The Odd Couple

Mike Bloomberg's tainted outer-borough ally

It was a strange testament from the chief executive of a borough that, according to the indictment, had been royally ripped off by DeRoss's crew. Using the threat of labor trouble by the Operating Engineers as its battering ram, the mob had forced contractors to accept $100,000-per-year no-show positions at the borough's biggest construction projects, including a new public school, the Bayonne Bridge, Staten Island University Hospital, and even the glittering new minor-league baseball park built for the Staten Island Yankees. Prosecutors said the schemes cost taxpayers needless millions, since most jobs were publicly funded. Moreover, at the press conference announcing the arrests, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the mob's power on Staten Island was such that it controlled every truckload of dirt moved in the borough. The key Mafia figure orchestrating that control, investigators said, was DeRoss Sr.—Molinaro's "regular guy."

Nor was the borough president the only one in his office trying to help the mob wrecking crew. Molinaro's late executive assistant Albert De Lillo sent his own letter to the judge on behalf of Nicholas Lupari, another mob associate bagged in the case. De Lillo, who was once Guy Molinari's law partner, wrote that he couldn't understand "how [Lupari] finds himself in this predicament." But he should have had at least a clue. Back in 1982, De Lillo came under federal scrutiny when then U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani subpoenaed records of real estate deals he had handled for wiseguys, including the sale of the Gambino family's Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street.

But Molinaro's civic radar totally broke down when it came to dealing with Calcagno and another longtime friend and fundraiser named Carmine Ragucci. Like Calcagno, Ragucci has also been closely linked to the mob by authorities. Three years ago, a government witness in another Mafia racketeering case testified that Ragucci had made thousands of dollars in payoffs to a Gambino crime family captain named Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone. At the time of the payoffs, Ragucci was the chief executive of the Howland Hook container port, a massive shipping terminal on the Arthur Kill created with the strong support of Molinaro.

Details

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  • With more than 300 longshoremen working for him, Ragucci was one of the borough's biggest employers, and he wore a political hat that gave him even more clout. After Molinaro stepped down as chairman of the borough's Conservative Party in 2000 to run for borough president, he steered the position to Ragucci. As party chief, Ragucci was supposed to be a promoter of family values, but that was hardly the picture of him offered at the waterfront racketeering case.

    Frank "Red" Scollo, former president of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1814, testified that he had watched Ragucci nervously pack up to $9,200 a month into brown envelopes. "Carmine said he wanted labor peace," Scollo said.

    Ragucci was never charged in the case, but prosecutors dubbed him a Gambino crime family associate, a tag that brought a slew of questions for Molinaro, who had relied on Ragucci and other businesses at Howland Hook to finance his first campaign in 2001. Molinaro told the Advance that he had "no idea" anything was amiss at the facility but that he wasn't about to return any of the campaign money he'd collected there, including $10,000 from Ragucci and his family, $9,500 from Scollo and his union, and another $10,000 from other businesses at the terminal.

    Sal Calcagno's role in the affair, however, raised even tougher questions for the borough president. Calcagno, who wore the formal title of campaign finance chairman for Molinaro, was making money in two separate businesses at the terminal. His construction firm had been hired by Ragucci to help build a vast warehouse, a project that led to massive cost overruns for the Port Authority, which sponsored the project. Even more embarrassing for Molinaro was that his son Steven was partners with Calcagno in a trucking company that handled much of the hauling at the facility.

    As testimony at the trial revealed, the trucking contracts were doled out directly by Ragucci, and the gangsters took a proprietary interest in who received them. The owner of the other main trucking firm used at Howland Hook testified to a grand jury that he had to pay kickbacks to Ciccone, the Gambino crime family captain. And although Calcagno was never accused of similar payoffs, investigators reported that they'd watched him during a most curious encounter with the crime captain.

    The incident occurred on August 23, 2001, at Brioso's, a restaurant in the island's New Dorp section so popular with the wiseguys that investigators bugged their regular table. Seated around it that day were Ciccone, Scollo, and a beefy Gambino thug named Primo Cassarino, who had earlier been recorded telling Ciccone that Calcagno (the gangsters uncharitably referred to him as "Chubby") wanted to see the captain regarding "a problem" at Howland Hook.

    When Calcagno entered the restaurant, Ciccone stepped away from the table to speak with him at the bar. A few minutes later, the gangster returned, muttering to his pals about the contractor. "Who the fuck does this guy think he is?" Ciccone was heard to say, "You and your politician pals think you were there before us? We were always there."

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