Secrets of the Mob

A geezer gangster sings like a canary

"There was a decrease in every craft under the ILA's jurisdiction," Barone told the lawyers. "Longshoremen, checkers, coopers, cargo repairmen, warehousemen . . . the number of members of the ILA decreased tragically, dramatically, from several hundred thousand down to, somebody said here recently, 50,000 people."

At the same time, the changeover presented a tremendous moneymaking opportunity for the mob. Barone testified that during the ensuing years, he helped to negotiate favorable and profitable union contracts with all of the big companies that leased and repaired the new containers, arranging the placement of his underworld associates in key positions in both labor and management. There was "millions, millions for the organized-crime people associated with the various vendors," he said. Those he assisted made fortunes, he said. "Some of these guys have four- to seven-million-dollar homes. That's what all this murder is about. That's what all this trouble is about."

It didn't hurt that Fat Tony Salerno understood little of the waterfront's business, other than that a lot of money was made there. "He didn't know anything. He had no idea what we were even talking about most of the time," testified Barone. "He used to call a container a 'box car.' He doesn't know from nothing."

George Barone, circa 1954. "I want to tell the story," he says, "and I don't care what happens to me after that."
George Barone, circa 1954. "I want to tell the story," he says, "and I don't care what happens to me after that."


Tune in: Talking with reporter Tom Robbins

In exchange for Salerno's support as he rose within the union, Barone said he was obligated to do his boss a few favors. What were they? "I assassinated a few people," he said.

He didn't ask why. Johnny Futto, the Miami dance hall owner, died because, as Barone put it, "Tony wanted him killed, and I killed him." Tommy Devaney, an exhibition worker on the West Side, went because "he was interfering with us." Barone got only an assist for that slaying, which was carried out by a gunman named Joe "Mad Dog" Sullivan, who shot Devaney as he sipped a cold beer in a midtown bar after attending a wake across the street. The black gambler in Kentucky? "I was sent there to kill him," Barone testified. Race didn't figure in the matter, he said. "Black, green, yellow, or whatever."

Defense attorney McMahon asked him if "one in the chest, two in the head" was his standard operating procedure. "I didn't take any pictures of him," Barone replied. "I shot him."

His killings were also pro bono, Barone testified. "I did it for Tony Salerno, and I didn't get one cent."

But there were other rewards. Thanks to his mob benefactors, Barone said, he climbed steadily in the ranks of the ILA, from organizer to assistant general organizer for the international, to international vice president.

He was apparently a smooth operator in those days. An unbylined 1957 story in The New York Times that reads as though someone dropped a $20 bill on the reporter's desk described Barone as a rising star in the ILA. "Handsome, articulate, and ambitious," the article called him, adding, despite the old assault case, that he was also "soft-spoken."

His real attribute, Barone confessed to the lawyers, was his mob links. The ties between the union's upper echelon and the Mafia were "more than a deal," he said. "It's an order. It's a prerogative. It's a passage to the occupying of that office."

He also won promotion within organized crime. It took a few years, but on a morning in the early 1970s, Barone said, he was told to report to an apartment on East 115th Street where, along with a handful of others, he was inducted in a formal ceremony into the Genovese crime family. It was a muted and businesslike affair. The initiation rites were cut short because the elderly Mafioso who officiated was too weak to conduct a full service. They celebrated afterward, Barone testified, by going out to breakfast.

He flaunted his new power. When he heard that a young union official named Harold Daggett whom he had groomed for office had boasted while bending his elbow at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village that he was going to take over one of Barone's union locals, the gangster decided to teach him a lesson. He had an underling deliver Daggett to the darkened back room of a fruit-and-vegetable store in East Harlem.

"What happened then was, we scared the shit out of him," Barone testified. "I threw a shot at him and told him, excuse me, we freaking would kill him if this is not straightened out." Barone clearly enjoyed telling the tale. "Daggett pissed in his pants and did everything else, and cried like a baby and laid on the floor. It was a very bad day for Mr. Daggett."

Barone said a mutual friend persuaded him to spare Daggett's life. It was a decision he had cause to regret years later, when Daggett—who is now a top official of the ILA and a contender to become the union's next president—turned on him again, by siding with rival gangsters, according to Barone.

Under Salerno, the mob was an impressive organization, he said, even if some aspects struck him as silly. Nicknames, for instance. "We all had nicknames except me," he told the lawyers. "Meatballs and Snotnose and this guy and so on and so forth. You never know who the hell the last name was. The Italians are great for nicknames—Big Feet, Little Feet, Fish, Sardines, so on and so forth. I never knew what a guy's last name was. Ridiculous, but that's it."

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