In the end, the jury wasn’t convinced. But that hardly means the prosecution wasn’t convincing. On Tuesday, November 8, a federal jury in Brooklyn, N.Y. acquitted all three defendants of conspiracy and fraud charges related to allegations they steered Longshoremen union benefit funds toward a mobbed-up pharmaceutical company. The fortunate ones are: Harold Daggett (in photo), the union’s assistant general organizer; Arthur Coffey, ILA vice president and Miami chieftain; and Lawrence Ricci, a reported Genovese crime family captain. While the verdict was a clear victory for the union, nagging questions remain – like the whereabouts of Ricci.
The leadership of the International Longshoremen’s Association, for now, is out of the woods. Longtime President John Bowers referred to the acquittals as “a wonderful day for the ILA.” By no coincidence, just two days later on November 10, Bowers announced the union would strengthen its Code of Ethics. Among other steps, it would make the nearly two-year-old code permanent and retain retired U.S. District Judge George C. Pratt for the new position of Independent Appellate Officer. It may take a while before skeptics are fully convinced such actions are more than window dressing.
The ILA, which represents roughly 65,000 dock workers and auxiliary employees at dozens of U.S. and Canadian ports along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, plus various inland bodies of water, long has had mob ties. Reporter Malcolm Johnson’s serialized expose on dock corruption for the old New York Sun in the late 40s, the original inspiration for the film On the Waterfront (recently reprinted in book form), indicates how close those ties have been from the start. Not that much has changed, despite the union’s public relations efforts. Several decades ago a deal between New York’s Gambino and Genovese crime families established the existing regime. With the cooperation of ILA locals, the Gambinos would control the Brooklyn and Staten Island docks; the Genoveses would run the ones in Manhattan and New Jersey. It took a long time to get the goods on the principals, but beginning in the 1980s, under the leadership of the late prosecutor, Gerard McGuire, the feds nailed dozens of mob guys. Even as the Mafia continued to recruit new enforcers, the dominoes continued to fall, most prominently in 2003 in the form of Gambino crime mogul Peter Gotti, who’s more likely than not to live out his years in prison. But prosecutors believed that as long as the people running the international union remain in charge, further ILA partnerships with the criminal underworld would continue. Soon enough, Daggett and Coffey were indicted in July 2004, and suspended from union-related duties. Had they been convicted, they would have faced up to 20 years in prison. Testimony for the prosecution by a convicted Gambino soldier, Primo Cassarino, provided what the government thought was unimpeachable evidence. But somewhere along the line, jurors perceived him as just another mob turncoat trying to win an early release.
ILA officials, flush with victory, understandably claim that corruption in their union ceased to be a factor long ago. Still, the union is facing another piece of music: a civil RICO suit that the Justice Department filed this July to remove Bowers, Coffey, Daggett and Executive Vice President Albert Cernadas from office. Longtime Newark local boss Cernadas already has settled with the government. In September, in the criminal case, he also pleaded guilty to reduced fraud conspiracy charges. During 1997-2001, prosecutors alleged, Cernadas knowingly awarded an ILA benefit contract to a mob-connected company, GPP/VIP. Union officials are confident they will beat the rap this time around, too. Prosecutors counter that aside from the standard of proof in civil cases being “a preponderance of the evidence,” the mob still controls union elections and hiring.
Then there’s the inconvenient matter of Lawrence Ricci, the third defendant acquitted in the criminal case. Reportedly an acting capo of the Genovese family, Ricci, 60, “vanished” about a month and a half ago, on the eve of his scheduled October 7 court testimony. The smart money says that Ricci has two chances of turning up alive – slim and none. It is highly unlikely he decided on a lark to go AWOL. For one thing, he already had given testimony beginning on September 20; during this time he was free on $500,000 bail. Obviously, if it was Ricci’s intent to avoid self-incrimination on the witness stand, he would have made himself scarce before, not after, the trial began. Second, he faced a maximum five-year sentence, not exactly worth a flight from prosecution. Third, even with the prospect of a long sentence, Ricci was not about to leave those close to him in the lurch. “I cannot believe he would voluntarily put his family through this kind of agony,” said his attorney, Martin L. Schmukler. And fourth, having been exonerated, it makes no sense whatsoever for him to remain a bail-jumper. Bottom line: Someone up the Genovese or Gambino food chain probably had this guy silenced for good in order to keep certain people out of prison – if not Daggett and Coffey themselves, then certain mobsters with whom they were friendly. The jury verdict notwithstanding, this is one crime story that’s far from a conclusion. (New York Times, 11/9; New York Daily News, 11/9; PR Newswire US, 11/10).