Infernal Racket

The Mafia Doesn’t Just Break Legs. It Can Also Break the Spirit.

In a July 1998 conversation, Heifetz was heard ordering Akbar to deliver an early- morning busload of men to a public school job site in Queens where he was having a dispute with the city's School Construction Authority. "I think there's going to be a problem. So I want you there at seven o'clock," Heifetz told him. "And I want you to leave five guys around the clock." Like Heifetz's non-union employees, the minority security guards were had at bargain prices. Still, Akbar was glad for the assignment. "So you want 10 shifts at 10 dollars an hour, doll. All right, Saul. See you tomorrow," he told him.

Heifetz was then heard bragging to other contractors that the agency, which was seeking to replace him with another builder, was in for a surprise. "Nobody is going to work there, except the EMS [Emergency Medical Service], the 9-1-1 people," he said to one contractor. "That's who's going to work there. It's going to be a fucking war out there tomorrow." To another, he was even more explicit. If the rival builder's workers didn't walk away from the job, then "they are fucking idiots because they are going to get their heads bashed in."

The show of force apparently worked, without overt violence. Investigators spotted Akbar's men in conversation with Zambardi at the site and the would-be replacement firm never showed up. But the minority group was just a means to an end and Akbar was soon overheard complaining that Heifetz wasn't providing any additional work. "When you need me, I'm there for you. Afterwards, I don't get any calls. No anything," Akbar told the builder.

Mob taxer: Steven "Stevie Wonder" Crea, alleged Luchese chief
Mob taxer: Steven "Stevie Wonder" Crea, alleged Luchese chief

A few months later, however, one of Heifetz's foremen told him that some of the coalition workers had union cards and would have to be paid at the proper level. No way, responded the builder, explaining in the brutal language cited above that the Mafia is not an equal opportunity employer.

There was an ethnic calculus for everything among the mob and its contractors, the tapes reveal. "I think . . . for the Polacks you pay $150 a day," a foreman reminded Heifetz during another job. "For the blacks you pay $160 a day." "No, no," answered Heifetz. "I pay them $150 a day."

Asked about his derogatory language on the tapes, Heifetz said he couldn't help it. "That's me. I can't change that," he said. "They are construction people," said his attorney, Watters. "They don't talk like lawyers sitting at a table." A lot of what the contractor says on the tapes, insisted Watters, "is meant to be tongue-in-cheek."

But in fact, it's not the mob's crude talk that is most damaging but rather the cynical manipulation of those it encounters. The mob even had its own jargon to describe the different types of workers, the tapes show. In a January 1999 conversation with another contractor, Zambardi advised him that his workforce would break down this way: He would have "18 heathens on the job [and] you would have to take three hooligans." "Heathens," police detectives listening in to the conversations explained in a court affidavit, were non-union workers; "hooligans" were union employees.

Workers were easily picked up and discarded. One of Crea's associates, faced with a job deadline, told him that he would "go get a couple of Mexicans."

The same demeaning attitudes were also held by a contractor who ultimately became a government cooperator and who is poised to be a star witness against Heifetz or other defendants who go to trial. Sean Richards, 38, literally married the mob when he wed the daughter of one of New Jersey's most venerable gangsters, John Riggi, the reputed former boss of the DeCavalcante crime family, an assortment of dysfunctional gangsters who provided the basis for TV's The Sopranos. Richards himself ably fit the mold.

With wife Sara Riggi listed as president, Richards set up a woman-owned construction business to qualify for government set-asides and used mob contacts such as Crea to get jobs. The firm won work on public schools and hospitals and the transit authority. The tapes contain a steady stream of his wild talk, both before and after he put on a government wire. A black man who crossed in front of his car was treated to a storm of curses while Richards spoke on a cell phone with his pal, Luchese soldier Joseph "Big Joey" Datello. "It is a green fucking light, you fag mother fucking nigger. These niggers think that cars won't hurt them . . . Fucking nigger, cocksuckers. I hate them."

One of Richards's biggest jobs was a $5 million contract to help renovate the old Park Central Hotel on Seventh Avenue and West 56th Street, a once glamorous spot where gambler Arnold Rothstein was fatally shot back in 1928. The hotel was in the process of being renovated by developer Bruce Eichner and, according to the charges in the indictment, Richards's company submitted an inflated bid to win the work and then kicked back part of the price to unnamed individuals. But when Eichner failed to pay Richards what he insisted he was owed, the contractor cursed him as a "fag Iranian cocksucker" and waited for the developer outside his office. "This guy has got to come out, I don't care if it is three fucking days. I look like a fucking Charles Manson when this motherfucker comes out. . . . I will do whatever it takes to get my fucking money. Anything."

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