TRENTON – Acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a former top official of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), a former Newark police officer and a third man pleaded guilty on Friday to charges stemming from an investigation into a scheme to extort money from dock workers by demanding “tribute” for better jobs and wages.
The three men were indicted in 2011 in “Operation Terminal,” an investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor into the activities of a criminal enterprise that exercised control and corrupt influence over International Longshoremen’s Association locals operating shipping terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Two other defendants previously pleaded guilty.
Nunzio LaGrasso, 63, of Florham Park – the former secretary-treasurer of ILA Local #1478 and former vice president of the Atlantic Coast District of all ILA locals – pleaded guilty today to a second-degree charge of conspiracy to commit commercial bribery and money laundering before Superior Court Judge Salem Vincent Ahto in Morris County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that LaGrasso be sentenced to seven years in state prison. Rocco Ferrandino, 72, of Lakewood, who was a timekeeper at Maher Terminal in Port Newark/Elizabeth, also pleaded guilty today before Judge Ahto to second-degree conspiracy to commit commercial bribery and money laundering. The state will recommend that Ferrandino be sentenced to three to five years in state prison.
LaGrasso’s nephew, Alan Marfia, 43, of Kenilworth, a former Newark police officer, pleaded guilty today before Judge Ahto to third-degree conspiracy to commit computer theft for using police databases to obtain information for LaGrasso about undercover police vehicles that were conducting surveillance near his union office. The state will recommend that Marfia be sentenced to three years in state prison. He will be permanently barred from law enforcement and any form of public employment.
Deputy Attorney General Annmarie Taggart, Deputy Chief of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice. Judge Ahto scheduled LaGrasso and Marfia to be sentenced on March 27, and Ferrandino to be sentenced on March 6.
“This union official sold out the hardworking union members he was supposed to serve, extorting money from them in a criminal tribute scheme that belongs in an old Hollywood movie, but certainly not on the modern-day docks of our port,” said Hoffman. “We will continue to work with the Waterfront Commission and our federal partners to maintain vigilance and eliminate organized crime on the waterfront.”
“By sending corrupt union officials like LaGrasso to prison together with his criminal confederates, we are working to remove all vestiges of criminal influence from commerce at our major shipping terminals,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This case is a strong example of our ongoing partnership with the Waterfront Commission to combat organized crime.”
“These guilty pleas are another step in the continuing battle to rid the Port of organized criminal activity,” said New Jersey Commissioner Michael Murphy of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. “The Waterfront Commission is committed to working with its law enforcement partners through both criminal and administrative actions to rid the harbor of those who prey on hardworking dockworkers. It is particularly egregious when a union official preys upon those he is legally bound to represent and protect. Such conduct will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted.”
The investigation into the criminal enterprise at the New Jersey waterfront revealed that ILA members working at the shipping terminals were required to make a cash “tribute” payment at Christmas time each year to the enterprise out of the year-end bonuses each ILA member receives called “container royalty checks.” Those payments were funneled to the criminal enterprise through LaGrasso. Union members were required to make the payments in order to receive high-paying jobs, preferred shift assignments and overtime, all as determined under the influence of the criminal enterprise. Each of the thousands of union members were required to make a payment that typically ranged from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars, depending on the size of the container royalty check. LaGrasso collected some tribute payments directly, but usually relied on accomplices such as Ferrandino to collect them.
LaGrasso faces pending federal charges of extortion and conspiracy filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey in connection with his illegal activities. In July, Ferrandino pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge related to such activities. He faces up to 18 months in federal prison. In addition, Ferrandino faces a pending federal charge of impeding a proceeding before a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York by making false statements to law enforcement agents.
As a result of the state investigation, the Division of Criminal Justice also obtained an indictment on Oct. 26, 2010, charging Joseph Queli, 68, of Wall, and Nicholas Bergamotto, 67, of Newark, with loansharking and money laundering. As part of the criminal enterprise at the Port, Queli made loans to ILA members at usurious interest rates, ranging from 78 to 156 percent per year. Queli or Bergamotto, acting on his behalf, would demand weekly interest payments from the union members. Queli pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy to commit criminal usury and money laundering, and third-degree filing false tax returns. He was sentenced on Feb. 10, 2012 to five years in state prison. Bergamotto also pleaded guilty, but he was admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention program.
LaGrasso, Ferrandino, Marfia, Queli and Bergamotto were initially arrested in the state investigation in April 2010. The Division of Criminal Justice and the Waterfront Commission were assisted in the investigation by the Newark Police Department.
The Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest port complex located on the East Coast of North America. Roughly $200 billion in cargo moves through the port each year. Through the years, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the Waterfront Commission have conducted investigations into the activities of organized crime in and around the port. Past investigations have led to prosecution of union officials and members of the Genovese crime family, which has been found to control or exert significant influence over the ILA and commercial activity at the waterfront. Their criminal activities have included extortion, fencing, commercial bribery, loansharking and gambling.