The Man Who Got Away

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

All of which made Mike Crimi an excellent target when he fell into an ongoing probe into construction corruption by Morgenthau's office and the School Construction Authority in 1998. After investigators picked up Crimi on wiretaps talking about deals with large roofing contractors, they were quickly able to secure additional eavesdropping warrants for his home telephone and multiple cell phones. They watched him regularly, even surveilling his mother's wake at a funeral home in Ozone Park in September 1998. They followed his sleek black Jaguar, affidavits show, as he repeatedly drove to the Bronx to meet with the then acting boss of the Genovese crime family, a reclusive figure named Dominick "Quiet Dom" Cirillo, who has managed to avoid legal jeopardy, mob experts say, because of his immense caution.

They also listened as Crimi talked tough with a wealthy East Side developer about helping his construction project use non-union labor.

"I told you I'll make your job go non-union; it'll cost you seventy, eighty thousand. For me! OK?" Crimi was heard to say to developer Mark Perlbinder in a February 1999 conversation.

illustration: Viktor Koen

And they noted that Crimi made multiple calls to the office and home of one of the city's largest real estate owners and biggest campaign contributors, Leonard Litwin, whose Glenwood Management Corporation owns some 4500 apartments. Other calls went to the offices of the carpenters union, the Teamsters, the lathers, the electricians, and sheet-metal workers.

Crimi's labor touch was so deft that he was overheard talking about how he had helped an unnamed contractor rid himself of "the rat"—the big rubber blow-up rodent used to taunt non-union contractors.

The investigators also heard vivid descriptions of the fear quotient that underscored Crimi's business dealings. "I want Mike not to call me anymore," lamented one of the owners of a major roofing firm, who was allegedly secretly paying Crimi $500 in cash each week for his assistance in using cheaper labor. Anthony Caggiano of Princeton Restoration, who was later indicted in the case and pled not guilty, said he was looking for a way to get Crimi "and his gangster friends" out of his life and business.

"I'm not worried about myself so much," said Caggiano to a neighbor. "But I am worried about my kids and my wife, who are definitely home alone at times."

Ensuing events proved Caggiano was right to be concerned. One of the people the roofer said he wanted off his back was a man named George Scherer, whom Crimi had placed on Princeton's payroll but who spent much time serving as a go-fer for the labor consultant. In the midst of the investigation, Scherer, apparently heavily coked up at the time, drew two guns on a pair of men during an argument in a Long Island bar, killing one and leaving the other badly wounded. After the shooting, Scherer left a boastful message on Caggiano's voice mail, calling himself "Billy the Kid." Scherer was later arrested and convicted of manslaughter.

One of Crimi's labor consulting clients, investigators had learned, was Romeo DeGobbi, the owner of Limoncello, an elegant restaurant located inside the swank Michelangelo Hotel, which has replaced the old Hotel Taft on 51st Street. DeGobbi, wiretaps showed, was looking to evade his obligations under a union contract.

Which is why the two detectives were watching curiously when Crimi gave McManus his effusive greeting and brought him over to DeGobbi's table. The next day, listening in on Crimi's cell-phone conversations, detectives heard DeGobbi complain to Crimi that he was desperate to obtain a city catering license.

"If we don't have a license in four days . . . we have to close the place and cancel all the events that we have booked," DeGobbi told Crimi. DeGobbi said he had sent "Jimmy . . . some paper" and he was waiting to hear. Crimi responded that he was on his way to see McManus and that he would swing by the restaurant afterward.

An hour later, Crimi called McManus at his political club to tell him DeGobbi was going to pay $5000 for their help.

"OK, I did that deal for five, and you'll get it tomorrow morning," he said.

"Oh, great," responded McManus.

"OK?" said Crimi.

"OK," answered McManus.

Crimi went on to explain that he had conned DeGobbi into believing that all the money was going to someone else and that McManus had asked for an additional $1000 for himself, but that Crimi had turned him down. "I told him that it has nothing to do with you, and you lost on it, but I said no. OK?" said Crimi. "In other words, he owes you something. He owes you a favor—that's what I did."

"And he's gonna pay me five?" asked McManus.

"Tomorrow morning," said the consultant. "You make the appointment . . . and he'll meet you and he'll have the money."

"And then, I'll give you two . . . two and a half," said the district leader.

"Yeah, next week," said Crimi. "I'm gonna have lunch with you."

"OK, great," answered McManus.

Five days later, shortly after midnight on December 15, 1998, detectives watched as Crimi walked into the McManus Midtown Democratic Association. He was there about 15 minutes, and then departed.

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