The Man Who Got Away

A Well-Connected Mob Fixer Slips Through the D.A.'s Net

In the early evening of December 9, 1998, a longtime Democratic Party district leader, a slim, gray-haired man named James McManus, walked into a fashionable Italian restaurant on Seventh Avenue near Times Square. As he entered, he was greeted with a hug and a kiss by a labor consultant named Michael Crimi, who had been seated at a table with the owner of the restaurant.

"This is the man that runs the West Side," said Crimi proudly as he brought McManus over to the owner's table.

As the three men sat chatting, two detectives nearby tried to listen in. They were there to investigate corruption in the roofing industry, an effort that resulted two years later in charges against 13 individuals, including top contractors and union officials. It was one of a series of probes by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, which has long specialized in such cases. As in a lot of investigations, information picked up on wiretaps took prosecutors into some unexpected areas, and this was one of them: a midtown meeting at a ritzy café between a mob-tied business broker and one of the city's most venerable political leaders.

illustration: Viktor Koen

Also, as in many investigations, some targets emerged unscathed. No charges were filed against Crimi, who was a key focus of the probe for 18 months. Neither Crimi's dealings with McManus nor his dealings with other influential New Yorkers were ever made public until now. Prosecutors said they just didn't have the goods. Nevertheless, the picture that emerges of their investigation, as laid out in dry affidavits filed with the court as the case progressed, provides one of those brief glimpses behind the curtain into how power in this city sometimes operates, as well as a look at some of the the shadowy figures who often wield it.

At the age of 68, Jimmy McManus has been a power broker in Manhattan politics for so long that a lot of people would agree with Crimi's flattering remark about his running the West Side. He has been a Democratic district leader since 1963, the third generation of a family of political leaders that dates back to 1892, and the head of the McManus Midtown Democratic Association on West 44th Street, the borough's last bastion of old-school, Tammany Hall-style politics. His endorsements have often been enough to help propel senators, mayors, and judges into office. His annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast draws names like Pataki, Schumer, Clinton, and Spitzer.

Mike Crimi, 66, is a power broker as well, though a far less well known one and from a different wing of city influence. A former national official of the roofers union, Crimi is described by those who have watched him over the years as a fixer, a man to see for help with ticklish, labor-related business problems. For more than 25 years he has floated in and out of investigations of high-level, mob-tied labor racketeering. Law enforcement officials list his job description as "organized crime middleman," a broker for corrupt payoffs from contractors to union officials selling sub-par wage rates and labor peace. Those who know him describe Crimi as smooth and articulate, able to move easily in circles that include wealthy and prominent New Yorkers, always working the crowd at industry banquets.

More ominously, he also provides what investigators refer to as "forceful support" for contractors engaged in disputes with other firms.

The nature of his clout became apparent after an embarrassing episode in 1985 when The New York Times' Selwyn Raab reported that the Battery Park City Authority, then in the midst of a $4 billion building binge, had put Crimi on the payroll as a $20,000-a-year consultant to smooth labor relations on its projects. He was, law enforcement officials said at the time, an associate of the Genovese crime family with some grisly history. Crimi was accused of the 1978 murder of a loan shark whose bullet-ridden body was found stuffed in a car trunk at Kennedy Airport. Crimi was acquitted of that charge, but not until after one of his co-defendants, a Teamster official, also wound up dead in a trunk, this time at LaGuardia. A separate 1979 conviction of Crimi for loan-sharking was later overturned after an appeals court ruled the Queens judge at his trial had improperly instructed the jury.

After the Times story, the authority quickly let Crimi go, but the State Investigations Commission held hearings on the matter and, records show, discovered that Crimi was handling at least a dozen consulting clients at the time, each of which, like Battery Park City, had him on retainer for at least $20,000 per year.

Crimi's connections were again in evidence a few years later when he orchestrated the merger of two employers' associations representing the largest drywall contractors in the city and on Long Island. In 1990, Crimi was named executive director of the new group, the Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry Industries of New York, several of whose member firms had been cited in federal and state investigations for bid-rigging and organized-crime ties.

Mob defectors have explained to authorities that part of Crimi's muscle stems from his marriage to a niece of an old-time Mafia don named Frank "Funzi" Tieri, a small, dapper man who held sway over the Genovese crime family in the 1970s. Tieri, whose tough-guy image was enhanced by the mechanical voice box he was forced to speak through due to throat cancer, was the first crime boss convicted under RICO statutes of running a mob family.

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