Former ILA Officials in New Jersey Plead Guilty to Extortion

international longshoremen_s association logoNorthern New Jersey’s International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1235 has remained a profit center for the Genovese crime family despite the reform process set in motion by various prosecutions and an ILA takeover. That reality was brought home on October 15 when Robert Ruiz, an ex-local delegate to the parent union, was sentenced in Newark federal court to 20 months in prison, plus two years of supervised release, for his role in a racket to extort payments from members during Christmas season. He had pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy. Ruiz is among more than a dozen defendants in the case. They include the three previous local presidents, Albert Cernadas, Vincent Aulisi and Thomas Leonardis, the latter two of whom also pleaded guilty in May. Cernadas and two other non-Local 1235 defendants, Stephen Depiro and Nunzio LaGrasso, face pending charges.

The Newark-based ILA Local 1235 represents dockworkers at the ports of Newark and neighboring Elizabeth. For years its leaders worked for the Genovese mob, making sure to exact “contributions” from members. The international union, itself a target of a civil RICO suit nearly a decade ago until its dismissal by a federal judge in November 2007, had taken over the local in August 2008 and placed it under trusteeship. Yet the legacy of crime has been a gift that keeps on giving. On January 20, 2011, its profile received an unexpected boost when Vincent Aulisi, president of the union during 2006-07, was arrested on conspiracy and extortion charges. The action was part of a much larger multi-state bust of Mafia members and associates that netted almost 120 arrests that morning. The defendants had been named in an 82-page, 16-count indictment for murder, racketeering, extortion and other offenses that in some cases went back decades.

ILA Local 1235 and the Genovese family long have been difficult to tell apart, as federal prosecutions revealed during the last decade. Albert Cernadas, who served as local president during 1981-2006, pleaded guilty in September 2005 to benefit fraud. Two months later, in November 2005, he settled a civil racketeering suit against him whose defendants had included ILA International President John Bowers. An alleged co-conspirator in the criminal case, a Genovese capo, Lawrence Ricci, “disappeared” during his trial. He would turn up dead weeks later in the trunk of a parked car at a New Jersey diner. A Genovese mobster, Michael Coppola, after being on the lam for a little over a decade after his prosecution in 1996 for a 1977 murder, was captured in August 2008. He was indicted for Local 1235-related racketeering as well as the murder. At his 2009 trial, he was found not guilty of murder, but was convicted of extortion and flight charges, and received a 16-year sentence.

Now a group of ILA officials have received their own dose of justice. On October 15, Robert Ruiz, a delegate of Local 1235 to the international union during 2007-10, received a 20-month prison sentence for extortion in this “Christmas tribute” case involving unspecified sums extracted from union members. Ruiz, 55, a resident of Watchung, N.J., had pleaded guilty in May. The acts of extortion, said prosecutors, happened at the same time as members received their end-of-the-year container royalty fund checks. It would have been a tough case to fight. Two other former Local 1235 officers, Vincent Aulisi and Thomas Leonardis, respectively, the local presidents during the periods 2006-07 and 2008-11, also had admitted their role in the racket back in May. Member “contributions” weren’t requests. Aulisi and Leonardis admitted they had used force or threats of force to collect the money. Aulisi, now 82, received an 18-month prison sentence; Leonardis, 57, still awaits sentencing.

A few other individuals have pleaded guilty in this case. They include former ILA supervisors Salvatore LaGrasso, Michael Nicolosi and Julio Porrao. In addition, three additional defendants still face charges. One of them, the aforementioned Albert Cernadas, now 79, was president of ILA Local 1235 during 1981-2006, and has been cited as a Genovese associate. Another defendant, Stephen Depiro, 59, a resident of Kenilworth, N.J., is a Genovese crime family soldier. And Nunzio LaGrasso, vice president of the Newark-based ILA Local 1478, is also a Genovese associate. When arrested in January 2011, he was charged not only with extracting payoffs, but also with loan-sharking. New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch led the investigation, which involved the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General. Christmas will never be the same for ILA rank and file members – something for which they no doubt are thankful.


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