For a mob whose heyday was at least 15 years ago, the Gambino crime family appears pretty confident. But that may be a case of good acting. On June 2, 23 persons, all of them New Jersey-based members and associates of the Gambinos, pleaded not guilty in Newark federal court. They’d been arrested by FBI agents on May 8 following the handing down of an 82-page indictment listing a wide range of illegal activities dating back a half-dozen years. The schemes, allegedly guided by Gambino capo Andrew Merola, 41, a resident of East Hanover, N.J., consisted of such offenses as extortion of receipts from construction site lunch trucks, operation of an illegal overseas gambling ring, and creation of phony barcode labels to acquire merchandise at deep discounts from major retailers.
As indicated in Union Corruption Update, labor racketeering figured heavily here. The feds zeroed in on two northern New Jersey construction unions, Laborers International Union of North America Local 1153 and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825. According to the indictment, Michael Urgola, 47, and Joseph Manzella, 49, used their respective positions as LIUNA Local 1153 business manager and business agent to embezzle application documents and union membership cards, and to bypass the union waiting list for jobs in order to hire Merola’s friends. Additionally, Manzella and John Cataldo, 44, allegedly took bribes from contractors so that they could pay IUOE Local 825 workers nonunion wages and benefits in violation of an existing collective-bargaining agreement.
The defendants weren’t much for patience at their arraignment. One after another, defense attorneys waived their clients’ right to have all charges read against them, preferring instead to enter “not guilty” pleas. Given the weight of evidence, they may simply be trying to buy time. U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton set an October 31 deadline to file motions, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Wigler noted that future plea agreements are possible. Given that the arrests came just months after an even bigger FBI sweep, Operation Old Bridge, time is something the Gambinos could use. (Passaic County Herald News, 6/3/08; other sources).