Thursday, January 07, 2010

Reputed Gambino Mobster, Andrew Merola, Pleads Guilty

A reputed high-ranking member of the Gambino crime family in New Jersey pleaded guilty to federal racketeering conspiracy charges today, admitting he led a crew that profited from illegal gambling, loan-sharking, extortion, identity theft, fraud and labor racketeering.

Andrew Merola of East Hanover confessed his guilt during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler in Newark. He became the 20th defendant to make a deal with prosecutors and plead guilty to charges outlined in a sweeping May 2008 racketeering indictment.

Three remaining defendants, including Martin Taccetta, a reputed former underboss of the Lucchese crime family’s New Jersey faction, are awaiting trial.

Merola, who prosecutors say enjoyed a lavish lifestyle purportedly supported by a job as a crane operator, was among 23 reputed members and associates of the Gambino and Lucchese crime families accused in 2008 if engaging in what the FBI called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal activity.”

The defendants were accused of shaking down lunch-truck operators, putting mobsters in no-show jobs, using union muscle to collect bribes to allow non-union workers on construction sites and raking in hefty profits from bettors who wagered more than $1 million a month.

In his plea, Merola acknowledged those crimes and also admitted his crew targeted retailers, including a Lowe’s home improvement store in Paterson, where conspirators bought high-ticket power tools, wide-screen televisions and appliances by switching bar code labels from less expensive items and then returning the products for refunds or gift cards. With an insider’s help, they also attempted to steal the identities of patrons who applied for Lowe’s credit cards, Merola said.

Wearing a pin-stripped charcoal suit, Merola declined comment after the hearing, except to say that he is not cooperating with the government. Under the terms of his plea deal, he faces 10 to 12 years in prison. A sentencing date was not immediately set.

Thanks to Peter J. Sampson

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