There was never any mystery about what drew the mob to the city’s waterfront: The loot of the world passed through New York harbor—from auto parts to perfume, steel to furs—all stored in the holds of the thousands of ships that plied the Narrows to berth at piers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Staten Island.
He who controlled the gangs of tough men with strong backs who carried that cargo on and off the ships won not only opportunities for massive theft and pilferage. He also won power over the timetables of arrival and departure on which giant corporations depended, and on which fortunes often rested. No wonder the union that arose among the waterside workers was the roughest, and the one most dominated by organized crime.
Instead of offering heated hiring halls where men could await calls to work, the early International Longshoremen’s Association left its members on the cold docks at the beck and call of a crew boss’s whistle. Its leaders were a motley crew: John “Cockeye” Dunn ran downtown until he was sent to the electric chair in 1949 for killing a stevedore; Alex “the Ox” DiBrizzi, with 23 gambling arrests, controlled Staten Island; Murder Inc. chief Albert Anastasia, and his brothers, Anthony “Tough Tony” and Gerald “Gerry Bang Bang,” ruled Brooklyn; convicted payroll robber Mickey Bowers and his brother Harold had the West Side.
The ILA? It was “a nest for waterfront pirates—a racket, not a union,” said city garment workers leader David Dubinsky.
Then, starting in the early 1950s, a series of events helped undo the worst excesses. A real waterfront priest, Father John Corridan— later portrayed on-screen by Karl Malden—made cleaning up the docks his mission and nurtured rank-and-file rebels fed up with their corrupt leaders. Then-governor Thomas E. Dewey convened crime hearings that kept the city riveted for weeks. A Waterfront Commission was created which curbed, if not eliminated, the most sinister elements on the docks. All this was followed by a series of prosecutions that, over a 10-year period, sent more than 100 ILA officials and waterfront figures to jail.
As late as 1990, a sweeping civil racketeering case against the ILA was painstakingly assembled by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Union officials agreed to a consent decree that brought powerful outside monitors to watchdog the biggest and most corrupt locals in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey.
And yet, and yet: Nearly 50 years after On the Waterfront, a dozen years after that prosecutorial full-court press, here was the Brooklyn U.S. attorney last month, flanked by the local head of the FBI and the city’s top organized-crime cops, at a press conference announcing the indictment of no less a figure than Genovese crime family boss Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, his son, and six other alleged mob figures in a new round of waterfront crimes.
Gigante’s crew had succeeded in infiltrating the longshoremen’s union and dominating some of the most powerful companies doing business on the docks, said U.S. attorney Alan Vinegrad. As a result, the prosecutor charged, the crime family had won “extortionate control of the New York, New Jersey, and Miami piers.”
How was it, Vinegrad was asked in an aside, that there were still such powerful wrongdoers in an area where the Justice Department had put so much energy and had already claimed at least partial victory? “The mob has a way of getting back in,” he said. “They’re always trying.”
The Mafia’s chief re-entry route, the government claims, is Andrew Gigante, 45, the eldest son of the imprisoned mob chieftain. Unlike his father, Andrew Gigante has no criminal record, and until his arrest last month, he was a supervisor on the New Jersey docks for a firm that repairs shipping containers. He has worked there quietly for 27 years, since he was a teenager. His only notable public appearances came in 1997 when he held his father’s elbow, as the unshaven, feeble-looking mob chief shuffled from his East Side townhouse to federal court in Brooklyn. The elder Gigante was convicted of running the Genovese family despite his lawyers’ claims that he was mentally unfit to run his own home, much less a network of criminals.
After his father went to prison, prosecutors allege, Andrew Gigante became the Chin’s relay man, bringing messages from the jailhouse to top crime family leaders like alleged capo Dominick “Quiet Dom” Cirillo and the family’s reputed acting street boss, Ernest Muscarella. Many of those relayed instructions involved family policy on the docks, authorities claim. Prosecutors call Andrew Gigante “a power on the New Jersey waterfront in his own right.”
It’s a contention his attorneys vigorously contest. “He’s 45, he’s stayed away from this stuff all his life,” lawyer Peter Driscoll told a court hearing last month. “Andrew Gigante has nothing to do with organized crime, nothing,” said another lawyer, James Culleton.
Andrew Gigante’s employers agree. Seated in a cozy office paneled in knotty pine on the second floor of a two-story brick building on Newark’s gritty outskirts, shipping company executive Christopher Guido gives short shrift to the prosecution’s claims. “The government says things like that,” he says dismissively. “We know the government’s motivation is to make careers, and nothing makes them faster than organized crime. People love it. Look at The Sopranos.”
Outside Guido’s windows it is deep Sopranos country. His Portwide Cargo Securing Company, a division of his family’s A.G. Ship Maintenance Corporation, is surrounded by mountains of rusting steel shipping containers. Ranging from 20 to 40 feet long and eight feet high, they are stacked six and seven to a tower. Beginning in the 1960s, these containers revolutionized the maritime industry. Instead of requiring gangs of 27 men to haul freight piece by piece, the cargo was stowed inside the huge boxes, lifted on and off ships by giant cranes and derricks, and placed atop tractor trailers or freight trains.
The ILA leadership and its mob associates initially resisted containerization but eventually gave way and signed contracts that guaranteed annual wages for its declining membership and created new trades for those maintaining the containers. Guido’s father, Bert Guido, and his grandfather, Albert Guido, founded one of the first and largest container repair firms, starting in Brooklyn and then expanding to New Jersey.
By the 1970s, Waterfront Commission investigators claimed, Bert Guido had a near monopoly on the harbor’s container repair business. He was also president of the trade association of the growing industry, a group of some two dozen businesses organized as the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association. Known as Metro in the industry, the trade group handles all the collective bargaining with the ILA, and its officers sit on the pension and benefit funds—worth hundreds of millions of dollars—along with ILA officials.
Prosecutors insist Metro is little more than a mob-created front, a joint enterprise of the Genovese crime family and the Gambino mob designed to “augment” their control of the ILA.
In any event, Bert Guido landed in trouble when he and three other trustees of the Metro-ILA benefit funds pleaded guilty in 1990 to criminal conspiracy stemming from their mishandling of the funds. Guido served no jail time, but he was forced to relinquish ownership of his companies.
Prosecutors call Bert Guido a Genovese associate and allege that while Andrew Gigante may work for the Guidos on paper, in reality Gigante’s the one running the show. In one recent instance, authorities say, Bert Guido handed over a $50,000 extortion payment to a Genovese soldier. In a bail hearing for Gigante last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Weinstein told the court, “The business that this defendant purportedly works for is actually controlled by him on behalf of the Genovese family.” The Guidos scoff at all of these assertions. “It’s not true,” says Christopher Guido.
What is clear, however, is that Andrew Gigante has done better than the average dockworker. At the bail hearing his lawyers said he owned property in New Jersey worth $4.2 million, as well as interests in two waterfront companies. At his home in leafy Old Tappan in northern New Jersey, he keeps legally registered 9mm and .357 Magnum pistols.
The fulcrum for the mob’s continuing influence on the waterfront, prosecutors allege, is the trade group, Metro. Two current Metro employees and one former aide were among the group indicted last month, charged with shaking down business owners, trying to loot benefit funds, and money laundering. Alleged Genovese soldier Michael “Mickey” Ragusa, 36, who formerly worked in another mob-tied association representing drywall contractors, held a “sham” no-show job at Metro, prosecutors say. His lawyers deny it.
Another defendant, Thomas Cafaro, 43, was best man at Andrew Gigante’s wedding and worked at Metro for 12 years until the mid 1990s, when he quit and moved to Florida with a $120,000 annuity from the association. Cafaro carries heavy mob baggage. His father, Vincent “the Fish” Cafaro, a top Genovese lieutenant, was a well-schooled gangster from East Harlem who later became one of the first mobsters to enter the witness protection program, spilling mob secrets that helped send several of his former colleagues to prison. To win back the family honor, Tommy Cafaro allegedly wiretapped his own mother and sister, officials say. But he has never been admitted to mob membership, allegedly because of his father’s status.
Cafaro’s lawyer disputes the allegations. “He’s not an associate of anything nefarious; he’s a good husband, a good father,” said Mike Rosen. “All this about his father, it’s just window dressing.”
The biggest target in the contractor’s association was Metro’s longtime, $100,000-a-year vice president, Pasquale “Patty” Falcetti. Described by the FBI as a soldier in the Genovese crime family, Falcetti’s job put him in charge of bargaining with the ILA’s Local 1804-1, based in North Bergen, New Jersey, and Local 1814 in Brooklyn. The contracts are some of the biggest in the industry, covering 1300 workers, according to Department of Labor figures.
Falcetti, 42, has no previous criminal record, and Metro’s counsel submitted a letter to the court calling him “a good and valuable employee.” Falcetti’s lawyer, George Santangelo, pointed out that his client has survived at Metro for 19 years without interference from the Waterfront Commission or the 1990 civil racketeering case.
But on tapes made over a three-year period by a mob informer for the FBI, Falcetti sounds like a very different kind of business executive. According to the government, shipping industry executive Falcetti is heard proclaiming on subjects ranging from the problem of dealing with Albanians to handling negotiations with the top echelons of the Genovese family.
“I hate these fuckin’ Albanians, I hate them. If you have a beef with them, you have to kill them right away. There’s no talking to them,” Falcetti is alleged to have said in May 2000.
When a dispute arose between two rival, mob-tied tow-truck firms, Falcetti offered his solution to the problem: “Take a few guys and go and beat the shit out of the kid. That’s what I would do.”
But Falcetti’s most telling, and potentially most damaging, comments came during long, detailed discussions about how to cope with a Genovese family senior citizen named George Barone, who was booted off the docks by the Waterfront Commission in the late 1960s and who then set himself up as a key ILA figure in Florida.
Barone, 78, was once a feared enforcer. In 1954—the same year On the Waterfront swept the Academy Awards—Barone was working as a hiring boss on a Lower West Side pier when he was arrested for beating a longshoreman who had had the nerve to complain about not being picked for a work crew. “Are you looking to make trouble?” Barone allegedly said before he and two others dragged the man into a Ninth Avenue meat market, where Barone proceeded to beat the dissident unconscious with a metal bar.
The felonious assault charge was later knocked down to disorderly conduct, and Barone continued his swagger through the docks, running a downtown ILA local that was renowned as a haven for ex-cons. Called before the Waterfront Commission, he went mum. The agency later lifted his license to work on the docks, and he headed south, where he helped found ILA Local 1922 in Miami. By 1980, Barone was in trouble all over again, convicted on federal charges of selling labor peace and sentenced to 15 years.
After his release from prison, Barone still controlled the Florida docks, law enforcement officials claim, but younger, ambitious Genovese hoods were chafing under his rule and showed the aging gangster little respect.
“He’s a senile old fucking man, this guy,” Falcetti was recorded last March saying of Barone. In the same conversation, Falcetti described how top Genovese family officials had ordered Barone to “stay away from the international [union], stay away from the fucking big delegates that they put there.” Barone was free to continue controlling Florida, but he had to “stay away from the Jersey piers, away from guys that have been close to him for years.” Falcetti added, “It was a hairy fucking thing.”
Much of Barone’s problems, Falcetti said, stemmed from a run-in with Andrew Gigante. “He bumped the son,” said Falcetti as he touched his own chin in gangland sign language to indicate crime boss Vincent Gigante.
Andrew Gigante had his own company in Florida, Falcetti said, and Barone allegedly failed to help him. “Whatever the kid says,” said Falcetti referring to Andrew Gigante, “it comes from him,” again patting his chin. “Who’s gonna challenge that?”
One of “Chin” Gigante’s orders, the government says, was to keep Barone “close” and “comfortable” so that when the time came to eliminate him, he would suspect nothing. Barone is supposed to be under house arrest, with electronic monitoring, at his condominium in Miami. His telephone has been disconnected and his lawyer did not return repeated calls.
ILA officials insist that while they know of people like Barone, they are just ancient history. “It is puzzling as well as baffling,” said ILA vice president James McNamara. “There was great concern, and it was disheartening to hear this, but unless there was a specific allegation, we can’t investigate a press release.”