covering the arrests related to corruption on the NY/NJ piers.
Ex-longshoremen's union official is indicted on waterfront corruption charges
Published: Thursday, December 16, 2010, 7:40 AM
A new indictment of a once-powerful longshoremen’s union leader was quietly unsealed this week, pointing to a growing offensive by federal prosecutors into corruption on the waterfront.
The charges come less than a week after another member of the same union was charged with collecting "Christmas tribute" money exacted from other dockworkers to kick back to the mob.
Albert Cernadas Sr., who served as both executive vice president of the International Longshoremen’s Association and president of ILA Local 1235 in Newark, was accused of shaking down his members under threats of violence, in what was described as a long-running racketeering operation tied to the Genovese organized crime family.
The charges come nearly five years after Cernadas, 75, of Union Township, was removed from the ILA after pleading guilty to corruption charges involving thousands of dollars in union funds being funneled into a pharmaceutical company controlled by organized crime.
But in the new indictment, the government charges a far larger conspiracy dating back more than two decades — alleging that Cernadas put the screws to force cash payments from his members every year around Christmastime by use of "actual and threatened force, violence and fear."
The 52-page indictment, unsealed in federal court in Newark, does not say where the money went, but prosecutors say Cernadas was a known associate of the Genovese family which controlled the New Jersey waterfront. At the same time, other documents recently filed in several related cases spelled out what appeared to be a lucrative extortion racket known as "Christmas tributes" that preyed on ILA members, forcing them to cede part of their pay each year to crime bosses with hooks into the union.
Cernadas’ attorney, Jack Arseneault, declined comment. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Newark also declined to comment, and would not say what sparked its interest in Cernadas or why it kept the charges low key, opting not to make an announcement as it frequently does in such cases.
However, the indictment and other recent criminal complaints suggest a far larger investigation.
Last week, Robert Ruiz, 51, an international representative and delegate of the ILA, was arrested and charged in New York with extortion conspiracy in connection with similar payments.
According to an affidavit filed in the case by Jonathan Mellone, a special agent for the U.S. Department of Labor, members of the ILA were required to provide payments every December, and the payments were then kicked back to the Genovese family.
In connection with that case, the FBI said it dug up nearly $52,000 in cash buried in the backyard of one unidentified union member from New Jersey who went to authorities and said he and others were threatened with the loss of their jobs or their lives if they did not pay up. The union member told authorities the money was to go to Ruiz and it was their understanding the envelopes ultimately went to members of the Genovese family.
Separately, another reputed mobster, Stephen Depiro, was indicted in New York in April on racketeering charges in connection with the waterfront, with court records similarly documenting the holiday payments to organized crime.
In the criminal complaint filed against Depiro, transcripts of phone calls referred to the annual Christmas payments. Investigators said Edward Aulisi, the son of Vincent Aulisi, who became president of Local 1235 after Cernadas left, was caught on tape assuring reputed mob boss Michael Coppola that the tribute money would continue even after Cernadas left, and in fact had doubled.
The payments were the focus of some attention during a special hearing in October by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. Aulisi, whom officials say held a no-show job at Port Elizabeth, was called as a witness but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
The indictment against Cernadas says only that he conspired to extort money from ILA members each December, beginning in 1982. The timing of the charges suggest prosecutors were facing a problem with the statute of limitations had they not filed the when they did.
ILA officials in New York said Wednesday Cernadas was no longer with the union and they were unaware of the indictment.
Cernadas, whose son is Al Cernadas Jr., the first assistant prosecutor of Union County, was arraigned Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton in Newark and released on a $1 million bond.
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