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

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Mob's stranglehold over labor unions is not what it used to be

Thirty years ago, customers paid more for the salmon, shrimp and other seafood dishes they ordered at New York City restaurants because the Mafia controlled the truckers union that made deliveries to the Fulton Fish Market, according to law-enforcement officials and court records.

Fish spoils quickly, so the Mafia allegedly extorted payments from officials who ran the market by threatening delivery delays. In turn, fish-market officials demanded payoffs from restaurants, which passed that cost onto its patrons, law-enforcement officials said.

The exploitation of unions by organized crime has been an "unpleasant fact of life" since the late 19th century and "thrived practically unopposed" until the mid-1970s, James Jacobs, a professor at New York University School of Law, wrote in his 2006 book, "Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement."

The five families controlled construction, garment, waste hauling, trucking, airport cargo and other unions, he said in an interview. Paying extra to do business in New York—a so-called mob tax—"was just the way it was; it was accepted. You had to deal with them."

That started changing in the 1980s under then Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, Mr. Jacobs said.

"I think he's the most important organized-crime prosecutor in American history," he added. "I don't think he really gets enough credit for that."

In 1986, for example, federal prosecutors in Mr. Giuliani's office gained convictions against the leadership of all five families on accusations that the Mafia's control of concrete labor unions enabled them to demand a 2% kickback on concrete used in new building projects in New York City over $2 million.

A case brought by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn in 1990 alleged that the five families used a corrupt union to fix bids in exchange for receiving tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks on a $150 million contract to replace windows in New York City Housing Authority buildings.

Two high-ranking members and one soldier were convicted in that trial and five people were acquitted.

Still, Mr. Jacobs and other experts said that while the Mafia's hold on unions today has weakened, the Mafia's influence isn't totally lost.

Mr. Jacobs said there are still cases in which government-installed monitors are "trying to rehabilitate formerly mobbed-up unions" as well as new labor-racketeering prosecutions being brought against organized-crime members.

After the prosecutions "some unions were definitely cleaned up, other unions weren't completely clean and other unions…were cleaned up but have been infiltrated again," said Richard Frankel, special agent in charge of the Criminal Division for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office.

A law-enforcement official said Lucchese and Genovese remain the most active of the five crime families when it comes to infiltrating and exploiting unions.



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