Friends of ours: DeCavalcante Crime Family, Joseph Miranda, Francesco Guarraci, John Riggi, John "Johnny Boy" D'Amato, Stefano "Steve the Truck Driver" Vitabile
Friends of mine: Joey Garafano
For years, the joke among New York mobsters was that you couldn't have a "sit-down" with a member of the DeCavalcante crime syndicate until after 4 o'clock. That's when the whistles blew and the job sites closed for the day.
Members of New Jersey's only homegrown Mafia family worked blue-collar jobs and shunned flashy cars and expensive suits -- a social camouflage that helped them quietly control labor unions and maintain a stranglehold on construction in the Garden State. "They were very proud of the fact that they held real jobs," said one former DeCavalcante associate.
Then, in the 1980s, the family began inducting aspiring wiseguys from New York City who loathed manual labor and preferred owning strip joints instead of plumbing supply stores. The move proved disastrous, leading to the conviction of more than 30 DeCavalcante mobsters, including seven with the high-ranking title of caporegime, as well as the family's longtime consiglieri.
In the wake of the turmoil, acting boss Joseph Miranda tried to rebuild the family, inducting up to a dozen new members, authorities said.
The 83-year-old Miranda's latest move involves quietly stepping aside and handing the reins to a new generation of old-school mobsters.
The family's new boss, two sources familiar with the inner workings of the crime syndicate told The Record, is a well-respected but little-known Sicilian immigrant in the mold of the group's forebears.
Born in the DeCavalcantes' ancestral home city of Ribera, Sicily, 51-year-old Francesco Guarraci lives in a modest Elizabeth home; runs the longtime family outpost, the Ribera Social Club, and drives to work each day to his job as a foreman in the historically family-run Laborers' Local 394, the sources said.
"He has very quietly become the top guy," one of them said. "We're not sure exactly when it happened, but Miranda seems to be completely out of the picture."
Telephone messages left at Guarraci's listed address were not returned.
Guarraci's name never surfaced in any of the myriad DeCavalcante indictments or government flow charts in the past few years. Then, in February, the parent union of Local 394 named him as a soldier for the DeCavalcantes, who they said were trying to wrest control of the local.
The local has been the "lifeblood" and "cash cow" of the family since the 1930s, the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) alleges. An investigation by the union found that the DeCavalcantes made hundreds of thousands of dollars each year by extorting money from contractors and engaging in labor racketeering, according to a legal brief filed in federal court that seeks trusteeship of the local.
Lawyers for the local dispute the allegations, contending that organized-crime control ceased years ago.
Imprisoned DeCavalcante boss John Riggi was the local's business manager from 1966 until 1988 and succeeded DeCavalcante as boss in 1976. He has been in prison since 1990 and currently is incarcerated in a federal medical facility in Massachusetts. But authorities say he has continued to run the family from behind bars, with the help of acting bosses. Riggi is believed to be the longest-serving mob boss in history, having run the family for 30 years.
In 2003, Riggi received an additional 10-year term after pleading guilty to ordering murders, including some while he was in prison. The 81-year-old boss is scheduled for release in 2012. The hole left by his absence has been filled by a string of acting bosses.
Since 1990, five of them have been jailed or murdered or have defected from the mob, including one, John "Johnny Boy" D'Amato, who authorities said was killed, in part, because he was reportedly bisexual and frequented swinger clubs.
Last Monday, the family's longtime consiglieri, Stefano "Steve the Truck Driver" Vitabile, was sentenced to life in prison for ordering the hit on D'Amato.
Guarraci had been eyed for years to eventually take over the top spot in the union, said a former associate now living under an assumed name after testifying against family members.
Guarraci doesn't top the DeCavalcante organizational charts at all of New Jersey's law-enforcement agencies. The state police, for instance, maintain that Miranda remains in control of day-to-day operations.
"We still have Miranda in charge," said state police Capt. Mark Doyle, who heads the organized crime unit.
Doyle conceded, however, that the state police aren't devoting a great deal of resources to investigating the DeCavalcante clan -- or the Mafia in general -- except in cases of public corruption. Corruption and street gangs are currently the top priorities for the state police, Doyle said.
"That's the big, big push," he said. "Right now, OC is not killing anyone on the street. These gang bangers are."
At the same time, Doyle called the DeCavalcantes "a bunch of weak sisters."
The bespectacled Guarraci was inducted into the crime family in 1989 during a ceremony led by Riggi, according to the former associate.
Guarraci wasn't scheduled to be "made," but was inducted in place of another associate, Joey Garafano. Garafano was killed after stealing the license plates from the car of a fellow wiseguy's wife and putting them on a "crash car" used in a high-profile mob hit, the former associate said.
"He would be a perfect fit for new boss: old-school, born and raised in Ribera," the former DeCavalcante associate said. "Frank would be a favorite, because he's tough and real low-key and very well-liked."
Guarraci has deliberately kept a low profile, said a law-enforcement source who would talk only off the record because he wasn't authorized to discuss the mob family.
"He really stayed under the radar for a long time," the source said. "Even when he was made boss, a lot of us didn't even know who he was."
Thanks to Tom Troncone