Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Back to the Mob

After a Decade of Clean-Up, Another Union Indictment
by Tom Robbins

Last Wednesday, exactly 10 years to the day after federal prosecutors filed a civil racketeering lawsuit aimed at ridding the powerful New York District Council of Carpenters of corruption, the union's long and tortured relationship with organized crime was once again on public display.

Michael Forde, the newly elected head of the 25,000-member council, was charged with the oldest and most practiced crime in the playbook of corrupt trade unionists: taking bribes from contractors to allow the use of nonunion labor. He had 37 codefendants in the racketeering case brought by Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau, including eight alleged mobsters.

Forde's indictment came after his union spent millions to settle a federal lawsuit, including payments to high-priced, court-appointed monitors, and millions more on lawyers to negotiate a series of reforms to satisfy the government.

Upon his arrest, Forde became the fourth chief of the council since 1980 to be charged with corruption. Ex-council head Theodore Maritas disappeared and was presumed murdered in 1982 while facing federal charges of helping the mob control the city's drywall industry. Another leader, Paschal McGuinness, was acquitted of federal bribery charges in 1991. Forde's predecessor, Fred Devine, was convicted in 1998 of stealing union funds.

Between Devine's reign and Forde's election, national leaders of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters seized control of the council and placed it in trusteeship. That control was relinquished last year after the international said it had accomplished its goals.

Forde, 45, a cheerful and courteous union man with carrot-colored curly hair and a hefty gut, took office in January. He won the newly created top position of executive secretary treasurer of the District Council in elections required under the union's consent decree with federal prosecutors.

Forde won office promising strong contracts and a vigorous attack on nonunion construction work. He quickly plunged the union into Democratic politics, loaning the council's elegant headquarters on Hudson Street to the Al Gore campaign for a victory party for the March 7 presidential primary. Forde beamed as network TV cameras flashed his union's logo around the country. He welcomed Hillary Clinton there as well and turned his phone banks over to her campaign.

Forde was at an upstate union conference when the call came early on the morning of September 6 from police seeking his arrest. He arranged to peacefully surrender himself at the offices of his lawyer, Brian O'Dwyer.

He was led into court, tieless and flushed of face, wearing a black suit and white shirt. After quietly pleading not guilty before Judge Jeffrey Atlas, he was directed by court officers to take a seat in the jury box, where more than 20 of his codefendants were already glumly seated. He took the third chair from the left in the first row, a seat vacated only minutes earlier by Steven L. Crea, reputed acting boss of the Luchese crime family, who stood accused of coordinating the bribery schemes in which Forde was allegedly ensnared.

According to the indictment, it was while Forde was serving as president of Local 608, the largely Irish American local that covers Manhattan's West Side and the Bronx, that he agreed to take payoffs from a mob-controlled firm to let it use nonunion workers in the renovation of the Park Central hotel on Seventh Avenue.

Shortly after the hotel project began, however, word of the nonunion labor reached a new team of union members and former law enforcement investigators hired by the national union trustees for the specific purpose of smoking out nonunion contractors.

A visit from the team in June 1998 found 29 nonunion workers at the site. Union business agent Martin Devereaux, in charge of overseeing the contractor, told union investigators he hadn't reported the contract violations because the firm was "a gangster type." Devereaux was also indicted last week.

But the national union trustees seemed to lose much of their zeal for reform when confronted with real New York City gangsters. Instead of disciplining Forde and Devereaux, they disbanded their investigative unit, but not before the unit's directors, former police detective Edward Magnuson and ex-federal labor investigator Harvey Tuerack, told Morgenthau's office about what they had en-countered at the Park Central.

Arraignments for all the defendants in Forde's case went late into the evening. While the union leader waited for his release on bail, his attorney spoke in his defense. "Mike Forde is awaiting his day in court when he will be found not guilty," said O'Dwyer.

A few minutes later, Forde, his black suit jacket flapping, came down the steps of Criminal Court and onto Centre Street, holding a cardboard box of evidence on his shoulder to shield him from waiting TV cameras.

Friday, September 8, 2000

Mob Turncoat Eager to Talk About Construction Rackets

On a cold night last December, a white limousine stopped near Il Boschetto restaurant in Yonkers. Two large men stepped out and hurried through the restaurant's front door.

Both men were suspected of being mob racketeers. One, Joseph Datello, has been identified as an inducted member of the Lucchese crime family. The other, Sean J. Richard, was the son-in-law of John Riggi, the imprisoned boss of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcantes. Mr. Richard had recently been in a car accident. He wore a bandage on his left arm.

In the restaurant, Steven L. Crea, who has been identified as the Luccheses' acting boss, greeted them from the first stool at the bar. For about an hour, the three men talked about bribery and extortion, the authorities say. Mr. Richard now remembers that Mr. Crea was angry. He speculated darkly about a man he thought might be an informer.

When the meeting ended, Mr. Richard dropped Mr. Datello off at his home on Staten Island, as he had after many meetings before. Then he broke from the routine.

He directed his driver to a motel parking lot and switched cars, taking a seat in a sedan with another group of men. Reaching into his sweatsuit, he unrolled the bandage and removed a hidden recording device.

Sean Richard had just betrayed the man he says was his Mafia boss. Mr. Crea had guessed wrong.

In the end, it was a fellow boss's son-in-law, worried that his future held either jail time or a violent death, who had turned against him. In the parlance of mobsters, Mr. Richard had become a rat.

''These are not the kind of circumstances you want to gain fame and notoriety for,'' Mr. Richard said in a recent interview. ''But I didn't have many options, and that's what I am.''

Mr. Richard, who agreed to several interviews while in hiding, is the mob's latest embarrassing, tell-all turncoat. He is an eager raconteur.

On Wednesday, Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, unsealed racketeering indictments against Mr. Crea and 37 other defendants, accusing them of participating in a criminal enterprise that drove up the prices of construction projects throughout the city. The indictment identifies Mr. Crea as the acting boss and Mr. Datello as a soldier in the Lucchese crime family.

As the prosecutions go forward, they will rely on years of investigation and wiretaps by the New York Police Department. And they will rely on Mr. Richard, who agreed to plead guilty to attempted enterprise corruption in exchange for a new identity and five years' probation.

In return, he plans to testify with zeal about how the Luccheses, through persistence and payoffs, maintained a grip on construction projects at a time when the Mafia was supposedly in decline. Dozens of contractors, union officials and mobsters are said to be vulnerable to his testimony, which will recount, in detail, bribes doled out in bars and restaurants, coercion at construction sites and the Mafia's aggressive, if somewhat bumbling, management of a sprawling criminal scheme.

''He is a godsend,'' said a lawyer who is familiar with the case.

It is a remarkable reversal. As Mr. Riggi's son-in-law and the father of two of the boss's granddaughters, Mr. Richard, 35, is literally married to the mob. And he is displaying an almost gloating disrespect. In interviews, he went beyond details of labor corruption. He spoke with disdain for the mobsters he once served.

He described Emmanuel Riggi, one of his brothers-in-law and a man prosecutors describe as a member of the DeCavalcante crime family, as ''so fat he breaks chairs at every family function.'' He said John Riggi, the feared crime boss, ''ought to thank me for feeding his useless kids.'' He said Mr. Datello, his 6-foot-5 former partner, was ''a big idiot, like Frankenstein.''

''I used to say, 'Hey, Joey, I've got to take you in to get the bolts for your neck,' '' Mr. Richard said.

Some of Mr. Richard's former Mafia associates seem astounded at the breadth and tone of his confessions. A few, through lawyers or associates, declined to comment, including John Riggi, his sons and Mr. Datello, who has eluded arrest so far.

Others, through associates or lawyers, said Mr. Richard was little more than a wild exaggerator and a serial manipulator who drew attention to the Luccheses through a foolishly flamboyant style. ''This guy was a wannabe, and he conducted business that was not authorized by organized crime,'' said a person who is familiar with the Lucchese family.

Mr. Richard is a gritty man and emanates the blunt, coarse demeanor of a thug. He is utterly unlettered. He says ''mob fractions'' when he means ''mob factions.'' But he is also capable of warmth and charm, and people who know him say he is very smart, a man who passed easily through many roles until arriving at his latest: prosecution witness.

''He's a chameleon,'' said a friend of nearly 20 years who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. ''He became a gangster better than one of them, and he thought circles around them while he did it.''

For his first 30 years, Mr. Richard was an unknown, a laborer from the Bronx who trained as a union apprentice and, by his mid-20's, started a small subcontracting company in New Jersey. His insider's tour of the mob did not begin until 1995, when he began dating Sara M. Riggi, the daughter of the DeCavalcantes' boss.

The DeCavalcantes are the smallest of the region's Mafia families, and considered by law enforcement to be the weakest, often relying on cooperation with the five families in New York. But they have long specialized in labor rackets: extorting contractors in exchange for labor peace, or replacing unionized employees with nonunion workers and then spiriting away savings on wages or fringe benefits.

Mr. Richard became fascinated with Mr. Riggi, whom he said he first visited in the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., in 1996, when the boss was serving a sentence for extortion. Mr. Riggi, 75, appeared in prison khakis, yet somehow managed, Mr. Richard said, ''to have an almost presidential bearing.'' He sat briefly with Mr. Richard and Ms. Riggi before sending his daughter to a vending machine.

''As soon as she left, he looked at me and said: ''Who you with? Who you indentured to?'' Mr. Richard said. ''I said: ''Nobody. I don't answer to nobody.' And after we talked for a while, we hit it off.''

Mr. Richard and Ms. Riggi married on Sept. 13, 1996. ''Friday the 13th,'' Mr. Richard now says.

Unlike Mr. Riggi's three sons, who law enforcement officials say were unable to run the rackets (Mr. Richard calls them ''goofballs, three guys you wouldn't take miniature golfing''), his son-in-law seemed smart and aggressive. Soon, Mr. Richard's legitimate business was a sideline; labor rackets were his game.

He and law enforcement officials said that in 1996 he began circulating his father-in-law's instructions to corrupt New Jersey locals and pursuing larger plans. ''Sean was a significant player,'' said Robert T. Buccino, who retired last month as deputy chief of New Jersey's Organized Crime Bureau. ''He was more trusted than the sons were.''

By 1997, Mr. Richard established a link with the Luccheses, working for Mr. Datello, who prosecutors say also specialized in labor rackets. In one of his schemes, Mr. Richard and prosecutors assert, he and an associate bribed Michael Forde, the president of Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, to help limit the number of unionized carpenters at a Park Central Hotel renovation project.

He said the first payment -- $10,000 in cash -- was made over afternoon beers at a Hooters on West 56th Street. ''I gave him the ten thousand, and he says, 'You know, I really shouldn't be drinking beers while I'm working; the union is cracking down on that,' '' Mr. Richard said. ''I said: 'You're worried about the beers? What do you think your guys would think about that ten thousand you just took?' ''

Through his lawyer, Mr. Forde said the meeting with Mr. Richard never took place.

As he worked for Mr. Datello, Mr. Richard lived a high roller's life, canvassing Manhattan and spending freely from wads of $100 bills. He bought pedigreed Rottweilers. He leased a new luxury car every few months. He bought a $320,000 home on two acres in Holmdel, N.J., putting $145,000 down. The house had a sauna, a Jacuzzi, an in-ground pool and separate yards: one for his two infant daughters, the other for his menacing-looking black dogs.

By 1999, he had become a fixture at the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, where the manager, Patrick Littlejohn, remembers that he sat in a corner booth and ordered heaping plates of chilled seafood and seared prime rib, washing both down with 1982 Lafite-Rothschild. Sometimes he stood by the piano, singing Frank Sinatra or Perry Como songs.

He also passed long hours at the Paradise Club, a nightclub near the Empire State Building, where he tipped the striptease dancer he fell in love with as much as $1,000 a night, he and the dancer both say. ''If I dropped dead tomorrow, I lived, baby, I lived,'' Mr. Richard said.

He and the authorities also say he attended the meetings of a secret three-member construction panel that the Luccheses used to plan rackets, mediate disputes and divide spoils. By his telling, these meetings illustrated the paradox that the latter-day Mafia has become.

On one hand, the mob was resourceful enough to cheat the construction industry of millions of dollars. On the other, many members and associates were almost pathetic: grown men who groveled to get jobs as flagmen at road crews, or who talked relentlessly on cellular phones about secret meetings, all while the detectives were listening.

''This was supposed to be a secret society, but we'd get 20, 25, 30 guys turning up, all asking for something,'' Mr. Richard said. ''It was a joke.''

He recalled one panel meeting last year at Little Charlie's Clam Bar on Kenmare Street in Manhattan, for which, he said, two dozen mobsters and associates arrived in flashy cars, lining the block with Cadillacs and Lincolns. Later, he learned that the police had watched the entire show. ''It was kind of comical,'' Mr. Richard said. ''The detectives were right across the street.''

Mr. Richard's life began to unravel last June, when the police raided several dozen homes and offices in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, searching for records documenting the suspected rackets. One of the targets was the Linden, N.J., office of S & S Contracting, the business he had formed with his wife.

The raids filled him with dread. ''It was the beginning of the end,'' he said. ''For them to get 40 warrants in three states? Come on. That's real.''

Over the next five months, he fell into a funk. He began to use cocaine, marijuana and heroin, he said, and drank more heavily than usual. He spent even more money, dipping into the weekly cash tribute he said he was supposed to pay Mr. Datello as a member of his crew.

He also began to think about becoming the state's witness, in part because friction within the Luccheses rose after the raids, and he worried that Mr. Datello had been given orders to kill him. The fear, he said, intensified late last fall when he was told to wait outside the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, N.J., to meet Dominic Truscello, a Lucchese capo. Mr. Datello told him he would be picked up in a van.

''I said, 'What do you guys need a van for?' '' Mr. Richard recalled. ''A van is never a good sign in this business.''

He was so unnerved, he said, that he armed himself, carrying a pistol in his belt. The van ride passed without violence, but during the meeting that followed, he said, Mr. Truscello stared icily at him and said, ''What are your sins?'' Mr. Richard interpreted the question as a sign that he was marked for execution. He defected soon thereafter.

Now that the case is public, lawyers and associates of the Luccheses say that the state's star witness is a traitor on many levels.

Mr. Richard is now in hiding with his girlfriend, the stripper, who performed under the name Lola. His wife, Sara Riggi, has not seen him in months. She has been left in disarray, alone with their daughters and facing foreclosure proceedings against their home. She filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in July and for divorce in August. ''It's very upsetting,'' she said in a brief interview, which she ended in tears.

For his part, Mr. Richard looks like a man who has long been resting. He has lost weight and added tattoos. He has a rich tan. Now and then he talks about book or movie deals. He takes precautions, but they are almost comically half-hearted, like his tendency when venturing away from the police to wear a hat and sunglasses, or his request to a reporter not to describe his tattoos.

The Luccheses' latest racketeering case, and his probation, will be over one day, he says. Then he will have a new life. ''The last thing anybody wants to be is a rat,'' he said. ''But you know something? I'll be a rat and I won't be in prison. I'll be a rat and I'll be alive.''

Thursday, September 7, 2000

38 Are Charged In Mob Control Of Construction In the City

Published: September 7, 2000
The Manhattan district attorney charged 38 union officials, contractors and reputed mobsters yesterday with bribery, bid-rigging or other racketeering schemes that he said siphoned millions of dollars from construction projects in the last two years.

It is the most significant case focusing on organized crime's role in the construction industry in a decade, the authorities said.

Among those named in a 57-count indictment unsealed yesterday were the acting boss of the Lucchese crime family, Steven L. Crea, 53, who prosecutors say has played a role in construction racketeering schemes for decades, and two of his senior aides, identified as Lucchese captains. All were charged with enterprise corruption, restraint of trade and other crimes.

The indictment also charged 11 union officials, including Michael Forde, who heads both the District Council of Carpenters in New York City and the carpenters' union Local 608, organizations long tainted by mob influence. Mr. Forde's father headed the local and was convicted of taking bribes in 1990.

Robert M. Morgenthau, Manhattan district attorney, said the racketeering siphoned millions of dollars from construction projects throughout the city and diverted it to the Lucchese family and its partners, corrupt union officials and contractors.

''Despite law enforcement successes over the years, today's indictment demonstrates that the fight against organized crime is far from over,'' Mr. Morgenthau said. ''The mob's influence in construction industry, although not as pervasive as it once was, still exacts a tremendous cost from the city.''

Mr. Morgenthau said the victims included union workers deprived of jobs by their leaders; nonunion workers who replaced them and were paid far below union wage and received no benefits; and honest contractors frozen out of the bidding by the mob's corrupt alliance, by which their chosen companies underbid other firms.

Because the Lucchese family insinuated itself into the construction of three schools and several road and bridge repair projects, taxpayers fell victim to the schemes as well, which levied a 5 percent ''mob tax'' on construction jobs around the city. One prosecutor said that the money stolen from the $32 million that went to build modular classrooms in two schools in Queens and new construction at a school in the Bronx could have paid for more classrooms.

The indictment, the result of a three-year investigation by detectives from the Police Department's Organized Crime Investigative Division and Mr. Morgenthau's office, was announced at a news conference with Mr. Morgenthau and Bernard B. Kerik, the new police commissioner.

The investigation used court-ordered wiretaps on 38 telephones and 24 pagers, and police detectives and investigators executed 46 search warrants, poring over thousands of documents detailing the finances of the companies and local unions.

It focused on two Lucchese crews and their representatives on a special crime family panel devoted to dividing the spoils of the construction industry. Mr. Morgenthau called the panel the Lucchese Construction Group, and yesterday, his aides declared it dead.

''The Lucchese Construction Group no longer exists,'' said Daniel J. Castleman, the chief of Mr. Morgenthau's Investigation Division, who oversaw the case. ''To the extent that they no longer exist, it has put a pretty big dent in organized crime's ability to control these types of job sites.''

Two named as captains, Dominic Truscello, 66, and Joseph Tangorra, 51; five as Lucchese soldiers, including Joseph Datello, 49; and three as associates were also charged.

Union officials accused included Santo Lanzafame, 68, the president of Local 1 of the Builders and Allied Craftsmen, which represents New York area bricklayers; and three business agents and three shop stewards from the union. It also named officials from Laborers International Union Local 20, which represents cement and concrete workers.

''I think this sends a message to the legitimate construction people out there that want to compete in the bidding process, that want to compete on different projects, that somebody is there looking out for your interests,'' Mr. Kerik said.

The indictment also charges 11 companies and 16 people who owned or worked for them, including Lawrence Wecker, who prosecutors identified as a Lucchese family associate and construction racketeer.

Mr. Wecker, who was an unindicted co-conspirator in a 1986 case that struck at the mob's role in the concrete industry, was called ''a walking A.T.M. machine'' by one mob boss for his money-laundering prowess. Mr. Wecker, who was convicted of federal tax evasion in 1997 in connection with one of the companies named in yesterday's indictment, is one of three defendants in the current case who have not yet been arrested. He is on parole and prosecutors said they thought he had fled to Malta, in the Mediterranean.

Also charged in the case was Joseph Martinelli and his company, the North Berry Corporation, which did work on the Trump South development on the Upper West Side and on several other major projects.

Mr. Martinelli has been involved in the construction business for more than three decades, and has been identified as an associate of the Lucchese family and of Mr. Crea's since 1990, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation reports. The documents show that 10 years ago, Mr. Martinelli, a wealthy, successful contractor, received medical benefits through a Teamsters union local controlled by Mr. Crea. Prosecutors also said that in the current case, six organized crime figures or associates were collecting benefits as part of the current schemes.

Mr. Martinelli was charged with 16 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, a felony, in the filing of false reports to the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council Benefit Funds.

One man was named as a Lucchese associate but not charged. Investigators said the man, Sean Richard, 35, had cooperated with the authorities since late last year and was under police protection.

All of the men taken into custody yesterday were arraigned at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, where they were herded into the jury box to await their appearance before Justice Jeffrey Atlas. Mr. Crea, his lips pursed, stood with his hands clasped behind him and uttered only two words, ''Not guilty.''

Mr. Tangorra, in a brown sweat suit with his hair slicked back, was unshaven and looked tired. His wife tried to hand him a piece of chewing gum, but was stopped by a court officer. ''Oh my God, I need a smoke,'' she said, as the prosecutors rolled in boxes of documents outlining the case against the men.

Justice Atlas freed all but two of the men, Mr. Crea and Mr. Tuscello, on bail, which he set at $20,000 to $200,000. Many defendants said they were angered by the authorities' decision to arrest them in raids rather than simply ordering them to report for court appearances.

In an unusual move, federal prosecutors in Manhattan unsealed indictments yesterday charging six Lucchese soldiers and associates, five of whom were charged in the state case, with conspiracy. Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for the United States attorney, Mary Jo White, said federal prosecutors were aware of Mr. Morgenthau's investigation, and the F.B.I. assisted in the arrests.