The Chicago Syndicate: Acquittal for Union Execs and Mafia Capo

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Acquittal for Union Execs and Mafia Capo

Friends of ours: Larry Ricci, Genovese Crime Family
Friends of mine:
Harold Daggett, Arthur Coffey

Two longshoremen's union executives and a Mafia capo were acquitted Tuesday of charges that they tried to help the mob keep its grip on the New York waterfront. The verdict may be little consolation for defendant Larry Ricci, a Genovese family captain who remains missing after disappearing in the middle of the trial _ the possible target of a mob hit.

"I hope it brings some solace to the family. You know, at least that a jury saw innocence here," said Ricci attorney Martin Schmukler, who finished the trial with his client absent. "He's either been abducted _ that is unlikely because he'd be far too difficult a person to keep hostage _ or killed."

Either way, defense attorneys said, the acquittals of International Longshoremen's Association officials Harold Daggett and Arthur Coffey could cripple a federal lawsuit seeking to shake the mob's grasp on the ILA by taking control of the powerful union. Supporters and relatives gasped and burst into tears as Coffey and Daggett were declared not guilty of extortion and mail fraud conspiracy charges. Daggett, 59, and Coffey, 62, were charged with conspiring with the Genovese family to install Daggett as the mob-controlled puppet president of the ILA. They had faced 20-year maximum sentences if convicted.

Brooklyn prosecutors have moved for a trustee to oversee the New York-based union, which inspired the 1954 film "On the Waterfront." The union represents 45,000 dockworkers and other employees at three dozen ports from Maine to Texas. "Today is a wonderful day for the ILA," president John Bowers said in a statement. "We rejoice in the happy outcome."

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf did not comment on the civil lawsuit but said her office would continue to prosecute union corruption. "We respect the jury's verdict in this case and will continue our vigorous efforts," the spokesman said.

A law-enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said authorities remain unconvinced that Ricci disappeared because he was murdered. A failure to show up now that he has been acquitted would be more convincing, the official said.

Ricci, 60, who had faced a maximum five-year sentence if convicted, had been free on $500,000 bond on a mail and wire fraud conspiracy charge for allegedly trying to steer a lucrative union health care contract to a mob-linked firm. He was last seen in Carteret, N.J., on Oct. 7, three weeks into the trial. He switched from one borrowed car to another as if he thought he was being followed, but he was not being tracked by police or federal agents, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

If he reappears he could face a possible five-year sentence for skipping bail mid-trial. If Ricci was killed by the mob, it could have been for a reason unrelated to the trial, the official said. A hit would be evidence that a decades-long effort to uproot the mob has not completely robbed it of the power and money derived from gambling, loan-sharking and labor corruption.

"When people disappear like that from the Mafia they usually don't turn up alive," said Selwyn Raab, author of "Five Families," a history of organized crime in New York. "There's always somebody circulating who knows how to do these things. ... They've been doing it for a long time and they think they can get away with it."

Daggett, who had been suspended as the ILA International's assistant general organizer, alternated between relief and anger as he left the courthouse a free man. "The truth'll set you free," he said. "Where do I go to get my reputation back now?"

Thanks to Michael Weissenstein

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