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

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Longtime boss of New Jersey's DeCavalcante crime family dead at the age of 90

He reportedly served as the inspiration for Tony Soprano.

John M. Riggi—the crime boss who headed the Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family for decades, controlling a powerful labor union that helped funnel millions into mob coffers—has died at the age of 90.

Riggi, who was released from federal prison in November 2012 after serving time for racketeering and murder, died at his home in Edison on Monday, his family said.

While known for his of charity and his involvement with the Police Athletic League, it was his tight grip on Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 394 of Elizabeth that enabled him to shake down contractors, dispense jobs, and force companies to deal with mob-connected suppliers and businesses, said law enforcement officials.

"This guy may be the last of the old time mob bosses for this region," said Lee Seglem, assistant director of the State Commission of Investigation. "He outlived all the big names."

A short, balding, stocky man, Riggi graduated from Linden High School in 1942 as its class president and enlisted in the United States Army in 1943, serving as an aircraft and engine mechanic. But law enforcement officials said he was a close associate of the late Simone Rizzo "Sam the Plumber" DeCavalcante, who headed the New Jersey's only home-grown mob family, and he quickly became heir apparent within the organization.

Considered the weaker sister to New York's five organized crime families, the DeCavalcate family was able to control many major trade unions, allowing them to effectively squeeze contractors on everything from job staffing to demolition contracts and concrete deliveries.

"Under Riggi, the DeCavalcate family raised labor racketeering to something of an art form," said Seglem.

In a 2004 report on organized crime, SCI named 15 to 20 members and associates of the DeCavalcante family who were members of Local 394, with no-show jobs. One testified before the commission that he even received overtime for a job where he was a no-show. Riggi at one time openly bragged of controlling the construction business in New Jersey so completely that "not a nail doesn't go through a wall that we don't get a piece of."

One witness told the SCI that Riggi created a union to represent asbestos workers within the laborers union. Members of the union had to be licensed and attended a school created by Riggi, ostensibly to learn how to detect and remove asbestos, said the SCI. The witness, Anthony Capo, testified he slept during school and Riggi's son took the test for him. When questioned by a federal prosecutor about his knowledge of asbestos, Capo stated, "I wouldn't know it [asbestos] if I was sitting on it."

Authorities said Riggi spent at least two decades as a "caretaker" for DeCavalcante, taking over the day-to-day operation when the older mob boss moved to Florida. He finally resigned from his post as business agent of the labor union shortly before federal authorities—armed with surveillance tapes from FBI cameras hidden inside Daphne's Restaurant in the Sheraton Newark airport hotel in Elizabeth—charged him with racketeering.

Although his conviction was subsequently overturned by a federal appeals court, Riggi ultimately pleaded guilty to state and federal extortion and labor charges, and sentenced in 1992 to 12 years in prison.

Riggi and the DeCavalcante mob family reportedly served as the inspiration for HBO's fictional series The Sopranos. Still, he came across as gentleman, said Robert Boccino, a veteran New Jersey organized crime expert and former deputy chief of the State Organized Crime Bureau. Riggi helped build Little League baseball fields in Linden and gave generously to charity, he said.

"He wasn't Tony Soprano. Absolutely he was no Tony Soprano. The people in Elizabeth loved him. Nobody would cooperate—that was the problem," recalled Boccino. "He was respected."

He remembered when they came to arrest Riggi early one morning in a sweep of mob figures, the crime boss asked politely if he could first take a shower and put on a suit.

"All the others we took in that morning put on the arrest suit—sweats and sneakers. But when we brought him into the holding cell and he walked in, they all stood up," said Boccino. "He was an impressive guy."

Yet he was not reluctant to use mob muscle, added Boccino. While still at the federal penitentiary in Butner, N.C., Riggi was sentenced in September 2003 to an additional 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to ordering the Sept. 11, 1989, murder of a Staten Island man believed to be cooperating with authorities.

"We agreed that he should be murdered," Riggi said matter-of-factly at his plea hearing. "Pursuant to the agreement, Fred Weiss was murdered. That's it."



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