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Gotham Unbound: How New York City Was Liberated From the Grip of Organized Crime - page 2 / 3





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enforcement initiatives were sporadic at best. Undercover operations, while successful in identifying companies owned and operated by organized-crime families, secured no jail sentences for offenders, and saw only minimal fines imposed.

The New York State Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) investigation of the Long Island trash cartel and the subsequent antitrust suit (1982-88) in which twenty-one members of the Lucchese crime family were indicted in 1987-88 is a case in point. Though convicted, the defendants received light sentences (monetary fines ranging from $6-$10,000). Ultimately, Robert Kubekca and his partner, Donald Barstow, independent carters who had assisted the OCTF investigation, were murdered (August 1989). Salvatore Avellino, head of the Lucchese family’s waste-hauling cartel on Long Island was eventually convicted of conspiracy to murder the independent haulers (1994).

Jacobs argues convincingly that such examples evince the demonstrable failure of traditional law-enforcement techniques and established legal remedies to effectively address the deeply entrenched, systematic and rationalized operations of organized crime syndicates. Enforcement procedures, he finds, were also undermined by political and administrative inertia or lack of will. Since 1980, however, a closely coordinated effort to eliminate Italian-America organized crime families throughout the nation has resulted in an industry-by-industry liberation from Mafia control in New York City. The national campaign by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, in cooperation with state and local law enforcement authorities, provided the basis for this “liberation” of the city.

Up to this point, Jacobs’ interpretation is generally straightforward and balanced. But when he details the systematic changes that provided the specific tools that empowered law enforcement and led to the break-up of the Mafia’s stranglehold on the six industries under consideration here, his interpretation takes on a tone of political advocacy that undermines its earlier balance. Jacobs makes clear that a series of legislative initiatives and events on the national level set the stage for a more effective anti-mob campaign in the 1980s and 1990s. First, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (1968) provided for the legalization of wiretapping and electronic bugs as aids in gathering evidence of criminal activity. Then, in 1970, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), that outlawed enterprises characterized by “a pattern of racketeering activity” (131). Also in 1970, Congress established the Witness Security Program (Witness Protection). Finally, J. Edgar Hoover, who had been mysteriously and notoriously passive in pursuing mobsters since the 1950s, died in 1972.

Despite the fact that Jacobs and both of his collaborators are lawyers, little credit for these developments or for the evolution of their application is given to law enforcement personnel, the legal profession, or a renewed political will on Capitol Hill. Instead, Jacobs concentrates on the role of Rudolph Giuliani during his tenure as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (1983- 89) and as mayor of the city (1994 to the present). He emphasizes Giuliani’s role (i.e., that of his office) in bringing four of the five most important RICO prosecutions against leading members of the city’s five Cosa Nostra families. He concludes that “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Rudolph Giuliani has played an extremely important role in the struggle to defeat New York City’s Cosa Nostra crime families. . . . During his tenure, he compiled a record as the most active and successful organized crime prosecutor since Thomas Dewey” (229).

Though he details the system of court-appointed monitors for corrupt industries—the Independent Public-Sector Inspector General program (IPSIG) and trustees to oversee the cleansing of “mobbed-up” unions, he overestimates the prosecutorial role in their success. While it is certainly the case that the implementation of these more effective remedies to combat Maifa control is predicated on precedent RICO prosecutions, these remedies and the largely nameless former prosecutors and law-enforcement personnel who implemented them were the means by which Cosa Nostra influence and domination of six key New York City industries was terminated. Without these creative remedies that empowered the courts to deal with a systematic and widespread structure of organized crime on a long-term and ongoing basis, RICO would have resulted, like earlier anti-mob law enforcement efforts, in enfeebled prosecution and weakened convictions of isolated individuals that would have left the system essentially unaffected. Given this fact, it seems a bit disingenuous to credit Giuliani with such a central role as the “liberator” of New York City from the Mafia. Certainly, he played a high-profile role, but without the labor of many others, often largely unrecognized, his efforts would have been equally ineffective as earlier law-enforcement overtures had been.

It should also be noted that the political climate in which law enforcement occurred changed dramatically after 1970. Increasingly, in a more conservative political climate, the powers of law-enforcement agencies had been enhanced. Political will on a national level was strengthened and that led to cooperative enforcement opportunities that reenforced local initiatives. The end of Mafia dominance in the city was not achieved in the lengthened shadow of one man, but in the context of a national rededication to a campaign against criminal activity and with new, more effective tools forged by national legislation.

Overall, Jacobs’ account provides a factual overview of the rise of organized crime’s influence and its demise in New York City. He makes extensive use of New York State Senate documents, reports of investigative agencies, Congressional hearings, personal interviews, union files, specialized reports, documentary materials from the Robert Wagner Labor Archives in the Tamiment Library (NYU) state industrial audits and most of the relevant court cases. The text is supplemented by two appendices -- a “Glossary


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