Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

NJ Gov Candidate has Family Links to Reputed Feared Genovese Boss

For Christopher J. Christie, it was inescapably an uncomfortable family connection. Tino Fiumara, the brother of his aunt’s husband, was a fearsome and ranking member of the Genovese crime family: twice convicted of racketeering, sentenced to 25 years in federal prison, and linked by investigators to several grisly murders, including one in which a victim was strangled with piano wire.

Tino Fiumara in 1979.

Mr. Christie, 47, who rose from a boyhood in Livingston to become a corporate lawyer, then United States attorney in New Jersey and now the Republican candidate for governor of New Jersey, does not appear to have talked much about Mr. Fiumara over the years.

He once acknowledged bumping into his uncle’s brother at a restaurant in the mid-1990s. And there was a 1991 visit Mr. Christie made to a Texas prison to see Mr. Fiumara — at the request, Mr. Christie said, of a relative.

But when Mr. Christie became New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor in January 2002, his distant tie became a potential problem. Mr. Fiumara was already under investigation by the federal prosecutor’s office for aiding the flight of a fugitive suspected of murder.

Mr. Christie recused himself from the case. Mr. Fiumara was arrested that April. Prosecutors and defense lawyers say Mr. Christie was never involved in any way.

But Mr. Christie, whose office issued news releases about a plea bargain and Mr. Fiumara’s eight-month prison sentence, never revealed his connection to the defendant or his sensitive decision to distance himself from the handling of the case.

“My view at the time was, I had had nothing to do with the case, I’d had no involvement with it, and I didn’t think it was of any import to anyone why I’d recused,” he said in an interview. “It was a personal matter; it was not a professional matter.”

Mr. Christie says his relationship to Mr. Fiumara never came up in his F.B.I. background check after his appointment as United States attorney, and he never raised it, though he says he assumed investigators were aware of it.

So as he runs for governor, the connection to one of the state’s more notorious and violent gangsters emerges as a somewhat startling footnote in the biography of a man who has built his campaign, and career, as a crime fighter.

Mr. Christie says that as United States attorney he was always tough on organized crime, though it did not rank as high among his priorities as public corruption, terrorism, violent street gangs or human trafficking did. And he says he stands by a 2007 remark that “the Mafia is much more prominent on HBO than in New Jersey.”

Mr. Fiumara’s older brother, John, who lived in Livingston, a mile from the Christie home, was the second husband of Mr. Christie’s aunt, Mr. Christie said. He said that he recalled seeing Tino Fiumara at large parties at his aunt’s home when he was a boy.

By then, Mr. Fiumara had built an extensive and violent résumé in the underworld. Jerry Capeci of GangLandNews.com, has reported that Mr. Fiumara cut his teeth in the late 1960’s working for Ruggiero Boiardo, a top Genovese crime family member in New Jersey, known as Richie the Boot, who lived in a sprawling Livingston estate that became a model for the suburban home of the fictional character Tony Soprano.

Mr. Christie said he was 15 when he found out about Mr. Fiumara’s involvement in organized crime, in 1977, reading about it on the front page of The Star-Ledger. Two years later, Mr. Fiumara was sentenced to 20 years for extorting a Parsippany restaurateur.

He was denied bail in that case, according to Mr. Capeci, after investigators linked him to the 1969 murder of a politically connected nightclub owner and bookmaker in Paterson, N.J. In 1980, he was convicted of charges that he controlled the New Jersey waterfront for the Genovese family, paying off union leaders and extorting shipping companies.

A United States Senate subcommittee investigating organized crime in the early 1980s attributed three murders to Mr. Fiumara, including the 1967 slayings of two brothers of one of his codefendants in the 1980 trial.

In 1983, Lt. Col. Justin Dintino of the New Jersey State Police called Mr. Fiumara “a callous killer who has resorted to violence with little provocation,” and said Mr. Fiumara had ordered the murder of the godfather of one of his own children.

Gerald Shargel, Mr. Fiumara’s lawyer, has called the murder accusations “an F.B.I. fantasy.”

Mr. Fiumara, 68, visited on Monday at his home in South Huntington, N.Y., referred reporters to another defense lawyer, Salvatore T. Alfano, who declined to comment.

Mr. Christie apparently has discussed Mr. Fiumara publicly only once before, in a brief item in The Star-Ledger in December 2001. He mentioned a chance encounter at a restaurant while Mr. Fiumara was out on parole several years earlier.

He did not mention having visited Mr. Fiumara behind bars.

In 1991, as a 29-year-old lawyer, Mr. Christie was planning a trip to Dallas to see a football game, he said, when his uncle asked him to visit Mr. Fiumara in the federal prison in Fort Worth.

He said that he remembered little of their conversation. “My best recollection is we updated each other on what was going on with the family,” he said. “It was not a very long visit.”

Mr. Fiumara was paroled from Fort Worth in February 1994. In 1999, he was returned to prison for associating with known criminals. A longtime associate, Michael Coppola, had fled murder charges in 1996, and Mr. Fiumara was caught on a wiretap speaking with him by phone while Mr. Coppola was a fugitive.

Mr. Fiumara was due to be released again in June 2002. But that April, he was indicted again, this time by Mr. Christie’s office on charges of helping Mr. Coppola avoid prosecution. Mr. Christie recused himself. Mr. Fiumara’s lawyers argued that he had already been punished through the parole violation. They sought house arrest, saying incarceration would jeopardize his chances of a kidney transplant. But prosecutors insisted on prison.

“The plea negotiations were very tough,” said Mr. Shargel. “No one was given any gift, that’s for sure.”

He said Mr. Christie had no involvement whatsoever.

Aidan O’Connor, who led the organized crime strike force for Mr. Christie at the time, agreed with Mr. Shargel.

Mr. Fiumara was released in January 2005. Last year he was named as a target of federal investigators who believe he ordered the slaying of an associate who was on trial for fraud in October 2005.

A senior law enforcement official said Mr. Fiumara now sits on a three-person ruling panel that oversees the Genovese family, which has not had an official boss since the death of Vincent Gigante in 2005.

Mr. Christie said that if he learned anything from his connection to Mr. Fiumara, it was at the moment he read about him in the newspaper as a 15-year-old.

“It just told me that you make bad decisions in life and you wind up paying a price,” he said. “Really, for most of my life, he spent his life in prison. That teaches you a lot.”


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