admitting to promoting restraint of trade and so the customer allocation agreement was probably stronger than what they alluded to in their testimonies. It is also made clear from the testimony that the agreement predated the arrival of Gary Curreri and Joseph Capone Jr. and as such it was very likely originally introduced to the region by Peter Marcello in 1974. Speaking of Marcello, his former partner Benjamin Lee Dante made it clear that prior to the sale of A-1 to Curreri and Capone Jr., the firm experienced several instances of vandalism. Perhaps this was retribution for its role in the theft of a truck from South Bay Sanitation and their connected owners or punishment from his own people for brining in a lot of heat or simply a conflict between local New Mexico carting firms jockeying for lucrative routes. Whatever minor inconvenience the crime commission presented, the firm continued to expand and landed other marquee contracts such as the State Fair in 1983. They also had disputes with another local refuse hauler Mark IV (owned by Joseph Jarvies) and national waste giant Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. 1985 marked a change in the carting landscape of New Mexico as intense consolidation was experienced. Consolidated Environmental Services, Inc. (CSI) was incorporated on February 28th, 1985, by Benjamin Lee Dante, Joseph Capone Jr., Reginald Woodward, and Matthew D’Aveiro. CSI was established to merge A-1 Carting, Action Disposal, and American Waste Disposal which resulted in Gary Curreri getting bought out while Capone Jr. alongside D’Aveiro and Dante stayed on as principals in the new parent corporation. In January of 1988, CSI was purchased by the nation’s largest carting company, Waste Management Inc., right after Rio Rancho allowed for an 11% increase in residential garbage collection rates. Thus, it seems mob influence in the garbage industry ceased to exist in New Mexico after 1988. Afterall Waste Management wouldn’t sully its corporate reputation by working with mobsters, right? Well maybe not in New Mexico, but they sure did in Florida.
New Mexico wasn’t Joseph Petrizzo first out-of-state foray, as in 1972 he helped Joseph Messina and a group of associates takeover three carting captains (and open a restaurant) in New Port Richey on Florida’s west coast. The Messina brothers were experienced garbage entrepreneurs having owned interests in carting firms in New York and Ohio. Two of those carting companies were called West Pasco Disposal Company and Community Disposal Services. Messina leased land for this carting operation and restaurant from corporations owned by Petrizzo.Newsday reported that Gambino “soldier” Peter Modica became involved in the operation, further solidifying Gambino influence over those companies and the carting industry in Florida. Newspapers sometimes got overzealous with who they identified as a made member of the Mafia, and so I assumed he was just an associate/enforcer that looked out for Petrizzo’s /Gambino interests in Florida. However, Bill Feather’s site Mafia Membership Charts does indeed list Peter Modica as a soldier in the Gambino Organized Crime Family, active during the 1950s-1970s. Peter Modica was unable to supervise the operations for long because Bill Feather states he died in 1972 and so couldn’t have been in Florida for more than a couple months to look over Joseph Messina. Another connection node between organized crime and the Messina brothers flowed through James Failla, the Gambino captain/garbage czar of New York. In fact, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement noted that Jimmy Brown and Phillip Modica (Peter’s brother) visited the Messina’s in New Port Richey and as such probably did exercise some influence over their garage operations. By 1974, Messina served about 7,000 people and charged customers $3 per month, a sizable operation. Unfortunately for Petrizzo, his associates seemed to have a knack for getting into trouble. First, one of their businesses, Disposal Service Garbage Co., had a third partner named Joseph Campanelli. Campanelli claimed he put $90,000 into the business and was entitled to shares in the corporation, but alleged that Joseph and Salvatore kept him in the dark about how the money was spent and the general accounting of the firm’s finances. Joseph alongside his brother Salvatore also owned a landfill on Orchid Lake Road that would cause them much trouble. Community Disposal Service operated the dump and was fined $5,000 for violating a December 18th, 1973 court order that forbade future pollution violations. However, fires kept persisting on the property and the landfill was plagued with controversy. As part of his defense Joseph Messina claimed that someone deliberately started another fire on April 24th, 1974 and that his landfill was unfairly targeted by the government because he undercut the county-owned landfill. He charged 35 cents per yard for dumping compared to the county’s $1 and argued that the municipal government concocted a plot aimed at forcing all county garbage service to pay the high-cost dumping at their landfill. This would not be the last time private businessmen alleged such accusations against officials in Florida. The brothers also defaulted on a $35,947.25 promissory note issued by Holiday Sanitary Services Inc. Finally, the brothers were also at the center of reported violence and equipment sabotage. Creating a real headache for everyone involved, James “Jimmy” Acquafredda, another associate of Joseph Petrizzo, was sent to takeover their garbage operation in 1977 and he bought Joseph Messina’s Gulf Coast Disposal Service. The New York “way of doing things” was finally introduced to Tampa, Florida.
(L:R): James “Jimmy” Acquafredda, Joseph “Jo Jo” Fitapelli, and Joseph Messina
It is interesting to speculate why certain geographies developed garbage cartels in the form of customer allocation agreements and others didn’t. Racketeers were not a perquisite condition for its creation, as Los Angeles developed an analogous system without the outside influence of organized crime. While relevant unions may have been helpful or even necessary to establish a customer allocation agreement, it was certainly not needed to perpetuate the conspiracy in New Jersey according to Peter Reuter. Thus, it seems that there had to have been other factors involved as to why the garbage industry in every locale didn’t develop a property rights system. Mexico didn’t seem to have any agreements before Marcello’s arrival and neither did Tampa before Acquafredda. It’s not like regional carters had not heard of such a system either since the 1957 McClellan commission was extremely well publicized and exposed that such a cartel was possible. And as we have seen from Long Island, it was the carters themselves who reaped most of the reward, not the gangsters enforcing it. Thus, why didn’t all major cities develop a customer allocation agreement organically? Who knows? I sure don’t.
Jimmy Acquafredda, alongside his wife, operated Gulf Coast Carting during the mid-and-late 1970s, at one point serving 300 homes and 200 businesses in the Port Richey area. Acquafredda took over the Gambino Florida carting operation under the supervision of a mysterious Gambino enforcer named Thomas DeSousa. DeSousa was an associate of the very same Phil Modica mentioned previously, who was part of Jimmy Brown’s regime. Based on wiretaps DeSousa was intimately familiar with the west coast Florida scene, having been involved with Joseph Messina’s Community Waste Disposal by giving instructions on price-fixing. Acquafredda was previously an organizer for the sanitation union in New York. He served the role of an enforcer, intimating non-cooperating firms and keeping both union and non-union workers in line. He also ran a “renegade” garbage truck that would steal stops from union members’ routes on behalf of the mob that would then “protect” its members by moving Acquafredda to another route. After getting “caught” for this scam by the union and its angry membership, the Gambino’s sent him to Florida to run the same scam with their blessing and assistance.
Anyhow in 1978, the carters of Tampa attempted to organize at the initiative of Kenneth Faircloth, who funnily enough wasn’t Italian. He hosted a meeting, attended by Acquafredda and others, where the carters decided to raise their prices by $1 per month and discussed the practice of stealing stops. However, it wasn’t until 1979 that the garbagemen really got together and got their customer allocation agreement going. In 1979, Joseph “Jo Jo” Fitapelli, a New Yorker and an old friend of Acquafredda, moved to New Port Richey and became the president of a newly formed group called the West Coast Cartmen’s Association. Jimmy Acquafredda took out a $60,000 loan from one of his family connections to set up this institution. Joseph Fitapelli was himself connected to the Lucchese Crime Family through his cousin and made member Anthony DeMeglia (DiMeglio). Anthony DiMeglio later pled guilty in 1993 after being indicted for murder, loansharking, and extortion alongside fellow Lucchese members Anthony “Bowat” Baratta, Anthony “Curly” Russo and others.
(L:R): Anthony Baratta, Anthony DiMeglio, and Vincent Ciraulo
This means the Lucchese’s, to a degree, were also involved in trying to control carting companies in Florida and perhaps split the association fees (extortion really) amongst each other. On tape Acquafredda said that Mafia members in New York decided that any organized crime family can operate in the Florida garbage business. This was in line with the policy that Miami and Florida in general were “open” territories as long as the Tampa Family was made aware of it and were cut in on the action when appropriate. As mentioned before, the Colombo’s were also present in Florida’s garbage rackets, although apparently, they played no role in Acquafredda’s operation or dealt with the Casagrande/Velocci clans. Now Acquafredda and Fitapelli were not just friends who met through their daughters as Fitapelli claimed, as they were previously partners in New York in a truck scam. Another man employed by the Association was Bernard D. Agostino, also described as a Lucchese associate, who later became a member of that borgata. State and federal investigators also claimed that a third Family was involved in the setting-up of a profitable garbage monopoly through intimidation and violence in booming sections of the state, the Bonanno Crime Family. The Bannanas in Florida? That could only mean one thing: Operation Donnie Brasco. Indeed, this garbage conspiracy was uncovered in part due to the work of the undercover agents at the infamous lounge: The King’s Court. While some Bonanno members such as John Cerasino (Cerasini) and Frank Foggia (couldn’t confirm Foggia’s membership in other sources) were indicted as part an 11-men group alongside Acquafredda, Fitapelli, Lucchese solider Vincent Ciraulo and, Tampa Boss Santo Trafficante Jr., that conspired to seize control of garbage disposal, not one Bonanno member or associate was indicted in the state’s civil antirust suit to break up the customer allocation agreement imposed by garbage racketeers. Thus, to me that indicates that the Bonanno’s were only peripherally involved in the garbage conspiracy and their involved in Florida was mostly as a result of Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano’s push into the Sunshine state’s gambling rackets. Both crews were operating their illegal businesses out the same place (The King’s Court) and involved some of the same co-conspirators. Plus it is hard to imagine the Bonanno’s as industry racketeers given their almost complete absence from labour and garbage racketeering in New York. Finally, the Trafficante Crime Family were paid a percentage of the profits generated by the participants in return for “peace of mind”.
(L:R): Santo Trafficante Jr., John Cerasani, and Bernard Agostino
Now back to the West Coast Cartmen’s Association… the cartmen agreed to “get tough and operate as in New York. The agreement to manipulate garbage lasted from January 1979 to the end of June 1983. During this timeframe, the group agreed to fix prices, carve up territory, rig bids to eliminate competition, created bi-laws that dissuaded members from stealing each other stops, and enforced control through extortion, violence, and threats. Some members resisted the idea they were engaged in price-fixing with Donald Flower getting caught on tape saying, “We’re not price fixing nothing. We’re just trying to make a buck, right?” Another conspirator, Vito Signorile took the bi-laws quite seriously and told another co-conspirator (Kenneth Faircloth) that if he stole his customers he, “will kill your children and burn your [Faircloth] house.” The following companies were part of the conspiracy: American Disposal Systems, Bellamy Garbage, Solar Sanitation, Timely Sanitation, D&J Carting, Clarence Henry Sanitation, Imperial Carting Associates, Mid-County Sanitation, Miele Disposal, Eagle Sanitation, Suncoast Disposal, and Suncoast Sanitation. All together the companies controlled 50% of all private garbage collection in Pinellas County. Acquafredda and others planned to extort fees paid by Association members to be part of the cartel,  which included a $150 initiation fee and $35 monthly dues per-truck. Now I couldn’t find exactly how many members were part of the Association, but when the hammer of the Justice Department finally struck down the racketeers, 12 garbage firms were indicted. Assuming an average of 3 trucks per firm like on Long Island, that comes out to ~$15,000 per year which is pretty small potatoes. The scale of this cartel was no where close to the ones found in New Jersey or New York. The West Coast Cartmen’s Association also for some reason later changed its name to the Suncoast Contractors Association Inc. Now since this cartel did not have multiple avenues of enforcement like the one found in New York (politicians and a friendly union), order and stability were maintained through the implied threat of violence. The first main enforcer for the group was the previously identified Lucchese connected Bernard Agostino. The second enforcer was a “thug” on the “lam” from Pittsburgh named Tony Rossi. Fitapelli reached out to a mob contact in New York, the father of Dominick and Gerlard DeViVo who vouched for Rossi. Satisfied, Acquafredda promised to present Rossi to other garbage haulers, “as somebody he brought down from the North to scare the shit out of them.” Tony Rossi, was actually FBI special agent Edgar S. Robb and he was vital in the penetration of the mob-conspiracy to infiltrate Florida’s garbage industry.
Now apparently Tony Rossi was given permission by Vincent “Jimmy East” Ciraulo, a Lucchese guy, to take over the Association from Acquafredda before it even really got going. Now I’m not sure how a Lucchese member had the authority to takeover a Gambino backed operation and why Ciraulo thought the Gambino’s would be fine with it. Unfortunately, the juicy politics of such a transition never happened due to FBI protocol forbidding agents from assuming a leading role in a criminal enterprise. Anyways the Association finally had its first meeting on July 2nd, 1979, with 8-garbage firms initially attending alongside Acquafredda, “Jo Jo” Fitapelli, Bernie Agostino, and Rick Mazzenga at a Holiday Inn conference room in Clearwater, FL. Tony Rossi became the Association’s secretary and its legal charter was drafted by Henry Gonzales, Santo Trafficante’s lawyer. The initial meeting itself outlined the previously mentioned mission of the Association, although its success in fulfilling it was questionable. Apparently, the organization itself was viewed as a joke, members didn’t want to pay their dues and it had trouble growing past its initial 8 members. It got so bad that Ciraulo got New York mobsters to call Association members and reassure them the organization was still backed by the Mafia. Interestingly, despite Kenneth Faircloth originally initiating the idea of closer cooperation among garbage executives in 1978, he resisted joining the Association and was seen as a major obstacle in forming the monopoly desired by the mobsters. In order to get out of messy situation that could have resulted in Rossi’s cover getting blown, Faircloth ended up join the Association as a police informant for Pinellas county.
(L:R): Donnie Brasco, Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero, and Tony Rossi
The dysfunctionality of the Association was evident right away when on August 6th, 1979, Acquafredda assaulted fellow carter Sylvester Hutchins. Acquafredda put up the money for Hutchins to bid on the City of Oldsmar’s garbage collection contract who won after several other garbage contractors agreed to put in bids higher than his. Hutchins later claimed that he and Acquafredda agreed to each put up a $10,000 investment into the partnership for the contract to collect garbage in Indian Rocks beach and that the latter ended up only putting in $2,000 which was later repaid with $600 in interest. On that fateful August day, Hutchins was first pistol-whipped and then threatened with death when the barrel of a gun was put under his chin by Acquafredda and his lackey Vincent “Frank” Ferrovechio unless Hutchins gave them $11,000. They later confronted Hutchins again and gave him a choice: give him the $11,000 or sell to them his company, Environmental Sanitation, for $22,000 (which was worth $160,000 and had $60,000 in debt). On May 30th, 1980, Acquafredda pled no contest to charges that he and Ferrovechio threatened Hutchins and after swearing before a Pinellas judge that he had no organized crime connections a finding of guilt was withheld and he received four years’ probation. Hutchins lost the contract a few months after he got it due to lack of pickups and it was instead awarded to Imperial Carting Associates, a member of the cartel. The biggest impediment to the cartel’s success was the competitive strength of Wells Brothers Inc., a firm that dominated Pinellas’ private garbage collection industry and one that members of the Association complained about. The cartel, a private landfill associated with the cartel, the county and Wells Brothers would be all intertwined in a four-way legal battle that brought down the mob’s attempt to control garbage along Florida’s west coast.
On August 27th, 1979, Paul Windisch, owner of the only private landfill in the county, filed a suit against local officials accusing them of shutting down his dump to eliminate competition for the two county-owned landfills. After years of legal drama, the county revoked Windisch’s dump permits in 1979 because he did not follow regulations even after multiple hearings. Windisch sued the county and Wells Brothers of a conspiracy to run him out business so that they could monopolize garbage dumping. Wells Brothers was a titan among the smaller garbage firms controlling about half of private collections in the county and, most importantly, was not part of the Association. The company also ran Bridgeway Acres for years, one of the county-owned landfills, which allegedly allowed it to illegally dump there for free. The county built a $160-million incinerator and had the legal “authority” to eliminate competition from other dumps. Further sketchiness came from a 1977 memo by the county’s garbage disposal chief that said, “In summary, if we can convince Dunedin [a city that used Windisch’s landfill for its disposals] to return to the fold, then the total income at the county landfill will be improved to the point where the county at last has the upper hand with dealings with Windisch according to our terms and according to our time tables”. The next wrinkle in the legal drama happened on October 15th, 1982 when ten garbage companies sued the county and Wells Brothers for “bullying” competition out of the garbage business. They alleged that the county allowed Wells Brothers to operate one of the county landfills for years without putting the contract up for bids that allowed it to pay less for dumping fees which meant that Wells could charge lower collection rates that hurt the competitiveness of other businesses. On June 28th, 1983, the state of Florida filed an anti-trust suit against 12 garbage companies and 20 officials accusing them of trying to bully competition out of business. Among them were the 12 firms mentioned above alongside Acquafredda, Fitapelli, Agostino, Signoile, Esposito, Carlo DiNardi and the rest of the Association members. Windisch and other carters initially dismissed the suit saying it was filed by the county as a retaliation for their suit. The final suit in the drama was filed by Imperial Carting Associates (Association member) and three other carters against Wells Brother on August 15th, 1983, accusing it of cheating the county by dumping the trash that they collected for free. The relationship between Wells and the county was also alleged to be very intimate, as government employees were given free gasoline and personal services for their cars. It should be noted that Imperial itself was accused of cheating the county dumps and in a civil suit they agreed to pay $36,000 in damages. So how was all this mess resolved? Donnie Brasco happened. Jimmy Acquafredda ended up pleading guilty to federal racketeering charges and was sentenced to 5 years in prison in December of 1985. Others like Fitapelli also pled guilty and others still like Santo Trafficante were able to skirt indictments entirely by getting their trials delayed indefinitely. The entire garbage racket (and the Sonny Black operation in Florida) was blown up as a result of a wave of indictments spurred on by the Donnie Brasco and Toni Rossi undercover operation that led to the purging of mob influence. That is pretty well known and so there is no need to elaborate on it. Now even without the undercover FBI agents, the Association was really not going anywhere and its doubtful the Mafia was in a position to replicate its Northeast success in Tampa. One of the defendants in the Florida anti-trust suit, Don Esposito, concluded that the cartmen’s association was a joke because it failed to help the carters compete against Wells Brothers. Not only it is clear that the mob didn’t send their MENSA members/associates down to Florida, but they were going up against a company that already had an entrenched and powerful position in the market with a home court advantage thanks to its strong municipal and county connections. The customer allocation agreement was doomed as long as they couldn’t get the cooperation of Wells Brothers. But just because one large company didn’t want to work with the mob, doesn’t mean another one didn’t elsewhere in Florida. Time to refocus on the Casagrande’s, Velocci’s and yes, Melvin Cooper.
(L:R): Joseph Laratro, Salvatore Rizzo, and Frank Sinatra
Salvatore Rizzo was a notorious racketeer from New Jersey who became a real estate developer in Florida. A well-connected individual, Rizzo said he knew Frank Sinatra for 15-20 years, although the latter claimed he only met the fellah once, raising the issue of perjury over their conflicting testimonies. One of his business interests included Naranja Sanitation Service which was bought out by Daniel and Thomas Laratro. This purchase was financed via loan provided by the Teamsters Union. Their father was Joseph Laratro, identified as, “a top ranking lieutenant in the New York Mafia family headed by the late Thomas Lucchese.” Laratro, who was said by police to have ties to shylocking, gambling, extortion, and strongarming activities, and was part of a wave of Lucchese members that moved to Florida to establish new rackets for the Family. One of the sons, Daniel Laratro continued in his father’s footsteps and allegedly became a member of the Lucchese Family according to Bill Feather. The Laratros were operating Naranja Sanitation since at least 1972, and were acquired by Industrial Waste Service (IWS) in 1978 alongside another sanitation company Joseph Laratro controlled. The company’s officers were A. Casagrande, Jack Casagrande, and Ralph Velocci, and IWS was going to become a force of nature in Florida, and star in scandals centered around price-gouging hospitals, bribing mayors, taking a county’s landfill hostage, and involvement from Margaret Thatcher’s husband.
Now before we go on with the story, some background must be established. There were four key Casagrande/Velocci sanitation corporations that all had role to play in the events that unfolded in Florida. The two garbage clans were huge, and the web of relationships were complicated due to the many cousins and in-laws involved in the businesses. There was Industrial Waste Service, World Sanitation, Five Counties, and Urban Waste Disposal. As you will recall John Casagrande was the owner of Five Counties and a leading member of three succeeding garbage associations on Long Island. IWS’s officers were Albert Casagrande, Jack R. Casagrande, Ralph Velocci, and John Lawson (a brother-in-law to one of the Casagrande’s). In an interview Lawson also said that, “we are World Sanitation”. World Sanitation of Nassau Inc. shareholders list included Rocco Velocci, John Lawson, Jack R. Casagrande, Albert Casagrande, and others. Five Counties’s officers included: John Casagrande, Frank Grillo, Thomas Antonacci, and Vito Leone. Finally, Urban Waste’s officers included: Les Erber, Rocco Velocci, Perry Constantinou, Jack R. Casagrande, and Mort Robson. World Sanitation was the company that bridged Five Counties and IWS (and Urban Waste) and established a corporate relationship by brining all the family players together. Besides the companies listed above, the Casagrande and Velocci clans also had interests in: World Ash and Rubbish Removal, RocMar Carting, Roman Carting, Southside Carting, Star Carting, V&J Rubbish, and Green Bay Sanitation. The Casagrande’s and Velocci’s were feeling some heat in the late 1960s due to their leadership roles with the Waste Removal Institute and the clans set their sights on the sunny weather of Florida.
Industrial Waste Service Inc. was incorporated in Miami on December 23rd, 1970. It began after the Casagrandes’ took over a garbage-hauling business from a terminally ill man and by late 1971 it was operating in Dade County (Miami). In 1972, its officers Albert and Jack Casagrande as well as John Lawson were arrested on misdemeanor charges as part of a campaign by the Dade County Organized Crime Division to force trash haulers to identify their true owners. Over the next ten years the company rapidly expanded across Florida by buying 15-20 small hauling companies and by 1983 it operated in Pasco, Dade, Broward, Marion, and Pinellas counties. IWS expanded into Pasco, funnily enough, by buying James Acquafredda’s Pasco garbage permit in 1981 and retaining his two sons as garbage truck drivers. Not linked to Acquafredda’s garbage sting, IWS winded up being much more successful. In 1981, it also started operating in Broward County where it served 5,000 customers by 1983. Over its first ten years of existence, the company grew from a small operation to be one of the two major firms serving Miami and the surrounding area and spread across the entire state. Ron Tucker of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said this about IWS, “Very heavy out of the Miami area. We have been watching them for years. They’re in Ocala and Orlando. Pretty soon, they’ll be all over.” The police had indeed been watching them for years, and to their great frustration they were unable to do anything to the company as it engulfed the Sunshine State’s garbage industry. IWS and their officers were already noted by Florida’s investigators as a company to watch-out for in 1973 as the company had financial backing from New York state and were associated with “questionable individuals in Dade County”. The Metro Dade County Organized Crime Bureau’s Intelligence Division conducted an extensive investigation into the company in the mid-1970s which resulted in nothing. The 1980s would see the company again come under intense legal scrutiny and finally get caught with its hands in the cookie jar.
IWS encountered minor legal troubles and procedural troubles here and there during its operating history in Florida. For instance, an audit showed that the company overbilled a city for commercial waste collection by a net amount of $29,659.07 in December of 1982. The company also acquired a corporation owned by a Fred Dunlap in Hernando County, but the transfer of franchise rights to operate a garbage business was later reconsidered in summer of 1983. Around the same time, the company had trouble getting a license transfer to operate in Polk County after it was disclosed that the company was a potential target of a federal grand jury investigation. What was being investigated? Antitrust violations by garbage hauling firms. A federal grand jury based out of Fort Lauderdale was convened in 1982 to investigate South Florida’s carting industry and on July 27th, 1984, they got their first big catch, David Hoopengardner of United Sanitation Services who was indicted on a single conspiracy charge for scheming to divide and allocate waste disposal customers. Some municipal officials, like those from Coral Gables, were surprised to hear about the indictment given they were comfortable enough to renew United Sanitation’s license and even expanded its area of service after talking to the state attorney’s office about the grand jury investigation. The company was founded in 1954 by Lewis Goodman and its history was filled with allegations of hazardous waste dumping and political corruption. United Sanitation Service was actually a subsidiary of Sanitas Services who was investigated between 1973-1974 by the SEC for securities violations which uncovered a slew of alleged criminal activities. Following testimony (which included the company’s vice president), the SEC uncovered that senior officials of the company attempted to conceal more than $1.2 million in political payoffs, kickbacks, and contributions. Among the allegations was that the company gave cash payments to Boston Mayor Kevin White to secure lucrative dumping contracts, $18,000 per month to landfill operators to get lower rates, dumped prohibited toxic wastes, funnelled cash payments for an illegal dump near Wayland, Massachusetts, and bribed officials to obtain a contract at Harvard University. Furthermore, there were revelations about the company’s practices in Indiana which reportedly included threats against smaller independent carting companies and that organized crime figures were operating on behalf of the firm in Arizona and Indiana. The SEC’s findings were turned over to U.S. attorney out of Boston, James Gabriel, who dropped criminal investigations after determining that a full probe would require too much manpower and time. In 1977, the public caught wind of this scandal after the newspaper, TheStar, picked up the story which led to the company’s demise and breakup. In 1980, the firm was sold to Waste Management, the world’s largest garbage hauler and Lewis Goodman continued to operate United Sanitation under the wider corporate umbrella.
What were these alleged organized crime connections? The relationship is somewhat convoluted, but probably members or associates from the Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland families. In 1972, there were three meetings at a home of an Indianapolis attorney over control of sanitary landfills in Marion County, Indiana that Sanitas Services would come to control at the same time. Among the attendees was Norman Z. Flick, a bail bondsman who was identified in 1975 as an organized crime figure by the FBI. Flick was connected to a lot of different individuals, including having direct business dealings with a former associate of Detroit’s Purple Gang, Samuel “Sam the Moustache” Norber. Flick was also a silent partner in the ‘Las Vegas Strip’ nightclub in Indianapolis alongside Thomas Sinito of Cleveland, Ohio. Sinito was actually a captain with the Cleveland Organized Crime Family of La Cosa Nostra. Norman Flick also paid the premium on William E. Wright’s bond at the urging of a high ranking Mafia “hoodlum” from Chicago. One of Norman’s close friend, according to police, included one Leo Louis Miroff who conducted criminal and business activities with and on behalf of the Chicago “syndicate”. Finally, Sanitas Detroit official Ronald Cohen’s apparent “suicide” in 1974 also presents a connecting avenue to organized crime. Cohen was subpoenaed by a grand jury that was investigating the murder of Harvey L. Leach, chairman of the board of a Detroit furniture company. Leach’s body was found stuffed in the truck of his Mark IV after he was on route to meet with Leonard “Lennie” Schultz, an associate of Detroit Mafia heavyweight Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone. Shortly after his grand jury summon, Cohen was shot to death. Coincidence? Not sure, but it is suspicious.
(L:R) Lewis R. Goodman, Norman Z. Flick, and Thomas Sinito
Anyways by November 1985, the full scope of the conspiracy between United Sanitation and IWS was revealed through an indictment that charged Lewis R. Goodman, CEO of United Sanitation Services, John E. Lawson, Industrial Waste Service’s former secretary-treasurer, and IWS itself as a corporation with keeping trash collection fees in Dade and Broward counties artificially high. On March 20th, 1987, Florida’s Attorney General filed charges against five South Florida trash-hauling firms for overcharging customers by millions of dollars in an illegal price-fixing scheme. In a suit filed in Dade Circuit Court, the following companies were named: Waste Management of Florida, Industrial Waste Service, United Sanitation, Imperial Sanitation Services, and World Sanitation. A separate civil suit was filed on the same day accusing Waste Management of Florida, Industrial Waste Service, United Sanitation, and Lewis R. Goodman of violating federal anti-trust laws. Finally, a class-action lawsuit was filed by a Miami tour operator in Winter of 1986 against 19 garbage collection companies operating in Florida which included IWS, Waste Management Inc. of Florida, Imperial Sanitation Services, A-1 Carting Corp. (suspicious name) and others for overcharging customers via restraint of trade within the industry. These indictments and suits present an illuminating picture of the state of the garbage industry in Florida’s East Coast.
The indictments alleged that Industrial Waste Service began price-fixing efforts as early as 1971 with co-conspirators. However, prosecutors were able to more definitively establish that a customer allocation agreement ran between at least 1979 to 1984 with up to 20 Miami carters involved in the cartel. The result of this illegal conspiracy resulted in an estimated 10% overcharge to customers and poorer services due to stifled competition. As a comparison, Peter Reuter estimated that the customer allocation agreement on Long Island yielded a 50% overcharge in the commercial sector and a 15% overcharge in the residential sector. Unliked Long Island or even Tampa, Miami garbage racketeers did not seem to use an industry association as a vehicle for extortion or to maintain the property rights system (at least there was nothing I could find). Instead, the carters held monthly meetings to sort out their issues in order to maintain stability within cartel and trade accounts to even out any temporary market share gains. IWS had a leading role in this conspiracy because the company alongside United Sanitation controlled 40% of Dade County’s private garbage collection market with United serving 6,755 customers and IWS serving 6,080 customers. In certain cities, the company had an outright monopoly such as its servicing of 90% of private homes in Wilton Manors. Waste Management (United Sanitation) and its affiliates themselves were gargantuan, controlling all but one of Palm Beach County’s major trash haulers as well as all contracts with Broward’s 14 major hospitals. IWS also served hospitals in Miami such as Mercy Hospital and the Veterans’ Administration Hospital. The VA contract itself was won through deceit as the contract was reserved for small companies and so when World Sanitation bid on it, it failed to disclose its relationship with IWS. Anthony Caparelli, a former sales manager at United Sanitation had this to say about his former boss Lewis R. Goodman, “I think Mr. Goodman is the most powerful man in the garbage business [in South Florida].” Coupled with John E. Lawson becoming president of Imperial Sanitation Services after leaving IWS in 1981, the leading alliance between Waste Management, IWS and Imperial allowed them to be the leaders of the scheme and effectively control pricing in significant parts of Florida. The strength of the customer allocation agreement (and how much they could overcharge) paled in comparison to Long Island because unlike there, competition did emerge from time to time such in the form of Browning-Ferris Industries beginning in 1979. While municipal officials were fairly happy with the garbage companies, Florida’s legal minds got to work and handed down the series of indictments and suits that I mentioned before. David Hoopengardner from United Sanitation Services was convicted for price-fixing in spring of 1985 and sentenced to probation and a fine of $10,000. IWS pleaded no contest to its 1985 indictment paying a $375,000 fine. Lewis R. Goodman and John Lawson were both found guilty of conspiring to fix prices and supress competition in December 1986. Goodman was sentenced to 60 days in a halfway house, fined $20,000, and ordered to perform 1,200 hours of community service. To the anti-trust suits, the companies pled ‘no contest’ and Waste Management paid $595,000 in damages and $130,000 in fines, IWS paid $45,000 in damages and $100,000 in fines, and Imperial Sanitation paid $35,000 in fines only. That of course paled to the $45 million of revenue generated by Waste Management and its co-conspirators in Dade and Broward Counties alone. Waste Management was also selected to build a $200 million garbage burning plant in Broward County at the same time, so the gravy train was set to roll regardless of these minor inconveniences. Finally, the class action lawsuit filed against more than a dozen carters was settled for a total of $2.5 million in September 1988. That was it for the legal troubles IWS faced, right? Well, no…
John Riley was the Mayor of Opa-Locka, a small city just north-west of Miami, and had a reputation for shady dealings. Earning a measly $6,600 salary as Mayor of this small town, Riley supplemented his income by serving as a “multifamily housing consultant”, a gospel singer, and a public speaker. Another stream however involved criminality and he was alleged to have been involved in more than one bribery scandal, including one involving the town’s flea market. The “housing consultant” angle was also used by IWS and Jack Casagrande to allegedly bribe the mayor to encourage the renewal of IWS’s exclusive contract to haul rubbish from commercial clients and secure the town’s residential garbage sector. Essentially the scheme worked like this: Jack Casagrande and other “investors” paid $10,000 in two installments to Mayor Riley under the guise that the latter helped advise the group on buying flats in the city, help them get government grants to remodel the flats, and help manage them once they were ready for low-income tenants. Casagrande later admitted that a payment was made in part to keep Riley “sweet” while renewal of the contract was under consideration. Meanwhile, the Miami police department and state attorney’s office believed that Mayor Riley was corrupt and were granted permission from a judge to wiretap two of his phones. Between November 6th to 8th, 1985, the police intercepted calls between Riley and Casagrande discussing the garbage contract and then intercepted another call on December 4th. That evening, the City Commission, “voted to issue only Industrial Waste Service a license for commercial trash hauling.” A police memo regarded this incident stated that, “The possibility of criminal violations was patently clear, and an inquiry into that possibility began”, yet nothing ever came of this issue due to the difficulty of proving bribery under Florida’s state laws which makes it hard to prosecute anyone unless they basically confess to the deed. More trouble came to the Casagrande and Velocci families when on December 11th, 1986 they were indicted alongside other individuals, and Urban Waste, for stealing the right to operate the Marion County landfill and for failing to deliver a pyrolytic convertor. In order to understand this indictment, its imperative to go back ten year in time and see what Melvin Cooper, Salvatore Avellino, and Hollywood actor John Wayne were up to.
(L:R): Mayor John Riley, Jack R. Casagrande, and Ralph Velocci
IWS procured Melvin Cooper’s services on more than one occasion. The FBI noted that there were two leases that Cooper Funding turned over to authorities involving IWS including one for “wide-mouth compactors” from a vendor called Florida Municipal Sales Company located in Opa Locka and for 99 containers in various sizes from Anrose Steel Containers in Miami. The FBI also noted another Cooper lease with a Mafia controlled carting firm out of New Jersey with the vendor for the lease being the Cartman’s Container Corporation, an entity that had the same exact New York address as John Casagrade’s Five Counties. Their most interesting business venture, however, was B&W Energy and the garbage-to-oil miracle machine.
As noted, landfill overflow was a real problem across America and public officials and businessmen alike pondered what to do with all that garbage? Recycling and resource recovery plants didn’t always go as planned. Remember the $135-million Hempstead Town recycling plant? Well, it was closed on April 1980 because of fee disputes with the town, was beset by labor and equipment problems, and there was a concern it emitted the toxic chemical dioxin. With the plant’s closure, the city resumed dumping in its landfills. So what was the solution? Enter the pyrolytic converter, a machine so scientifically advanced it promised to solve two issues at once: energy and landfill scarcity. The process is fairly simple: the converter first grounds the waste, then separates glass, ferrous and nonferrous metals from the waste stream, and finally “cooks” the garbage at extreme temperatures to siphon off oils, gases, and carbon char. The end product would be No.2 oil or home-heating oil. Theoretical development for this wonder machine were undertaken by the Duke Engineering Company of Santa Ana, California or DECO. The company was supported by Hollywood star John Wayne, the “Duke”, who invested more than $3 million into DECO, holder of the patent on the pyrolytic (non-oxygen) converter, invented by R. W. Chambers. Apparently the actor was very concerned about America’s foreign oil importation dependence and his investment would generate a royalty on every barrel of reconstituted oil that was sold using this machine. Given the amount of money invested by Wayne, I’m sure he was well-intentioned about the idea and luckily he died before things really got out of hand. In 1974, Orval Gould, was tasked with building a pilot DECO system and handle future manufacturing needs. A year later, however, is when things got really interesting. In 1975, two shady entrepreneurs, Perry Constantinou and Les Erber teamed up with Melvin Cooper and two of his employees, Phil Gentile and Edward Vanasco, to establish BW Energy Systems which got the marketing rights for the DECO system. The technology was endorsed by New Jersey’s Department of Energy as a means of solid waste disposal and in December 1975, a test was conducted of a modified DECO for the benefit of Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. The test “successfully” produced a 41 pounds of oil from 100 pounds of waste and although impressed, the chief engineer and general manager for the LA county districts remained guarded in his conclusions. The event was also used to market the system to guests and prospective clients as Gould claimed that he had a contract to design and construct a DECO system capable of processing 150 tons of garbage per day with a New York based carter at a cost of just $5 million that was guaranteed to be operational within six months. Who was the contract with? John Casagrande’s Five Counties. The scam worked like this: Gould would attempt but fail to build a proper DECO system while Cooper and his salesmen turned to fundraising and marketing this miracle machine to prospective buyers or investors. Within a year BW raised $610,000 from the Casagrandes and their associates who formed F&W Energy Resources to handle the pyrolysis. F&W was incorporated on November 25th, 1975, a month before the LA demo test, and owned 44% of Urban Waste Disposal, with Rocco Velocci serving as president, Carl Casagrande as vice-president, and John Casagrande (Five Counties/PSI board member) serving as secretary. Other investors representing Long Island garbage racketeers included Frank Antonacci, Jack R. Casagrande (of IWS), Ralph Velocci (of IWS), Michael Perna (of Long Island Rubbish Removal), Fiori L. Persichilli (PSI board member/ of Long Island Rubbish Removal), Frank Grillo, Thomas Antonacci, Vito Leone, and others. Curiously, there was a host of overlap between the investor group and members of the Queens Trade Waste Association dominated by Gambino Crime Family soldier Nicola Mellilo. Mort Robson, who was a shareholder in the firm, told years later in a deposition that he was concerned whether the DECO protype worked at all and hoped that it was not a fraud because “these Italians” in the garbage industry might then strongly object. This suggests the possibility that Melvin Cooper, Perry Constantinou, and Les Erber might have initially duped the Italian racketeers, but in all likelihood everyone knew what was up from the get-go. The machine was, of course, a complete sham and the science behind it was bum. There was a history of failures in trying to get such technology to work including projects constructed by giants of the industry such as Monsanto in Baltimore or Ray-O-Thon in Milwaukee by Union Carbide. Science, however, was not going to stop them from attempting to sell their fantasy.
(L:R): Perry Constantinou, Les Erber, and Jack R. Casagrande
The scammers got to work right away and by November 1976 they were already looking into installing pyrolytic converters in Inwood, Long Island. The company also sought interest in New Jersey from the Northern Hudson Council of Mayors to get install such a plant and receive a 20-year contract. By 1979, the unit was being considered in Camden, New Jersey and Freeport, Long Island. New Jersey would not work out for the racketeers, but Freeport was a lot more promising although its commissioner of public works was skeptical about the feasibility of such a facility. Freeport’s Mayor, William White, was supportive of B&W’s DECO system saying, “It’s an exciting concept” and authorized the town’s attorney to negotiate a contract with the racketeers for the $10 million machine in April of 1980. As it turns out, however, some of Freeport’s officials were “financially encouraged” and the necessary analysis for the plant was conducted by a son of an important town official who studied chemistry in high school and thought the machine looked good. Luckily, intense civic opposition by residents, businessmen, and groups pressured the village board to reject B&W’s project. The Mayor tried to save face by claiming the board rejected the garbage-to-oil plant because they feared giving B&W a zoning variance would encourage other prive enterprises to build recycling plants in the village to serve other communities. The racketeers also tried to sell the dream machine to officials in Smithtown, Long Island, this time with Salvatore Avellino’s help and influence. Sal Avellino helped set-up a meeting with Smithtown officials in April 1980 to discuss erecting a DECO system in the town on a 2.5 acre plot of land for $15 million that would be funded with private capital. Avellino pushed for the potential of the machine in a meeting with Patrick Vecchio, Smithtown supervisor, who kicked out both Avellino and Rocco Velocci out of his office after Avellino made an implied threat to him about “getting on the right side of this issue”. Publicly Vecchio said the pyrolysis offer, “sounded too good to be true” and said that the project was under study. This too went nowhere. It is hard to determine the extent of Avellino’s knowledge and involvement in the scam as he wasn’t listed as an explicit shareholder of the project through F&W Energy Resources. Sal Avellino’s motivation for backing projects like these likely stemmed from greater ambitions than just to make a few quick bucks. The PSI and private carters opposed an initiative called the Multi-Town Solid Waste Management Authority, a proposed regional resource recovery facility for Babylon, Islip, and Huntington believing it would infringe on their monopoly over the waste industry of Long Island. Babylon Supervisors Anthony Noto selected an engineering firm to draw on an alternative to Multi-Town on the recommendations of Sal Avellino and it was Noto who stuck the final blow to kill the project which left his town and Huntington saddled with an extra $8 million worth of debt in 1983. As such with this context in mind, it is far more likely that Avellino was just using the DECO system as a way to prevent the Multi-Town project from going live despite being quoted in the newspaper saying, “We’re not doing this as a bluff against Multi-Town. This is not something we invented last night. I feel we can do a better job.” Anything to stall or outright strike down Multi-Town was Avellino’s goal, which he eventually accomplished without the DECO system playing any role. His involvement from 1980 onwards was minimal at best, further reinforcing this notion.
With town after town rejecting B&W/F&W’s DECO system for the sheer fact of its nonexistence, not a lot of money was coming in for those on the marketing end. As such the racketeers decided to rebrand the company and took B&W’s successor ‘Waste Technology’ public. The company was polished by getting “experienced” executives to join the board, such as the founder of SCA Services Inc. and a former member of the Department of Energy, that allowed the group to sell four and a half million worth of stock in this worthless company. The racketeers powered through their set-backs and in 1982 tried to sell their machine to Franklin, Ohio, which once again failed. In 1981, the racketeers began to talk to Marion County about the DECO system, its virtuous qualities, and their experience as skilled landfill managers. Impressed with the possibilities it could entail, the racketeers continued to give false information to the county until April 15th, 1982, when it won a 25-year contract to operate Baseline landfill. Urban Waste Removal was to pay the county all the revenue derived from operating the landfill and 95% of the money earned from selling oil produced by the DECO machine. Officials fell for this scam because Casagrande, Erber, and Velocci told the county that over $10 million was invested into the development of this machine, that that the gas produced would be “pipeline grade”, and they failed to disclose the relationship between Urban Waste and B&W Energy. Soon after getting the contract, Urban Waste subcontracted its duties to Industrial Waste Services of Marion County, a subsidiary of the parent firm headquartered in Miami that also held all of Urban’s stock. The machine was really just an elaborate excuse to get their hands on the landfill which allowed, “numerous people on a daily basis to come upon the landfill with thousands of gallons of raw, stinking, untreated sewage from septic tanks, much of each contains human feces, urine and other deleterious substances and to dump the same openly on the ground.” The ground water was severely polluted as a result of these activities. Not only did the company not uphold its end of the bargain by delivering the pyrolytic converter, it failed to pay more than $275,000 in franchise fees to the county or pay back $107,000 it owned for leasing county-owned landfill equipment. Enough was enough for officials and on December 11th, 1986, Urban Waste’s officials and executives were indicted each with one count of grand theft in excess of $20,000 and one count of conspiracy to commit grand theft in excess of $20,000. In 1987, Marion County filed a civil suit against the scammers with the end result being that in 1991 both criminal and civil cases were settled and Marion County was paid $2.2 million by the defendants to avoid further litigation on the condition of not admitting any liability on their part. One again, the racketeers escaped justice by opening up their pocket books. In fact, IWS made the Casagrande and Velocci families fabulously wealthy after IWS was bought out for either $22 or $24 million (~$61 million in today’s money) by British multi-national Attwood’s in 1984. Denis Thatcher, the husband of British Prime Minister Margaret “the Iron Lady” Thatcher, was a director of the firm that caused much hysteria in the media regarding the possible Mafia connections as a result of Jack R. Casagrande and Ralph Velocci joining Attwood’s board. Regardless of this negative publicity, the Casagrande and Velocci families continued to be players in the waste management industry for decades with Ralph Velocci joining Waste Management and becoming its head of Florida in the late 90s. Anyways, its time to head back to the Tri-State area to see what Melvin Cooper was up to in New Jersey and his relationships with Carmine Franco, the New Jersey Trade Waste Association, and the murder of Alfred DiNardi.
New Jersey – Corporate America Meets Organized Crime
Based on Cooper Funding’s lending activities, it is clear he had extensive relationships with New Jersey based carters and union officials including leading figures like Carmine Franco, Louis Mongelli, and Anthony Rizzo. Organized crime’s involvement in New Jersey’s garbage industry was extremely interesting but given how well covered it is I hesitate to see the need for me to do much of a deep dive. As such I will limit this part to talking about two aspects which I find intriguing that relate somewhat directly to the story, IBT Local 945 and the early life of the New Jersey Trade Waste Association.
The role of Local 945 in New Jersey’s waste management industry is especially fascinating when compared to its New York counterpart Local 813. Bernard Adelstein, Local 813’s ruler, was able to play off the Gambino and Lucchese Families off each other to give himself a modicum of independence, and despite his reluctance to cooperate with certain racketeers like Sal Avellino, was able to rule his union until 1992 when he finally retired just before he was stripped of his Teamster membership. While the 1957 McClellan hearings showed evidence that Adelstein misappropriated union funds, from the 1960s onwards the local’s pension and health/benefits funds seemed to have operated in a legitimate manner since the government didn’t produce any complaints about potential abuses. Thus the local’s power seemed to have only been used to enact and maintain (to varies degrees) the customer allocation agreement created by Cosa Nostra racketeers with only indirect evidence that suggested that Adelstein extorted individual carters directly for payoffs. By contrast, Local 945’s leadership was very turbulent as leaders disappeared on more than one occasion. Absence of other competing families or union swaps meant that the local was much more tightly controlled by the Genovese Crime Family, especially from the 1960s onwards when compared to the Gambino’s hold over Local 813. This fact probably contributed to Local 945’s higher leadership mortality rate as individual union leaders did not have the longevity necessary to cultivate a powerful enough independent power base. More differences arose when it came to Local 945’s lack of apparent participation in enforcing New Jersey’s customer allocation agreement, massive embezzlement and abuse of the union’s fund, and direct extortion of carting executives. It is finally time to sketch out Local 945’s history and its involvement with various notorious racketeers.
New Jersey’s lucrative garbage industry stemmed from its geography and politics. Out of the Garden State’s 4.4 million residents living in its seven most northeastern counties in 1982, only about ~18% lived in cities with a population larger than 75,000. As such, most folks lived in small dense towns that aimed at keeping taxes low and so had to outsource government services like garbage pick-ups to private carters. These lucrative residential municipal contracts coupled with a large demand for garbage service from government, commercial, and industrial customers created a lucrative economic environment for racketeers to influence the industry.
Professor James B. Jacobs’s must-read book Mobsters, Unions and the Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement highlights how in many ways the history of La Cosa Nostra (especially after prohibition) is the history of organized labor in America. Unfortunately, Jacobs did not cover Local 945 in his case studies. Anyways, the unionizing movement from the 1860s through the 1930s was marred with ‘labor wars’ between private enterprises and their workers and the unions that attempted to represent them. It is in this violent labor environment where John V. Serratelli cut his teeth and built his mettle. In July 1939, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) launched the United Construction Workers Organizing Committee (UCWOC) led by A. D. “Denny” Lewis to unionize construction workers that established trades ignored. Denny was the brother of John L. Lewis who started the CIO and used it in an effort to create a “new labor empire” whose organization (basically from the start) was shown to employ ex-convicts, and utilize shady union tactics and ‘gun play’. In fact, it was common gossip among union halls that mobsters had a foot in the UCWOC, although who they were exactly is not very clear. One thing that was clear was the there was a complete breakdown in leadership and accountability within the different locals and efforts to “clean-up” the organization should’ve came with a hazard sign. James Murphy was a regional director of the CIO in New Jersey and regularly balked at orders from higher-ups, even at the cost of his men’s bargaining position. In March 1941, for instance, Local 10 of the UCWOC elected a new financial secretary and a committee of six individuals to audit the books of the local. When the auditors appeared at UCWOC’s headquarters in Newark, they were greeted by James Murphy, Carmen Serratelli (Murphy’s right-hand man) his brother John Serratelli (then treasurer of Local 127). When the committee made known its purpose one of its members, Teddy Adams, was immediately attacked and suffered a fractured jaw and two broken ribs. In another instance, when a CIO representative visited a picket line, John Serratelli stuck a gun in his mouth and warned him to leave. Carmen was purged from the union by police efforts as he was sentenced to a 10 to 14 year state prison bid for taking part in a payroll robbery. John stayed and continued to flourish within the labor movement. Interestingly, James B. Jacobs characterized the CIO as being harder to infiltrate by labor racketeers given the union’s emphasis on organizing factory workers who were much more ideologically committed to the ideals of the organized labor movement and had greater ties to their employer. By 1949, John Serratelli was the business manager for CIO Local 45 of the Retail Workers & Department Store Union. Don’t let the name fool you, however, as Serratelli was already representing sanitation workers and elsewhere the union was called Local 45, Affiliated Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union or Local 45, CIO Sanitation Workers. In 1955, the American Federation of Labor (ALF) and the CIO merged to form the AFL-CIO. As a result of this merger, Serratelli’s local was transformed into Teamsters Local 945 authorized to represent warehousemen, industrial, and sanitation workers in Northern New Jersey. Mysteriously, this varied representation overlapped with the jurisdiction of several other Teamsters locals in the Garden State. Part of that had to do with the fact that mobsters and their associates were probably purposely granted vague Teamsters charters to permit added extortion opportunities and by representing a diverse economic and geographic group of workers, limit the ability of possible rebels to successfully reform corrupt locals. Now that the background of this union has been established, it is time to talk about how New Jersey contractors quaked in their boots at the prospect of dealing with ‘dictator’ John Serratelli.
(L:R): John Serratelli, Crescent Roselle, and A.J. Lippman
John Serratelli was described as the undisputed czar of New Jersey’s garbage industry, a man who threatened terror on uncooperative carters, who decided which contractors would be favored with preferential union treatments, and who allocated carters their territories and told them how much they would bid. He began to organize sanitation workers as far back as 1939 and 1940 forcing companies to comply with threats and intimidation. One of New Jersey’s largest contractors, Alfred Lippman, relayed this amusing anecdote. In 1939 or 1940, John Serratelli and man who described himself as a bodyguard for the late beer baron “Waxy” Gordon came into Lippman’s office and told him that they were going to organize his sanitation workers. The bodyguard then dropped a nearly foot long pipe on his desk and told Lippman, “These are my credentials”. Needless to say, these labor pioneers were very persuasive and Lippman shortly signed several contracts with the union. This organizational drive was part of Serratelli’s plan to dominate the garbage industry. One independent carting executive, A. J. Maitilasso, testified that, “Serratelli started the whole thing and they [garbage executives]knew it… He went out and organized labor first, then he organized all of these contractors in an Association”. He went on to say, “Then he controlled all the dumps, and he got a complete monopoly on the entire industry, and after he did that he set up jobs, and they all know it, and he set up jobs for certain contractors – ‘this is your job and that is yours, and you get the figure you want on it,’ – and these other guys go in and give complimentary bids, and that is going all over the state of New Jersey”. Asked when these practices began, Maitilasso said he personally experienced it since 1956, but knows it went back further than that. It is obvious then that a customer allocation agreement was present in New Jersey’s garbage industry since at least the 1950s and that it was jointly enforced by the union and garbage Association. It is also evident that the union was the driving force behind the formation of both Association(s) and the customer allocation agreement, something that was not the case in New York. Curiously, even though we will see that LCN racketeers were present in the union, none of the contractors testified to the explicit involvement by organized crime in either setting up or enforcing the customer allocation agreement through dispute settlement. That responsibility laid directly with John Serratelli. It is then worthy to explore New Jersey’s two garbage Associations, how they interacted with each other, and the role Serratelli played in settling disagreements.
In 1955, a small independent carter by the name of Frank A. Miele Jr., helped form the Private Scavenger Business Association of New Jersey (PCBA). The goal of the Association was to end price-cutting between the various competing firms. The PCBA was formed at the suggestion of Serratelli who urged contractors “not to fight each other”. Frank Miele Jr. explained the benefits that could be derived from gaining Local 945 dictator’s friendship by saying, “He [Serratelli] said that if any major problems that we could not solve ourselves, go to him, he would helped us straighten it out – that he could pick up a telephone and he could have anybody stopped from dumping…” If only Miele Jr. knew how prophetic those words would be. Serratelli’s friendship didn’t come cheap, however, and he forced the PCBA to put his man on the payroll, even though the Association didn’t believe it could afford it. Efforts by the PCBA to fire the individual failed and in one instance Miele Jr. got a call from Serratelli saying, “Pay him, even if you have to do it out of your own pocket.” Serratelli’s power was further demonstrated in a classic grievance hearing between two rival carters. Crescent Roselle won a municipal contract to service residential customers in Union Township. As the previous contractors, Iommetti and Sons, finished up their services, a foreman employed by the compny sold a number of accounts (commercial and industrial customers) along Route 22 to Andrew Arace. Roselle didn’t appricate this and asked Arace to relinquish accounts on Route 22 which caused Andrew to complain about this situation to the PCBA. A meeting to resolive their disagreemnt was held in early Fall of 1956 and attented by Miele, President of the PCBA, its executive board, Arace and Roselle. Crescent’s position was that as long as he had to pay for the rights to dump Union garbage in the City of Elizabeth’s dump, he was justified in having all of the accounts in Union ownship, whether they were residential or commerical in nature. Andrew’s position was simple: he purchased the accounts from its previous holders, Iommetti, and if Roselle wanted them, he should either reimurbe Arace’s payment for Route 22’s accounts or trade him for accounts of the same value. Miele Jr. and the exeuctive board sided with Arace to the disatisfaction of Roselle who said he only attended the meeting out of repsect for the organization, to help it build and gain strength. Cresent Roselle said he would not abide by the PCBA’s ruling and appealed to John Serratelli. The new meeting took places seven to ten days later at Seratelli’s union office. Again both Arace and Roselle pled their case and after 16 seconds of delibiration Serratelli turned to Roselle and said, “All right, Cush [Roselle], what is it that you want me to do?”. Roselle explained that he wanted Arace either off Route 22 or allow Arace to service those customers only if he paid Roselle to dump their garbage in the Elizabeth dump. In effect, Arace would be paying two dumping fees since the Elizabeth dump was actually owned by Fereday and Meyer, Alfred Lippman’s company. Serratelli gave Andrew Arace the choice to do one or the other with the latter choosing option B to continue to pick-up garbage along Route 22. After the meeting Arace and Miele Jr. both agreed that the decision was unfair, but they also couldn’t do anything since, “Mr. Serratelli’s word was law”. The union, it seems then, had power over this particular Association and was the highest authority when it came to settling disputes. Arace and Roselle’s business relationship following this meeting was quite rough, as the latter stopped the former from dumping in Elizabeth on several occasions leading to Arace coming to Miele Jr. in tears, begging Miele to help him find a place to dump. Control of dump sites was a large element of organized crime’s control over the garbage industry in New Jersey and John Serratelli collaborated with garbage contractors to make this precious commodity scarce. In July and August, the big municipal contractors raised fees for the use of their landfills to independent carters with Miele Jr.’s fees rising from $50 per month to $360. This particular dump was located in Kearny and one which Miele was using for some time. To remedy this situation and gain agency over their businesses, Miele and a couple of other carters decided to try and lease their own dump site from the Borough of North Arlington. The borough’s attorney, Milton Schleider, asked for a $7,000 bribe to which Miele acquiesced; the attorney was later acquitted of this charge. A few days after seeing the attorney, Miele was called down by John Serratelli to Local 945’s headquarters. At the meeting were Miele Jr.’s father, Frank Miele Sr., Cresent Roselle, Joseph Cassini Jr., Michael Signorelli, and Serratelli. Miele Sr. was summoned after he received a call denying him the right to use the dump at Kearny as a penalty for his son’s audacity to search for a new landfill to avoid paying higher fees. The hoods told Miele Jr. that they would be dead and that they would be knocked out of the box if he leased the dump threatening to put both him and his father out of business for noncompliance. Miele signed the contract for higher dump fees at Kearny and made out checks to North Jersey Disposal Co. and East Coast Associates Inc. Nevertheless, he continued to buck orders from the racketeers, and started using the North Alington dump site, against Roselle’s wishes and even won a bid for North Caldwell despite Roselle indicating the job was set for another contractor, Louis Pinto. After winning the contract Miele Jr. was barred from using a dump near North Caldwell and Roselle even tried to buy out Miele Jr.’s firm unsuccessfully. Roselle later told him, “We don’t want you in the garbage business any longer” and Miele Jr.’s business was significantly impacted as he went from employing four trucks to one after losing his job with his father’s contracting firm. Amidst that, he was forced to resign as the PCBA’s president and in 1956 Serratelli put his own slate of officers in charge. Now it is time to look at the other major garbage Association.
As a response to the creation of the PCBA by small independent carters, the larger contractors who owned the all-important garbage dumps formed the North Jersey Municipal Garbage Contractors Association (NJMGCA) in 1955. Out of eighty municipalities analyzed by authorities, 61 had contracts with members from the Association, worth $18,611,037 ($186 million in today’s money) or nearly 93% of the funds appropriated for municipal garbage collection in New Jersey that served two-thirds of the state’s population. The success of this Association was partly attributed to Serratelli who colluded with the organization to enact a “reign of terror” used to squeeze out independent contractors that led to the near-monopoly enjoyed by the NJMGCA.“Dumps were set on fire; sugar was put in gas tanks; brake hose was cut” according to a report put together by NJ’s Attorney General. In actuality the date of this association’s formation is not quite right. Lippman testified that an earlier version of this organization was put together in 1943, but it petered out soon after as he and its members were having considerable problems with manpower and other issues. According to Lippman, the newest incarnation of the NJMGCA was created for the purposes of getting fair and uniform treatment from the union and help boost public perception of the garbage industry amongst the general public. Lippman lamented that the NJMGCA was unable to present a strong unified front against Serratelli because of his close ties with some major contracts which undercut the Association’s bargaining power against the union. Now Lippman in his testimony came across as pretty bitter towards Serratelli, making him look a bully while downplaying his own criminality and questionable business practices. Lippman implied that his wages were on average 10-20% higher than the prevailing industry rate because Serratelli favored some contractors over others. This unequal treatment led to Alfred losing the Elizabeth municipal contract that he held for 24 years in 1958 because he had to pay his workers $114/$104 (drivers and helpers, respectively) while Crescent Roselle paid much less according to rumor, just $88/$80. Of course Lippman forgot to tell the committee that the longvity of his winning streak for the Elizabeth contract had to do with bid-rigigng. In January 1955, for example, Miele Jr. testified that John Cassini told him that everything was set-up for Alfred Lippman and his company Fareday & Meyer to win the bid. In return for not posting a competitive bid, Lippman gave Cassini $25,000 and Fareday & Meyer ended up winning the Elizabeth contract for $1,215,000. For all his bitterness, Lippman ended up employing Serratelli’s wife paying her $400 per month starting in 1953 and dimissing her in 1954. At first Lippman testified that she got a contractor named Michael Scatourchio to dump at his site, but later changed his story to say that Scatourchio called him directly. This transcation indirectly helped bring $150,000 worth of business as Scatourchio was unable to service his contract with Hudson County, subcontracing out the work to Lippman’s Fareday & Meyer. After firing Seratelli’s wife, Lippman began carrying a gun and even hired Phillip Kovolick as a bodyguard. Kovolick was tied to the infamous and semi-fictitious Murder Incorporated. We will revist Lippman’s activties with Seratelli shortly.
(L:R): Vincent Ippolito, Frank A. Miele Jr., and George Katz
Elizabeth’s new garbagemen Roselle, owner of Peter Roselle & Sons, testified still more about the relationship between the carters and North Jersey’s union boss. First, Roselle facilitated bid-rigging and another carter, Vincent Ippolito, testified that Roselle offered him $500 to not bid on an East Paterson, NJ job that was fixed for another memer of the NJMGCA. Ippolito bid anyways, but lost despite coming in with the lowest offer, because Pompeo Iommetti, the winner, fixed the deal for $6,700. Ippolito confronted Mayor John Yuhas about it, but the latter replied that him and Iommetti were very close friends and that their wives baby-sat for each other; there was nothing to be done. In fact, municipal corruption was abundant in this time period, surpassing the fraud documented on Long Island. Frank Stamato boasted to the Ippolitos how he could get the Lodi Borough Council to reject all bids and readvertise if anyone but his firm got the contract. In fact, Stamato spent $100,000 in payoffs to secure a Hoboken municipal contract and factored those costs into his bid, thereby passing on the costs of corruption to ordinary citizens. Going back to Roselle’s relationship with Serratelli, it did paint a picture of it being very one-sided. Roselle served as the liaison for the N.J. State Municipal Contractors Association for 18 months between 1956 through 1957 and “quit” after the organization failed to provide a unified front against Serratelli. The 38-year-old witness was described by newspapers as sometimes reluctant and at other times cooperative during his testimony before the commission. He, like Lippman, had motivation to downplay his power and shift any industry irregularities on Serratelli, even though he benefited from Serrtalli’s favorable selective union wage enforcement described above and at other times contradicted Miele Jr.’s testimony. Even still, the Association went out of its way to appease Serratelli. For instance, the group of carters gave Serratelli’s brother-in-law, Emil Attanasi a $30,000 mortgage in hopes it would create “good feelings” during the 1957 contract negotiations. Roselle himself gave presents to Serratelli’s wife and hired Serratelli’s son as a lawyer twice. Roselle also dined out other contractors in the Association at the Colonial Inn in Asbury Park to steer a little business to Serratelli’s brother who owned the place. In spite of these generosities, and a further highlight of his power, Local 945’s boss was able raise the wages of garbage workers by an average of 50% to 100%. At other times, he was able to coerce carters to buy products from his friends like in the case of tire purchases from George Katz. Katz testified how he sold 4 to 6 month tire supply to each of the Association’s 17 members in 1957, an order worth $40,000 (~$411,000 in today’s money). Serratelli’s friendship came at a price and Katz acknowledged that he lent his sports car to the union boss for 4 or 5 days a week. Serratelli also advised Katz to invest into Jersey Sanitation Company of Lodi in 1957, in which he purchased 50% of the company’s stock for $3,100. The investment came after the firm won a $239,988 contract to haul garbage in New Brunswick, and Katz became partners with Frank and Vito Stamato in this venture. Katz also had a number of direct business relations with Serratelli, including partnerships in several municipal garbage hauling jobs. Among his other reputed associates, Robert Greene reported that Katz was friendly with Meyer Lansky and Peter LaPlaca. In another instance of the political corruption aiding organized crime’s stranglehold over the industry, Katz told Mel Weinberg that he had paid a number of elected officials in order to obtain his municipal garbage contracts. Weinberg was the infamous conmen involved in the ABSCAM scandal and in fact Katz’s name was tied to Senator Harrison A. Williams Jr. during the undercover operation investigating political corruption. Serratelli made money in other ways as well with the carters. He picked up a $7,000 score while acting as a broker for Lippman in the purchase of two trucks. Most interesting, however, is that according to Miele Jr. there were “rumors” that Serratelli directly received kickbacks from municipal contracts awarded to carting firms. Therefore, the union not only helped enforce the customer allocation agreement, it also directly benefited from it by extracting the excess profits created by the conspiracy directly. Besides helping the Association maintain their cartel, Serratelli also helped them inflate their (and his) profits. For example, the union would send community letters to contractors advising that they would demand higher wages, and this added cost would be factored into the justification for higher bids. The municipalities would acquiesce, not knowing that those higher wages would only be enforced at a later time, allowing the owners and Serratelli to reap underserved profit.
Serratelli’s garbage empire started to collapse in 1959 after Senator Walter H. Jones of the New Jersey State Senate Committee began to hold hearings investigating the waste industry. As a result, John V. Serratelli was indicted three different times. Twice he was indicted for taking a $10,000 and $4,000 bribe from Lippman to secure labor peace, respectively. The $4,000 bribe had to do with the grand jury considering the wage Lippman paid, $400 per month to Serratelli’s wife, a bribe since those checks were cashed in an account over which the union boss had power of attorney. The $10,000 bribery charges stemmed from Serratelli flipping three cars with Lippman for prices that the grand jury deemed unreasonable. On February 24th, 1959, a grand jury indicted Serratelli and five garbage contractors for conspiring to rig the $629,500 five-year contract with the Town of Belleville. The five carters charged with conspiracy to cheat and defraud were Joseph Cassini of James Petrozello Co., Thomas Viola of Thomas Viola & Sons., Crescent Roselle of Peter Roselle & Sons, Andrew Miele of Miele Bros., and Lorenzo Pucillo. The indictment charged that Serratelli told each contractor what amount to bid for Pucillo to win the contract. With all these investigations unfolding, law enforcement found that the union chief deposited $130,000 (~$1.4 million in today’s money) in his checking account between 1954 to 1956, despite only making a yearly salary that ranged between $8,000 to $10,000. Serratelli would never see the end of these judicial proceedings as some people took extra-legal measures to settle his cases for him. On March 1st, 1959, Local 945’s black Cadillac was found abandoned along the Garden State Parkway in Union. It is ironic since Serratelli forced industry members to contribute money each year to buy him new cars. A later congressional report indicted that Serratelli was kidnapped, and assumed to be murdered, “for failing to go along with the directions of organized crime leaders who warned him against cooperating with authorities in any way”. Tragically a few months later, Serratelli’s wife, Helen, was also reported to be missing. Before I move on, I wanted to mention one more point regarding this phase of the customer allocation agreement and the interaction between the union and private carters. Multiple contractors testified that Serratelli’s word was law in regard to major industry decisions and that he was the one to arbitrate any major disputes. Yet the contractors were aware that Serratelli was, in fact, not the final boss and that he too answered to someone. Despite this knowledge, however, no testimony pointed to any of the contractors trying to appeal to that higher authority and presumably try to overturn unpopular decisions issued by Serratelli. This unnamed higher authority was almost certainly an organized crime individual and points to the fact that at least up until the 1960s racketeers were not directly involved in either the set-up or enforcement of the property rights system via grievance meetings. Perhaps their implied threat and the carte balance they seemed to afford to an already powerful union official with a powerful base was enough to keep contractors in line. The value racketeers would come to extract from Local 945 would come to change over time from industry domineering to union fund embezzlement.
After Serratelli’s disappearance, Local 945 was leaderless and in chaos. As a result, on June 3rd, 1959, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa put the local under international union trusteeship, transferring control over the local to the international union. John English, the union’s general secretary-treasurer explained that, “The trusteeship was established June 3rd, 1959 at the request of the local due to the loss of the services of the business manager, who disappeared after the indictment, and the vice president, who resigned, and the partial loss of the president to illness. The hearing on trusteeship shows the local had been the subject of critical attacks by newspapers. Trusteeship was necessary for stability and security”. Who was appointed by Hoffa to oversee Local 945’s reorganization? The most honorable and righteous of labor leaders, Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano. Tony Pro was appointed president of Teamster Local 560 in 1958 and subsequently became president of Joint Council 73 and an international vice-president in 1961. He was also a captain in the Genovese Crime Family and a ruthless labor racketeer. This was a very ironic appointment since during the time of Tony Pro’s trusteeship over Local 945, he was indicted for taking bribes to ensure labor peace as part of his leadership over Local 560. The 13,000 member strong Local 560 supported Local 945 in unionizing efforts on multiple occasions, including efforts to represent warehouse workers. The trusteeship over Local 945 by Provenzano lasted until March 1st, 1961, after which Michael Ardis became its new president. In 1964, Ardis appointed John “Johnny Coca-Cola” Lardiere as the union’s business agent. This appointment starts to shed more light on which racketeers exerted influence over the union and who Serratelli’s mysterious boss could have been.
(L:R): John “Johnny Coca-Cola” Lardiere, Michael Ardis, and Louis C. Ostrer
Johnny Coca-Cola was a made member of the Genovese Crime Family active in the New Jersey area. Lardiere had extensive union credentials given that prior to his involvement with Local 945, he acted as a business agent for Retail Clerks Local 1262 in Newark. Local 1262 was part of a network of organized-crime controlled locals formed back in the late 1940s and 1950s that belonged to Abner “Longie” Zwillman and Gerardo “Jerry” Catena of the Genovese mob. Eventually the Genovese family controlled a series of unions that allowed them to exert influence over the entire food supply chain. International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1235 unloaded products on the docks, Teamster Local 863 loaded the trucks, meat was processed by Meatcutters Local 464, food was placed on store shelves by Retail Clerks Local 1262, on tables by HERE Local 4 and in vending machines by Teamster Local 575. Eugene “Gene” Catena, brother of Jerry Catena, was a caporegime in New Jersey who supervised labor racketeering activities for the Family in the Garden State, judging by how Tony Pro would seek his approval before issuing new IBT charters. Lardiere was described as being very close to Gene Catena who acted in the capacity of a liaison between Catena and Provenzano. Lardiere, while being an officer at Local 1262, was also employed by Best Sales Co., a company owned by Gene that at the time was pushing consumer products like detergent and other household goods on supermarket chains across New Jersey and New York. Ardis claimed he hired Johnny Coke because of the latter’s experience, but it is more likely that Catena put him there. First, Local 945 was part of the network of Catena influenced food-industry locals described above per testimony from Senate Commerce Committee hearings and it was said that by the early 1960s Gene took over the labor racketeering operation. Gene also took over a portion of Jerry Catena’s crew after the latter was promoted to the underboss position in 1957 and thus Jerry was likely the power behind New Jersey’s garbage industry during Serratelli’s reign and was his boss. Further evidence of the Catena’s involvement in the garbage industry came from the DeCarlo tapes which revealed that Jerry Catena controlled Stamato & Iommetti, a carting company that serviced cities and large communities in North Jersey. Stamato and Iommetti and their links to municipal corruption was previously discussed. Furthermore, in April of 1964, Sam “the Plumber” DeCalvacante sent for John Lardiere to seek assistance from Gene Catena regarding helping a friend of Sam’s to secure a contract renewal with the City of Rahway. Catena angrily sent word back for Sam to mind his own business stating that Catena’s group handled this city for the past 25 years and would not help jeopardize their position. This could either mean that the Catena’s were involved in the garbage industry since at least 1939 or that companies now aligned with the Catena’s serviced them for that long. Either way, given Catena told Sam to go and suck an ice cube regarding the garbage business, it demonstrates the Genovese’s enormous authority in New Jersey’s garbage industry. Thus, to me it very likely that either Jerry or Gene Catena were Serratelli’s boss and a direct appointment of a Genovese soldier as the local’s business agent was just them tightening their grip over Local 945.
In terms of the continuation or enforcement of the customer allocation agreement, and the general collusion between unions and carters, the decade-long reign of Ardis and Lardiere presents somewhat of a dark period. There aren’t any explicit instances (that I could find) of extortion of carters or anecdotes of municipal contract collusions facilitated by the union and that mostly had to do with the fact there were no major investigative initiatives by the government or law enforcement. The closest thing to that was the New Jersey State Legislature creating a special commission probing the solid waste disposal industry in 1969 that highlighted how little the industry changed between then and Serratelli’s time. Trade associations were still powerful, dump sites remained a weaponized scarce commodity, and many of the same shady characters continued to exude a powerful presence in the sector. In fact, one of the carters testifying in front of the commission was Alfred Lippman who maintained that, “we have seen comments in the press about either the lack of bidders or the small number of bidders on many jobs, with the implication that there might be some sinister reason for that condition. Within the field of my knowledge of municipal contracting for the collection and disposal of solid waste, this is wholly without foundation. The question lies entirely in the field of economics, geography, and availability of equipment and labor.” Thus, it is likely that the customer allocation agreement continued to exist although its strength and even length of operation/enforcement can be questioned given some data points that will come in the 1970s. Regardless of the union’s active involvement in policing garbage companies, Adris and Lardiere’s reign marked a shift towards greater emphasis on white-collar crime by exploiting the union’s various capital pools.
The study of the intersection between the insurance industry, unions, and organized crime is truly fascinating, but that is something way beyond the scope of this piece. As a starting point, I would recommend reading Chapter 8 of The Business Of Crime by Alan A. Block and the Mafia’s plot to take over the Hotel Employees and Restaurants Employees Union’s insurance plan across the nation. One of the characters from that saga was Louis Oster, president of Foundation Life Insurance of New Jersey and a businessman that worked on a 50-50 commission basis with Edward T. Hanley (HERE International president and Chicago Outfit pawn) and who associated with the likes of Tony Salerno (Genovese de-facto Acting Boss) and Bernie Rubin (associated with Santo Trafficante Jr.). More importantly, Oster was convicted with John “Johhny Dio” Dioguardi in the early 1970s of stock manipulation after which his insurance license was revoked by the State of New York. A Senate investigating committee began to probe Ostrer’s insurance business and discovered that he plundered Teamster Local 295’s insurance fund by collecting $800,000 worth of commissions that should have totalled no more than $10,000. This probe was later expanded and discovered that more than $5 million went to pay excess fees and commissions for administrating twelve severance pay-life insurance plans managed by Ostrer for twelve Teamster locals. The plan offered union members severance pay and life insurance benefits that employers contributed up to $40 per week. The scam, however, laid in how the payout formula for the funds worked. Essentially, Ostrer’s other firm, Modern Agency, received up to 90% of the plan’s life insurance premiums as commission fees, a detrimental outcome for union members since this plan cost them significantly more than a more common and cheaper group term life plan. Michael Ardis pushed for the implementation of the Ostrer plan and Local 945 used its service from 1969 to 1972. Furthermore, in the same year that the local adopted the insurance plan for its employees, a severance pay plan was also implemented for Local 945’s officers, managed by Ostrer, which diverted $220,000 in members’ dues to fund it. This would not be the last time Local 945 dabbled in such financial schemes.
The final interesting development that occurred under Ardis’s reign was the relocation of Local 945’s headquarters to a swanky $1.5 million ultra-modern complex in West Paterson, financed by a Teamster Central States Pension Fund loan. The HQ’s grand opening was attended by numerous politicians and community leaders signifying the kind of political capital union control gave racketeers. Michael Ardis’s reign as union boss over Local 945 came to an end on June 18th, 1971, when he mysteriously disappeared while being investigate by the Internal Revenue Service.. In the weeks prior to his disappearance, Ardis became increasingly fearful of the “wiseguys” and even indicated that he needed a gun to an informant. He wanted to step down as the president of the local and take over the welfare-pension fund instead but was pressured to stay put by Tony Provenzano and Sal “Sally Bugs” Briguglio. John “Johnny Coca-Cola” Lardiere was linked to Ardis’s disappearance, although he would share his fate. In the same year, Lardiere went to jail for refusing to cooperate with the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation in its probe of racketeering and the garbage industry. Other mobsters jailed in 1971 for refusing to testify in front of the SIC were Ralph Napoli, Nicodemo Scarfo, and Robert “Bobby” Manna. The following year, Lardiere’s wife, Carolyn, died after drinking a soda that contained enough arsenic to poison and kill 50 people. Lardiere sued Coca Cola (which is how he got his nickname) deeming them responsible, but it was thrown out of court in 1973. Lardiere joined his wife in 1977 after being gunned down mere hours after his release from prison outside the Red Bull Inn in Bridgewater. The story goes that the triggerman’s gun initially jammed which caused Lardiere to laugh and mockingly say, “What’re you gonna do now, tough guy?” Michael Coppola, the alleged hitman, dropped his .22 pistol and shot Lardiere with a .38 caliber gun a total of five times. The motivation for the killing is somewhat unclear. Articles state that Lardiere pissed off a lot of people in prison including Ralph “Blackie” Napoli and he even got into a fight with future Genovese Consigliere Bobby Manna in 1975. But, he was not a cooperating witness and didn’t help the government in any way, so eliminating a squealer could not have been the motivation either. Scott M. Dietche wrote that Lardiere also pissed off Jerry Catena in prison by telling the Mafia elder statesman to “fuck off”, implying that this was the likely cause of his death.
(L:R): Tino Fiumara, Ernest Palmieri, and Peter “Lodi Pete” LaPlaca
Peter LaPlaca or La Placa was a made member of the Genovese Crime Family and inducted in the same year as Gene Catena (1947). Being placed in Catena’s crew, LaPlaca was described by his caporegime as being a very independent soldier who entered deals without notifying his superior. With Catena’s death, LaPlaca took over the crew in 1967 and oversaw it until 1979. According to Scott M. Dietche, LaPlaca was a powerful New Jersey mafioso who had a knack for dealing with stolen securities and bank fraud. He was also involved in the labor movement, inheriting the union racketeering tradition of the Catena crew. For instance, his nephew Joseph Tarantino was the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 418. Yet, according to New Jersey state police officials, LaPlaca’s primary function in New Jersey was to, “control the garbage industry for the mob.” After Ardis’s disappearance, Joseph Campisano served as president who was a holdover from the days of the Provenzano trusteeship. It’s secretary-treasurer was Vito Cariello, a felon previously convicted of conspiracy as a bookkeeper for Teamsters Local 819 in New York. The real power in the local was business agent Ernest Palmeri or Palmieri, who came from a family of “hoodlums”. While government documents usually described Palmeri as an associate of organized crime, Bill Feather maintains that he was in fact a made member of the Genovese Crime Family. Regardless of his status, Ernest Palmeri was appointed to his position by Peter La Placa in 1969 and the union took a turn to be even more violent and coercive than ever before. The activities undertaken during his reign make him quite possibly the most interesting leader of Local 945.
The union continued to be a tool of organized crime in maintaining its customer allocation agreements across both the municipal and industrial-commercial garbage sectors. Control of the industry was maintained through “selective unionization” where he used union force on uncooperative carting companies that were competing with favored companies, thus giving mobbed up companies a competitive edge. For instance, between 1971 to 1974, the Newark office investigated seven instances in which Palmeri and Local 945 enforced the will of mob-backed companies. The mob’s reputation terrified businessmen and even the most promising investigation fell apart due to a witness’s refusal to testify in front of a grand jury. Palmeri’s reign over Local 945 was marked with general violence and corruption as on one occasion in 1976 he threated death to an uncooperative cartman who would meet his demise two years later. Further demonstrating his power, Local 945 sent a letter in 1976 to municipalities in Northern and Central New Jersey stating, “The following is a list of members of the New Jersey Municipal Contractors Association whose employees are members of this Local Union. We are not concerned as to which company collects refuse in your city. What we are concerned with is that the job be done with Union help and under Union conditions.” Thus, the union continued to be the main tool used by the Mafia to enforce the cartel conspiracy plaguing New Jersey’s garbage industry across both the municipal and non-municipal garbage sectors. As one government witness put it, “… Palmeri was a very powerful man in New Jersey… nothing ever goes on in the state, in the garbage industry, without his blessing one way or another.” There is also evidence to suggest that Palmeri demanded tribute from carters to remain free from union harassment. Furthermore, a confidential SCI source maintained that when garbage vehicles were bought or sold, their prices would be artificially inflated and the difference between its real and artificial values were paid as kickbacks to the union. But besides continuing Serratelli’s tradition, Palmeri and his associates began to use Local 945’s powers and facilities in new creative ways to derive additional benefits at the expense of the rank-and-file members.
While the 5,000 strong local was by no means a small one, it was certainly dwarfed by the ones found in Chicago and Cleveland that allowed union officials to draw huge compensation packages. This, however, didn’t prevent Local 945’s leaders from giving themselves generous salary packages that were often 3x greater than the wages the rank-and-file members received. Enriching corrupt officials through salaries and fringe benefits was the easiest and least risky method of using a union’s financial resources and Palmeri and Campisano used this approach to the fullest. Close to $75,000 in union dues were contributed to fringe benefit funds for the exclusive use of union officials and employees, which were much more lucrative than the benefits available to ordinary members of Local 945 which among other things guaranteed sound pensions and even two life insurance payments to its senior officers. The financial burden experienced by these unsound and corrupt policies forced the local to borrow $20,000 in 1976 whose payments were ultimately shouldered by blue-collar workers. Union officials further enriched themselves with lavish pension, severance, and dental packages that were unavailable to most members. Despite the local having a pension plan since 1962, only eight retirees were receiving any type of benefit and out of 1,860 participants, none were entitled for future pension benefits. The union made it exceedingly hard to qualify for a pension so that more money could be kept for investment purposes that ultimately furthered the interests of organized crime. The result of all of this was that Local 945’s sanitation workers were paid below the national average which gave evidence of the existence of possible sweetheart contracts and wage contract collusion between the local and carters that were members of the Municipal Contractors Association (MCA). Further proof of that can be seen with the fact that none of the members of the MCA had been signed onto the local’s severance plan giving favoured garbage companies additional financial advantages. Corrupt union officials got richer on the backs of the members they were supposed to protect. Yet high salaries and other compensation schemes where not the only ways racketeers used to siphon money out of the union.
The union also used two establishments, the ‘Roman Forum’ and ‘Nero’s Den’, located inside its West Patterson headquarters to further manipulate the local’s funds. Coterie Inc. was a front company organized by Neil Batelli that Palmeri helped get loan for from a bank he held hostage (more on that in a bit) and in return was granted operational control of the Forum and its liquor license. Proceeds from the nightclub (Forum) and the bar (Nero’s Den) were supposed to go into Local 945’s Welfare Fund, but through some creative accounting, state investigators found that large sums of money were being diverted into the pockets of organized crime. In one instance, $7,000 from a thirty thousand dollar loan given to the Forum by a bank went “unaccounted for” and in another case, $10,000 of money lent from 945’s pension fund to Coterie went missing. George Franconero (brother of singer Connie Francis), a mobbed up lawyer who helped Palmeri set up deals with the Forum installed his man Comillo Molinaro as the Forum’s manager who took money out of the register at will and helped steal another $10,000. Molinaro is probably one of the most intriguing characters I have encountered and a whole section on him will be dedicated shortly. The nightclub was also host to Palmeri’s daughter’s wedding reception where a $6,000 bill probably went unpaid; in fact, the venue was host to many mob weddings and represented further drainage on Local 945’s Welfare Fund. Eventually, the liquor authorities caught on and revoked the Forum’s license, only for the club to be turned into a BYOB establishment that featured such celebrity attractions as Frankie Valli (Rusty Millio from The Sopranos). The final interesting tidbit was that the Forum was rumored to be a possible casino site in 1974 during the state’s failed referendum on the legalization of gambling. Now just because a casino never panned in West Patterson does not mean Local 945 did not try to get into the gambling business and it is time to see how the union and Mafia racketeers infiltrated New Jersey’s small banking sector in the mid 1970s thanks to new government legislation and regulation.
The mob apparently began to move in on financial institutions in New Jersey beginning in 1969 after a new law made it easier and more profitable to open a bank. Previously, NJ law restricted banks from opening branches in municipalities serviced by an existing financial institution. By 1973, the last geographical barriers were removed, enabling banks and savings and loan associations to merge and expand freely within the state in an attempt to build up New Jersey’s banking industry and make it more competitive versus the larger New York and Pennsylvania financial corporations. These new laws resulted in spawning 40 new state-chartered and 22 nationally chartered banks that were usually small and suburban with less than $10 million in assets. Their small size coupled with their cash crunch as a result of the 1973/1974 recession made these type of institutions extremely susceptible to organized crime and union locals flush with pension cash. It is by using Local 945’s burgeoning pension fund that union racketeers were able to effectively take over several New Jersey banks. The scheme centered around certificate of deposits or CD investments, a short-term security that counted as assets for the bank and gave its holders a steady income from colleting interest rate payments. For small New Jersey banks, easy access to CD investments was the chief way to grow their ability to lend and build-up their loan book since their ability to give out credit was determined by the amount of deposits they had. Similarly, CDs were attractive investment opportunities that offered steady guaranteed interest rate income to meet future liabilities for small pension and welfare funds that lacked the ability to hire professional money managers. Organized crime was able to weaponize CDs given the leverage the funds had over bank lending operations because if a fund had a sizable amount of deposits in a bank and threatened to yank out their money, it would put the lender under serious liquidity pressure. This factor coupled with malleable banking executives allowed racketeers to pressure banks into given them low-interest, under or un-collateralized loans or forgive past loans for union officials and their friends. The end result was that banks were saddled with bad debt and pension funds invested in low interest CD that worsened their ability to meet future pensioner obligations. This was the mechanism used by the Genovese and Bonanno crime families to enrich themselves and their associates in the mid-1970s and Local 945 was at the center of the scheme.
While Local 945 eventually helped cause four banks to fail, three particular institutions and their leaders were most important to this narrative. The State Bank of Chatham was controlled by Alexander Smith, Robert Prodan ran the Bank of Bloomfield, and Arnold Daner was the president of U.S. Funding. The scheme actually began when Frank Rando’s Local 1262 (Lardiere’s old local) gave $20,000 to the newly created State Bank of Chatham in April of 1972. Eventually $120,000 more in CDs were purchased with Rando stating, “I came to an agreement with Smith. I would put CD’s in the Chatham bank, that him (Smith) in turn would supply loans to friends, relatives, myself.” In November 1973, Alexander was introduced to Palmeri and the two discussed Smith’s interests in obtaining deposits from Local 945 in exchange for favourable lending policy to Palmeri and his friends. Over the next year Local 945 increased their deposits in Smith’s bank and by summer 1974 demanded a 2% kickback on their deposits that Smith had to acquiesce after threats were made against his life. Smith made good on his word and his bank lent over $110,000 and $22,000 to loansharks Anthony Cilli and Patrick Rizzo, respectively, $23,194 as a fifth mortgage to Palmeri’s son Paul, $200,000 to George Franconero and his partner, mortgages to both Palmeri and Rando and the bank even refinanced a loan to Newark longshoreman boss Vincent Collucci. Daner, who owned $90,000 to loansharks and helped finance the ‘Forum’ nightclub at Local 945’s headquarters, was also given $25,000 to help him finance a stock manipulation scheme. The fund ended up redeemed their CDs from Chatham after Smith left the bank in May 1975. In a similar fashion, it was Rando who introduced Palmeri to Prodan in the spring of 1974 and the two began their crooked business relationship. As generous as the State Bank of Chatham was, the lending policy at the Bank of Bloomfield was even more charitable and over the course of its run it lend $3.8 million to Bonanno leader Carmine Galante, major Detroit heroin traffickers Raffaele Quasarano and Peter Vitale as well as Genovese associates and members such Jimmy Fiorillo (Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello’s associate), carting executive Thomas Milo, and Anthony Ferro. Daner later revealed in court the close relationship Palmeri enjoyed among New Jersey’s financial circles. When Central Sanitation Services of Detroit (Quasarano and Vitale’s company) fell behind on its payments to U.S. Funding, Daner was able to leverage Prodan’s connections with Palmeri to resolve that issue who was powerful enough to straighten things out. Ernest’s racketeering services did not come for free and Daner paid him anywhere from $500 to $5,000 for his help for either securing delinquent payments or as kickbacks for brokering new loans. After Daner got cleaned out by a stock manipulation involving a bank stock, Palmeri was able to secure a deal with Alexander Smith’s bank to help U.S. Funding out and keep Daner going financially. All this power came from the fact that Local 945 had about $1,335,000 invested in CDs and was working with both Local 1262 and Local 863 to exercise control. Besides just giving their friends and families favourable loans, Daner’s firm was also used to negotiate the sale of more than 100 equipment leases to garbage and landfill firms that was approved by Prodan’s bank knowing that they were based on false or inflated data. This was eerily similar to what Melvin Cooper was doing. Eventually indictments alleged that more than $5.4 million was bilked in mob-related schemes from banks held hostage by Local 945. This figure was dwarfed by a deal that almost happened.
(L:R): Carmine Galante, Charles Musillo, and Ernest Palmeri
The most outlandish conspiracy hatched by Local 945, and the Bank of Bloomfield was a plot to skim millions of dollars from the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas alongside self-proclaimed Bonanno Boss Carmine Galante and his crony Charles Musillo. The mechanism of this skim was different than the ones classically used by organized crime as it did not involve stealing cash from the count room or through slot machines like at the Stardust. Instead, Charles Musillo would use shell companies to launder dirty Bonanno money obtained from loansharking and narcotics trafficking to be pulled together with money from the Bank and Daner’s U.S. Funding to extend a $23 million loan to the Tropicana. The loan would be lent under a high interest rate that would later be re-financed at an even higher rate and this refinancing was necessary because Daner would inflate construction costs by setting up excessive equipment leases and Galante’s labor contacts would slow down construction efforts at the Tropicana. These actions would delay construction, drive up costs, and eventually require a new loan agreement with the proceeds from this complicated scheme split up between Galante, Musillo, Prodan, and Daner. In the spring of 1975, Musillo, Prodan, and Daner met with Tropicana officials to hatch-out an agreement while Galante waited at a nearby motel. Unfortunately for Galante, he was picked up by police for failing to register as a felon and Musillo had to break-up the meeting to bail his Boss out. The deal fell-apart and this scheme went no where. On its own, it is a fascinating little anecdote and represents one of the few instances after 1970 when East Coast mobsters tried to get involved in Las Vegas casinos again. But these actions are especially curious because, at the same time as the Bonanno’s tried to skim from the Tropicana via construction, the Kansas City Crime Family was in the process of its own attempt to infiltrate the casino and skim the joint’s untaxed and unreported winnings. What’s most amazing is that the two groups seemed to be totally unaware of each other’s plan! Thus, I will deviate a bit from the garbage industry of New Jersey to discuss the casino industry of Las Vegas and the Tropicana Hotel and Casino.
I will once again reference Peter Reuter’s exceptional study that examined racketeering in four distinct industries that had a reputation for Mafia influence. Now while the bulk of the paper dealt with the garbage industry of Long Island, Reuter did dedicate a small section to the casino gaming industry in the U.S., focusing mainly on Nevada. After some analysis, Reuter concluded that racketeer’s deep involvement in the casino industry did not amount to “control” as entry into the industry was not restricted, prices were not set, and that individual casinos were not subjected to either uniform extortion or individualized extortion such as the one present in the stevedoring (shipping) industry. Furthermore, unlike in the garbage or stevedoring industry, union corruption was used a source of funds rather than a tool used to extort or control the industry. Afterall, Nevada was an inhospitable state for unions as efforts by the Teamsters to organize failed and the only union with any degree of influence over the casino industry that did materialize was a HERE local. However, based, on testimony from Joseph Hauser who was intimately involved with HERE and the Mafia, organized crime was more interested in looting Local 226’s Health and Welfare Trust Funds than using it as a vehicle for casino extortion. While on the whole I agree with Reuter’s assessment, I would like to push back specifically on his statement regarding the ability to enter the casino industry as the Tropicana Hotel and Casino provided an a counter-example to that particular conclusion.
The casino gaming industry for the longest time had been considered a pariah industry with some banks refusing to lend money to this sector out of moral reasons. As Skolnick’s excellent book on casino gaming regulation pointed out, pariah industries attract pariah lenders and in the case of the Nevada gambling industry that lender was the creature of Jimmy R. Hoffa’s creation. The creation of pension plans for laborers began in earnest during the waning years of the Second World War and ironically despite its later size and reputation, the Teamsters did not begin to negotiate their first plan until 1955, a decade after their peers. Thus, the Teamsters Central States, Southeast, and Southwest Areas Pension Funds was created with Hoffa shunning professional bankers or investors in favor of allowing trustees to select loans and investments made by the vehicle while also advocating for direct investments in shopping center developments, race tracks, and Nevada hotel-casinos. The very first deal Hoffa wanted to do was to purchase the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas with the deal falling through due to insufficient cash to consummate the transaction. Hoffa was able to dominate the fund’s management trustees and control its affairs from 1955 to 1967, and after the latter’s imprisonment, Allen Dorfman and his protégée, Alvin Baron, became the fund’s most influential loan arrangers. Another important trustee within the IBT Pension Fund was William “Bill” Presser, head of IBT Joint Council 41 and president of the huge Ohio Teamsters Conference. While typical pension funds had between 5-10% of their assets in real estate, the Teamster’s Central Pension Fund had invested more than 70% of its assets in real estate, much of it in mob-sponsored Las Vegas casinos. This gave the pension fund immense power in Las Vegas as it held 56.1% of all loans in Clark County casinos grossing annually more than $96 million. By 1978, the fund had more than $247 million invested in Nevada casinos out of $1.5 billion in total assets. This type of money silenced Nevada officials who couldn’t publicly criticize the pension fund lest they criticize the gaming industry itself. Furthermore, the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund’s reptation declined because of its association with the Nevada gaming industry, whose reputation was in turn worsened by its associated with the IBT. Thus, Skolnick’s argument about Teamster-racketeer involvement in the industry can be summarized in six linked propositions, “ (1) the pension fund’s investment policy; (2) coupled with organized crime domination of Teamsters Union locals nominating trustees to the fund; (3) generated kickbacks to those controlling the fund; (4) who in turn controlled casino management to permit kickbacks involving (5) skimming and embezzlement of casino revenues (6) deposited with organized crime families who influenced the nomination of trustees”. Thus, by controlling the only real means of financing within the industry, the racketeers were able to largely control entry to the gaming sector. A 1975 Labor Department study of the Central States Pension Fund revealed a total of eight loans made to hotels, casinos, and other development in Las Vegas consisting of:
Landmark Hotel – $8 million
Circus Circus – $22 million
Caesar’s Palace – $20 million
Chris Jo, Inc – $1.5 million
Carousel Casino – $2.4 million
Aladdin Hotel – $3 million
Argent Corporation (Stardust and Fremont Hotels) – $75 million
The Dunes Hotel – $6 million
All of these hotels were in one way, or another connected with racketeers, signifying that one couldn’t get invaluable access to funds and thus entry or expansion within the industry without some sort of involvement from the Mafia. For instance, Nick Civella (Boss of the Kansas City Crime Family) and Allen Dorfman were instrumental in Frank Carroll’s acquisition of a $5.5 million loan from the Teamsters to help build the 31-story needle-shaped building that characterized the Landmark Hotel. Although there were no allegations of skimming or outright extortion, Civella did receive a $30,000 finder’s fee for his efforts which would have enhanced racketeering reputation within the industry. Circus Circus was another mob influenced hotel and casino that was built buy Jay S. Sarno, a figure connected to Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the future de-facto Acting Boss of the Genovese Crime Family. In February 1968, Allen Dorfman acquired the option to buy 6.3% of Circus Circus stock for $75,000 with the payment to be made entirely from dividends from the same stock. The options were seemingly exercised because in 1969, Dorfman was described as part owner of the resort. In 1971, Circus Circus’s hotel jewelry concession was also given to infamous Chicago Outfit solider, Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, thus further tying the complex to organized crime. According to convicted-turned-informant casino executive Carl Thomas, his skimming career began at the Circus Circus casino in 1969 after Dorfman had asked him to handle this operation. Thomas testified that, “He [Dorfman] told me there were obligations to fulfill and he wanted my help in fulfilling them. It was my understanding that a fee had to be paid for the loans, and I was to do the skimming [to pay the fee].” Assuming Circus Circus was not an isolated coincidence (and based on other examples of casinos with Teamsters loan being implicated in skimming it doesn’t seem likely) then any casino that entered the industry via Teamster backing had to pay the mob for it via skimming, which would in effect constitute individualized extortions such as the ones found in the stevedoring industry. Thus, while maybe the entire industry was not systematically extorted as Reuter presents, it seems that a substantial number of casinos within were if one equates skimming to effectively amounting to extortion, and thus a portion of his conclusion would be wrong. Caesar’s Palace was another joint that was mob infested from the get-go. In 1966, it was revealed that Sam “Momo” Giancana, Raymond Patriarca, and Gerardo “Jerry” Catena each held a 10% secret interest in the casino. Furthermore, it was alleged that $3 million was skimmed in 1969, right before the casino was to be sold to the Perlman family. Even under new corporate ownership, the Perlman family continued to maintain relationships with organized crime associates that resulted in a bizarre deal and almost resulted in the sale of Caesar’s Palace itself. Caesars World sold two of its Pennsylvania honeymoon resorts for $15 million to Cove Associates of Miami which included Alvin Malnik and two sons of Sam Cohen, a Meyer Lansky associate convicted for skimming $36 million from the Flamingo. After the acquisition, Malnik leased the casinos back to Caesars under a long-term lease. Malnik was also described as a close associate of Lansky. Although writing about this situation under a code name, Skolnick calculated that just for arranging this Teamsters financing, he and his associates were to net $20,012,000 over 20 years and assume ownership of the two Caesars properties after the 20-year lease expired. The auditors overseeing this peculiar transaction suspected that this was a pay-off for a hidden interest by Lansky and releveled continued involvement of organized crime with Caesars well into 1975. In fact, a similar arrangement was proposed by Malnik in 1975 to buy the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and lease it back to the company but management claimed that this proposal was not “seriously considered”. The more likely reason nothing came of it is because Nevada gaming officials began to investigate Malnik’s relationship with the company and no one wanted to transact given all the scrutiny and law enforcement heat such a deal would bring. The Carousel (Club) Casino was also connected to Meyer Lansky and thus the Genovese Crime Family. The Aladdin Hotel was influenced by Mafia members from Detroit and was later convicted for its concealed interests in 1979. Likewise, the Dunes Hotel had allegations of secret mob ownership via Morris Shenker, a St. Louis attorney. The Argent Corporation was famously under the thumb of organized crime controlling the Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda, and Marina casino-hotel complexes. Thus, all casinos that benefitted from Teamster funding were in one shape or another involved with organized crime and all were extorted in one way or another for access to that financing. One famous mob-dominated casino missing from the above list is the Tropicana Hotel and Casino and its exclusion partially demonstrates that the racketeers were able to restrict entry into the industry under certain circumstances.
The Tropicana Hotel was mobbed up from inception. After Vincent “the Chin” Gigante’s infamous 1957 botched hit on Genovese Crime Boss Frank Castello failed, police found a slip of paper that had the figures of the Tropicana’s gross receipts for its first three weeks of operation indicating his hidden ownership. Johnny Roselli bitterly complained to Jimmy “the Weasel” Fratianno, self-proclaimed Acting Boss of the Los Angeles Crime Family, that this discovery cost him $5 million since Roselli also had a piece of the casino. Informants confirmed Roselli’s involvement with the casino as one reported to the FBI that he believed Johnny had something to do with the management of the hotel and that he was instrumental in obtaining several contracts with the complex that included production of the Tropicana floor show Folies Bergère. Sam Giancana was said to have passed on an opportunity to invest in the Tropicana later down the line because its new operator J.K. Houssels ran it with an iron hand and presumably wouldn’t be interested in the Mafia’s funny business. The Mafia would not return to Tropicana until 1974 when Joseph Agosto crossed paths with its new owner Deil Gustafson.
According to Joseph Agosto, he was born out of wedlock to a lady of the night in Cleveland on August 30th, 1921, and to cover up this “embarrassment” he moved to Italy with his grandparents who tried to conceal the circumstances of his birth by fabricating reports to Italian authorities to indicate he was born there. The government contended, however, that Agosto was actually Vincenzo Pianetti born in 1927 in Agrigento, Italy who illegally entered the United States in the late 1940s by using the passport of a dead man. In the end the matter was dropped by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service after Agosto’s mother was found and who confirmed Agosto’s story. Agosto spent his life basically as a conman, wheeling and stealing as he made his way around the United States while befriending powerful friends. After spending most of his early life in Italy, Agosto came to Kansas City in 1951 with “15 cents in his pocket” and stayed a short while with his first cousins, the Porrello family. He then moved to Alaska to work as a food supervisor for U.S. military post exchanges after which he was infected by the “real estate bug” and got into the construction business. Success followed and he made several lucrative commercial and residential deals in Alaska and Washington states that were to good to be true since in 1966 he pled guilty to filing false statements in a land deal involving the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As it turned out, a certain Salvatore Pisciotta was a partner with Agosto in an Alaskan construction company. Undaunted he continued his real estate career developing commercial, office, and residential real estate in Washington as well as in Las Vegas. He continued in his shady dealings as two commercial properties he owned went up in flames mysteriously and he was subpoenaed to testify before a Washington grand jury investigating a $1.7 million embezzlement at a savings and loans firm Agosto was an investor in. He even survived an assassination attempt in 1972! In 1973, he briefly returned to Kansas City to be introduced to Nick Civella by his cousin to ask for help in getting the Teamsters approval for the sale, through the union, of legal defense insurance. Although he paid Civella $75,000 to get the project off the ground, it was ultimately nixed by IBT VP Roy Williams because police and newspapers started investigating allegations about kickbacks and the involvement of organized crime. Undaunted by his set-back, Joseph Agosto then hoped to build a hotel-casino in Las Vegas in the mid-1970s, although several attempts fizzled out. As luck would have it, he was introduced by Las Vegas businessmen to Diel Gustafson, the owner of the financially troubled Tropicana Hotel and Casino, and realized that he could become partners with the struggling casino owner.
(L:R): Joseph V. Agosto, Diel Gustafson, and Nick Civella
Diel “Dale” Gustafson was a millionaire banker from Minnesota owning six banks and an assortment of other businesses and real estate holdings. Gustafson’s Las Vegas tenure began after he bought the Tropicana Hotel and Casino from Texas International Airlines which to him seemed like a perfect potential turnaround story. The 500-room hotel was fairly small by comparison to other Las Vegas giants, but Gustafson entertained a dream of building up the hotel into a fabulous 3,000-room monster complex that could outcompete any other Sin City staple. A company that promised $131 million for the necessary financing of such an undertaking went bankrupt, and the 1973/1974 recession as well as Detroit gamblers walking off with $400,000 of Tropicana’s cash sparked serious financial stress on the property. In September 1974, Gustafson sold 50% of his interest to Ed and Fred Doumani, rival casino operators, who then went scouting for more capital. Gustafson was in further negotiations with the Doumani brothers and other Las Vegas investors about a proposed joint-venture that would bail out the Tropicana which was contingent on a $50 million loan from the Teamsters pension fund. While this was happening, Agosto later testified that in late 1974 he was negotiating with Gustafson to also acquire an interest in the Tropicana using Agosto’s associate Nick Tanno as the front man in that transaction. Gustafson brought Agosto on in an effort to stave off a takeover by the Doumani brothers. Thus, Agosto made a “special trip” to Kansas City and told Nick Civella that it was not in his interest for that Teamsters loan to be approved since he was in negotiations with Gustafson to be included in the ownership and management of the Tropicana. At that same meeting it was agreed that Agosto would infiltrate the casino and skim it and in return the Kansas mob would use their influence in the pension fund to finance the expansion of the Tropicana and finance its operation to enable the skim. It was also during the same time frame that Tropicana officials (presumably Gustafson) were also negotiating with the Galante/Bank of Bloomfield group for their proposed loan package. Yet the financial position of the Tropicana was still weak in the midst of these competing negotiations, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board forced investors in the casino to come up with a suitable refinancing package or risk closure of the establishment. The approved $12.5 million plan included a $6.4 million investment from heiress Mitzi Stauffer Briggs, one of the investors recruited by the Doumani brothers, that gave her control of 80% of the casino with Gustafson retaining the rest. Via influence with the Teamsters, the mob was technically able to effectively restrict entry to the Doumani brothers and insure that the uncooperative casino owners did not receive their loans and thus unable to hold on to their interest in the casino. Agosto’s deal (which was supposed to give him control of 18% of Tropicana’s stock) with Gustafson fell apart after a $53 million Teamster loan of his own was not approved later down the line . Sadly no amount of influence was able to get around a new federal law which forced pension fund investments to be diversified and the Teamsters with their saturated Las Vegas loan book could do nothing to help its Mafia friends. Agosto and the Kansas mob had to find another way, especially with Briggs now in the picture.
As a temporary solution, Agosto was appointed by Gustafson as VP of Tropicana Construction Co., so that his continued presence at the casino would not be questioned by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (since Agosto was not licensed) which allowed the conman to attend management meetings. Joseph was finally able to make headway as Tanno loaned Tropicana $900,000 and Agosto himself bought the Production & Leasing Co. that put on the famous Folies Bergère show for $850,000. The casino paid the company $60,000 per week to deliver the show and Agosto later claimed that he could skim a million dollars from the shows alone. The skimming scheme developed slowly because the conspirators just didn’t have a big enough stake in the hotel. To add further complications, Tropicana’s new owner Mitzi did not trust Agosto at first and curbed his role in running the casino. By 1977, however, she would come around and became increasingly reliant on Agosto’s advice in running the gambling joint, despite warnings from federal authorities. She sent a telegram to Agosto reading “I love you. Mitzi” after he hired an attorney to get her out of a psychiatric treatment center that she was committed to by her children. She later signed over documents giving Agosto power to act over her. By 1977, Agosto had succeeded in effectively running the casino and told his Kansas partners that he was in a position to begin the skim in earnest. Carl Thomas, another close associate of the Kansas mob and former manager of the Tropicana, designed the skim operation and with the help of casino manager Donald Shepard (hired in May 1975) began to steal $40,000 per month from June-October 1978. The group paused briefly to check if the skimmers were themselves being skimmed before resuming and in totality the whole skim operation lasted only 11 months. While the group was charged for skimming $280,000 in total, the monthly run-rate suggested they could steal approximately half a million per year. While some money was probably skimmed from the Folies Bergère production and the government was unable to determine how much money in total disappeared from the gaming tables during Agosto’s tenure with the Tropicana, at the end of the day, the choice of target was very poor. The hotel was always financially troubled and Agosto and Gustafson had to run a $4 million check-kiting scheme to bolster the casino’s financial position. Ultimately, everyone involved (barring the front owners) received heavy time with both Carl Thomas and Joseph Agosto agreeing to become informants. Thus, there is one potential example of the Mafia effectively restricting entry into the Nevada gaming industry. I will admit it’s pretty weak, but it’s something. Ultimately, what hampered the Mafia in controlling the industry was that frankly there were too many families involved that did not allow for the coordination and discipline necessary to rule it as effectively as the garbage industry. While one or two families exerted control over a given garbage territory (Gambino for Queens or Lucchese/Gambino on Long Island) there were almost a dozen families involved in Las Vegas in one shape or another and that spells disaster for managing an effective and coherent illicit cartel strategy. The concrete club or the gasoline tax panel were managed by just four neighbouring families and think about how often they had to meet to coordinate and manage the racket properly. Nothing of the sort existed in Nevada and it ultimately proved their undoing (alongside all the legal tools the government acquired). Anyways, it’s time to get back to New Jersey from this detour.
In the winter of 1975/1976, the weight of the bad loans began to be felt by the financial institutions as their deals began to fall apart and the scheme was uncovered. As a result Daner met with Prodan and two of Galante’s associates to discuss strategy and Daner was eventually forced by Prodan to sign a confession taking full blame for the bank losses Daner who turned state’s evidence to save himself from almost certain doom testified that Prodan threatened him by stating, “Mr. Prodan told me that I had gotten him in a jam because he was doing things with Ernie Palmeri. By my placing him (Prodan) in danger, I was actually placing Palmeri in danger, and Palmeri would get me, no matter what happened.” As a result of all of these banking conspiracies, almost 50 people would be indicted over the course of the late 1970s that all resulted in relatively light sentences. Rando and Alexander Smith both got three years’ probation, Charles Musillo received four years in prison, and Prodan ended up cooperating with the government. In 1977, Ernest Palmieri was indicted with four others on charges of racketeering and bank fraud for receiving more than $800,000 in loans and kickbacks from a total of nine New Jersey banks. In May 1979, the entire leadership of Local 945 was found guilty of racketeering including president Joseph Campisano, secretary-treasurer Vito Cariello and of course business agent Ernest Palmeri who was sentenced to seven years in prison. Palmeri would be replaced by ex-carter Anthony Rizzo as Local 945’s new business agent, a nephew of Genovese soldier Joseph Schipani of Brooklyn. The fallout of from the banking scheme may have been a factor in the way the mob enforced its will on New Jersey’s garbage industry and we now turn back to the customer allocation agreement.
The relationship between racketeers, industry associations, and unions are extremely interesting to analyze, particularly in the context of the sanitation industry. What makes New Jersey unique is that, as far as I’m aware, it is the only example of where we have an exact date of when the responsibility to uphold the customer allocation agreement transitioned from the mob-controlled union to the mob-controlled industry association. For instance, in New York and Long Island, it’s murky to exactly establish when the union stopped retaining a major role in the operation of the agreement and in other mob-dominated markets such as Florida, a union never played a role in establishing or enforcing one in the first place. In New Jersey, however, Ernest Palmeri and Local 945 stopped being the primary enforcer of the property rights system after June 1976 when the New Jersey Trade Waste Association (NJTWA) came into existence under the leadership of Carmine Franco. It’s important to speculate why the racketeers (particularly the Genovese Crime Family) felt the need to form a new organization to protect the customer allocation agreement present in the industry since Serratelli’s tenure. Clearly then the mob viewed Local 945’s power and to an extent Palmeri’s authority as insufficient to further the interests of organized crime within the industry. Thus, I think there were five factors that contributed to this transition relating to law enforcement pressure, inter and intra Mafia politics, as well as just structural changes within the industry.
Due to the collapse of the banking scheme in the winter of 1975/1976, Ernest Palmeri and his mob peers had to know that law enforcement was going to investigate their arrangements and possibly find indictable transactions that would get some or all of the participants and thus Local 945’s leadership in trouble. Therefore, with investigators looking into the union’s financial dealings, they were bound to look at other activities pursued by the local and thus this extra heat from police could limit their effectiveness in arbitrating disputes and ability to pressure non-compliant waste hauling companies to abide by the property rights system. Furthermore, Local 945 and Ernest Palmeri was clearly having trouble dealing with rebel carters and this problem was manifested in an individual named Gabriel “Gabe” San Felice. San Felice was a rough individual who moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey and started a garbage company called Sano Carting in March 1966. As a “scavenger” firm, his business initially specialized in commercial and industrial clients, but by 1972/1973 he began to bid on municipal contracts in the Bay Shore area, a garbage subsector was that jealously held by organize crime affiliated companies. Sano Carting ended up winning contracts with Keyport and Matawan that were previously held by Crescent Roselle, Serratelli’s old friend, who used his influence with Palmeri to intervene in his dispute with Felice. Despite limiting Sano Carting’s access to landfills and threats from Palmeri to unionize his workers with Local 945, Felice continued to expand and contacted his own racketeer protector, Genovese soldier Frank Caruso, to intercede on his behalf. After an initial meeting that produced a deal that led to almost immediate cheating, a second meeting stabilized the situation between San Felice, Palmeri, Local 945, and Roselle until 1975. Importantly, Caruso threatened Palmeri during the second meeting, undermining Palmeri’s authority and thus Local 945’s power in the eyes of private carters. Compare this story to the ones previously described involving John Serratelli in the 1950s and note the stark contrast in conduct and outcome. First, Serratelli’s usual tactics of limiting landfill access and threats of unleashing his union’s power eventually cowered carters into submission, thus preserving the power of the union over the carters. While Palmeri used the same playbook, instead of listening to him, Felice sought outside help. This again never happened under Serratelli as from all accounts carters never sought the assistance of racketeers because they perceived Serratelli’s word to be law. This highlights the difference between the authority Serratelli carried within the garbage industry versus Palmeri’s who was clearly seen as a weaker leader. Finally, despite Local 945 being a Genovese local and Palmeri’s being a Genovese associate (if not an outright member), his authority and the customer allocation agreement that benefitted the mob was weakened by a fellow Genovese member in Caruso showing perhaps a lack of unified agenda within the Family. Caruso’s reprimanding of Palmeri, in effect legitimized the ability to steal stops and disregard the property rights system that produced the excess profits all parties enjoyed if one had the backing of a sufficiently powerful enough racketeer. This in turn transformed the nature of grievance meetings that were more suited to be overseen by an industry association rather than a union as we will see. Lastly, the increased presence of non-union carting firms such as Sano Carting further diminished the power of the union in its ability to impose its will on the carting industry, a similar problem encountered by Local 813 on Long Island. The garbage industry of New Jersey was generally divided into two sectors, the municipal contracting segment and the commercial-industrial segment. The municipal contracting segment was dominated by a small group of large carters that were part of the Municipal Contractors Association dating back from Serratelli’s time and one that Local 945 seemed to be closest too. While many municipal contractors did work in the commercial-industrial (“scavenging”) segment, most commercial-industrial collectors did not bid for municipal contracts, and thus the ~24 member Association operated in a fairly isolated sector. Given the small number of operators in the segment and given that many were affiliated with organized crime, Local 945 had an easy time operating and protecting the customer allocation agreement. However, the commercial-industrial segment was serviced by at least 120 carting companies and as more carters like San Felice began to move into the more lucrative municipal sector, Local 945 started to have a harder time policing the industry given they were non-union. The limitations in Local 945’s power was becoming increasingly evident.
The structural limitations of Local 945 in the mid-1970s also collided with Mafia politics. I think there were two facets to this, intra and inter Mafia politics. Within the Genovese Crime Family, I think there were desires by soldiers within La Placa’s crew to grow their own power and influence within the garbage industry through stronger direct intervention. As you will recall, it was said that Ernest Palmeri directly answered to “Lodi Pete”. However, younger members like Tino Fiumara and John DiGillio were considered prominent “up-and-comers” within the mob in New Jersey and sought to place their own front men in positions of power. Carmine Franco, president of the New Jersey Trade Waste Association was said to be Fiumara’s puppet, and its sister organization, the Hudson County Sanitation Association was controlled by DiGillio through Joseph Scugoza. Thus, this way the younger soldiers would have a more direct access to the industry that was characterized with more frequent mediations. For instance, it was Fiumara who introduced San Felice to Carmine Franco and told the former to seek the help of the latter if Felice encountered any problems with Local 945. This action increased the power and importance of Fiumara and Franco within the industry at the expense of Palmeri and Local 945 and moved the decision-making power in the sector from the union to the Association Fiumara controlled. Tino also attended many grievance meetings to settle various territorial disputes, approved the sale of garbage routes, and arranged chemical and waste dumping for kickbacks, further showing evidence of growing direct racketeer involvement within the industry that was notably absent during Serratelli’s time. Moreover, according to a state report, the New Jersey Trade Waste Association was formed, in part, to thwart the growing influence of the Gambino Crime Family in New Jersey through Macaluso, by the Genovese Crime Family through Carmine Franco. Charles A. Macaluso was formerly the president of the Greater New York Trade Waste Association, controlled by the Gambino Family, and was sent to New Jersey at the urging of “Jimmy Brown” Failla in 1976 to grow the influence of the Gambino’s in the Garden State’s garbage industry. By forcing Macaluso to join the NJTWA under Genovese leadership, the power of the Gambino’s in New Jersey was kept in check. Scott M. Dietche, however, maintains that the genesis of the Association was more collaborative. In 1976, New Jersey formally created the toxic waste disposal industry through a new law that dictated that chemicals and other toxic refuse be treated more strictly than solid garbage. This new regulation created a lucrative market that the mob sought to control and was the genesis for the formation of a waste-haulers association in New Jersey by Peter LaPlaca, James “Jimmy Brown” Failla, and Tino Fiumara. As one can see, there were numerous different factors that went into the formation of the new Association(s) and the waning role of Local 945’s contribution to the enforcement of the property rights system in New Jersey. There may have also been one other factor that contributed to the formation of the NJTWA and that was the murder of carter Alfred DiNardi over his dispute with SCA (or Melvin Cooper?).
(L:R): Thomas F. Viola, Carmine Franco, and John DiGilio
The 1970s saw a structural shift within the industry due to the rise of national waste management firms like Waste Management and Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI). These organizations were founded by groups of entrepreneurs that included highly educated managers and business executives that brought modern managerial techniques and business school corporate services that enabled for greater efficiencies when contrasted to the informal family-run carting businesses of old. These companies grew exponentially by being serial acquirers (BFI for instance bought 157 companies between 1968 and 1973) and began to dominate the previously fragmented waste management industry while also expanding into landfill management and toxic waste disposal. When acquiring local players, national firms would issue stock to the previous owners and retain them as semi-autonomous employees through multiyear management contracts to retain local knowledge, and in some cases, intimacy with local customer allocation agreement conspiracies. Despite their rapid expansion both nationally and internationally, the national firms were notably absent from New York and Long Island during the 1970s and 1980s, signifying the strength of racketeer influence within those markets. They were active in New Jersey, highlighting the comparatively less powerful property rights system present in the market, although their operations there displayed a distinctly Mafia flavor. It is in this context that Service Corporation of America (SCA) found itself, having to navigate between Corporate America and the Mafia.
SCA had grown rapidly since 1970, having acquired more than 130 garbage companies in the span of a decade. It was the first national company to enter New Jersey’s carting industry, swallowing up twenty-five firms which informant Harold Kaufman described as, “some of the toughest organized crime companies in the world”. It really got its first major foothold in the Garden State when it acquired Industrial Haulage Corp. (~$2 million in revenue) in March 1972 from Louis Viola and his sons Thomas F. Viola and Frank V. Viola. This is the same Thomas Viola that was indicted for bid-rigging with Serratelli and who conspired with the former union leader to restrict landfill access to uncooperative carters. After SCA’s acquisition of Viola’s companies, he joined the board of directors and was appointed a vice president in charge of directing its Mid-Atlantic region (which included New Jersey and Philadelphia). He was later appointed the president of the conglomerate after its previous one looted his own company out of $4 million dollars alongside SCA’s founder and other associates of organized crime in 1975. As one can see, the company was rotten to the core and replete with connections to the mob. In 1972, the Iommetti brothers also sold their company to SCA and continued to manage their former company under its new corporate umbrella. The Iommettis were previously mentioned in connection to both municipal corruption and ties to Genovese powerhouse Jerry Catena. Their connections to the Genovese Crime Family were further confirmed when in the summer of 1980, Peter Iommetti, a district manager for SCA, was seen in the company of Ernest Palmeri, Tino Fiumara and Louis “Streaky” Gatto, the new captain of LaPlaca’s old regime. In 1973, SCA acquired United Carting Co. from Ralph Mastrangelo who was involved in extorting a North Jersey contracting company alongside August Vergalitto. Unsurprisingly, Vergalitto was connected to John DiGilio and was secretly televised by NBC giving DeCalvacante godfather John Rigg a customary kiss. SCA’s biggest catch in 1973, however, would be the acquisition of a number of Roselle family businesses, then one of the largest solid waste operators in New Jersey. The Roselle brothers continued to operate their companies, and Crescent Roselle served as the general manager for the Roselle group of corporations acquired by SCA. Another firm acquired by SCA was Alfred Lippman’s Fereday Meyer & Co (spelled differently every time, I know, but that’s how it was done by newspapers too). The point is that SCA’s leadership and its New Jersey division was saturated with managers and operators connected to organized crime that actively sought to maintain the property rights system embedded in the state’s garbage industry. Afterall, Roselle sought the assistance of Palmeri and organized crime against San Felice’s infraction on his territory while being a manager for SCA. Thus, the nation’s third largest waste hauler at the time was corrupt and in bed with the Mafia.
Alfred “Freddy” DiNardi or DeNardi was born in the Bronx and entered the garbage industry with little formal education in 1949 by joining his family-business Colgate Paper, a wastepaper disposal company in New York. In 1959 he became an officer in Middlesex Scrap Materials and three years later he helped his brother Michel DiNardi form Middlesex Carting Company (a Melvin Cooper customer). In 1966 he founded his first garbage company, D&V Disposal Services, and in 1969 he launched his most well-known firm, Custom Disposal Co., that operated out of the same Middlesex office as his brother’s company. While most carters stuck to operating in their home county, Custom Disposal operated Somerset, Union, and Hunterdon counties and by 1973 Custom boasted $1.1 million in yearly operating income from a variety of municipal, commercial, and industrial contracts. Such rapid expansion required a lot of capital and competitors began to wonder where DiNardi got the money to run his fleet of gleaming black, gold-lettered trucks. The answer is easy, credit. Custom Disposal had $356,000 in long-term debts and $84,825 in short-term notes with some of the notes backed by mortgages on the company’s Middlesex plant. $161,000 in short-term mortgages were provided by CBM, Ltd. a company with the same address as Custom Disposal’s lawyer office, whose son was purportedly involved with the garbage company. DiNardi also owned $200,000 to Cooper Funding through loans made by P.F.R.D., which solicited some $300,000 from Melvin’s firm. This financial arrangement is suspected to have played some role in DiNardi’s eventual demise. Using funding from loansharks, Custom Disposal grew by aggressively underbidding carting companies large and small for both municipal and industrial-commercial customers, an act which ruffled some feathers. In 1975, for instance, it won a two-year $78,800 contract for the Bradley Gardens section of Bridgewater from Inter-County who also lost a school contract to DiNardi’s company three years prior. He also won contracts against larger garbage companies like J. Filiberto Sanitation and Murray Hill Disposal which pissed off other carters who called his pricing strategy as “irregular” and “erratic” saying, “When he [DiNardi] would bid for schools, the local man would bid $100 and he would come in at $50”. The man was wrecking havoc on the central New Jersey garbage market, breaking all protocol and disregarded the property rights system. When one carter was asked who lost business to DiNardi, he replied, “Just go down the names in the Yellow Pages. They’ve all lost work”. The biggest show down DiNardi had, however, was with SCA and their various New Jersey subsidiaries. In December 1975, Custom Disposal beat out SCA’s Waste Removal subsidiary for a $25,000 annual contract to haul garbage from Trenton State Collage. More significantly, DiNardi began to move in on SCA’s municipal contracts which were certainly protected by the customer allocation agreement. In November of 1975, Freddy won a $358,000 two-year pick-up contract for Roselle Park which Waste Disposal held for years prior. SCA first tried to contest the decision in court, but its suit was thrown out. In total, DiNardi took eight contracts from SCA subsidiaries Waste Disposal and Interstate. A second major showdown between SCA and Custom Disposal was looming for a New Brunswick municipal contract after the city council threw out the original round of bids which favored SCA. Before the outcome could be experienced, however, DiNardi received one bullet to the head and one in each buttock on June 3rd, 1976. He was murdered by two men driving a 1970 Ford Falcon. The murder remains unsolved but police were able to trace the murder weapons to the ones bought by four members of the infamous Purple Gang of East Harlem during their gun-buying binge in South Florida in the summer of 1975. So what exactly happened?
Custom Disposal of Middlesex, N.J.
Alfred DiNardi’s murder was one of the first major killings in a string of homicides that plagued the garbage industry of New Jersey from 1975 to 1981 and each had to do with violations of the customer allocation agreement. The fact that murder was the avenue ultimately undertaken by the racketeers showed that other methods of enforcing the property rights system failed and, in my opinion, probably highlighted the shortcomings of using Local 945 as the principal protector of the garbage cartel to those mobsters. The initial DiNardi murder gave mobsters further reason to create the NJTWA as the new primary defender of the customer allocation agreement to serve as the main dispute settlement vehicle in the waste management industry. However, subsequent murders highlighted that even the NJTWA was not enough to properly police the industry and in some cases despite union and NJTWA pressure, extra-legal measures were necessary to preserve the peace. DiNardi’s Custom Disposal was at one time unionized by Local 945, but the aggressive entrepreneur severed his ties with the union in 1973. A Custom Disposal official told authorities in 1976 that the firm experienced “numerous” problems with the union because DiNardi may have been paying off Ernest Palmeri at one time but stopped after an unknown disagreement. Another article, however, explicitly stated that there were no reports of pressure on DiNardi’s firm to unionize despite his two biggest competitors employing Teamster labor. Regardless, investigators concluded that Palmeri was definitely an “enemy” of DiNardi. If there was union pressure, it shows the limitation of Local 945’s ability to make non-union garbage firms comply with the demands of organized crime. Crescent Roselle played a key role in the ultimate death of DiNardi, as he insisted that his death was the only way to stop him. Cooper Funding was also investigated by federal agents about a possible link between Melvin Cooper and the murder of DiNardi. As Alan A. Block stated in his book, “Informant information collected by law enforcement agents noted he had received his money through P.F.R.D., which solicited $300,000 from Cooper Funding. It is unclear whether DiNardi chose not to repay the money plus the enormous interest to P.F.R.D., or Cooper and P.F.R.D. were feuding and DiNardi was made an object lesson because of some internal mob dispute.” Block concluded by stating that his association with Cooper Funding in conjunction with his violation of the property rights system was enough to get him shot three times. This would be the first of several murders linked to Melvin Cooper, Cooper Funding, and Resource Capital Group. I think it is no coincidence that a month after DiNardi’s murder, the New Jersey Trade Waste Association was formed and began to recruit members. Carmine Franco, its new leader, essentially took over the day-to-day running of Custom Disposal and began to use unionized labor. After the murder, SCA’s head of Waste Disposal (Crescent Roselle) met with several New Jersey carting executives and an organized crime figure that agreed to force Custom Disposal to return the stops it “stole” to their previous owners. On the Roselle Park contract, Carmine Franco was quoted by an informant as saying, “Do not upset the applecart; you are getting into a barrel of worms, and if you bid, you will be bucking the association.” As a result, out of eight carters solicited to bid for the new 3-year contract, SCA’s Waste Disposal turned out to be the sole bidder. One of DiNardi’s most important accounts that paid $35,000 per month was taken over a by firm associated with Genovese member John Albert. Essentially, while the property rights system in New Jersey existed for a substantial period of time, it was formalized, negotiation, and enforced upon the creation of the NJTWA in 1976. Although Ernest Palmeri and Local 945 continued to be present in grievance meetings to settle disputes in the carting industry well after 1976, it did so in the context of the NJTWA meetings under the direction of Carmine Franco and other senior members of the Genovese Crime Family. This is somewhat contrary to Peter Reuter’s assertion that Local 945 stopped playing any role in maintain the customer allocation agreement. Fascinatingly, this dynamic had real economic impacts on the value of garbage customers and routes in New Jersey as the price paid for stops expressed as a multiple of monthly revenues averaged 20-to-1 versus New York’s 40-to-1 . Despite property rights existing in both cities since at least the 1950s, the relative “newness” of the codification of the customer allocation agreement in New Jersey likely impeded its value, among other factors. The New Jersey Trade Waste Association and its sister organization the Hudson County Sanitation Association went on to control 35% of the total garbage collection revenues in the entire state of New Jersey or about $46 million annually. The story of New Jersey’s garbage industry from 1980 onwards is fairly well-known and so I’ll stop to re-focus on what Melvin Cooper was doing by the turn of the new decade and his close relationship to the Colombo Crime Family.
Melvin Cooper’s relationship with organized crime seems to have been formed prior to the founding of Cooper Funding in 1973. Shortly after the failed assassination attempt on Joseph Colombo in 1971, Michael Franzese approached Mel Cooper for help in finding capital for his new auto-leasing company, M.B.E. Leasing. The financier directed him to a man named “Vince” in the garbage business who introduced them to Equilease. Franzese stated that he was knew Cooper prior to his event and so naturally he had to be introduced to him by his father or another associate of the Colombo Family. This little anecdote shows that Cooper had relations both in the mob and the garbage industry going back to the early 1970s if not even earlier. Based on a 1983 senate committee report on organized crime stating that Sonny Franzese controlled Cooper Funding through Melvin Cooper, it may be that their relationship started even prior to the 1970s implying that Cooper was always a Colombo asset, given the above story. In 1975, Michael Franzese needed a new line of credit for his Mazda dealership and again turned to Melvin Cooper for help. Mel directed Franzese to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and introduced him to SBIC Agent Thomas Scharf of Lloyd Capital Corporation who aided Franzese in his endeavours. Mel Cooper himself was no novice when it came to scamming the SBA, and after this meeting Franzese would start his own journey towards defrauding that organization out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now the Franzese family were not the only members of the Colombo’s to deal with Cooper and soon his involvement with the Mafia took a dark turn.
Richard Stone was an owner of an auto shop in Nassau County and an employee of Cooper Funding. His real name was actually Richard Slomowitz and he had a long arrest record filled with minor crimes such as grand larceny and procession of stolen property. He was also a police informant and reported to the FBI about Cooper’s dealings with organized crime figures. As an employee he would join Melvin in the latter’s business meetings and on one occasion met with Colombo Consigliere Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico, Colombo soldier Victor “Little Vic” Orena, and Colombo associate (and future member) Ralph Lombardo. At some point Vic Orena told Cooper to have only ‘legitimate’ deals with Stone and that Orena was investigating Stone. This means Persico, Orena and other Colombo members dealt and did business with Cooper, perhaps using him as a source of funds for their own rackets. While not explicitly active in the garbage industry (although Carmine was described as a major garbage racketeer), Alphonse was an active shylock having been indicted for it in 1979. Apparently Allie Boy came to suspect that Stone might be an informant and told both Cooper and Orena to be careful around him. Cooper told Stone about his conversation with the Colombo mobsters and two days after Stone reported this information to his FBI handlers he was murdered. On November 29th, 1979, Slomowitz was covered with bullet and stab wounds when police found him in the trunk of a Cadillac registered to M. Cooper Motor Leasing after an anonymous caller steered investigators to his body parked at JFK Airport. It was the 12th victim murdered in the last two years at JFK Airport. Given Michael Franzese’s prior relationship with Melvin Cooper, the continued Colombo involvement with Cooper, and Michael’s made status and subsequent dealings with Resource Capital Group, this is another possible murder Franzese may have had some “extra” knowledge about. Could be the 6th one by my count…
The following is a summary made by the government about the LCN individuals that allegedly influenced Cooper Funding:
Joseph Schipani – Captain (soldier) in the Genovese Crime Family
Victor Orena – Soldier in the Colombo Crime Family
John Franzese – Captain in the Colombo Crime Family
Michael Franzese – Soldier in the Colombo Crime Family
Alphonse Persico – Consigliere of the Colombo Crime Family
Sam Galasso Sr. – Soldier (associate) in the Colombo Crime Family
Jerome “Jerry” Zimmerman – Associate in the Colombo Crime Family
Pasquele “Patsy” D’Avanso – Associate in the Colombo Crime Family
Melvin Cooper also engaged in conversation about the following LCN figures:
Vincent Rotondo – Captain in the DeCalvacante Crime Family
Antonio Corallo – Boss of the Lucchese Crime Family
Paul Castellano – Boss of the Gambino Crime Family
John Montana – Soldier (associate) in the Cleveland Crime Family
Jimmy Napoli – Captain in the Genovese Crime Family
Melvin Cooper was a white-collar crime innovator for the Mafia as in a taped conversation Oscar Albenga and Frank “Frankie G” Castagnaro agreed that it was Mel who taught organized crime in New York City the sophisticated brand of loansharking, characterized by fake documents and security interests. This roughly brings Melvin Cooper up to the early 1980s and so it is time to now go back in time and chronicle Jesse D. Hyman’s criminal career up until the two met and formed Resource Capital Group.
The Struggle for Local 210
The 1970s were a tumultuous time for the Buffalo Crime Family. Rocked by murders, indictments, and leadership disputes, each faction of the family struggled for control over the Arm’s crown jewel, Local 210 of the International Hod Carriers, Building and Common Laborer’s Union of America. A few weeks after the May 1974 murder of John Cammilleri, leaders of the Buffalo mob gathered at the back of Santasiero’s restaurant. One could make out Salvatore “Sam” Pieri, Carl Rizzo, Ronald Fino, and a few others as they entered the restaurant. DiCarlo: Buffalo’s First Family of Crime author Michael A. Tona, witnessing this event, concluded that it was a peace conference of local underworld factions. He later learned that the meeting was more likely about working out some details regarding union dental pilfering. The story of Hyman’s involvement with Local 210 was a result of a yearslong struggle for control between the factions of Sam Pieri and Joseph Fino in the wake of Stefano Maggadino’s deposition as Boss of the family. I will more or less summarize chapters 26 to 28 of the phenomenal DiCarlo: Buffalo’s First Family of Crime, Volume II to set the context and I highly encourage everyone to go and read this book.
Stefano Maggadino ruled over the Buffalo Crime Family from his base in Niagara Falls and over time his grip on Buffalo City and its members began to weaken, especially towards the late 1960s. The first reason came from the loss of his powerful underboss Frederico Randaccio to prison. The second reason, as it turned out, was Maggadino’s greed and deception. Stefano became aware of a large craps game that was bankrolled by Buffalo mafiosi and demanded a cut of the profits that grew from 10% to 50% over time. One day, the organizers lost a great deal of money and mafiosi Sam Pieri and Joseph DiCarlo asked Maggadino for an $18,000 loan to keep the game going. The Boss lied to his members and claimed that he didn’t have any money. Mere days later, however, law enforcement raided numerous Maggadino properties where they discovered $500,000 in cash, infuriating the rank-and-file Buffalo mobsters who began plotting to remove him from power. Sam Pieri, the leader of the insurgents, began to travel the country and host visitors to meet with important Mafia members in early 1969 to make his case for Stefano’s removal. On January 23rd, 1969, for instance, Pieri and DiCarlo met with Lucchese power John “Johnny Dio” Dioguardi and Colombo captain John “Sonny” Franzese. That March, Maggadino discovered the attempted coup against him and summoned new underboss Joseph Fino and captain John Cammilleri to his home and in a test of loyalty demanded an additional 25% share in a dice game the duo hosted. They refused, and Maggadino likely realized the extent of opposition to his power. He then clumsily attempted to influence the upcoming vote regarding the election of a new Boss by trying to get his son, Peter, elected by forcing each captain to come to his home separately to cast their vote. Sam Pieri refused his demand and said that the vote for the new Boss of the Buffalo Crime Family would be held in the City of Buffalo. At that point Sam held the support of the majority of the family including Roy Carlisi, Joseph DiCarlo, Joseph Pieri, John Cammilleri, Sam Frangiamore, Joseph Fino, Daniel Sansanese Sr., Frank Valenti, and Salvatore Bonito. The only remaining support Stefano could count on was from Antonino Magaddino and Benjamin Nicoletti Sr. In the summer of 1969, after Maggadino refused to step down, the rebel group brought charges against Stefano to the Commission. Tired of waiting for the Commission, who were biding their time and being non-committal to either side, the group decided to proceed with their election and voted in Sam Pieri on July 9th, 1969, as the new Boss, Joseph Fino as acting underboss and Joseph DiCarlo as acting consigliere. This new administration’s cohesion did not last very long as on September 5th, FBI agents arrested Sam Pieri and others for possession of $191,630 worth of jewelry, some of which was stolen. Although the charges were dropped, they occurred shortly after Pieri was elected Boss, and this eroded his power within the Family with one informant speculating to the FBI that he would soon be replaced as Boss. Further on October 7th, charges were brought against long-time Local 210 member John Cammilleri for perjury which diminished his usefulness within the organization and killed his support to take a leadership role within the union. Further complications within Local 210 occurred as Victor Randaccio, the power within the union, was upset with the Pieri leadership after the rebel group decided that if his brother Frederico, Maggadino’s former underboss, was released from prison, he would be broken down to the rank of a soldier. Informants told the FBI that Local 210 was dominated by organized crime since 1946 and by the early 1970s, its leadership were completely saturated with relatives of Victor Randaccio. For instance, the local’s recording secretary was Randaccio’s brother-in-law. Two nephews occupied positions of welfare fund administrator and assistant business manager, respectively, and four other relatives served as employees of the union local. Pieri’s position within the Family further deteriorated in the fall of 1970 after he was convicted on one count of jury tampering and sentenced to five years in prison. As a result, in winter of 1970, the Family elected Joseph Fino as its new leader and Daniel Sansanese Sr. became the new underboss.
Joseph Fino’s new position put him in the crosshairs of law enforcement and he along with seven others were indicted in September 1971 on charges that included conspiracy to violate federal anti-gambling laws and with actual violation of the laws through the operation of an illegal gambling business in connection to a multimillion-dollar horserace bookmaking racket. Victor Randaccio who was previously upset with Pieri seems to have gone over to his side subsequently as he and Joseph DiCarlo attempted to remove Joseph Fino as Boss in March 1972. This effort was blocked by Roy Carlisi, a leader of a powerful faction within the Family who supported Fino. A new split within the Family was emerging as it became increasingly disorganized. On May 9th, 1972, Joe Fino was able to escape justice by being found not guilty. While this was going-on, law enforcement continued to put pressure on the Family’s leadership by going after newly appointed underboss Daniel Sansanese Sr. He was indicted on June 13th for perjury and convicted on November 3rd, receiving a 5-year sentence which he began to serve in November the following year. Due to continuing police pressure on Fino, he stepped down in favor of Sam Frangiamore who became the “Acting Boss”. However, he was merely a figurehead and power continued to reside with new underboss Carlisi and captain Sansanese Sr. First on Frangiamore’s agenda was his growing fear that the struggle for Local 210 would result in a “blood bath”. In spring 1973, the factional rift in the Family solidified over who should represent the Family’s interest in the union.
(L:R): Salvatore Pieri, Joseph Fino, and John Cammilleri
Victor Randaccio’s primary source of support came from the Sam Pieri, whose brother Joseph returned from Youngstown, Ohio to look after his sibling’s underworld interests while he was incarcerated. Randaccio’s power within the Mafia waned following his brother’s imprisonment and a faction of Buffalo wanted him gone. The seeds of the conflict were sowed following the March 30th, 1970, death of long-time local president Michael Rossiter. Randaccio wanted to elevate his nephew, Leonard Territo, to the position of president, but Sam Frangiamore, Joseph Fino, and Roy Carlisi preferred if another person took the presidency while installing Joe Fino’s son, Ronald, to the position of assistant business manager. The trio’s preference was adhered to in the April elections, but following the new president’s death in the fall of 1972, Victor managed to install his nephew in the newly vacated position. By February 1973, Victor had complete control of the local which provoked his opponents within the Buffalo Family. In order to avert the looming conflict, Carlisi attempted to negotiate with Victor to promote Ronald Fino and some of his friends within the local to higher positions, a proposition that Randaccio flatly refused. Joseph Fino was reluctant at first to let Ronarld run in the May 1973 election against Randaccio, but John Cammilleri, seeing that he could use the growing division within the union as a way to grow his power, convinced Joe that Ronald should run. On March 12th, Ronald hosted a meeting to announce the “reform” slate that included him running for the position of secretary-treasurer, Salvatore Caci for president, and Daniel Sansanese Jr. for business agent. The meeting was chaired by Daniel Sansanese Sr. and among the Mafiosi who attended included Joseph and Nicholas Fino as well as John Cammilleri. This was the official split within the family. Joseph DiCarlo, the Pieris, the Todaros and Roy Carlisi continued to support the Randaccio regime while Cammilleri, Joseph Fino, Charles Cassaro, and Daniel Sansanese Sr. opposed it. Sam Frangiamore officially remained neutral. On May 19th, 1973, Local 210 voted overwhelmingly in favor of Ronald Fino’s slate and Victor Randaccio lost his position as secretary-treasurer. Two weeks into office, Ronald was called into a sit-down by Frangiamore, Todaro Sr., and Carlisi who congratulated the winner, but maintain that all decisions would be made by the Mafia and not the union’s members. Despite helping engineer Fino’s win, Ronald refused to appoint Cammilleri as his assistant even at the urging of his father and uncle. Angelo Massaro, a member under Charles Cassaro, a backer of the “reform” faction, was appointed as the new administrator of the local’s pension funds. On December 20th, 1973, Sam Pieri was released from prison and the FBI expected him to reassert control over the Family and Local 210. In early 1974, Sam met with Joseph DiCarlo and commented, “There’s going to be a lot of bodies in a lot of trunks in a hurry.”
Pieri’s faced several obstacles in his quest to return to power. First, the Niagara Falls faction and its rackets were still largely under the control of Stefano Magaddino. Within Buffalo itself, he faced stiff resistance from Joseph Fino and John Cammilleri, who was particularly outspoken about against Pieri and refused to recognize him as Boss. Pieri’s first strike against Fino-Cammilleri was an economic one as he organized rival gambling games in an effort to stifle their financial resources. In a response, Cammilleri advocated for a violent retaliation, but Fino resisted and even met with Pieri in early 1974 to try and resolve their differences. Meanwhile, Cammilleri continued to press for a position in Local 210, as he felt he was owned one given he engineered Ronald Fino’s win and wanted to be appointed the local’s personnel director. On May 8th, 1974, he met Joe Fino to discuss the matter with the latter arguing that Cammilleri’s presence at the union would bring too much law enforcement pressure and denied his bid. Cammilleri, unhappy, threated to pull his crew out of the Buffalo Crime Family. He was killed the same day. Joseph Fino was able to escape his fate and a few days later negotiated with Sam Pieri for his life to be spared. It was precisely after Cammilleri’s death that the meeting about the dental plan pilfering took place. By June, informants revealed that Fino and Pieri were able to resolve their difference, with Fino’s faction acknowledging that Cammilleri was disruptive to the cohesion of the organization and needed to be “disciplined”. The Pieri’s winning this factional struggle began to have an impact on the composition of Local 210’s leadership. After a Ronald Fino relative retired from the position of business agent, Joseph Pieri’s son, John, was named to fill the position. Furthermore, in August 1975 Victor Randaccio was once again discussed in connection to Local 210 and was proposed to be a “consultant” for it. In October, two more Pieri allies got positions within the local as informants told the FBI that it was part of a powerplay to pry any remaining Fino allies from positions of authority. When one of the new appointees was forced to resign, the Pieri faction installed Joseph Todaro Jr. as the local’s new business agent given the Todaros’ had fought against Fino’s “Reform” faction in 1973. The former Fino- Sansanese faction also suffered from internal opposition that weakened their ability to resist the Pieri-led changes. In May of 1976, Victor Randaccio became secretary-treasurer of Local 210 once again, while Ronald Fino and Sansanese Jr. had to settle for business agent positions. The Pieri-faction was once again in full control of the union which would factor into Hyman’s career. Thus, if the Fino faction remained in power, Jesse Hyman might have never got his start dealing with organized crime and Resource Capital Group might have never existed.
While Sam Pieri was able to reassert his dominance over both Buffalo’s Arm and the Laborers’ Union, this period of his life was marked by constant revocations of his freedom stemming from parole violations. The Ziginette establishment that he set-up to rival Fino-Cammilleri’s was the subject of a prolonged undercover operation by the FBI where an agent with the help of informants was able to penetrate the gambling ring and tie numerous high-ranking mobsters to it. On March 23rd, 1977, Salvatore Pieri, Joseph Fino, Charles Cassaro, Nicholas Rinaldo, William Sciolino, and Gaetano Miceli were indicted on charges of conspiracy and operation of an illegal gambling business. In all a total of 58 organized crime members and associates were linked to the gambling operation and the thoroughness of law enforcement shook up the Mafia. Joseph DiCarlo, the consigliere, was heard complaining that he had never seen such a situation in Buffalo before, displaying paranoia by expressing that the FBI had informants and undercover agents all over town. This notion that Buffalo was now infested with confidential informants and cooperators would soon bear violent fruits. When Sam walked out of the Erie County Correctional Facility on June 11th, 1979, he was set on exterminating the rodent infestation plaguing his organization. Now that the background of Buffalo has been established, it can now be outlined how a member of the Pieri faction helped Dr. Jesse Hyman get his start as a career criminal working with the Mafia.
The Travelling Dentist
Jesse Daniel Hyman was born in 1944 and raised in Queens, New York. He graduated from New York University’s dental school in 1969 but would wind up practicing his craft far from New York City. He incorporated Jesse Hyman, D.D.S., P.C. on January 1st, 1973, in Erie County, New York. His dental practice, however, did not start operating until he got help from two organized crime figures, Carl J. Rizzo from Buffalo and John “Curly” Montana Jr. from Cleveland. Carl Rizzo was a long-time member of the Maggadino Crime Family and federal agents observed him associating with Salvatore Pieri, Joseph DiCarlo, and Joseph Fino. He was described as a “powerful figure” in the 1960s, with underworld connections in Ohio and Kentucky. He was never arrested by the FBI and before getting into business with Hyman, worked as a deputy for the Erie County Board of Elections in charge of mechanical and clerical work. John Montana, on the other hand, had a well-known and publicized checkered past. “Curly” was a convicted heroin dealer and his name resurfaced in connection to a 1968 sniper ambush of his business partner, Peter DiGravio. The two ran a high-interest loan company that was forced to shut down after federal loansharking charges were passed in 1968. Montana was also involved in a suspicious dental clinic in Detroit, although Hyman didn’t have anything to do with it. So how were the three connected exactly? Well, Rizzo was Hyman’s “consultant” and Montana was his landlord.
Facilities Consultants Inc. was incorporated on November 25th, 1974, and its purpose was to acquire dental equipment for Hyman’s clinic. It also signed an initial 5-year lease agreement at Hyman’s original clinic location at 157 Delaware St., Buffalo. for $23,000 per year. Rena Montana, John Montana’s wife, owned 70% of Facilities Consultants with the remainder controlled by attorney Daniel R. McCarthy. McCarthy, refused to answer how he became acquainted with Montana, but invested into the clinic on the advice of his ex-law partner, Edward M. Greenwald, who was listed as the incorporator of Facilities Consultants. Curiously, both were part of George Steinbrenner’s consortium that acquired the Yankees in 1973 and Greenwald was instrumental in the signing of baseball pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter in 1974. In 1977, McCarthy divested of his interest in the dental practice and in March of that year, the clinic’s operations were moved to its new location at 235 North St., Buffalo. Rena Montana who worked at Hyman’s practice for four days per week owned the building out of which the new clinic operated out of and the real estate was worth $300,000 (~$1.5 million in today’s money). The corporate structure implemented with separate companies owning the real estate, equipment, and running the day-to-day dental operation was likely created to funnel money out of the business in a way that would confuse potential investigators. Since the clinic first opened its doors, it employed Carl J. Rizzo as consultant, paying him $500-per-week. He earned that money because it was him who negotiated an exclusive contract in 1975 to provide dental care services to the City of Buffalo’s blue-and-white collar unions. The contract was worth $300,000 per year as the three city unions represented 2,500 workers who all had to go to Hyman’s clinic for their healthcare needs. In fact, Hyman’s contracts with City Hall put his company under journalistic scrutiny as it was revealed that he received a $330,000 SBA loan from the federal government in 1977 and was part of a string of government affiliated contractors that received favourable financing from the SBA. Ironically, he also filled in cavities and performed root canals for Buffalo’s police department. More importantly, Rizzo was the key figure in getting Hyman Local 210’s dental contract. Carl J. Rizzo was described as being “very close” to Salvatore Pieri and this contract was likely part of his continued effort to cement his control over Local 210. For the longest, I couldn’t find how much money such a scheme generated, but Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona’s book came to the rescue. As it turns out, approximately ~$10,000 per year was funneled as a kickback from the dental program through Rizzo to Sam Peiri and Local 210 officials. Hyman didn’t remain under the radar of law enforcement for long as in late 1976 the Justice Department began investigating the union and its contract with the clinic. While both Montana and Rizzo figured into Hyman’s dental operation since its inception, given the ultimate location was in Buffalo, I think Jesse Hyman was “on-record” with Rizzo initially. Yet surprisingly, Rizzo didn’t hog Hyman and actively encouraged him to open more clinics in other locations. In 1975, for instance, the dentist and Rizzo travelled to Cleveland to discuss opening up a clinic for Laborers’ Local 860 and 310. That venture never went anywhere, however, as Hyman was busy with his clinics in Buffalo and New Jersey. Ronald Fino, Local 210’s business agent, later testified that Sam Pieri made arrangements through John Riggi for Dr. Hyman to set up a dental clinic in the Garden State area.
(L:R): Dr. Jesse D. Hyman, Daniel R. McCarthy, and John Montana
FBI investigations of Carl Rizzo revealed that he was a frequent traveller, visiting New York, Newark, Atlantic City, Boston, Providence, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, Kansas City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and Miami. Authorities determined that Rizzo’s frequent trips were related to his involvement with Metro Dental Services Inc., a Dr. Jesse Hyman owned entity and that Rizzo served as a courier of messages and cash kickback payments to various Mafia organizations. Metro Dental was part of a network of interrelated companies that together formed a maze through which fraud and manipulations were enacted.
Healthcare fraud was one facet of labor racketeering that enabled organized crime figures to monetize their control over unions. Specifically, it was used a means to covertly siphon money out of the union’s trust funds that would otherwise appear as legitimate to unsuspecting regulators. The most common ways of pilfering health and welfare funds was through multiple billings, issuance of fraudulent loans from the union or trust fund to medical providers servicing the local, inflated service contracts that were awarded through a non-competitive bidding process, and shell companies used to circulate the proceeds to lose the identity of the source of money.
Dr. Jesse Hyman’s initial foray into New Jersey’s dental industry came via the company he formed called New Jersey Dental Administrators (NJDA). The first union contract he landed was with Teamsters Local 945 with the help of Carl Rizzo who helped negotiate with Ernest Palmeri. Accordingly, Rizzo drew down a $1,000 check July 16th, 1976, signifying he was on the payroll of Hyman’s New Jersey operation as well. After securing the contract for the year 1976, Hyman contacted attorney George A. Franconero to help with legal matters and the lawyer began to represent NJDA. It was around this time that Stanley Resnick was introduced to the dentist by Seymour Cohen, and the two partnered with Hyman on this dental venture as well as several other businesses. As Hyman and Resnick were recruiting staff to run these clinics, Franconero introduced them to Dr. Anthony Ferrara who they interviewed for an oral surgeon position. Anthony’s father was Ray “Rats” Ferrara, a former vice president at ILA Local 1478 with broad-based contacts throughout the labor field. This longshoremen’s local has been linked to the Genovese Crime Family as recently as 2011, when its officials affiliated with members of organized crime were arrested as part of what the FBI dubbed as “Mafia Takedown” day. Anthony declined the position as he was not interested in such a role. Despite organized crime’s stamp of approval, Hyman didn’t see much initial success. After its one-year contract with Local 945 ended, Palmeri chose to not renew it with Hyman and Resnick. The backing of the Mafia didn’t guarantee success even in the labor union business it seems. Furthermore, despite Carl J. Rizzo and John Montana appearing by the side of Dr. Hyman to negotiate the contract, they were unable to secure John Riggi’s Laborers’ Local 394 in Elizabeth. Instead of receiving dental benefits, union members chose a pay raise instead. Despite these initial setbacks, Hyman and Riggi’s relationship would only grow with time as witnesses described them talking to each on a first name basis.
Anthony Ferrera, on the other hand, had more success with his new partner Joel S. Sokol. Joel became a dentist in 1967 and incorporated Joel S. Sokol, D.D.S., P.A. in 1976 with Dr. Ferrara to provide closed-panel (exclusive contract) dental care for labor unions and other groups. Their first target was Teamsters Local 478, and Anthony’s father made the initial introduction and began the negotiation between Sokol P.A. and the union. That local was dominated by the Serio family, with George S. Serio being Local 478’s health and welfare fund administrator, while his father was the local’s president. Some funny business occurred as part of this negotiation. Sokol and Ferrara were successful in obtaining Local 478’s contract and signed it in December 1976. In February 1977, a company called Group Service Administrative Services (GAS) was incorporated with George Serio serving as its president and employing Joel Sokol as an officer. Although the two and George Franconero claimed there was no conflict of interest, GAS provided a mechanism for Serio to obtain a car which was probably used to “sweeten the deal” and helped the Sokol Plan acquire the union’s dental contract. The contract proved to very lucrative as gross receipts rose from $402,400 in 1977 to $508,200 by 1979. However, due to the small size of their operation, Sokol P.A. was on a modified plan with Local 478 which meant that members could either come to their facility or go to their own dentist. Thus a few months into the 478 contract, Sokol and Ferrara decided that it was time to expand their scope and partner with some experienced operators.
(L:R): Joel S. Sokol, John Riggi, and Samuel Kinsora
In early 1976, Franconero “reintroduced” Dr. Hyman with Dr. Sokol and Dr. Ferrara to work together on prepaid dental plans with Resnick handling the administration. Sokol and Ferrara were interested in their skills, and they agreed to form a partnership. That’s the reason told to investigators and so one cannot rule out the possibility that organized crime encouraged his partnership. On January 1st, 1977, an agreement was formed between Hyman and Resnick’s Metro Dental Services to provide administrative and financial services for Sokol P.A. Metro Dental would acquire sites, do construction work, finance equipment and sublease it to Sokol P.A. Even prior to their official alliance, Hyman was giving Sokol advice on how to set up and administer a dental professional association. As part of his wisdom, Hyman suggested hiring Rena Montana, which eventually did come down to the clinic to set up the office and “whip it into shape”. Together they set sight on Local 1262. After securing Local 478, Sokol P.A. reached out to Retailers Local 1262, but it evidently went nowhere until Hyman got involved. Local 1262 and its president Samuel Kinsora knew Jesse Hyman and about his dental care operations in Buffalo and New York City and contacted him to see if he was interested in setting up a New Jersey operation via a contract with the union. As such, Hyman introduced Joel Sokol to Kinsora and the Sokol Plan was able to sign a contract to begin servicing Local 1262’s dental needs in November 1978. By 1979, the plan was collecting $1,377,100 in revenue from that organization. The final major union the Sokol Plan was able to secure was with United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 906 aka Ford’s plant in Mahwah, New Jersey. Serio may have been responsible for Sokol’s introduction to Local 906 and their eventual relationship was filled with controversy. Interestingly, Sokol P.A. couldn’t sign a direct contract with Local 906 for its dental care plan as all final decisions were made by the Ford Motor Company, although the union still had a voice and could influence the company’s decision. The contract with Ford on behalf of the local was signed on September 20th, 1978 and by 1979 the Sokol Plan earned $734,100 from the union. Curiously, Sokol P.A. would assume a $205,000 building loan from Local UAW 906 that was taken out for the purposes of renovating their union headquarters and expanding facilities. Coincidentally, the construction firm chosen to do the job was Western Realty, whose CEO was Seymour Cohen and who was controlled by Stanley Resnick, Sokol’s partner. Western Realty would also perform various leasehold improvements services for Sokol-Hyman clinical facilities. Joel Sokol also hired two members of Local 906 to perform janitorial services for the clinic inside the union’s headquarters. One was William Patterson, a long-time member, and the other was Patrick Fanning, the union’s recording secretary. Eugene Roehrer, Local 906’s secretary-treasurer, was also doing shady schemes with the facility as he would make out checks from the union fund to pay the “janitors” while Sokol’s checks to the janitors was endorsed by the recipients and given back to Eugene Roehrer. Thus, Roehrer was using the dental care plan as a vehicle to skim money from the very fund he was intrusted to protect. Thus, Sokol’s dealings with Local 906 also seem particularly suspicious. Overall, Sokol P.A. witnessed extraordinary success and grew its revenue from $502,000 to more than $3.6 million between 1977 and 1979. The participants also used financing scheming to siphon even more money out the business by taking advantage of the maze-like structure of Sokol’s corporations.
One way for crooks to make an extra buck is to inflate invoice orders, borrowing money against those, and then distributing the difference in values via kickbacks in the form of “rebates” and “sales commissions”. This is precisely what the Sokol Plan did on at least two occasions. John Burke was a dental equipment salesman that had a prior relationship with Dr. Sokol. He quit his prior firm over a disagreement with management and formed Burke Enterprises in January 1977 and Sokol became a client of his later that spring. The first shady transaction happened while Burke was still employed at his prior firm, Professional Equipment, in January of 1977. Essentially dental equipment and supplies worth $133,779.63 was invoiced as costing Metro Dental $200,073.50 for the purposes of inflating the collateral to receive a bigger loan. Sokol and Metro Dental put $45,000 as an advance, with $35,000 of that coming from Local 478, combining it with $200,000 from a loan brokered by Parliament Fund & Leasing. Thus in total, $245,055 was given to John Burke out of which only $109,713 was allocated towards purchasing equipment with $135,342 getting distributed back to various Sokol-Hyman corporations as a form of a kickback. George Franconero, for instance, received $7,000 as a result of this transaction and Metro Dental got $123,342 in total kickbacks. In addition to that, Parliament itself gave another $4,000 worth of kickbacks or “commissions” to John Burke, Metro Dental, and Stanley Resnick. The following chart breaks it down:
Similarly, in October 1978 another such peculiar transaction takes place. Federal Financial Reserve gave Metro Dental $84,982 as a loan on the basis of an invoice for equipment for the same exact amount. This deal resulted in a $50,000 kickback to Metro Dental from which attorney Franconero got $9,000. The rest of the participants received thousands of dollars in connection and a full breakdown can be seen in the following chart:
While Local 478, 906, and 1262 represented 90% of the Sokol Plan’s income, they did service other unions and organizations, and they were still keen on expanding. At its peak, the Sokol Plan operated a dozen dental clinics and it even had to subcontract some of the work out due to how busy they were. Persistent as ever, Hyman and Sokol tried to get a dental plan contract with John Riggi’s Local 394, but again nothing worked out. Worthy to note, however, is that the Cleveland Plain Dealer did report that Riggi’s Laborers’ union joined the Sokol Plan, though that was likely a mistake. Still, Riggi did try to help them out and introduced them to other labor leaders including a “Mr. Carrol” from Laborers’ Local 472. Yet despite having the backing of three crime families, none of the unions the group was introduced to by Riggi signed up for dental plans with Sokol P.A. Thus, this echoes Joseph Hauser’s testimony referenced earlier that even with the dominant influence organized crime had over organized labor, things did not always go according to the wishes of the Mafia. By February 1978, Dr. Jesse Hyman left Metro Dental and Sokol P.A. because he was busy with other ventures that we will examine in a bit. His timing could not be more perfect because by the summer of 1979, investigators in New Jersey were hot on the trails of the Sokol Plan and began to look into the general infiltration of the union dental care industry by organized crime in the state. This alongside the parallel law enforcement heat on Local 210 in Buffalo resulted in a fatality.
Buffalo’s chieftain, Sam Peiri, left Erie County Correctional Facility on June 11th, 1979, after serving four months for gambling conspiracy and needed to restore disciple to a Mafia organization plagued by informants. On March 6th, 1980, Carl J. Rizzo’s daughter reported her father missing to local police. At 9:30 in the morning the next day, William “Billy the Kid” Sciolino was gunned down while sitting alone in an office trailer in view of dozens of workers laboring at the rail construction site near by. Earlier that month, Sciolino received a stewards position at Laborers’ Local 210 and was at one time a bodyguard to Joseph Fino. Following his murder, it was revealed that Billy was an informant for the government. Curiously, Sciolino met at least once with small-time Cleveland racketeer Joseph F. Bonarrigo in the fall of 1979 who wound up getting murdered on the same day as Billy. On April 11th, 1980, Rizzo’s decomposing body was found in the trunk of a 1979 Oldsmobile leased out to a “Dr. Jesse Hyman”. Unfortunately, Carl suffered a grewsome death where he was garrotted and tied up in a ‘Sicilian knot’ where a victim slowly strangles themselves as their leg muscles weaken. Rizzo’s family was no stranger to mob violence as several of Carl’s relatives including his father, uncle, cousin, and brother-in-law met violent ends. The Department of Justice arranged in September 1979 to provide Carl with immunity from prosecution to compel him to testify about Local 210’s dental program, but had not yet used that immunity at the time of Rizzo’s murder. That two men, both closely connected to Local 210, were murdered back to back was seen a signal for others to watch their step as (potential) informants were no longer tolerated under Pieri’s renewed regime. During later trials, the U.S.’s Attorney Office for the Southern District of New York revealed that Carl Rizzo was indeed cooperating with federal authorities. Curiously, John Montana, Hyman and Rizzo’s business partner was in town when both murders took place and may have played a role in their demise. Despite the car lease being registered to Hyman, Jesse was able to escape this situation unscathed after being questions by the police. By 1980 Hyman had developed a new guardian angel.
(L:R): William Sciolino, Carl Rizzo’s murder scene, and a sketch of Dr. Jesse Hyman
The San Diego, Cleveland, and Buffalo Connection
The most fascinating individual affiliated with organized crime that I have come across was Comillo “William Martin” Molinaro and his story and connections are something else. Born in 1916 or 1917 (newspapers differ), Molinaro at first showed up to me in the record in 1969 when he was arrested in connection with an abortion ring. Molinaro and a female accomplice were snared by a sting operation where an undercover female agent from the Morris County Prosecutor’s office contacted the duo to perform an abortion on her. The pair was charged with attempted abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion. What’s really crazy is that this was Molinaro’s second arrest in 2 years for abortion related “crimes”. In 1967, he was charged with another man for performing an abortion on a 22-year-old college student in a hotel under the alias “Dr. John Adams”. Molinaro ended up getting convicted on the 1967 charges and received a sentence of 4 ½ – 6 years in prison and a $1,500 fine. Not wanting to do prison time, Molinaro became a fugitive from the law and filed appeals (that were dismissed) while on the run. Now New Jersey police officer Robert “Bob” Buccino had encounters with Comillo Moliaro and fleshed out some context around the latter’s activities. He claimed that an abortion case he built against Molinaro went nowhere in Morristown because Molinaro paid $30,000 to a Democrat politician who gave a third of it a county detective and the other third to a state trooper to squash the case.
As it turns out, Molinaro didn’t run far away and would resurface a couple years later among an interesting crowd. On December 10th, 1975, Comillo Molinaro was arrested at the Roman Forum, the nightclub at Local 945’s headquarters set-up by Palmeri to siphon money from the union’s trust fund. Buccino, the arresting officer, gives a different date in his book, early March 1980. Regardless, Buccino observed that he was working for the Teamsters out Local 945 and some of his activities start to emerge. The commission investigating New Jersey’s solid waste industry noted that Comillo Molinaro was an associate of Simone “Sam the Plumber” DeCavalcante and he was hired by George A. Franconero, Palmeri’s and Hyman’s lawyer. As manager of the Forum, Molinaro was paid $325 per week and would take money out of the Forum’s register at will, including a $10,000 that was earmarked to construction company Boulderwood for supposed improvements. The final highlight from the report also noted that after an investigation by New Jersey’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), it was revealed that one of Molinaro’s jobs for DeCavalcante was to transport money to Las Vegas. That’s pretty vague and it wasn’t until I read the report investigating dental plan infiltration by organized crime that some more details were fleshed out. I will first outline Molinaro’s and Buccino’s testimony and then examine if we can make some sense from the story that was presented.
Molinaro testified that he initially met Jesse Hyman while working at the Forum. After working out a deal with Hyman, Molinaro incorporated G&M Services with the help of attorney George Franconero to provide laboratorial, janitorial, and other general services to Hyman’s dental clinic in Irvington, New Jersey. For those services, he initially got paid $200 per week that was bumped up to $250 after some time. The Forum, by the way, was then managed by Stanley Resnick starting in 1976 on a trial basis after Hyman discussed with him an opportunity to purchase the club. As part of Molinaro’s relationship with the dentist, he met once with Cleveland organized crime figure John “Curly” Montana in the tri-state area. That statement could be doubtful considering Molinaro’s next connection. Comillo stated that he met Anthony Liberatore in 1960 who subsequently became the godfather to one of Molinaro’s children. Anthony “Tony” Liberatore was made into the Cleveland Crime Family in 1976 or 1977 (depends if you believe James “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno’s or Angelo Lonardo’s date) after serving 20 years in prison for participating in the murder of two police officers. Tony Liberatore was paroled in 1958 and in 1965 he was elected business manager of Laborers’ Local 860, becoming increasingly influential among labor circles. John Montana was described in FBI reports as an associate of Liberatore and thus Molinaro probably met him more than once like he testified. Molinaro affirmed that he was initially introduced to Liberatore in San Diego by Tony’s brother “Bill Liberatore”. The introduction to the Liberatore family was facilitated by Molinaro’s cousins Joseph and John Limandri (or Li Mandri) who were friendly with the Clevelanders. Joseph Limandri and his father, Michael “Mimi” Limandri, were both members of the San Diego crew of the Los Angeles LCN Family. The biggest claim made by Molinaro was that he was a made member of the Cleveland Crime Family and that he was sponsored by Joseph Limandri, but was currently “on loan” to the DeCavalcante Crime Family. Speaking of the north Jersey crew, Molinaro also had a long-time connection with DeCavalcante Acting Boss John “the Eagle” Riggi, business agent of Laborer’s Local 394. Both Riggi and Molinaro in their testimony agreed that they first got acquainted with each other around 1970 and that Molinaro met with Riggi several times per month at “Café Italiano”. That was probably a typo and they were actually referring to Café Italia, a place that served as headquarters for Riggi and the DeCavalcante Family alongside the Ribera Club. Further evidence of their closeness came from the fact that Molinaro attended both Riggi’s son’s and daughter’s weddings, with his son’s wedding reception being held at the Forum. As an associate of Riggi’s, Molinaro was directed to settle labor disputes at job sites by intimidating or assaulting those individuals deemed causing the problems with one such instance happening at Newark Airport. Furthermore, when John Riggi was having trouble with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Molinaro was able to solve those problems through his connections with the Limandri family in California. Apparently DeCavalcante himself contacted Molinaro to see if he could help solve Riggi’s problem, with Comillo flying to California to meet with Harry Hall or Haller. Hall made a call in the presence of Molinaro to someone in Washington, D.C. who promised that he could solve Riggi’s problem for $25,000. A couple weeks later Hall visited Molinaro in New Jersey with a letter from the IRS to the Philadelphia office that showed that the matter was resolved. Molinaro showed this letter to Sam the Plumber who after reading the letter and satisfied that the matter was settled, destroyed the letter and made the $25,000 payment. The final claim that Molinaro made was his ability to secure loans from the Teamsters’ pension plan. In 1975 alone, he claimed he was able to secure four loans ranging from $500,000 to $2 million provided that the person seeking the loans was 1) referred to him by an associate or member of organized crime and 2) brought 10%-50% of the loan value upfront in cash. Molinaro claimed that his Teamster connection was Jackie Presser who Molinaro would contact once the money was fronted. An example was given where Molinaro received $150,000 in an upfront payment in 1975 that he split between himself, Ernest Palmeri of Local 945, an individual from a Teamsters local in Boston, and Mr. DeCavalcante. Importantly to the story, he used Dr. Hyman, who he referred to as a dentist on the Teamsters payroll, to transport the monies to Boston and Buffalo. Interestingly, Molinaro claimed that Buffalo was where all the loans either came out of or were approved. Finally, Molinaro claimed he also had involvement with Gambino members Joseph Paterno, James P. Palmeri, and Frank “Butch” Micelli as well as Genovese soldier John DiGilio. Now a lot of these details came from Bob Buccino’s testimony who claimed that he got his information from Molinaro himself after he confessed to certain details under questioning after the latter’s arrest. Paradoxically, mobbed up lawyer Franconero told Molinaro to cooperate with Buccino, but after some issues with getting Molinaro and his family enrolled into the Witness Protection Program, the mob somehow “got to him” and Molinaro stopped cooperating. Molinaro dropped off the face of the earth and I couldn’t find any articles on further criminal involvement subsequent to 1980. A Mafia abortion doctor turned lab technician turned financier. Truly a weird story. So how much of these claims check out? Surprisingly, it pretty much all checks out.
(L:R): Marco “Mimi” Limandri, Joseph Limandri, and Jackie Presser
I think the best to verify Molinaro’s statements is to verify the nexus of relationships he described existed and can be corroborated by other sources. Essentially, he was purporting there were specific ties between Los Angeles <-> Cleveland <-> Buffalo via the particular people mentioned which carried implications on secondary relationships. Let’s start with the Limandri family first since they were directly related to Molinaro. Marco Limandri was originally born in Palermo, Sicily and came over to Manhattan (and later New Jersey) in 1913, becoming a member of what then was the D’Aquila Family (later Gambino). He was involving in bootlegging and counterfeit money and the Bureau of Narcotic’s book claimed he was one of the largest narcotics distributors in the U.S. with connections in Italy and New York and with top Mafia figures. He was the brother-in-law of fellow Gambino mobster Michael Pecoraro, was put as the witness to the marriage between Gambino powerhouse Joseph Riccobono and his wife Carmela Pinzolo, and was listed as a known associate of olive oil czar Joseph Profaci. In fact, Mimi shows up in multiple FBI and DOJ memos listing him as part of the “inner circle of the Mafia” and an invitee to an LCN meeting attended by many of the “old line bosses” in the Miami area in January 1968 that included New Orleans Boss Carlos Marcello, Los Angeles Boss Nick Licata, San Francisco Boss James Lanza, and San Jose Boss Joseph Cerrito. His reputation can be seen from the fact that members of the Bonanno Crime Family approached Mimi Limandri in October of 1967 to use his influence with Joseph Bonanno to avert open warfare within the family as the latter tried to regain control over his borgata. In the 1940s, Mimi moved out to California and at some point transferred his LCN membership to the Los Angeles Crime Family, settling in San Diego. His son Joseph Limandri was born in New York and moved with his father to San Diego to direct the family’s activities in the labor union racket. He was the business agent for Culinary Workers Alliance Local 402, AFL-CIO, which later became HERE Local 30. Joseph Limandri was also married to Florence Dippolito, sister of fellow Los Angeles member Joseph Dippolito. Marco and both Josephs were part of the San Diego regime of the LA LCN Family under caporegime Joseph Adamo. Joseph Dippolito was later promoted by Nicholas Licata to become the family’s underboss. The Limandri’s were also said to be politically powerful in San Diego with some measure of influence over mayor Frank Curran and San Diego County Democratic Chairman Murray Goodrich. The Limandris’, however, were not just politically connected and had LCN contacts across the county. Joseph Limandri, for instance, told an informant that he was good friends with Sam Massi from Chicago and Detroit power Peter Licavoli, cousin to Cleveland’s Boss James “Jack White” Licavoli. Joseph Limandri also knew Anthony Liberatore who possibly attended a meeting that included future Tropicana swindler Joseph Agosto! Small world indeed. This was back in 1974 when Agosto was trying to line up labor leaders behind his insurance fund scheme. Further proof of their acquittance comes from “Bill Liberatore”. Bill’s full name was John Hadrian Liberatore, a real estate broker living in San Diego that authorities contend was associated with organized crime in Los Angeles. More about of their relationship will come, but so far it seems what Molinaro was saying is true and that the Liberatore family did know the Limandri family. Further proof for the nexus of relationships described by Molinaro, the FBI knew of meetings between Buffalo member Carl Rizzo with LA Consigliere Frank Bompensiero and Joseph Limandri. Hyman also testified that it was Carlo Rizzo who introduced him originally to Anthony Liberatore in 1975, highlighting a pre-existing relationship. While, no testimony directly linked Molinaro to Rizzo, they were associated through their mutual relationship to Hyman and there is a reason to believe they were associated business wise which I will get to. But the simple fact that Rizzo can be linked directly to Joseph Limandri and Anthony Liberatore strengthen Molinaro’s statements since he would have had to have direct knowledge to outline such a specific web of relationships. Now what about Molinaro’s Teamsters connections? Well, that is true as well. Jackie Presser acknowledged that he talked to Molinaro numerous times on the phone, but obviously denied that he helped him get loans. Additionally, Molinaro’s claims against Jack Presser were taken seriously enough that they were included in a report to President Ronald Reagan about organized crime alongside the testimony of esteemed mob figures like Angelo Lonardo, Jimmy Fratianno, and Frank Bompensiero. We will circle back to the Teamsters and Presser in a moment, but the last major claim Molinaro made was in regards to squashing Riggi’s IRS problems via the help of a “Mr. Harry Hall” whom he knew through the Limandri family. Harry Hall’s ties the Teamsters, San Diego, and Cleveland all together and perhaps explains how Molinaro was able to leverage his familial ties to get Presser’s help.
First, is there a verifiable relationship between the Limandri family and Harry Hall? Absolutely. In fact, FBI documents highlight Harry coming to Joseph Limandri for help regarding a pair of New Jersey mobsters. In a very similar scenario to what Molinaro described, Harry Hall received $90,000 from two Jersey hoodlums to try and fix a federal case. Hall already cashed the check but was unable to deliver the “fix” and so the mobsters threatened to kill him if he didn’t return them the cash. The IRS was aware of this transaction and not wanting to testify before a grand jury regarding this matter, Hall asked Joseph Limandri if he could go to New Jersey and ask those mobsters for a “receipt” that would satisfy the IRS. Harry Hall was also associated with John Hadrian Liberatore who introduced him to his brother, Anthony. Informants told the FBI that Harry’s association with Liberatore was established through a San Diego source involving a stolen securities scheme where Hall was supposedly arrested in Los Angeles. Well the Limandris’ were from San Diego and also involved in the stolen securities racket. In 1969, an informant described how Joseph’s brother John explained how they had a contact in New York that could steal $25 to $30 million dollars worth of blue-chip stock certificates without his bank knowing that they were missing for 30 days. Thus, I think there is evidence to believe that LiMandri knew of Harry Hall who introduced him to Hadrian “Bill” Liberatore who then introduced him to Anthony Liberatore. In 1973, Liberatore supplied Harry Hall with $130,000 worth of stolen securities to be sold in Chicago. Now why is that significant? Anthony Liberatore introduced Harry Hall to William E. Presser and his son Jackie in 1970 which resulted in the creation of a hugely profitable scheme. In 1972, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters signed a $1.3 million per year four-year contract with Hoover-Gorin & Associates, a Las Vegas public relations firm. Hoover-Gorin started out as a partnership between two principles: Duke Hoover and Harry Hall. Harry Hall was also employed by Allen Dorfman and attended trustee meetings of the Central States Pension Fund. From the $5.2 million contract, Jackie Presser personally received a $200,000 kickback. Hall received about $25,000 per month from the firm, kept $8,500 to pay taxes and passed along $16,500 monthly to Presser. More importantly, Hoover-Gorin also paid $2,000 per month each to Cleveland LCN gangsters Anthony Liberatore and Thomas Lanci until 1974. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Liberatore was put on the payroll precisely because he introduced Haller to Presser which enabled the creation of this scheme. Thus, Haller was known by both the Limandri and Liberatore family with the latter using Harry to create closer ties with Jackie Presser. Given Molinaro’s connection to both Liberatore and Limandri, it makes sense why he was able to use Presser’s services in obtaining Teamster loan. Therefore, once again Molinaro’s story about the specific connections between these people can be verifiably identified which gives further credence and weight to his testimony. It is hard to be this oddly specific if you didn’t actually know these people. Now what about the way Molinaro split the cash payoffs when he helped individuals obtain Teamsters loans?
Molinaro claimed to split bribery proceeds between himself, Ernest Palmeri, a Teamsters official in a Boston local, and Sam DeCavalcante. Additionally, Hyman was used as a bagman to transport money to Boston and Buffalo. Because Molinaro believed that Teamsters loans were approved out of Buffalo, I believe they got a cut too of the proceeds and this is supported by Hyman’s transportation of cash there. At face value, Molinaro’s share would be Cleveland’s cut, and given he was operating in New Jersey he was also taking care of the DeCavalcante family. Given he worked at the Forum for some time and Palmeri had his own powerful Teamsters connections I guess he was also entitled to a cut to satisfy the Genovese Family. Boston is a bit more curious. The big Teamsters local under control of the Mafia there was Teamsters Local 25. Its President, William McCarthy was a close associate of Patriarca Crime Family underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Anguilo. It was also noted that McCarthy had a suspected alliance with Sal Provenzano of New Jersey. Salvatore Provenzano, of course, was a leader of Local 560 after his brother went away and the Provenzanos did have a history with Local 945 not to mention their general Genovese membership. The funneling of money to Buffalo is curious. Molinaro erroneously believed that Buffalo was the center of Teamsters loan approval which were actually doled out of Chicago. In any case, the Buffalo Crime Family did technically have claim over IBT Local 398, but it was not controlled by the family proper since the Rochester rebel group were functionally independent by the 1970s. Thus, the Buffalo payments could represent a business relationship between Molinaro and that group that would likely be channelled through Carl Rizzo since they were both connected via Dr. Hyman. Of course, Molinaro in his 3-hour confession never specified if these groups received consistent payoffs or if simply group X (like the Boston Teamsters official) received a payment from this one transaction because they referred the specific individual that sought the loan. Basically, everything that Molinaro has testified or confessed to can be verified independently and is correct which is why the last claim that needs to be examined is so baffling. Was Comillo Molinaro really a made member of the Cleveland LCN Family? Probably not. This is so weird to me. Why state the truth about pretty much everything except for that one detail? Let’s examine.
(L:R): Anthony Liberatore, William Presser, and Joseph Limandri
At face value, the claim might not be so outlandish. Molinaro claimed that the Limandris sponsored him into the Cleveland Family. A member of one Family proposing an individual into another Family has been known to happen on occasion. A Colombo captain, John Misuraca, helped two of his associates get inducted in the San Jose Crime Family during the 1950s. Plus, Los Angeles and Cleveland had extremely deep ties throughout their histories. For instance, Frank “Musacatel” Gruttadauria was a Cleveland LCN member who transferred to the LA Family around ~1949 under the decina of Angelo Polizzi. Going into the 1960s-1970s, the Families continued to maintain extensive relationships with each other as outlined by u/JoePuzzle234’s article on the Milano brothers. There are two big obstacles, however. The first is that John Scalish famously refused to induct many members into his family and Frattiano exclaimed that Cleveland hadn’t conducted a making ceremony in so long that its administration forgot its words and procedures. Anthony Liberatore was part of the first batch of Cleveland associates that was made in recent memory and that was in 1976/77. Now Liberatore would have likely been made earlier, but he didn’t get paroled until 1958, after the Appalachian meeting took place that resulted in the closure of the books. Molinaro was born five years earlier but would have had to be made before 1957. That could have happened, but it is just unlikely he would have flown so under the radar for so long that he wouldn’t show up in FBI memos. It is also curious that he met Cleveland organized crime figures in New York/New Jersey or San Diego and not in Cleveland where those introductions would have been presumably easier to make. Overall, Comillo Molinaro’s made status is likely false, and blemishes the otherwise true story he told during his testimony/confession.
Going back to the Hyman-Sokol plan, just how did it end? Well, the negative publicity generated by the findings of the New Jersey Commission of Investigation torpedoed the organization and by January 1981 Local 1262 terminated its contract with Sokol’s organization. Local 1262 accounted for 60% of the dental plan’s revenue and it could not overcome this financial loss given that Ford shut down the Mahwah plant thus effectively nixing Sokol’s contract with Local 906. Any criminal consequences? For some, yes. Eugene Roehrer, UAW Local 906’s secretary-treasurer was indicted in 1981 on two counts of embezzling funds during 1979. He was convicted for diverting $2,800 from the fund by cashing checks from Sokol’s dental plan that were meant for Local 906’s account and sentenced to three years. Next on the chopping block were Stanley Resnick and John Burke who were charged in a 2-count indictment stemming from the defendants’ scheme to obtain financing and working capital by inflating the price of a lease for dental equipment from $110,000 to $200,000. Resnick was convicted of conspiracy while Burke chose to plead guilty. Dr. Joel S. Sokol was indicted on March 31st, 1983 in a 13-count indictment with George A. Franconero for defrauding various northern New Jersey banks and lending institutions out of ~$750,000 by submitting inflated invoices for furniture and dental equipment. The 40-year old dentist pled guilty that summer. Overall, the investigation into Sokol’s dental practice resulted in three indictments. George A. Franconero escaped justice after being murdered in March 1981 because he became an informant and started giving federal and state investigators information about organized crime infiltration of union dental plans. John Riggi and Dr. Hyman escaped justice and trucked along with their schemes. Now what was Jesse so busy with that he had to step away from the Hyman-Sokol plan?
From Fixing Teeth to Ruining Retirements
While in Buffalo, Dr. Hyman was associated with the Magaddino Crime Family and paid a percentage of the profits on union dental care plans to them. Then when he moved his criminal activities to the New York area, Hyman developed a relationship with Vincent “Jimmy the Gent” Joseph Rotondo (or Rotundo), a member of the DeCavalcante Crime Family. I have not been able to find when exactly, but at some point Hyman does become an official associate of his and is put “on record” with Jimmy Rotondo as Michael Franzese identifies him as such. If anything if he wasn’t already Rotondo’s associate before 1980, he almost certainly became one after Carl J. Rizzo’s untimely death. It was a smart move on Jesse’s part, as Jimmy the Gent was a rising star in the DeCavalcante Crime Family. Rotondo was made prior to 1977, after the books were opened in 1976 and sponsored into the Family by long-time Elizabeth member Frank Cocchiaro. By spring of 1977, he was promoted to a captain’s position and inherited part of Cocchiaro’s Brooklyn crew as Vincent “Vinny Ocean” Palermo later testified that after he was inducted, he was put in his crew since you couldn’t be placed in a relative’s decina. As a cover for his nefarious activities, during the day Rotondo “worked” as a long-time organizer for ILA Local 1814. Interestingly, despite Rotondo and Hyman participating in several labor racketeering schemes together, Hyman was denied a dental contract with Local 1814 when he asked for it and a discussion he had with the local’s president’s son around the pension plan went nowhere. It was a testament to the limitation of power the DeCavalcante’s had on the docks as Rotondo was just a low-level union official and ILA Local 1814 was the powerbase for the Gambino’s influence on the waterfront. Still, together they would go on to have many successful ventures and Hyman grew ever closer to the DeCavalcante Family.
One of their most successful and geographically widespread schemes had to do with the fraudulent issuance of construction performance bonds. Contractors with bad credit wishing to bid on government or public contracts must acquire performance bonds from an insurance company that would provide a financial guarantee that the job would be completed. Dr. Hyman concocted this scheme, and with other Riggi associates, was able to corrupt insurance officers and agents of Union Indemnity Insurance Co. in New York to get the company to issue construction performance bonds for firms that did not qualify for them. Struggling contractors paid up to five times the normal premiums for the bonds with Riggi and his partners skimming off the top to generate an estimated $500,000 over the course this scheme. Union Indemnity was saddled with high-risk debt while the crooks spread this racket into Cleveland, Buffalo, and Brooklyn. Another well-known participant in this scheme was Michael Franzese and at some point, he was called into a sit-down to resolve a dispute with Dr. Hyman and John Riggi. Union Indemnity was also the company Michael Franzese used in his gasoline scheme by “tricking” it into putting up a $500,000 bond for Houston Holdings to operate in New Jersey. The Cleveland portion of the scheme was initiated at the behest of the Libaratore brothers who wanted to “help” out their friend. The 1980s were not too kind for Anthony Liberatore as he spent most of the decade locked up for bribing an FBI clerk and for racketeering in connection with the 1977 bombing death of Irish gangster Daniel J. Greene. While Liberatore only got out of jail in 1990, he maintained his grip over his union, Laborers’ Local 860, via its new business agent Dominic Olivio and was able get favourable treatment to construction companies run by his friends. One of those friends was building contractor Roberto J. Biondolillo, owner of several construction companies including Biondolillo Construction Co., whose company was used to help launder profits from a multimillion-dollar cocaine ring. In 1983 and 1984, Biondolillo needed to obtain performance bonds to land nearly $1 million worth of work from the city of Cleveland for two road network contracts and Hyman was initially contacted by Roberto’s friend, Milo Valenti to see if he could help. Hyman was initially introduced to Valenti by John “Curly” Montana. Hyman, always wanting to help friends, agreed and in 1983 and 1984, they bribed Union Indemnity employees to get Biondolillo two construction performance bonds. The contractor was charged $28,000 for this service with $5,700 going to the bonding company while the rest was split up between Valenti, Chester Liberatore (business agent for Laborers’ Local 310), John Montana, insurance company representatives, and members of the New Jersey crime family Hyman was working with. Montana wanted his $2,106 cut to be issued in a form of a cheque so that he could show some legitimate income. Despite the bonds being issued in Biondolillo’s name, Chester refused to give them to the contractor unless he gave them the money. This transaction created financial instability in Biondolillo’s company as that money was needed to meet his payroll expenses and as a remedy Valenti and Chester allowed him to borrow $28,000 if he promised to give them $48,000 within 90 days. To help Biondolillo pay back the loan, the brothers then used their position/influence within organized labor to not enforce union rules, including wage rates. Thus, this is just one way organized crime was able to make money in the construction industry.
(L:R): Anthony D. Liberatore, Chester J. Liberatore, and John Montana Jr.
Hyman’s association with Vincent Rotondo and the DeCavalcante Crime Family allowed him to meet more and more influential figures from organized labor circles in New York. One of those people was John Long, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 804. Rotondo initially met contractor Ben Parness at a social function who introduced him to Long sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s. Parness then began making cash payments to Rotondo in either 1978 or 1979 in connection with a contract Parness’s company obtained at a housing development in Staten Island. Rotondo’s influence within Local 804 must have grown considerably overtime because by the early 1980s, Anthony Napoli (Jimmy Napoli’s son) told an undercover agent that, “Well, 804 is Jim… eight-oh-four is Jim” in reference to Jimmy Rotondo. In 1979, Rotondo arranged for Parness to introduce Hyman to Long who indicated that he was a partner of the DeCavalcante captain. During their first meeting, Hyman gave Long Rotondo’s regards and told Long that Rotondo, “would appreciate anything he (Long) could do for us or for me” and Hyman made sure to underline the fact that they could all make money together. After this initial introduction, Long, Hyman, and Rotondo would meet approximately six times between 1979 and 1984 to discussion their various mutual business dealings. This relationship would become one of the cornerstones upon which Resource Capital Group was later built and it will be expanded upon shortly. Now in 1979 and 1980, Long would receive payments from Hyman for helping resolve an attempt to unionize Bottom Sportswear by arranging for a sweetheart contract with the Teamster local in 1979. Steve Stern, the company’s owner, would once again be directed to Riggi associate Jesse Hyman to resolve a dispute thar arose with the Genovese and Gambino Crime Families. The DeCavalcante Crime Family intervened and Hyman paid $10,000 to the other two families to let Stern operate his Garment District company. In return, Stern was forced to pay $20,000 per year for this protection and in total $100,000 was extorted from Bottom Sportswear. The DeCavalcante’s were never a big player in New York’s Gamrent District, but this relationship gave them a little toehold in the lucrative racket traditionally enjoyed by the five families and Russell Bufalino.
Dr. Hyman also had dealings with the District Council of Carpenters and privy to a plot that Riggi and Rotondo concocted to install their own man as the head of that union. Hyman was aware that the Genovese Crime Family was the primary influencer in the Carpenters and that whenever a significant issue would arise within the union, Rotondo would tell Hyman that he would have to take it “downtown” while making a chin-stroking gesture referencing Genovese Boss Vincent “the Chin” Gigante. Frederick “Fred” Devine was introduced into the DeCavalcante Crime Family in the 1970s by John Riggi when he intervened in a Dock Builders Local 1456 election by pressuring Devine’s opponents which allowed him to receive a measure of control over the newly elected union leader. After Devine won, the DeCavalcante Family wanted to increase his and its own power by installing Fred as the head of the District Council. Fred campaigned for election to be District Council president in April of 1984 after its previous president, Theodore Maritas, went missing and presumed to have been murdered. Maritas was connected to Genovese captain Peter DeFeo and accused of using the union’s power as a way to extort contractors and rig bids on multimillion construction projects. Riggi didn’t have enough power to get Devine elected president, and as a compromise Fred was initially given another position within the District Council. Devine became a vice president in 1986 and was promoted to president in 1991. With Devine’s rise within the Carpenters’ Union, Rotondo was able to direct the Benefit Fund to his benefit at least once. Hyman also dealt directly with Fred Devine who steered dental contracts to the dentists in return for providing extensive personal dental care that was done by a Dr. Pilar. However, while they helped propel Devine into power, ultimately the DeCavalcante Family was not in charge of him despite being linked to him by prosecutors. Gambino underboss, Salvatore “Sammy” Gravano told law enforcement that Devine was a puppet of the Colombo Crime Family and made them aware of a relationship between Fred and Colombo captain Thomas Petrizzo. Informant Marcello Svedese testified that Devine told him that he had connections in the Colombo Organized Crime Family and saw him meet with Vincent “Jimmy” Angellino, another captain in the Colombo Family. Thus Fred Devine remained under the primary jurisdiction of the Genovese Crime Family with a supporting role played by the Colombo Family. It should also be noted that by the time Devine really attained high offices within the union, his connections with the DeCavalcante were impaired by the murder of Rotondo (spoiler alert!) and the incarceration of Riggi.
(L:R) Jonh Riggi, Simone DeCavalcante, and Vincent Rotondo
One of the DeCavalcante Crime Family’s main criminal rackets was illegal gambling in its many forms. Overtime, state governments began to legalize various forms of gambling including running state sanctioned lotteries. Until 1978, the State Division of the Lottery of New York sold lottery tickets to the public via banks which distributed it to various retail agents. After 1978, the Lottery decided to experiment by using independent distributors that would be placed in charge of distributing tickets within an assigned area and for the collection of they money from retail agents for the remittance of these funds to the Lottery. Well, the same New Jersey Commission of Investigation that was examining union dental care plans also uncovered a curious relationship between John Riggi, Dr. Hyman, and Ronald Esposito of H.E.C. Distributors that signified the possibility of organized crime infiltration of New York’s legalized gaming program. In March of 1978, H.E.C. Distributors Inc. was formed by Dr. Jesse Hyman, attorney Ronald Esposito, and Joseph Cassese to distribute New York State Lottery tickets to retailers. Riggi wanted to get into the lottery business and was willing to put up half a million dollars to get this kind of operation going. Lottery distributors were required to obtain bonding in order to protect tickets and proceeds and H.E.C. received two $100,000 bonds from Peerless in 1978 to operate their business. Overtime, out of 19 distributors operating in the State of New York, H.E.C. became the 12th largest one and serviced 380 retail agents. Apparently, this did not translate to financial success and Esposito later recalled that the business was in the red from day one. Much like with Metro Dental, Hyman did not stick around for long and quit in January 1980, but not before borrowing $54,000 from H.E.C.’s corporate funds and lending it to three firms, including $19,000 to Jo Jan Restaurant Inc. a company owned by the crooked doctor. Peerless, meanwhile, cancelled both H.E.C.’s bonds on December 31st, 1980 with the Insurance Company of North America assuming the risk. Three days after its scheduled quarterly audit that was postponed upon the request of the company, H.E.C’s office was burglarized and reported that $90,000 worth of “Pot of Gold” tickets and $20,000 in cash had been stolen. Agents were able to account for $60,000 worth of tickets and an audit of the firm the next day revealed irregularities and shortages. The Lottery then terminated H.E.C.’s distributorship and a made a claim for its total indebtedness worth $161,268 on the two Peerless bonds and on the INA bond. The claim filed in February 1981 was never paid. The lottery business turned out to be a dud for both John Riggi and Hyman, and yet it provided an illuminating quote on Jesse’s character as Esposito later expressed his thoughts on the conduct of his former business partner. “He [Hyman] thought he was a miniature Wall Street executive. He came off knowing everything about high financing. He spoke of financing a hotel in Vegas, a shopping center. Here is a son of a bitch talking about millions here and there and taking money from the company.”On April 7th, 1981, Hyman took out a fire insurance policy on the Rountable Restaurant in Mineola (Jo Jan Restaurant Inc.) and a mere ten days later it went up in flames. Police found evidence of arson and initially the insurance companies did not want to pay Hyman his claim of $165,558. The doctor sued and eventually National Fire Insurance Co. and Union Indemnity Insurance Co. agreed to pay $40,000 but stated in court papers that the fire was intentionally caused and/or with the knowledge or consent of the plaintiff (Hyman). It wasn’t everything he wanted, but something is better than nothing.
Jesse even interacted with the semi-retired boss of the DeCavalcante Crime Family, Sam “the Plumber” DeCavalcante himself. While looking for the fugutive Colombo consigliere Alphonse Persico, the FBI stummbled on a high-level meeting between the hierarchies of the Colombo and New Jersey crime families. At the home of Colombo associate Vincent Regina on May 6th, 1981, law enforcment found Carmine Persico, Thomas DiBella, Victor Orena, John Matera, Alphonse Perisco (Carmine’s son), Gerardo Langella on the Colombo side and Simone DeCavalcante, John Riggi, Vincent Rotondo, Stefano Vitabile, and Anthony Induisi on the New Jersey side. The sit-down was called to resovle a money dispute and as a result of the FBI raid four attendees were subpoenaed to apper before a grand jury investigating this meeting. Hearing that Sam the Plumber was unhappy about the probe, Hyman told the Boss that Clevlenad mobster John “Curly” Montana swore he had connections in Washington that would squash the inquiry. Hyman was given $50,000 to give Montana for his services and no more subpoenaes were issued. Montana promptly took the credit, but Sam was not convinced and demanded his $50,000 back. Montana was in jail at that time and Hyman didn’t have that kind of money on him, but he did have a contractor that owned him a lot of money. Jesse told this to Sam and soon after two men approached the unhappy Brookyln contractor who was turned upside down over a toilot bowl. Needless to say, Hyman got his money and Mr. DeCavalcante received his $50,000.
Ronald Esposito’s comments around Hyman’s imitation of Wall Street executives were coming into fruition in the late 1970s, as his relationship with Vincent Rotondo and John Long provided him with access to vast amounts of capital and contacts. Rotondo attended several meetings between Hyman and Long with the dentist initially proposing a dental plan for Local 804 and requested that Long suggest other Teamsters locals that might be interested in dental plans or pension funds. Nothing seemly came on the dental front, but John Long sure did come through with the pension fund money in a big way. Parallel to this, in 1978 or 1979, Hyman was able to develop a relationship with various employees of a New York City brokerage house who would handle stock trading for pension funds managed by the American Asset Management Company (AAMC). Hyman and one broker agreed to split the broker’s commission and the doctor offered a one percent cash “fee” (kickback) to the union people who would assist Hyman in getting funds invested with AAMC that would be covered out of the pension fund management fees. Hyman spoke with Rotondo, Long, and other labor leaders to seek business for AAMC and Long came through by being instrumental in getting an officer of Teamsters Local 277 interested in AAMC, and when it did place its pension fund money with the company in 1981, Long received a $2,500 cash payment from AAMC through Hyman. In terms of Local 277’s LCN ties, I did find one interesting connection. Anthony Distinti was an officer of Local 277 and in 1984 he was appointed president of Teamsters Local 707, while retaining his paid position with his previous local. Distinti’s advancements within Local 707 happened during Colombo member Nicholas “Nicky” Grancio’s tenure and elsewhere Distini was identified outright as a Colombo associate. The biggest catch for Hyman and Long would come shortly as they managed to snag over a million dollars from another Teamsters local.
Parallel to this happening, Forest Bedell set up a small pension investment company called Penvest Inc. in 1980. Bedell, 55, a grandfatherly figure was seen as a pillar of his Flushing church, lived in a modest cooperative, and previously worked as an administrator of company and individual pension funds. Bedell was a prominent figure at the Christian Science Church in Flushing and his wife was a Christian Scientist practitioner (a healer through prayer) that enjoyed status within this religious circle. Using this cultivated goodwill, Bedell eventually acquired hundreds of thousands of dollars from members of his church community. In general, Penvest was set-up to invest money on behalf of unions, employer organizations, and individuals who expected a high rate of return with Bedell promising 17.5%. While pension funds are usually characterized as conservative and risk-averse, Forest would end up running it as a personally owned venture capital company making high-risk investments in the hopes of making large returns for his personal enrichment. Previous to the passage of the Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), small reckless pension funds like Penvest were common place but the new law created novel regulations and restrictions such as the prohibition of making risky investments, self-dealing, or loaning money to businesses and executives who invested their pension funds with the manager. While Penvest had to abide by ERISA’s guidelines, it was small enough that it did not have to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which allowed it to slip through the cracks of regulators examining this space. Bedell’s eventual entanglement with Dr. Jesse Hyman is what catalyzed the creation of Resource Capital Group and the start of what regulators later dubbed a “super-Shylock operation”.
Resource Capital Group
At some point before February 1981, Dr. Hyman became acquittanced with Forest Bedell’s Penvest operation and realized he could use it as a tool for his own machinations. Later indictments and appeals would state that Jesse Hyman controlled Penvest Inc., but I think he only exerted substantial influence only over the funds which Hyman personally sourced for Bedell. I think this would be a more appropriate characterization given that 1) not all of Penvest’s money was used for the purposes of Resource Capital or their clients/victims and 2) Bedell would go on to have vanity projects and investments that stood to benefit only him. Anyways, Hyman told John Long, officer at Teamsters Local 804, that if he placed monies with Penvest, the union official would receive a 1% cash kickback for the value of the deposited money. On February 4th, 1981, Long gave Hyman a check for $100,000 from Local 804’s account and soon after Hyman gave Long $2,000 as a kickback. It was twice the agreed amount because Hyman wanted to “encourage him to do it further”. About eight or nine months later, Long gave Penvest an additional $50,000 for which he received a $1,000 from Hyman as a kickback. Long was supposed invest $100,000 more with Penvest, but Hyman did not press him on this because his headquarters were raided by the FBI. Dr. Hyman’s relationship with John Long blossomed over time and soon enough he was willing to make an introduction with John Mahoney, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 808. The Doc reported that Mahoney was willing to discussing doing business together to both Vincent Rotondo and John Riggi with Rotondo responding, “[i]f you could do it, God bless you. Nobody has been able to move Mahoney up until now.” With this blessing, Hyman moved forward with the deal, but Mahoney cautioned that he intended to do business with Hyman only, despite knowing he was Rotondo’s partner. During their second meeting, Hyman told him that he would receive a 1% kickback for investing Local 808’s pension funds with Penvest and assured Mahoney of making $30,000-$40,000 per year. To sweeten the pot for the labor official, Hyman would give the union trustee $10,000 in cash upfront and enable him to get a home improvement loan for the balance. The Doc’s credibility with John Mahoney’s grew in August 1980 when he saw Hyman greeting guests at a political fundraiser and talk to then-New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Bess Myerson, who was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senate. Later Mahoney recalled that, “He [Hyman] was an impressive guy”. Thus, in the fall of 1981 Hyman and Forest Bedell finally won Mahoney over “officially” by offering him the prospect of earning 14% per year for Local 808’s pension fund compared to the 6.5% rate it had been earning with Connecticut General Life Insurance. In March of 1982, Local 808’s pension fund invested $751,555.96 with Penvest and as a result, Hyman gave Mahoney $10,000 in cash, arranged that he receive a $20,000 home improvement loan from Sterling National Bank, and gave Mahoney ~$700 buck per month to cover the interest payments on the loan until February 1983. Related to this transaction, Hyman made cash payments to Rotondo and Riggi and gave $5,000 to John Long, “[f]or introducing [Mahoney] and vouching for [him] in [his] dealings with John Mahoney.” By early 1982, Local 808 had invested a total of $1.3 million into Penvest, but it had quickly grown frustrated when Bedell failed to provide the promised monthly statements with an itemized accounting. The occasional statements it did provide were unsatisfactory and in November Mahoney ask Hyman to return all Local 808’s monies invested with Penvest. Hyman contacted Long to see if he could help persuade Mahoney to not withdraw the funds and at a December 2nd, 1982, meeting, the dentist paid Mahoney $5,000 in cash and assured him that the union would receive the financial reports it needed. At that meeting Mahoney indicated that Local 808 would invest an additional $100,000 with Penvest and shortly after that matter was resolved, Hyman paid Long either $2,000 or $2,500 for the effort he had put forth on Hyman’s behalf with Mahoney to ensure the dentist remained in control of the pension funds. The meeting was productive as Penvest did indeed receive an additional $100,000 from Local 808 in early 1983. Seemingly independently of John Long, Jesse Hyman was also able to get access to the pension fund of Teamsters Local 531. Joseph Biasucci, secretary-treasurer of Local 531, invested ~$150,000 of its pension fund into Penvest. In aggregate, Hyman, with the backing of organized crime and unscrupulous labor officials, amassed quite the piggybank. What did he do with all that money?
Resource Capital Group was born in April 1982 when Jesse Hyman used either $400,000 or $500,000 advanced by Penvest to purchase Samuel Cooper’s 50% interest in Cooper Funding and Etna Leasing Services. With the retirement of Jack Cooper from the operation those two companies were consolidated into one entity, Resource Capital Group that was headed by Melvin Cooper and Dr. Jesse Hyman. In total, Penvest advanced $1.3 million to Resource Capital with the collateral for those loans consisting of personal guarantees from Hyman and Mel Cooper as well as assigned interests in various equipment leases valued at over two million dollars (which were really worth less than a million). In a funny twist, both Samuel Cooper and Melvin Cooper later sued both Hyman and Penvest for only paying $350,000 out of the agreed half-million to Samuel for his stake. The new loansharking operation would lend money to clients in a variety of industries including garment and dress makers, discotheques, restaurants, trucking firms, and real estate companies. This shift in Cooper’s lending policy from being a strict lender to waste companies began to gradually shift even before the formal formation of Resource Capital. Take for instance, Cooper Funding’s involvement with Wing’s restaurant. Donald Kulick, who ran a successful lumber company, partnered with two attorneys and a garment-industry executive to open Wings, a fashionable restaurant in Manhattan’s Soho district that featured avant grande décor, nouvelle cuisine, and an upscale clientele. The bill to transform the Soho storefront to a posh restaurant totaled nearly $750,000 and as a result the partners sought out Cooper Funding to borrow $125,000 just before Wings opened on October 31st, 1981. The shylocks charged them 2% per week and soon enough the interest payments began to choke the company, forcing Kulick and his partners to personally lend Wings hundreds of thousands of dollars before the restaurant eventually failed in October, 1983. In the interim, Hyman helped one of the attorney-partners in the restaurant obtain money from Penvest that totalled $60,000 in loans between February and April 1983. The attorney, Howard Finger, happened to be the manger of former junior middleweight champion boxer Davey Moore, and as a result placed a total of $322,858 of Moore’s money with Penvest in a series of transactions on February 22nd, 1983. As such, Moore became an unfortunate victim of his manager’s dealings with loansharks.
Wings in the pink
Over the course of 1982 and 1983, Resource Capital Group was used as a front to funnel over $2 million dollars in illegal loans to 18 people or corporations at usurious rates ranging from 2 to 4% per week. At its peak it extorted up to $40,000 per week from businessmen in the New York Metropolitan area. Curiously, Selwyn Raab would described this loanshark ring as a Colombo Crime Family operation, but as it will be soon clear, it encompassed individuals from several families and it would be unfair to characterize it as such. The mechanics of this scheme were very simple. Borrowers would be “lured” into accepting temporary short-term financing between 2 to 4% per week, while long-term arrangements were being “negotiated”. To further augment their power over their borrowers, the “emergency” loans would be collateralized with stocks and properties. The long-term cheap financing would never come and the temporary arrangement would become permanent, with Resource Capital’s principles using the spectre of organized crime to stamp out any would-be opposition or complaints from the victims. Lets examine a few loans to see how Melvin Cooper and Dr. Jesse Hyman operated.
Thomas and Kasarmatee Rajkumar borrowed $30,000 from Resource Capital Group against a building they owned on 2029 Amsterdam Avenue. In order to approve the loan, Hyman and Cooper demanded fifty precent of the profit until the loan was repaid, a steady monthly payment of interest and principal, and as the cherry on top, 10% of the profits in perpetuity after the loan was repaid. In December 1982, while the Rajkumars were still repaying their loan, Resource wrote to tenants demanding direct payment of their rent because the building now had a new owner. Interestingly enough, legitimate businessmen were not the only patrons of Resource Capital’s services and swindlers sought their money as well. Take for instance New Mexico fraudster Frank Deutsch who borrowed more than a million dollars from Mel Cooper and the Doc. Between 1981 and 1982, Deutsch borrowed $500,000 from Resource Capital Group and in the fall of 1982 received an additional loan worth $185,000. For borrowing $685,000, Frank paid $13,000 in vig each week for more than three years acquiring a good reputation for staying on top of his obligations to the loansharks. In addition to that money, he also borrowed $700,000 from Penvest and shortly after moving to New Mexico, he took control over four investment and mortgage companies including Continental Equities (formerly Continental Mortgage Exchange) and Guaranteed Equities Inc. Deutsch’s New York firm, EFD Capital, was also used to facilitate a $100,000 loan arranged by Resource Capital with a Peter King and apparently it was not uncommon for loansharks to circulate money through their victim’s companies once they had them in their grips. The party for Deutsch finished in September 1983, when he plead guilty to mortgage conspiracy and in December 1984 when he was convicted of 15 felony charges involving fraud, embezzlement, and larceny for diverting $230,000 from two firms he headed. Both Resource Capital and Penvest extended a myriad of other loans to other companies and individuals such as lending Donald Brindley $330,000 at an interest of $6,000 per week or $10,500 to Champion Roofing and Siding for $480 per week. Penvest even extended a $235,000 loan to International Financial Services and its owner Leo Bloom. Penvest was bonded by Dome Insurance Inc. which was worthless considering the company had $80 million in claims against assets of about $500,000. Dome Insurance and Leo Bloom were also involved with Michael Franzese and his union cronies at the Allied International Union and the Federation of Special Police and Law Enforcement whereby $590,000 was embezzled from the union’s welfare fund. It really does seem like all of New York’s crooks were involved with each other. The most interesting loan, and the one that brought down this ring eventually involved Cowboy Palace.
(L:R): Frank Deutsch, Davey Moore, and a sketch of Jesse Hyman
The following section will largely be a summary of relevant excerpts from Donald Goddard’s The Insider: The FBI’s Undercover ‘Wiseguy’ Goes Public released in 1992 about FBI undercover asset William “Bill” Breen. Until very recently, I have never heard of this guy but if half the things that are in his book are true, he had one incredible journey. The guy ran with bank robbers, drug lords, bookmakers, conmen, corrupt businessmen and of course wiseguys. The following is a description of his journey and how his undercover operation helped smash this loanshark ring while implicating half a dozen goodfellas in multiple crime families. Bill Breen or his codename William “Bill” Clyde Walker got his first “in” with the New York mob through conman Maury Joseph, a figure introduced to Breen by his friend Lloyd Hugh of the Metro-Dade Organized Crime Bureau in June 1982. Joseph flew Breen out to New York to acquaint him with Thomas “Tom” Duke, an aspiring night club owner in desperate need for partners and collateral. Duke’s dream was to remodel the Diplomat Hotel’s ballroom into a modern Texas meets disco club complex that would be the talk of the town. Two impediments stood in Duke’s way. First, he cultivated an expensive lifestyle living at the Hotel St. Moritz, having a stand-by limousine among other amenities to the point that his basic expenses amounted to $4,000-$5,000 per week. This chronic cashflow problem was compounded by his screws getting tightened by Melvin Cooper and Dr. Jesse Hyman. Unable to raise cash from conventional sources, Tom Duke was forced to swallow the bait-and-switch tactics employed by Resource Capital and by the time Breen got onto the scene be in debt for over $440,000. The 2% interest rate coupled with other costs resulted in a weekly vig payment of $12,000. In addition, Cooper and Hyman demanded that his loan be collateralized with properties that Duke’s partners put up and with some shares of the club. With the complex still nowhere near open by the time Breen and Duke first met in August 1982, the aspiring entrepreneur was all ears when Maury Joseph told him about his “wealthy” friend. As such, during the first meeting between Duke, Breen, and Joseph, Tom outlined his plan of how he wanted Breen to sign over properties to him, inflate their appraisal value, borrow money against it, and then buy the properties from Breen at the appraised price when it was all over. Breen agreed realizing its was hid only way to meet with the “greaseball shylocks” he wanted to take down and they began their partnership with his Virginia property. That house was worth $50,000 but Duke promised to inflate its value to $95,000 and give Breen $35,000 upfront as a down payment once he got the loan. Breen would also receive a 7% equity interest in Cowboy Palace. About a week later, the group made their way to Resource Capital Group’s glass-walled headquarters in Lake Success, New York to meet the loansharks. To the displeasure of Breen, Resource Capital made them wait for a while and when he did finally meet Melvin Cooper, Dr. Jesse Hyman and their muscular executives such as Al Albenga Sr. and Jr., he noticed they looked irritated and breathless, as if just coming back from beating up a client. His first meeting with the criminals was very productive.
Breen got the feel that negotiations at Resource Capital’s office were very one-sided with Cooper and Hyman dictating terms on a take it or leave it basis that was backed up with intimating looking goons. I guess not catching them on a generous mood, Cooper and Hyman were willing to lend Duke $50,000 on property “valued” at $95,000 but wanted 6% more stock in his company. Moreover, they took 10 weeks vig off the top to give Tom more “breathing room” and deducted an additional $18,000 for unpaid air conditioners from a deal brokered by the shylocks. Adding attorney fees and a 10% “check-cashing fee”, Duke and Breen walked out of that meeting with just $18,000. Now after the loan discussions were over, Breen was able to talk to Dr. Hyman privately and coax the dentist to spill some of the other nefarious activities he and his partners engaged in. The Doc revealed that they dealt in stolen securities, and he let Breen know that he, Cooper, and John Montana had $6 million worth of stolen diamonds that they were looking to unload. After their meetings at Resource Capital finished, Duke, Breen, and Joseph headed towards Rusty’s Restaurant on Third Avenue and Seventy-third street owned by Rusty Staub of the New York Mets. At the dinner, Duke revealed that he was not too worried about the consequences of not keeping up with his debt payments because, “Mel and Doc get the money from some heavy people” and if anything went wrong, they would suffer the consequences. Tommy revealed what he knew about Resource Capital’s connection to the Mafia. He explained to Breen that Doc Hyman was Michael Franzese’s friend and that Albenga used to run with the Lucchese mob, summarizing that, “Mel and Doc hang out with a whole bunch of wise guys” including Jimmy Rotondo. At that dinner they also met with Rusty’s manager Carlo Vaccarezza, a solider in the Gambino Crime Family, and one-time chauffeur and bodyguard to John Gotti. It was revealed that Vaccarezza also had an interest in Resource Capital in addition to dabbling in cocaine trafficking and bookmaking. Breen started to place bets with Carlo to further ingratiate himself with the Gambino gangster. Overall, Breen was happy, and he realized he would have access and the ability to bring down some heavily connected individuals.
(L:R): Oscar Albenga, Alan Albenga, and Carlo Vaccarezza
Despite such a promising lead, Breen had trouble getting this undercover operation off the ground. He encountered resistance at the FBI and so initially hooked-up with the NYPD’s Intelligence Division before the Feds got wind of it and took over the case under the auspices of agent Walt Stowe of the Manhattan office. Breen’s cover story was that he was a connected to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and that Agent Stowe, who now worked undercover alongside him, was an IRA accountant named Walt Johnson. Breen began to walk around Cowboy Palace like he owned the place, watching over mob-supplied contractors and generally giving out orders. When in town, he would spend most of the day at the club taking note of Duke’s visitors, logging the comings and goings of Hyman and Cooper as well as write down conversations he had or overhead. Besides Michael Franzese and Vincent Rotondo, Breen noted other prominent rouges associating themselves with Resource Capital Group including Colombo captain Benedetto Aloi, Genovese soldier Thomas Pecora, Genovese associate Anthony “Tony Nap” Napoli, and John “Curly” Montana. To him, the connection to Franzese was firmly established when he accompanied Doc Hyman and Mel Cooper, one Monday night, to the Casablanca restuarant/club on Long Island. Every Monday, Mikey Franzese would take over the place to entertain his cronies and business associates by invitation only. Before Breen became partners with Tommy, Duke already missed a couple of vig payments and as a result the hoods placed Anthony Capo Jr. into Cowboy Palace to watch over their investment. Soon enough, Tom Duke was in need of even more money and Breen agreed to sign over his Dallas home worth $150,000 for an inflated value of $180,000. As part of the transactions, Duke unwittingly admitted in front of Agent Stowe that he forged all the papers required on the property when placing it as collateral with Resource Capital. As a way to sow some conflict into this situation, Breen got Duke drunk and made him swear to tell Hyman and Cooper that he would not be paying any more interest. That went about as well as you would expect and on the following day when the shylocks heard that, Anthony Capo Jr. slapped Duke so hard his head was almost removed from his shoulders. This incident, which happened on October 27th, 1982, provoked a sit-down that night at Rusty’s which was attended by Hyman, Cooper, the two Albengas, Anthony Capo Jr., Breen, Walt Stowe, Duke, Maury Joseph, and Charlie Diverna (Duke’s other partner). The conversation that took place was hilarious, full of meandering, half-nonsense that involved back-peddling and pettiness between the various participants. Inadvertently, Albenga Sr. let it slip out on tape that Duke was assaulted stating, “Between us, Bill, he deserved a crack in the face today”. The conversation then steered towards Duke’s financial mismanagement and his inability to get Cowboy Palace opened. Doc Hyman said, “You think it’s easy finding money for him to piss away like that?… And you gotta remember, we’re not – we got money from people who don’t go for that shit”. Mel Cooper nodded emphatically and added, “You’re looking at a hundred people behind this table, and they don’t take shit from nobody”. A hundred people may have been an exaggeration, but no doubt some serious mafiosos were backing Resource Capital Group.
The day after the sit-down, Bill Breen and Agent Stowe discovered a group of soberly dressed “family” men getting out of a limousine in front of the Diplomat Hotel. Vincent “Jimmy” Rotondo and a couple of old-timers came to inspect their investment at the Cowboy Palace, some of whom could recognize Breen who left discreetly leaving Agent Stowe to talk to the group. After that incident, Breen went on an all-out sabotage campaign to make sure Cowboy Palace never opened fearing that if things went smoothly, the mob members staking Hyman and Cooper would fade away into the background. These day-to-day activities at the Cowboy Palace led to some more entertaining exchanges between Breen and Capo Jr. Not long after the sit-down, Duke negotiated with Carlo Vaccarezza over the phone at Rusty’s Restaurant whereby the entrepreneur would borrow $15,000 at 3% per week from Leonard “Lenny” Di Maria and Frankie “the Hat” Di Stefano. Later that night proved nearly disastrous for the undercover agents as they discovered that Maury Joseph in a drunken angry frustration started doodling on scraps of paper such statements that read “Bill Breen is an agent working for the FBI” or “Walt Johnson is an FBI Agent” among other things. Unable to determine who might have read those notes, the FBI pulled Walt Stowe out of the mission and advised Breen to either go into their custody or leave New York. Agent Stowe later agreed that the undercover operation was botched but found solace in the fact that catching Dr. Jesse Hyman was a big deal for the FBI. After Agent Damon Taylor pulled Agent Walt Stowe from the Cowboy Palace case, Bill Breen was recruited for Operation NYCON by Supervisor George Dyer to go after Jacob Maislich, King of New York’s Diamond District. While Breen’s cover was not seemingly blown, he was spending less and less time at the Cowboy Palace between this new assignment and his frequent appearances in courts across the country that were in need of his testimony.
(L:R): Anthony Napoli, Leonard Di Maria, and Frank Di Stefano
Over a six-month period, Duke paid ~$280,000 in interest on his loans to Resource Capital Group. Drowning in vig payments, after some time, Duke turned to Anthony “Tony Nap” Napoli as a possible source for fresh financing. Afterall, turns out that the limousine Tommy had on standby belonged to the Genovese associate and he already racked up an unpaid $70,000 bill with him. Napoli was interested in the Cowboy Palace but stressed that a change of funding and the recovery of Bill Breen’s properties could only be done with the consent of all concerned. Besides owning a portion of the company, Mel and Hyman also had the hat-check concession and the vending machines and with a potential new management Tony Nap explained to Breen and Duke that the families would look to take a third off the top from the club’s take. Bill was feeding this intel back to Agent Stowe who was reluctant to take incriminating tapes from Breen and uncomfortable with him meeting Napoli face-to-face. Bill Breen disregarded that advice and began to cozy up to Napoli by attending his craps games in Brooklyn and by December 1982, Napoli and Breen were calling the shots. Tony Nap helped alleviate some of the pressure by persuading Carlo Vaccarezza’s shylocks to bow out of the picture with their $17,000 dollars at 3% per week. To keep Napoli interested (since Tony wouldn’t risk any of his own money) and the dealings with Resource Capital alive, Breen pledged the last of his property in Florida. To get a better understanding of the situation, Napoli wanted to meet with Vincent Rotondo to see where he stood in all of this and if he wanted a payoff for Tony Nap to essentially take over Cowboy Palace. This inquiry escalated to a sit-down the following week where Jimmy Rotondo called in all the interested families to a meeting at his Brooklyn social club on First Avenue and Thirty-third street. Apparently, they were unable to reach an agreement and that meeting was adjourned until later that night, although Rotondo did endorse the loan Hyman and Cooper wanted to give to Duke based on Breen’s Miami house. After completing the paperwork for the loan, Duke and Breen met Tony Napoli for dinner at Belmonte’s restaurant where they found out that his meeting was adjourned further still until 3:00 AM that night so that mob figures senior to Jimmy Rotondo and Michael Franzese could attend. This meant that at the very least John Riggi attended from the DeCavalcante’s side, but we can only speculate who showed up for Michael Franzese. Carmine Persico was in prison, so it might have been a senior-ish Colombo figure like Dominic Montemarano or Joseph Tomasello. Mel Cooper and Doc Hyman had a problem since the feeling was that Michael Franzese had no right lending Resource Capital Group money for Cowboy Palace when Rotondo was already involved with the place. Maybe Michael can talk and elaborate on this story one day… To placate his creditors, Duke cut down on his expenses and moved out of the St. Moritz and into the same apartment building where Carlo Vaccarezza lived. Not long after that sit-down, Napoli phoned Bill Breen to inform that his craps games were raided by the police and Breen had little contact with him since. With half of NYCON’s office busy transcribing the numerous tapes Billy made, NYCON supervisor Walt Smith ordered agents to stop accenting more and even went as far as destroying some tapes without listening to them. After that Breen was largely uninvolved with Resource Capital Group until he had to testify a year later, making himself busy in the meantime by trying to bust a Mafia-run cocaine ring stretching from San Francisco to Cleveland.
Penvest started to encounter incredible financial difficulties in the latter half of 1983. For instance, despite owning the pension manager over a million dollars, Resource Capital only repaid $10,000. Bedell, independently of Hyman and Cooper, invested more than $800,000 into Pro Arts Inc., a bankrupt poster company out of Ohio, which ultimately failed. Penvest also continued to send inadequate financial reports to Local 808 which ultimately terminated the company as its manger on March 8th, 1983. In August of 1983, Bedell was able to give the union $500,000 of its money back but coupled with pressure from other investors, Penvest was forced to file for bankruptcy in December 1983 to stave off creditors. On January 25th, 1983, Hyman expressed surprise when he learned from Mel Cooper that the latter heard that the federal Organized Crime Strike Force was involved in some kind of an investigation of Resource Capital Group. Besides Breen’s undercover operation with NYCON, the FBI was aware that organized crime figures such John “Sonny” Franzese, Joseph Schipani, and Carmine “the Doctor” Lombardozzi were involved with Cooper’s operation. During the summer of 1984, it all came crushing down.
On June 28th, 1984, thirteen people were arrested in connection to the Resource Capital Group loansharking ring. The group was indicted on racketeering and extortion charges. The list of individuals charged was as follows:
Melvin Cooper – 37, 265 E. 66th St., Manhattan
Jesse Hyman – 41, Roslyn Estates, NY
Vincent Joseph Rotondo – 53, 2356 Royce St., Brooklyn
Benedetto “Benny’ Aloi – 48, Floral Park, NY
Anthony Napoli – 49, 228 Leonard St., Manhattan
Leonard Di Maria – 43, 105-61 Flatlands 10th St., Brooklyn
Carlo Vaccarezza – 32, Dobbs Ferry, NY
Oscar Albenga – 53, Massapequa, NY
Alan Albenga – 27, 55-46 160th St., Flushing
Joe Lipari – 28, Islip Terrace, NY
Anthony Campo (Capo Jr.) – 22, 339 Liconia Ave., Staten Island
Stanley Gramovot – 40, Farmingdale, NY
Chaim Gerlitz – 53, Great Neck, NY
On July 2nd, 1984 two more arrests followed and at some point a third defendant was added to the case.
Michael Franzese – 33, Uniondale, NY
Joseph Biasucci – 53, Atlantic Beach, NY
Francesco Di Stefano – 47, Queens, NY
Now let’s break down the individuals and what their purported role was. Vincent Rotondo was one of the senior mob-figures connected with the loanshark ring. It was at his at his initiative that Hyman was introduced to Long which got the ball rolling on getting the necessary access to capital for the shylocks to operate. He was also active in approving loans, inspecting his investments, and in settling disputes. Benedetto Aloi’s role is less clear, and he seems to have just provided capital for Hyman and Cooper to utilize. Similarly, Michael Franzese was another investor in the ring, got involved in sit-downs, and hosted Resource Capital Group’s operators in his club suggesting a fairly involved participation in the ring. Carlo Vaccarezza also provided capital to the ring and had a direct interest in Resource Capital. Leonard Di Maria and Francesco Di Stefano were both Gambino soldiers made in 1977 and their involvement with Resource Capital seemed to be more passive with varying levels of involvement. Francesco “Frankie the Hat” Di Stefano was seemingly closer to the principals/operators of the ring, specifically Jesse Hyman. Anthony Napoli’s involvement grew over time thanks to his association with Cowboy Palace and Thomas Duke, but he remained a fringe player. Oscar Albenga was the chief collector of money from victims and Alan Albenga worked under his direction as mob muscle. According to Breen, Tom Duke told him that Albenga used to run with the Luccese mob, but I don’t think that is a correct characterization. First, when the FBI announced the arrests, assistant director Lee F. Laster said the ring included members from the Gambino, Genovese, and Colombo crime groups in New York City and the DeCavalcante group in New Jersey. If Albenga truly was associated with the Lucchese’s, the FBI would surely include their name for added publicity. Furthermore, Oscar Albenga was charged just a year later for being part of a parallel multi-million-dollar loanshark ring that included Colombo soldier Victor Orena. The five defendants in that ring were described as “members” (associates really) of the Colombo Crime Family that netted “several million dollars” by charging interests rates of 130% to 156% a year on loans that ranged in size from $1,000 to $100,000 between November 1980 through April 1985. Thus, these two factors make me question Albenga’s Lucchese affiliation and it is far more likely that he was a Colombo associate. Anthony Capo Jr. served as the ring’s muscle and was used to assault uncooperative victims, a role Joe Lipari likely occupied as well. Interestingly, Bill Breen revealed that Capo Jr. was related to Jimmy Rotondo, and there is an Anthony Capo Jr. that was related to him that was later made into the DeCavalcante Crime Family. The only issue is that their birthdates are off by a couple of years and so I cannot confirm that it is indeed the same Anthony. Stanley Gramovot was able to solicit some business for Resource Capital as he lured one of its victims and later shared in the effort to take control of her business. Chaim Gertliz was a Jewish rabbi and cantor at Temple Israel in Great Neck who made funds available to Hyman and Cooper to operate the loanshark ring and shared in the illicit profit generated by their activities. Finally, Joseph Biasucci, the union official who was caught on tape discussing the illegality of their operation, supplied Resource Capital with money through Penvest and was funnily enough the only Teamster official to be indicted as part of this ring.
The trial was bungled from the get-go. First, the FBI and the Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York alienated both of their key witnesses, William Breen and Thomas Duke. Furthermore, while the case against the front-men operating Resource Capital Group was airtight, the case against their mob-backers was less so and so it was baffling to see Rudolph Giuliani elect to try the whole group together. This was one of the first major RICO cases launched after Guiliani’s vow to purge the Mafia’s influence from New York and I guess he wanted to add as much publicity as possible to enhance his crusade. This lack of evidence was best seen when prosecutors tried to connect Michael Franzese to Hyman and Cooper. For seven weeks Franzese was absent from testimony about the operation and when his name was finally brought up it was in connection to a Long Island marina operator that testified or recorded two $250 cash payments on what the government contended was a usurious loan. This is the incriminating evidence they had:
Michael Franzese: Okay.
James Feynman (Wintess): 250. That’s for last week.
Michael Franzese: (UI)… I’ll talk to you about that tomorrow… about cash flow.
Feynman was then called into a meeting to bring $1,500 three months later by Frank Castagnaro to a ball field in Smithtown, Long Island. When he arrived there, he saw Michael play softball and gave money to a man he recognized as a friend of Franzese’s. Later, Castagnaro told Feyman that Mike did not want to be seen talking to him because he was under the surveillance of the Suffolk police department. To bolster the case against Franzese, his ex-gasoline partner Lawrence Iorizzo was wheeled out to court which ultimately backfired since he knew little about what they were doing at Resource Capital. As a side note, it does put this video made by Michael Franzese in a different light. Frankie G was caught on multiple different tapes and clearly had some periphery involvement with the loanshark ring and thus his reaction to not getting arrested made sense.
On April 19th, 1985, after a three-month trial in the Federal District Court in Manhattan, the jury reached a “compromise” verdict as Giuliani put it. Among the convicted included Melvin Cooper, Dr. Jesse Daniel Hyman, Chaim Gerlitz, Joseph Biasucci, Oscar Albenga, Alan Albenga, Stanley Gramovot, and Anthony Capo Jr. The mafiosi? They all got to walk. Vincent Rotondo, Benedetto Aloi, Michael Franzese, Carl Vaccarezza, Anthony Napoli, Leonard Di Maria, and Frankie Di Stefano were found not guilty on all counts. Melvin Cooper and Jesse Hyman both got sentenced to 30 years and fined $160,000 for their role as the principals behind Resource Capital Group. Jesse Hyman rolled-over while Melvin Cooper was able to escape prison in a bizarre set of circumstances before he was captured two years later. Hyman’s decision to turn informant proved deadly when on January 4th, 1988, Vincent Rotondo was found murdered in front of his Brooklyn home. A jar of squid was found on his lap that got twisted by the media into fish which raised the idea that Rotondo got the “Luca Brasi” treatment. Apparently, Rotondo may have been responsible for the turning of Hyman because he was suspected by other mobsters of pocketing mob money earmarked for Hyman’s family. While newspapers often marked Jimmy Rotondo as the DeCavalcante Crime Family’s underboss, he was still merely a capo at the time of his death, although his son Anthony Rotondo later testified that he was to be elevated to the rank of consigliere. According to the leading theory, he was killed for introducing Mafia members to informant Jesse Hyman and the order for his death came down from Gambino Boss John Gotti himself. Gotti bum-rushed Rotondo’s wake with several car loads worth of Gambino mobsters including Salvatore Gravano and Joseph Corraro to show their strength over the beleaguered Elizabeth family which they essentially took over. That theory stood the test of time for a while until Sammy Gravano published the following videoon July 26th, 2021. In it he explains his relationship with Vincent Rotondo and reveals that the Gambino Crime Family did not order his murder. John Gotti even attended a Commission meeting after Jimmy’s death where no one took responsibility for his assassination. It was obviously a sneak hit, but who did it? As of now, it is still a mystery.
If anyone bothered to read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I never thought I would write something longer than my Gas Tax article, but this turned out to be about three times as long. I want to give a shout out to r/Mafiaand please join our official Discord server. Similarly, join the Black Hand Forum for the latest and greatest Mafia research. Special thanks to u/JoePuzzles234, check out his website on the West Coast Mafia. Likewise thank you to u/Il-Norte-Il and the rest of the folks on Discord and r/Mafia for making it so fun.
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Peter Reuter, “Racketeering in Legitimate Industries: A Study in the Economics of Intimidation”. Prepared for the National Institute of Justice (Santa Monica, California, Rand Corporation, October 1987). Page 21. ↑
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A. J. Carter, “Wyssling, Two Others Plead Guilty”. February 24th, 1976. Page 5. ↑
Tom Renner, “Hoods Work Close to Home For One LI Mob ‘Family’ Labor Is Lever for Crime”. Newsday. February 26th, 1969. Page 7. ↑
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