Of the seven La Cosa Nostra families active in New Jersey, the DeCavalcante family is the only one indigenous to the state. Centered in Union County, the family also has extensive operations in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Essex Counties as well as Staten Island, New York. The family also has a branch in Waterbury, Connecticut. Despite competition in New Jersey from the five LCN families based in New York and one in Philadelphia, the DeCavalcante family, with approximately 50 members and 80 associates, has managed to maintain its own independent criminal empire.
The titular leader of the family, Simone “Sam the Plumber” DeCavalcante, has been in semi-retirement in Florida for the past 13 years. In his absence, the family has been under the leadership of John M. Riggi of Linden.
Although the family engages in the same rackets traditionally associated with other LCN families, the strength of the DeCavalcante family lies in its influence over some of the construction industry in New Jersey through corrupt unions – Local 394 of the International Brotherhood of Laborers and Hod Carriers in Elizabeth and Laborers International Union District Council 30 in Millburn.
John Riggi had been business agent forLocal 394 from 1965 to 1986 and then president of District Council 30 in 1986. He continued to serve as a “consultant” for Local 394 after ostensibly retiring in 1986. It is principally through this union affiliation that the DeCavalcante family has been able to extort jobs, goods and services from the construction in-dustry in New Jersey.
Riggi’s control of some building contractors extends throughout New Jersey and portions of Staten Island. Since Local 394 provides laborers to contractors daily, the union hall in Elizabeth is a meeting place for laborers, subcontractors and anyone seeking union help. Additionally, Riggi uses his power and influence to place subcontractors and workers other than laborers at various construction projects around the state.
Due to the high cost of union labor in New Jersey and Riggi’s control of certain unions and subcontractors, general contractors must decide whether they will use union or non-union sub-contractors. If a general contractor opts to pay a bribe to a corrupt union business agent, either in cash or in goods and services, he can do a job with non-union labor, saving 30-40% in salaries alone, as well as the cost of fringe benefits normally paid into union welfare and pension funds.
High level members of the DeCavalcante family have also been known to exert influence on corporate officials, thereby enhancing their already strong hold on the construction industry. For example, DeCavalcante soldier Salvatore Timpani, an immigrant who is a barber by trade, now owns a multi-million dollar concrete company which bids for and wins lucrative contracts from large corpora- tions in Central New Jersey.
Until October of 1989, Riggi, along with his two sons, John J. and Vincent, had been virtually untouched by law enforcement authorities. However, on October 16, 1989, Riggi, his sons, and two of their close associates – family caporegime Girolamo Palermo and soldier Salvatore Timpani – were indicted on federal racketeering charges alleging organized crime control of segments of the construction industry through Local 394.
During the bail hearing following his arrest, the judge barred Riggi from any contact with union officials or contractors, and ordered him to vacate any other union positions he may have held at the time. Riggi was convicted on July 20, 1990, of extortion and labor law violations, and Timpani of extortion. The other defendants were acquitted. Riggi faces up to 70 years in prison. Intelligence information since his conviction indicates that one of the larger New York LCN families has already made inroads into Riggi’s operations.
The success of the investigation leading to Riggi’s arrest was attributable primarily to the use of electronic eavesdropping devices placed in family meeting places. The leadership of the DeCavalcante crime family is extremely close knit and most decisions are made after meetings in and around the Peterstown section of Elizabeth, where the group had used the Ribera Club and the Cafe Italia Meetings have also been held at the Holiday Inn in East Orange or the Sheraton Newark Airport Hotel at Newark International Airport.
In fact, intercepted conversations from these locations, along with a video tape from one restaurant, provided enough information for raids and seizures of documents from 14 locations, in northern and central New Jersey. Following the indictment, DeCavalcante members have become more cautious about their meeting sites. To minimize the possibility of being recorded by electronic surveillance devices, they now meet in public areas and even change these locations frequently.
In addition to the Riggi conviction, other members of the DeCavalcante family upper echelon have run afoul of enforcement authorities. The case that may have had the most devastating impact on the family was the 1985 racketeering conviction of Gaetano “Corky” Vastola of Colts Neck, a significant soldier in the family, and his associate, Palmer Brocco of Howell. Vastola had been the probable successor to caporegime Vincent Rotundo, who was murdered in January, 1988. Since Vastola has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, it is unlikely he will assume Rotundo’s position.
Another case that took place in late 1989 involved John Riggi and Girolamo Palermo, along with a bank president and an attorney, in a money laundering scheme. Allegedly, cash generated by J.P. Sasso, Inc., a Fords construction company connected to Riggi, was being laundered with the assistance of the attorney and the bank official. The bank officer is currently serving a six-month sentence and the attorney, who pleaded guilty, is awaiting sen-tencing. Other key Riggi associates remain under investigation in connection with this case.
In addition to their involvement in the construction industry, the DeCavalcante family has also maintained its interests in other criminal activities typical of LCN such as gambling, loansharking, bookmaking, narcotics and the production and distribution of pornography. Interestingly, the family has expanded its operations beyond these now- routine activities. Some of these ventures have resulted in convictions for crimes involving:
Illegal dumping of toxic waste into municipal sewer lines by a family associate who had been contracted to remove the sub- stances legitimately.
Strong-arm extortion of recording industry executives.
Frauds perpetrated against long distance telephone and mail order companies.
Hiring of illegal aliens by a pallet company owned by a family associate.
Although perhaps not as violent as some otherLCN families, the DeCavalcante/Riggi family is not averse to violence and the threat of violence to maintain control of its members. For example, during the past three years, two family members have been homicide victims:
Vincenzo Sorce, a local construction company owner, was found dead under the Goethal’s Bridge between Elizabeth and Staten Island after an altercation between himself and another family member at their meeting place, the Ribera Club. This murder occurred three weeks after the headquarters of Local 394 in Elizabeth and 14 other business locations were searched by the FBI and local law enforcement officials in con- nection with the federal investigation of mob influence in the construction industry in New Jersey
Vincent “Jimmy” Rotundo, once the second-in- command of the DeCavalcante family and an organizer for Local 1814 of the Longshoreman’s Union, was killed in Brooklyn in January, 1988. Law enforce- ment sources say one motive for Rotundo’s murder may have been because he had in- troduced into the family an individual who has since become a federally protected government informant and testified against Riggi. Because of Rotundo’s rank within the DeCavalcante/Riggi organization, this homicide was most likely sanctioned by both Riggi and Gambino family boss John Gotti.
The relationships that the DeCavalcante family has maintained with other LCN families have, for the most part, been amicable. Their closest relationship, however, seems to be with the Gam-bino family. For example, intelligence information indicates that Riggi and Gotti meet regularly to discuss construction projects in New Jersey.
Purportedly, Gotti has an interest in a New York City-based steel erecting company, which was involved in a large construction project in Central New Jersey. To undertake the project, Gotti and his associates would need not only Riggi’s laborers but also Riggi’s advice as to favored local subcontractors and other individuals needed for a project of this size. Not surprisingly, there have been no pickets at this job site.
Increasing development of suburban and rural areas of the state provide organized crime-controlled construction entities an even greater opportunity to expand and to make tremendous profits. Additionally, increased scrutiny by federal, state and local law enforcement in the Newark and Elizabeth areas has caused Riggi’s group to seek new opportunities in other locales.
Second article on the DeCavalcante Crime Family
Throughout criminal history New Jersey has always been devided territory, mainly between the five New York families and the Philladelphia Family. However, one crew stays attached to New Jersey like no other, the DeCavalcante Family. Throughout the years it maintained strong relations with much of New York’s Five Families, but being less powerfull and smaller oftenly gave them discredit and disregarding as “the farmers”. In either case the DeCavalcante family grew wealthy and violent, even giving inspiration to HBO’s successfull serie The Sopranos, which is widely inspired on this old Jersey mob.
Early formation Sam “the Plumber” DeCavalcante
The criminal organization’s origins are believed to have begun with Gaspare D’Amico somewhere around 1910. D’Amico held that position, probably with the support of New York organizations, until 1937 when he retired. Not much is known of D’Amico and it seems he had little recognition. The next in line to take over was Stefano Badami. Badami had a relative calm reign as boss until internal struggles lead to his murder in 1955.
The organization raged in a war during that period between the Newark and the Elizabeth factions, although the violence reduced the frictions between both sides would remain for several decades. His successor Phil Amari tried to calm things down again but eventualy stepped down after only 2 years of service. Nicholas Delmore managed to stay head of the organization for 7 years before retireing, leaving the Family to his nephew, Simone DeCavalcante in 1964. One of the first things done by DeCavalcante was holding a series of meetings to establish their territory. He controlled crews in Princeton, Newark and Trenton and used a plumber store as his front.
In 1969 he was eventually arrested and jailed for extortion to 15 years, being released again in 1976. During his abscence John Riggi became the acting boss, overseeing the family business while DeCavalcante was jailed. After he was released from prison, he retired to a high-rise condo and largely stayed out of mafia business, though the FBI believed he was still ‘advising’ the family into the early 1990s.
Sam DeCavalcante eventually stepped down as Boss in 1980, officially passing the leadership to John Riggi. Riggi had been a business agent of the International Association of Laborers and Hod Carriers in New Jersey. Riggi maintained good relations with powerfull Gambino boss John Gotti during the mid 1980′s and was oftenly seen together in Manhattans Little Italy. The family however remained small and was often refered to as “the farmers” by their New York associates.
For some New York mobsters it was even seen as a shame to be assigned to operate in Jersey. Riggi was also indirectly controlled by Gotti, who at one point ordered him to murder New Jersey capo Corky Vastola. The plot was overheared by the FBI in 1987 which saved Vastola’s life. 2 years later Riggi was convicted for labor racketeering and was sentenced to 15 years. During his jailtime the family was controlled by a couple of acting bosses, amongst them John D’Amato.
This man would disgrace the organization and made it look ridiculous when suddenly the rumour started to circulate he was gay. To restore the respect within the family he had to go. In 1992 D’Amato was murdered.
Following the death of Frank D’Amato a new acting boss was to be appointed, Jake Amari. In 1994 Amari learned he had stomach cancer and together with John Riggi appointed a ruling panel to look after the family. The panel consisted out of Vincent Palermo, Jimmy Palermo and Charles Majuri, the son of former underboss Frank Majuri. Charles Majuri had been a hardworking member of the family since his early teens.
Through his father he became the head of the Newark faction of New Jersey’s mafia, which during the days of his father had a fallback with the Elizabeth faction. Although he was elevated as a head of the family he wasn’t that excited. Therefore he began to conspire against the Elizabeth faction of which both Vincent and Jimmy Palermo (not related) were leaders of. The panel, meant to bring both factions together, was badly falling appart again. The plot Majuri orchestrated was revealed and as revenge Vincent Palermo ordered his death. The killers assigned to murder Majuri however failed to do the job and the plot was eventually shoved away.
The Fred Weiss Murder
Fred Wiess was a former journalist and real-estate developer who longed to be a ‘wiseguy’ and began to associate with mobsters from the Gambino and DeCavalcante families. In November 1989 Weiss was murdered in orders off John Gotti, who believed Weiss was cooperating with authorities. Gotti explained to the DeCavalcante’s that Weiss was more their associate than anyone else’s and so it was their job to murder him.
Riggi saw this as an opportunity to please his New York superiors and agreed upon the murder. Together with then Gambino capo John D’Amico he planned the murder which was eventually committed by DeCavalcante gunmen. Riggi later confessed he did it as a favor to Gotti.
Ralph Guarino, The Informant
In 1997 DeCavalcante associate Ralph Guarino and his friend, Salvatore Calciano, who had worked at the World Trade Centers for over 20 years, started to make plans to rob the Bank of America. The Bank of America brought millions to the WTC on a daily base. On January 14, 1998, the van carrying the money was ambushed by three drug-addicted thieves, Richard Gillette, Melvin Folk and Michael Reed. They made off with $1.6 million.
In the aftermath of the Bank of America Robbery all 3 of the robbers were caught and gave up Guarino who decided to become an FBI informant instead of spending 20 years in prison. The family’s foundations began to brake when Guarino became an FBI informant and told them about all sorts of crimes ranging from murder to racketeering. Joe Masella, a DeCavalcante member who was involved in the robbery, was murdered in 1998, very few in the family knew who had killed him or why. They knew that he had gambling debts, but didn’t believe that was the reason for the murder.
There was a plan to murder Frank D’Amato which was taped by Ralph Guarino. The FBI could pounce and implicate most of the DeCavalcante family in one or two offences. On December 2nd 1999 there was a massive attack, launched by the FBI, in which they aimed to arrest 40 members of the DeCavalcante family, which had an estimated 70 active members and associates by that point.
They arrested Vinny Palermo, in connection with the attempted murder of Frank D’Amato, Charles Majuri and a whole host of other offences. Facing serious offences of murder and conspiracy of murder, Vincent Palermo descided to become a government witness. He talked about everything and every crime committed by a DeCavalcante member or associate since he became a made-man in 1965. His family entered the witness protection program. He neglected, however, to tell prosecutors about $1 million in brown paper bag money that he had given his son, Michael Palermo. The family crumbled and the FBI arrested and convicted many of the families members.
Now with most of the families leadership behind bars, a new acting boss had to be appointed. This was found in Francesco “Frank” Guarraci. Riggi kept his position of boss until 2008. Guarraci is now regarded as the new official head of the family. The elder Joseph Miranda is regarded as the underboss. The Family is believed to have up to 40 or 50 active members in and round New Jersey.