They Cover the Waterfront

The Mob's Latest Maritime Maneuvers

There was never any mystery about what drew the mob to the city's waterfront: The loot of the world passed through New York harbor—from auto parts to perfume, steel to furs—all stored in the holds of the thousands of ships that plied the Narrows to berth at piers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Staten Island.

He who controlled the gangs of tough men with strong backs who carried that cargo on and off the ships won not only opportunities for massive theft and pilferage. He also won power over the timetables of arrival and departure on which giant corporations depended, and on which fortunes often rested. No wonder the union that arose among the waterside workers was the roughest, and the one most dominated by organized crime.

Instead of offering heated hiring halls where men could await calls to work, the early International Longshoremen's Association left its members on the cold docks at the beck and call of a crew boss's whistle. Its leaders were a motley crew: John "Cockeye" Dunn ran downtown until he was sent to the electric chair in 1949 for killing a stevedore; Alex "the Ox" DiBrizzi, with 23 gambling arrests, controlled Staten Island; Murder Inc. chief Albert Anastasia, and his brothers, Anthony "Tough Tony" and Gerald "Gerry Bang Bang," ruled Brooklyn; convicted payroll robber Mickey Bowers and his brother Harold had the West Side.

illustration: Chris Sickels

The ILA? It was "a nest for waterfront pirates—a racket, not a union," said city garment workers leader David Dubinsky.

Then, starting in the early 1950s, a series of events helped undo the worst excesses. A real waterfront priest, Father John Corridan— later portrayed on-screen by Karl Malden—made cleaning up the docks his mission and nurtured rank-and-file rebels fed up with their corrupt leaders. Then-governor Thomas E. Dewey convened crime hearings that kept the city riveted for weeks. A Waterfront Commission was created which curbed, if not eliminated, the most sinister elements on the docks. All this was followed by a series of prosecutions that, over a 10-year period, sent more than 100 ILA officials and waterfront figures to jail.

As late as 1990, a sweeping civil racketeering case against the ILA was painstakingly assembled by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Union officials agreed to a consent decree that brought powerful outside monitors to watchdog the biggest and most corrupt locals in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey.

And yet, and yet: Nearly 50 years after On the Waterfront, a dozen years after that prosecutorial full-court press, here was the Brooklyn U.S. attorney last month, flanked by the local head of the FBI and the city's top organized-crime cops, at a press conference announcing the indictment of no less a figure than Genovese crime family boss Vincent "the Chin" Gigante, his son, and six other alleged mob figures in a new round of waterfront crimes.

Gigante's crew had succeeded in infiltrating the longshoremen's union and dominating some of the most powerful companies doing business on the docks, said U.S. attorney Alan Vinegrad. As a result, the prosecutor charged, the crime family had won "extortionate control of the New York, New Jersey, and Miami piers."

How was it, Vinegrad was asked in an aside, that there were still such powerful wrongdoers in an area where the Justice Department had put so much energy and had already claimed at least partial victory? "The mob has a way of getting back in," he said. "They're always trying."

The Mafia's chief re-entry route, the government claims, is Andrew Gigante, 45, the eldest son of the imprisoned mob chieftain. Unlike his father, Andrew Gigante has no criminal record, and until his arrest last month, he was a supervisor on the New Jersey docks for a firm that repairs shipping containers. He has worked there quietly for 27 years, since he was a teenager. His only notable public appearances came in 1997 when he held his father's elbow, as the unshaven, feeble-looking mob chief shuffled from his East Side townhouse to federal court in Brooklyn. The elder Gigante was convicted of running the Genovese family despite his lawyers' claims that he was mentally unfit to run his own home, much less a network of criminals.

After his father went to prison, prosecutors allege, Andrew Gigante became the Chin's relay man, bringing messages from the jailhouse to top crime family leaders like alleged capo Dominick "Quiet Dom" Cirillo and the family's reputed acting street boss, Ernest Muscarella. Many of those relayed instructions involved family policy on the docks, authorities claim. Prosecutors call Andrew Gigante "a power on the New Jersey waterfront in his own right."

It's a contention his attorneys vigorously contest. "He's 45, he's stayed away from this stuff all his life," lawyer Peter Driscoll told a court hearing last month. "Andrew Gigante has nothing to do with organized crime, nothing," said another lawyer, James Culleton.

Andrew Gigante's employers agree. Seated in a cozy office paneled in knotty pine on the second floor of a two-story brick building on Newark's gritty outskirts, shipping company executive Christopher Guido gives short shrift to the prosecution's claims. "The government says things like that," he says dismissively. "We know the government's motivation is to make careers, and nothing makes them faster than organized crime. People love it. Look at The Sopranos."

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