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Officials arrest 110 alleged mobsters

A coordinated raid targets reputed members of the East Coast Mafia.

January 21, 2011|Tina Susman

NEW YORK — It was Christmastime on the icy shores of New Jersey, and "The Bull," a heavy in the Genovese crime family, was looking for his holiday bonus, authorities said. Longshoremen knew better than to argue when "The Bull" came calling, because nobody who wanted to live argued with the mob.

If they did, they might end up like the two men in the Shamrock Bar in Queens: shot dead after quarreling with a mobster over a spilled drink.

On Thursday, law enforcement officials announced the arrests of the alleged perpetrators of the Christmas shakedowns and the Shamrock Bar killer, along with more than 100 other suspected organized crime members in the biggest mob bust in recent history.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. came to Brooklyn -- where 12 of the 16 indictments were unsealed -- to announce the operation. The details seemed ripped from the pages of Prohibition-era tabloids: men with nicknames like "Lumpy," "Mush," "The Claw," "Jello," "Meatball" and "Jack the Whack"; and allegations of extortionate extensions of credit to gamblers in a mob-organized baccarat game and beatings to force debtors to repay loan sharks.

For all the official crowing over the huge roundup, the case also underscored the futility of federal efforts to wipe out the mob. The ethnic Italian Mafia, which seemed to have receded in public profile save for "The Sopranos" and "Godfather" reruns, nevertheless remains a "major threat," Holder said.

Janice Fedarcyk, head of the New York FBI office, said that even as law enforcement arrests bosses and underbosses, there are always others coming up through the ranks. "Just as the retirement or resignation of a corporate CEO does not spell the end of the company, neither does the incarceration of a mob boss or other key executive mean the dissolution of their family," she said.

Holder said 800 agents and officers from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and local police made the arrests in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Florida, and that one man was arrested in Italy. He described some of the crimes as "classic mob hits" to get rid of perceived rivals, and some as standard mob activities such as racketeering and illegal gambling.

"Others involve truly senseless murders," Holder said, referring to the 1981 shooting at the Shamrock Bar in the New York borough of Queens.

Of the 127 charged, 110 were in custody early Thursday, many of them having been surprised at home. Fedarcyk said none put up resistance, and as they shuffled, handcuffed, into a processing center in Brooklyn under the glare of TV cameras, bellies sagging over wrinkled jeans and sweat pants, they bore little resemblance to the intimidating characters described in court papers.

The raids targeted the major East Coast crime families: Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Decavalcante and Luchese, in addition to the New England Cosa Nostra. Collectively, they are known as the Mafia and are an offshoot of the Italian Mafia, having emerged in the United States from the flood of Italian immigrants in the early 1900s. Over the decades, prosecutors say, the families have sought to control a variety of illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, as well as corrupting legitimate industries, such as construction. Bosses set the rules, which associates and foot soldiers obey under penalty of death, or at least a good beating.

"The Bull" is Albert Cernadas, described in court papers as an associate of the Genovese crime family and a Longshoremen's Assn. local union leader who used his position to shake down members for their Christmas bonuses.

According to the indictment, Cernadas and other Genovese associates who also worked the docks demanded anything from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars from colleagues each holiday season to bolster Genovese family coffers.

Those who resisted were threatened with violence or the loss of their jobs, according to court documents, which say the shakedowns had been going on since 1982.

"Simply put, these defendants preyed upon their co-workers' vulnerability and fear for their physical safety and job security," the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey said in court documents.

The Shamrock Bar killings occurred in 1981, but prosecutors say they have witnesses to the altercation, which they say began when a young Gambino family associate became enraged after someone spilled a drink on his suit. He was thrown out of the bar, but he is accused of returning with two friends who opened fire on the bar's owners, killing both.

Bartolomeo Vernace, a Gambino leader charged in that case, was acquitted on state charges in the case in 2002, but officials said the federal case is stronger and includes a witness who will testify that Vernace, also known as "Pepe," was one of the gunmen.

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