The International Longshoremen’s Association is in a bind. For the last two years the New York City-based union has been the target of a federal civil racketeering suit alleging a longstanding pattern of corruption that reached into the top suites. ILA officials, led by outgoing longtime President John Bowers, the indictment noted, knowingly ceded control of locals at New York, New Jersey and Miami ports to the Genovese and Gambino crime families. The union vigorously has denied all charges, and indeed recently requested that U.S. District Judge Ira Glasser dismiss the suit, which seeks the ouster of Bowers and other ILA officers and the placement of several union benefit funds under federal control. There’s an outside chance the union may get what it wants. Yet the reality of mobbed-up locals has been undeniable. Now the ILA, on the advice of its ethics counsel, has taken the dramatic step of taking over one of those unions.
Early this month, the international union seized control of Local 1235, which represents dock workers at the ports of Newark and Elizabeth, N.J. For years the local functioned as a virtual subsidiary of the Genovese crime family. Two years ago, then-President Albert Cernadas resigned, part of his guilty plea to charges that he’d conspired with the mob to skim funds from a union benefit plan. Manhattan headquarters now has appointed a vice president, James Paylor, as trustee to oversee local operations. The trusteeship took effect on August 6, and would run for an unspecified period. Milton Mollen, a litigator and former New York State Supreme Court Justice who serves as the union’s ethical practices counsel, believes the move was necessary. “It’s an effort to make certain there’s no outside influence,” he said.
What prompted the action was the refusal of a particular ILA member to cooperate with authorities in explaining a conversation with a now-captured mob fugitive. The Longshoreman in question is Eddie Aliusi of Local 1 in Newark, who also happens to be – small world – the son of Vincent Aliusi, the current president of Local 1235. The younger Aliusi refused to answer questions about a wiretapped phone conversation this past March featuring Michael “Mikey Cigars” Coppola, a reputed Genovese mobster. Coppola, until his capture three days later, had been on the lam for a decade, wanted for a three-decade-old murder. Once under custody, Coppola proved less than cooperative. Mollen put it this way: “His (Coppola’s) answer to every single question that I asked, other than his name, was the Fifth Amendment. Now, he has the right to take the Fifth Amendment and not answer questions, but he doesn’t have the right to continue to be a member of the ILA if, in fact, he’s involved with a member of organized crime.”
The transcript indirectly made reference to Local 1235. And although the senior Aliusi denied any knowledge of the phone conversation or even having face-to-face communication with Coppola, Mollen left nothing to chance. “I thought it was in the best interest of the ILA that a trusteeship be established over the local, and I so recommended.” Speaking at the recent ILA convention, Mollen also said that his office had prepared a “banned persons” list of 80 organized crime members and associates, and is sending copies to all ILA locals for future reference.
As for Coppola, his past may have more skeletons in the closet than imagined. He’s already charged with the murder of Johnny “Coca Cola” Lardiere at a motel in Bridgewater, N.J. in 1977. But he’s also a suspect in the fall of 2005 death of reputed Genovese mobster Lawrence Ricci, one of Cernadas’ co-defendants. Ricci went “missing” soon after he gave initial testimony at his federal trial, whose defendants also included top ILA officers Harold Daggett and Arthur Coffey. All three were acquitted, but Ricci wasn’t around to enjoy his good fortune. Three weeks after the jury came back with its verdict, his rotting corpse was discovered in the trunk of a car on the parking lot of a New Jersey diner. Coppola might want to think twice about having a trial of his own. (Journal of Commerce, 7/25/07; Newark Star-Ledger, 8/10/07).