Albert Cernadas began working on the New Jersey docks more than 50 years ago. And he almost made it to the top of the International Longshoremen’s Association. As executive vice president of the New York-based union as well as longtime president of Local 1235 across the river in Newark, he was heir apparent to ILA President John Bowers. But after the Justice Department slapped him and several associates with criminal racketeering charges, there was nowhere to go but down.
On September 12, Cernadas, 70, pleaded guilty to reduced conspiracy charges involving fraud while serving on the board of a benefit program known as ILA-Management, or MILA. He signed a consent agreement that forced him to cut all union ties; in return he was exempted from paying fines or doing serious prison time. In a separate agreement, Cernadas settled a civil racketeering suit that had been filed in Brooklyn, N.Y. this past July 6 that included among its defendants Bowers and several other persons.
The union long has had a reputed devil’s pact with the Gambino and Genovese crime families to split the proceeds from operations at New York City and New Jersey docks. Prior to this decade prosecutors had gone after corrupt locals and mobsters, especially those associated with Local 1588 in Bayonne, N.J. But the basic structure of the ILA-Mafia partnership cracked in 2002, when Brooklyn ILA boss Red Scollo pleaded guilty to steering a union pharmaceutical benefits contract to a mob-connected company, GPP/VIP. Testimony in the 2003 trial of Gambino family crime boss Peter Gotti revealed that the company paid the Gambinos $400,000 to persuade ILA officials.
Cernadas, whose annual income is $508,755, claims “willful blindness” in the affair. “In essence,” said his attorney, Jack Arseneault, “what he said was that between the summer of 1997 and the fall of 2001, several events occurred while he was on the MILA board that led him to suspect that wiseguys from Brooklyn were involved in the MILA contract award to a company called GPP/VIP. Instead of investigating on his own, or sharing his suspicion with the board, he just ignored it.” He added that while his client copped a plea, he is not planning in any way to cooperate with prosecutors. The remaining alleged co-conspirators consist of Harold Daggett, president of ILA Local 1804-1 in North Bergen, N.J.; Arthur Coffey, the union’s top man in Miami; and Lawrence Ricci, a reputed Genovese crime family captain who’d been convicted of extortion two decades ago. (Journal of Commerce, 9/13; Newark Star-Ledger, 9/14).