The Mob Was the City’s Watchdog


In 1996, then mayor Rudy Giuliani was in the midst of a fervent drive to rid the city’s private carting and wholesale fish industries of mob influence. Garbagemen, seafood workers, and truck unloaders were interviewed, fingerprinted, and confronted with any evidence of unsavory associations.

“We’re sending the clear and unequivocal message,” the prosecutor-turned-politician said in a speech, “that we do not tolerate organized crime in the Fulton Fish Market, the carting industry, the San Gennaro festival, or anywhere.”

That same year, the Department of Finance quietly signed a three-year contract with a private security firm to provide guards for its offices.

The $3 million deal went to the Explorer Investigation Agency, a state-licensed company based in a small, two-story brick building at 601 West 51st Street on the far West Side. The company’s chief executive is a white-haired 67-year-old man named Anthony Negri Sr. His contract called for Explorer to provide more than 40 guards at 15 locations around the city, including the finance department’s main offices in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The company did well enough to win a renewal of its contract in 1999, this time for $4 million.

At the same time that Negri’s firm was being paid to watchdog the offices where much of the city’s $23 billion in tax revenue is handled, however, city police detectives assigned to an organized-crime investigation were watching Negri. On three separate occasions over the summer and fall of 1998, they watched Negri pull up in his white Mercury SUV to Joe & Joe’s Restaurant on Castle Hill Avenue in the north Bronx, where he met with organized-crime figures. Among them was the then acting boss of the Genovese crime family, Dominick “Quiet Dom” Cirillo.

Detectives were impressed to see Cirillo sit down with Negri and others for several reasons. For one thing, Cirillo, whose nickname reflects his soft-spoken manner, is notoriously careful about whom he meets with. Such caution has helped the 73-year-old gangster, whose only conviction is a 1952 heroin sales rap, stay out of trouble. For another, the acting boss had suffered a recent heart attack, and police weren’t sure he was up to managing mob business.

Also sitting with Cirillo and Negri was Michael Crimi, a 66-year-old labor consultant who was the immediate target of the investigation by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and the School Construction Authority. Crimi, although never charged in the probe, was believed to be serving as the mob’s “middleman” for a group of corrupt roofing contractors and union officials (see “The Man Who Got Away,” March 12-18).

Detectives overheard the trio discuss construction deadlines and the cost of union labor, according to court affidavits filed in conjunction with the case. They caught only intriguing snatches of conversation, among them this comment by Crimi to Negri: “The broad owes him $20,000. He wants to kill her.”

The cops weren’t the only ones in Joe & Joe’s who knew these weren’t ordinary businessmen. When Cirillo walked out of the restaurant after a July meeting, one patron was overheard to say, “He is walking alone. He is lucky no one has shot him yet.”

Like Crimi, Negri was never charged in the case. But detectives learned through wiretaps and surveillance that the two men were close friends who spoke often about business. Crimi was a regular visitor to Negri’s offices on West 51st Street and even used the security firm owner to help arbitrate disputes with business associates. An analysis of Crimi’s phone records showed that he called Negri constantly, at work and at his Rockland County home.

Indeed, the men were such good pals, court records show, that Crimi arranged for Negri’s son-in-law to get a job with Princeton Restoration, a major roofing contractor that was allegedly secretly paying Crimi $500 a week to arrange favorable union deals.

Detectives also took note that Negri’s security firm shares offices in the small building on the corner of Eleventh Avenue and 51st Street with a tiny, 85-member local of the mob-ridden International Longshoremen’s Association. There were dozens of calls between Crimi and the offices of ILA Local 976, which represents production and warehouse workers. Inside the same small office, the ILA officials also preside over a much larger union, not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, called the United Construction Trades & Industrial Employees. That union has been accused by other labor organizations of signing low-cost, sweetheart contracts with employers facing legitimate employee organizing drives.

None of those troublesome associations, however, hindered Negri’s work for the city. His company was paid a total of $7.5 million for its six years of service to the finance department, records show. It hit just one bad patch, when one of its security guards was caught last August submitting phony time sheets with the help of a finance agency clerk. The city’s investigations department nailed that one, and the two men later pled guilty. But even that was considered an isolated incident, and the only reason Explorer Investigation lost a second contract renewal last fall, city officials said, was because another company underbid it.

Explorer had a little more trouble with a separate contract, this one with the Port Authority, to guard some piers in Red Hook, Brooklyn. A three-year contract signed in 2001 was canceled last year after a dispute over wage rates. Explorer also holds two other contracts with the Port Authority worth more than $2 million. Negri, as well as his son Anthony Negri Jr., who handles day-to-day affairs for the security firm, failed to return repeated calls.

As long as its investigation into construction corruption was under way, the D.A.’s office had good reason not to tell the city about any shadowy vendors that turned up during its probe. To do so could have jeopardized the secrecy of ongoing, fruitful wiretaps. But the construction probe ended in July 2000 with indictments of 13 people, including top contractors in the roofing business and union officials. All of the D.A.’s secret wiretap information was turned over to defendants and their lawyers. Even Negri would have been notified that he had been overheard on them. But no one remembers doing anything about the fact that a Genovese crime family associate was guarding the city’s revenue offices.

“There is no cut-and-dried policy on this,” said one official in Morgenthau’s office. “You don’t disclose things during an investigation unless there is imminent harm. Whether you do later is decided on an ad hoc basis.” In this case, the official added, “we saw no crimes relating to the guard company.”

Negri’s mob ties, however, are well known to other law enforcement authorities as well. After federal prosecutors in Brooklyn indicted a group of high-level Genovese gangsters last year, they put Negri’s name on a list of mob-tied people the defendants were prohibited from contacting.

Nor does law enforcement have any doubts about the security firm owner’s mob pedigree. “We believed Negri had more juice than Crimi,” said one prosecutor. “It’s our understanding that if they ever open the [mob membership] books again, he will be one of the first ones inducted.”

That level of law enforcement intelligence provided the basis for many of the decisions made by city licensing officials during the Giuliani administration’s push to chase wiseguys out of the Fulton Fish Market, the private carting business, and later, the San Gennaro festival. Giuliani’s aides, many of them ex-prosecutors themselves, confronted license seekers with city, state, and federal evidence of any contacts with organized crime, often in the form of wiretaps and surveillance photos.

“God forbid anyone in the fish market should have shown up in a social club somewhere,” said Gerald McMahon, an attorney who represented more than two dozen fish wholesalers and loading firms that were denied licenses under the system. “That was it for their license.”

Let alone having been spotted meeting regularly with the acting boss of the Genovese crime family.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 1, 2003

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