Mob-Controlled Longshoremen Leadership Hit with RICO Suit

The bosses who’ve been running the International Longshoremen’s Association have led a charmed life – or at least a good imitation of one. For several decades the union has had a devil’s pact with the Genovese and Gambino crime families: We’ll install your guys in key positions; you make sure nobody else walks on our turf. At the New York, New Jersey and Port of Miami waterfronts, in particular, it’s been hard to tell where organized labor and organized crime actually differ. But it’s an arrangement whose end now may be near.


On Wednesday, July 6, federal prosecutors filed an 83-page civil RICO lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., charging that the Longshoremen’s union and various benefit programs are Mafia-controlled. The suit seeks the permanent removal of four of the ILA’s six top officials: John Bowers, international president; Albert Cernadas, executive vice president; Robert Gleason, secretary-treasurer; and Harold Daggett, assistant general organizer. Cernadas and Daggett are awaiting trial this fall on separate racketeering charges, along with Arthur Coffey, international vice president from Miami. Additional defendants in the current suit are general vice president Benny Holland; general organizer Gerald Owens; all of the union’s international vice presidents; and board members of the Management-ILA health care fund and the Metro ILA funds covering union members employed by companies in the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association (New York and New Jersey). 


Historically, the Genovese family has run the shipping terminals in Manhattan, New Jersey and Port of Miami, while the Gambinos have taken care of business in Brooklyn and Staten Island. The complaint alleges that Bowers, who has headed the union since 1987, has been far from innocent in all this. He allegedly violated an earlier settlement, said the RICO complaint, “by committing and otherwise conspiring with organized crime figures in the commission of racketeering acts.” Bowers, along with Gleason and Daggett, purportedly had schemed with mobsters in violation of a consent decree more than a decade ago in a racketeering suit involving ILA Local 1804 in New Jersey.


The Justice Department has built much of its case on the recent convictions of three Gambino mobsters: family boss Peter Gotti; former ILA official and Gambino captain Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone; and family soldier Jerome Brancato. Also charged is James Cashin, a former union official who figures in the case against Cernadas, Daggett and Coffey. The RICO complaint alleges union officials and mobsters schemed to appoint Daggett as Bowers’ successor; place mob figures in key positions in the union and benefit plans; steer a pharmaceutical benefit contract to a mob-connected firm; and install a Mafia associate as investment adviser to one of the funds.    

The feds want a court-appointed trustee to oversee the New York City-based ILA, which represents 45,000 dockworkers and related employees at dozens of ports in the U.S. and Maritime Canada. The trustee also would oversee the union’s health and pension plans “until such time these entities are free from organized crime and infiltration.” The government also wants the union to hold a new election for its executive council. The ILA “vehemently denies” wrongdoing, insisting that the racketeering suit is “unnecessary.” Based on the evidence, however, the union’s claims of innocence will be a tough sell. (Associated Press, 7/6; Journal of Commerce, 7/6; Traffic World, 7/7).