The Chicago Syndicate: A Mafia case that matters

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Mafia case that matters

Friends of ours: Genovese Crime Family, Gambino Crime Family, Vincent "Chin" Gigante, Peter Gotti, George Barone, Lawrence Ricci
Friends of mine: Harold Daggett, Arthur Coffey

Harold Daggett, of Sparta, will likely find out in the next few days which story a federal jury in Brooklyn believes: that he is a hardworking mechanic who worked his way up the ranks of the waterfront union, or — as the U.S. government says — that he is a "longtime associate" of organized crime. If the jury opts for the latter, Daggett, a 59-year-old father of three, could be headed to prison for up to 20 years.

After hearing the case for seven weeks in U.S. District Court, jurors spent all day Thursday deliberating and will return Monday morning to continue. Lawyers in the case hope they will reach a verdict by midweek. Daggett, the assistant general organizer of the International Longshoreman's Association, was indicted last year along with fellow executive Arthur Coffey, of Florida. Both are charged with extortion conspiracy and fraud for allegedly steering lucrative union contracts to mob-controlled businesses.

It's the latest offensive aimed at rooting out Mafia corruption on the docks — something the government has been trying to do for decades, since Marlon Brando starred in the 1954 film "On the Waterfront." Only now, the goal might be in sight.

Control of the docks has historically been shared by two of the "five families" of the New York Mafia — with the Genovese family in Manhattan, New Jersey and South Florida, and the Gambino family in Brooklyn and Staten Island. With the bosses of both families, Vincent "Chin" Gigante and Peter Gotti, along with other prominent mobsters, now in prison, prosecutors have turned to the allegedly corrupt officials who did their bidding for decades. "This is a big case," a well-known mob expert said Friday. "They've got all the gangsters, (and) this is a particularly important follow-up or complement to that."

On the heels of the current criminal case, the government also has filed a civil lawsuit against the ILA seeking to have just about every current executive permanently barred from union activity. Court-appointed monitors would then oversee new union elections.

Roslynn Mauskopf, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the lawsuit "seeks — once and for all — to end mob domination of this important labor union and put its future back into the hands of the rank-and-file members it was designed to serve."

The mob expert, who agreed to be quoted in this article on the condition that his name not be used, said the outcome of the Daggett-Coffey case may determine how the government will fare in the civil case — often called a "civil RICO" after the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. "Once (the feds) can convict these honchos, it'll go a long way toward establishing their civil case," the expert said. "This'll be like icing on the cake."

Coffey's defense attorney, Gerald McMahon — who in his opening statement called the case a politically-motivated attempt by the Justice Department to take over the union — said essentially the same thing. "Everybody knows that if they get a criminal conviction, it makes the civil RICO a slam dunk," McMahon said.

The core of the government's case is a meeting six years ago at a Miami Beach steakhouse between ILA president John Bowers and Genovese soldier George Barone. Coffey allegedly brought Bowers to the meeting. Bowers later recalled the encounter in a sworn deposition before the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. "You're doing a wonderful job," he said Barone told him. "We hope you stay forever. But if you ever leave, I would like to see Harold Daggett become president."

Bowers had been backing a Texas man not controlled by the Genovese family to be his successor, and Barone was there to let him know that was not a good idea, the government says. When asked by investigators how he responded, Bowers was matter-of-fact: "I am alone, one-on-one. I know of his reputation; I am not going to ask a lot of questions. I am figuring now how the hell to get out of the place."

Barone, 81, who has admitted murdering at least 10 people in his decades as a mobster, became an informant to avoid prison after a 2001 arrest, and is now the star witness for the prosecution. How reliable the jurors found Barone, and several other turncoats who testified in the trial, could be the deciding factor in their verdict.

The case may also rest on how reliable they found Daggett himself, who took the stand in his own defense during the trial's final week and denied that he even knows any mobsters — except, of course, for George Barone, who he said once held a gun to his head when he was trying to move his local out of Manhattan. "There is no mob in my local," Daggett testified.

Daggett, a third-generation dockworker who now earns almost a half-million dollars between his two jobs as the ILA assistant general organizer and president of the North Bergen local, lives in a gated mansion set back from a neighborhood of small-by-comparison three-garage homes on Green Road in Sparta. He is a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church and has been portrayed in his defense as an upstanding member of the community who fights for the rights of his laborers.

Daggett's lawyer, George Daggett — his cousin and the former Sussex County prosecutor — called the government's case an "anti-union prosecution" in his three-hour closing argument last week. "I'm pleased with the way the case went in," George Daggett said Friday. He added that he was pleased with what he saw as positive reactions, from some jurors, to his impassioned summation.

The case has had its unexpected twists. In the past two months, for instance, the number of defendants has dwindled from four to two. Or, if you will, 2 1/2.

A third ILA executive, Albert Cernadas — who also headed the union local in Port Newark — was named in a superseding indictment earlier this year but pleaded guilty a week before the trial began to a reduced conspiracy charge. Under the plea deal, he agreed to sever all ties with the union and will likely avoid significant prison time. Then, halfway through the trial, another defendant, a reputed Genovese captain named Lawrence Ricci, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Published reports cited investigative sources as saying they believed he had been killed by his fellow gangsters. However, Ricci remains merely "missing" in the eyes of the law, and he is still technically a defendant in the case. The judge in the case has instructed the jury not to draw any "negative inference" from his absence.

Thanks to BRENDAN BERLS

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