Nailing the Mob's Builders

A contractor tells a billion-dollar industry's dirty secrets

Johansen said his father-in-law, Thomas Nastasi Jr., explained the facts of life to him: "It was told to me that if we had a problem on a job, or on the street, we're with Ralph," Johansen testified, referring to a Genovese captain named Ralph Coppola who was later murdered when he fell out of favor. The charge for this service, he said, was a $3,000-a-month payoff.

Johansen said he received even grimmer lessons on the mob's own politics from Olivieri. As his Mafia star was fading, Coppola told Johansen to bring Olivieri to a meeting. Olivieri refused. Coppola, he told the builder, was washed up, mob-wise. "He said Coppola was 'on the shelf and a nobody,' and he wasn't going to attend the meeting," Johansen testified. The mobster disappeared a few weeks later.

These furtive scenes between the millionaire contractors who build our biggest buildings and their Mafia handlers have long been a well-kept secret. They might have stayed that way if not for Walter Mack's persistent digging, and the follow-up investigation organized by Zornberg, a tiny tornado of a prosecutor, along with assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lanpher, and agents Roy Pollitt of the FBI, and Ryan Gibbs from the federal Office of Labor Racketeering.

Morgan Schweitzer

They first won Murray's indictment in 2006 on fraud and money-laundering charges. The builder fled to Ireland. Two years later, he was persuaded to return when the feds seized his splendid farm and other properties. He pled guilty, agreeing to provide the evidence that has now led to convictions of Forde, Greaney, and seven others.

Olivieri alone tried to beat the odds and went to trial before Judge Victor Marrero on perjury charges. His attorney, Brian Gardner, did his best to convince the jury that his client had been merely doing his job, representing a group of wealthy contractors who might not have all played by the rules.

Murray spent two days on the stand, his voice never rising above a low rumble, a brooding scowl never leaving his face. The jury heard him and 15 other witnesses over five days. It retired late Wednesday afternoon. "They'll take the night to think about it," guessed an ex-detective observing the case. That was wrong. They were back in less than two hours with a conviction.

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