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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Three plead guilty in Genovese linked Christmas payoffs

Like something out of the Marlon Brando film, "On the Waterfront," a pair of former union officials and a third man also tied to organized crime today admitted taking part in a decades-old scheme to shake down longshoremen for Christmastime "tributes," federal prosecutors announced.

Stephen Depiro, 59, of Kenilworth, Albert Cernadas, 79, of Union, and Nunzio LaGrasso, 63, Florham Park, each pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newark to federal racketeering charges, prosecutors said. The three pleased guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in Newark, according to a joint statement from the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, and his Brooklyn counterpart, Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee for U.S. attorney general.

Cernadas was president of Newark-based Local 1235 of the International Longshoremen's Association from 1981 to 2006, while LaGrasso was a vice president of ILA Local 1478, also based in Newark. At the same time, presecutors said, the men were also associates of the Genovese crime family, where DePiro was a soldier in charge of the New Jersey waterfront.

The three were the last of all six defendants in the same case to admit their part in a practice dating back at least three decades, in which Fishman said union bosses and the mobsters who controlled them would use real and threatened violence to extort payments from longshoremen those same bosses were supposed to represent.

The payments, known as Christmastime tributes, came from legitimate year-end bonuses that longshoremen had received based on the number of containers moved through the Port of New York and New Jersey, which includes shipping terminals in Newark, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Bayonne, Staten Island and Brooklyn.

"Mr. LaGrasso is absolutely not cooperating in any investigation."

The three others who have already admitted taking part in the scheme are: Vincent Aulisi, 82, of West Orange, also a former Local 1235 president, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison; another Local 1235 official, Robert Ruiz, 56, of Watchung, who received a 20-month sentence; and, most recently, former Local 1235 President Thomas Leonardis, 57, of Glen Gardner, who was sentenced last week to 22 months in prison.

It was Leonardis who taunted waterfront regulators during a 2010 legislative hearing in Trenton on whether to dissolve the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, a bi-state agency created to police the docks in the wake of the real-life organized crime scandal depicted in the 1954 Brando film, filmed on location in Hoboken. At the hearing, Leonardis ridiculed the notion that organized crime was still a presence on the waterfront, and he held up an old grappling hook used by longshoremen before the advent of containerization to underscore his testimony that the commission was obsolete.

Mr. Cernadas' lawyer, Joseph Hayden, said his client, “has accepted responsibility and he’s going to move on with his life,” but declined to say anything more.

Dipiro's lawyer, Alyssa Cimino, did not return calls.

LaGrasso's lawyer, Edmund DeNoia, said his client was the subject of a parallel, ongoing investigation by the New Jersey State Attorney General's office, and that LaGrasso intended to plead guilty next month to state charges based on the same extortion scheme.

DeNoia declined to comment on Fishman's assertion that his client was a Genovese crime family associate. He did say that LaGrasso's plea today was not part of any agreement with prosecutors.

"Mr. LaGrasso is absolutely not cooperating in any investigation," DeNoia said.



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