Skip to comments.Decades After Brando, NJ Waterfront Still Mobbed Up
Posted on 12/08/2003 7:25:08 AM PST by Coleus
BAYONNE, N.J. At the headquarters of New Jersey's most notorious union, the ornate front windows are etched with an anchor-and-rope motif. They're opaque, making it impossible to peer inside International Longshoremen's Association (search) Local 1588.
That hasn't stopped law enforcement.
Local 1588 was historically so corrupt that mob enforcers were unnecessary, according to one veteran investigator. Kickbacks, extortion and fraud became as routine as a Labor Day picnic at the local, long a lucrative outpost for the Genovese (search) crime family.
In 1954, when Marlon Brando (search) starred in the Oscar-winning "On The Waterfront," one of 1588's delegates was already under investigation for taking kickbacks from its members.
Nearly 50 years later in this weathered waterfront city, the cast of characters on the genuine New Jersey docks remains consistent: Local 1588's president and seven others with union ties face a racketeering trial in the spring.
The group demanded cash and kickbacks from dozens of union members in return for promotions, overtime and job training, authorities said. The local's leadership "blatantly and repeatedly" associated with the Mafia (search), added an infuriated federal judge -- who then appointed a former NYPD commissioner as the union's boss.
Robert McGuire, who ran the nation's largest police force from 1978 to '83, predicted it will take at least three years to de-Genovese the corruption-riddled local.
"There's been mob dominance and domination for many, many, many years," said McGuire, who took over this year. "When it becomes very pervasive, it's like rooting out a cancer in a body."
Local 1588 is battling in court to get McGuire booted. Its lawyer, James A. Cohen, said the government takeover was a patronage deal to benefit McGuire and his associates.
Longtime ILA spokesman James McNamara complained that prosecutors "paint the whole ILA with a brush that's not accurate," ignoring its honest workers.
Over on Kennedy Boulevard, headquarters of Local 1588, one of those honest workers smokes a morning cigarette. Union veteran Vincent Sorrenti pauses to greet a visitor.
"Nice to meet you," Sorrenti says, his monotone matching his seen-it-all-before demeanor. "No comment."
The president's job at the 440-member local comes with an office, salary, benefits -- and lately, criminal charges. The last three heads of 1588 all wound up as defendants.
The latest was John Timpanaro, indicted on charges of racketeering and extortion just months after his January 2002 installation. After serving a 60-day suspension, Timpanaro, 45, returned to the Bayonne waterfront as a foreman while awaiting trial.
His predecessors, John Angelone and Eugene G'Sell, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to embezzle union funds. The two admitted forcing union employees to surrender huge chunks of their no-show job salaries to the Mafia.
Typically, authorities say, the union catered to the mob over its membership.
Organized crime's waterfront control is multifaceted -- from extorting a Staten Island trucking firm to fixing bids on the ILA's prescription drug plan. The latter scam netted $400,000 for the Genovese and Gambino (search) families, and led investigators to a $3 million mob extortion plot against action movie star Steven Seagal (search).
At Local 1588, Angelone and G'Sell were installed by the local's real power: Genovese associate Joseph Lore, who took over in 1988 from legendary New Jersey mobster John DiGilio.
Lore, a waterfront hiring agent for a Bayonne company, was an old-school mobster, a hard case who once threatened to take a blow torch to Angelone's crotch.
For nine years, the reputed Genovese family member received up to $2,000 per week through the no-show job scam -- a grand total of $821,000 looted from Local 1588. The Lore era ended quietly in July, far from the Bayonne docks, when a Trenton judge sent the 64-year-old to jail for 70 months.
DiGilio's exit was more dramatic. In 1988, two weeks before his loan-sharking sentencing, the body of the ex-middleweight boxer was fished out of the Hackensack River with two bullets behind his ear.
The hit came four months short of the union's 50th anniversary -- a brutal reminder of what went awry at Local 1588 after its launch in September 1938.
Organized crime's interest in the waterfront predated Local 1588, and the attraction was obvious: boatloads of money. The New York-New Jersey docks remain the busiest on the Eastern seaboard, with an estimated $86 billion in waterborne cargo moved through in 2001.
The corruption often increased the cost of goods shipped through the port, effectively creating a "mob tax" passed on to consumers, McGuire said.
Yet there was no bloody war when the Genovese family claimed the New Jersey docks in the late 1960s. George Barone represented the Genoveses at a peaceful mob sit-down with the Gambino family.
Barone's pedigree was impeccable. He had been a member of the Jets, the Hell's Kitchen gang immortalized in "West Side Story," and was a contemporary of infamous mob boss Vito Genovese.
Barone became both an ILA official and a made man who handled his work with elan, avoiding conviction despite an admitted role in a dozen slayings. When he met with the Gambinos, an understanding was reached: The Brooklyn and Staten Island waterfront belonged to the Gambino family; Manhattan and New Jersey went to the Genoveses.
Everybody was happy, and everyone was soon to get richer.
By the mid-1970s, John DiGilio was installed at Local 1588, taking advantage of its location -- far from the Genoveses' Manhattan base, and beneath law enforcement's radar.
"John was a maverick," says Lawrence Lezak, law director for the watchdog Waterfront Commission. "He was a big moneymaker for the Genovese crime family."
DiGilio operated in anonymity until 1981, when he was publicly linked with 1588 secretary-treasurer Donald Carson, the son of a Bayonne cop and a 22-year veteran longshoreman. By then, the pair was extorting money for labor peace, authorities said.
DiGilio's murder coincided with Carson's criminal conviction, leaving a leadership void quickly filled by other Genovese associates. Local 1588, along with five other metropolitan ILA locals, was targeted by "Operation Marionette" -- a federal probe into the Mafia's puppeteer-like control of the unions.
In 1992, Local 1588 acknowledged what federal authorities had long suspected: It was a mob-run racketeering enterprise, and had been for years. The union signed a consent decree promising its officers would sever all illegal ties.
Agreeing to the decree was the union's president, future felon Eugene G'Sell.
The deal had little effect. The Timpanaro indictments, a decade later, convinced federal Judge John S. Martin to name McGuire as union administrator in January 2003.
For McGuire, it was reminiscent of his successful 1992-97 assignment to clean up the Gambino-dominated Garment District in Manhattan. This task was more daunting, as McGuire discovered that organized crime was "a way of life" on the waterfront.
"There are those individuals who would rather keep the old regime in place," he said.
McGuire recruited a forensic auditor and a pair of veteran investigators to help out at 1588. One was Tom Gallagher, a balding, burly veteran of 27 years with the Waterfront Commission.
Like Barone, Gallagher knows the docks' history. He remembers two Genovese hoods collecting $25 on every container unloaded. He's watched, too, as mob influence over the union became less violent, more subtle.
"It's not like the old days," Gallagher noted while touring the Bayonne waterfront. "They realize that action draws heat and makes headlines."
Lezak agreed, saying the mob families declared a hiatus on waterfront hits shortly after the DiGilio slaying. But other approaches endure.
"I can walk up to you, and you know who I am, and I don't have to say a word," Lezak says. "I'm right there and you know what I'm there for."
Can that be changed? The trial next spring will go a long way toward determining the local's future. An acquittal, said Waterfront Commission executive director Thomas De Maria, would send the message: "You can get away with it."
Under McGuire, some things have already changed. In the past, 1588 members were recruited by friends or relatives. McGuire's group, in soliciting 100 potential new members, found half through employment agencies.
The McGuire team also provided the membership with a detailed accounting of its annual budget -- right down to the penny. "One member said, `That's the first financial statement I've heard in 35 years,"' McGuire said.
Frmr. NYPD Commish Working to Reform Mobbed-Up NJ Local
Former NYC police commissioner Robert McGuire has hired three assistants to clean up Local
588 of the Intl. Longshoremen's Assn. (ILA).His team has succeeded in recruiting dozens of new members outside of the familial and personal connections that reportedly kept the Genovese crime family in control of 1588.They have also provided a detailed accounting of its annual budget. According to McGuire, one member told him, "That's the first financial statement I've heard in 35 years."
But still on the Bayonne, NJ, waterfront as a counterpoint to McGuire is ex-1588 president John Timpanaro.He and six other reputed Genovese associates will be tried in the Spring on state charges of racketeering, theft by extortion, commercial bribery, and conspiracy.Until he is convicted, Timpanaro can not be fired from his foreman's job.
On Jan. 30 of this year, Federal Judge John S. Martin, Jr. (S.D. NY, G.H.W. Bush) appointed McGuire to take over the local, agreeing with U.S. Attny. James B. Comey that the union was "a cesspool of union corruption" that "for decades...has offered a hospitable environment for mobsters."According to Associated Press reporter Larry McShane, organized crime was already involved in the NY-NJ waterfronts when 1588 was formed in 1938.The corruption created a "mob tax" that has been passed on to consumers, acc. to McGuire.
In the late 1960s, the Genovese and Gambino crime families divided control of the docks, with the Gambinos taking over Brooklyn and Staten Island, and the Genoveses taking Manhattan and New Jersey.Running 1588 for the Genovese organization was George Barone, a member of the Jets gang immortalized in West Side Story.It was Barone that brokered the deal that insured "peace" between the two crime families.In the mid 1970s, legendary NJ mobster John DiGilio took over 1588."He was a big money-maker for the Genovese crime family," said Lawrence Lezak, law director of the Waterfront Commission.In 1981, he was publicly linked with 1588 secy.-treasurer Donald Carson, son of a Bayonne cop who helped Digilio extort money for "labor peace," acc. to law enforcement authorities.
In 1988, two weeks before he was to be sentenced for loan-sharking, DiGilio's body was found in the Hackensack river with two bullets behind his ear.That, along with Carson's conviction, left a void in the 1588 leadership.The new official leaders of the local were John Angelone and Eugene G'Sell.But behind them, acc. to federal prosecutors, was Genovese associate Joseph Lore.In 1992, local president G'Sell agreed to sever all ties between the union and organized crime in an agreement with the U.S. Attny. for the Sou. Dist. of NY. Instead, Lore continued to pull the strings at 1588 in no uncertain terms, even threatening to use a blowtorch on Angelone's crotch once.For 9 years, Lore stole $821,000 in no-show job payments from the union.
In Dec. 2001, Lore was convicted of embezzlement after G'Sell and Angelone testified against him.The most recent president of 1588, Timpanaro, was charged in March of 2002.That was the last straw for the U.S. Attny., who asked for the court takeover in Dec. of last year.Should Timpanaro win an acquittal next Spring, "that's a whole different ball game" for McGuire's efforts, said Waterfront Commission exec. dir. Thomas De Maria. "[T]he only message would be you can get away with it."