Organized crime continued: The case of a respected lawmaker caught up in the grasp of Cosa Nostra

The Congressman and the Hoodlum

Originally appeared in Life on August 9, 1968
This article was prepared by a LIFE investigative team consisting of Russell Sackett, Sandy Smith and William Lambert.

More on Congressman Cornelius Gallagher

Gangster Joe Zicarelli, a New Jersey capo in Cosa Nostra
Ties bind the congressman and the hoodlum in an alliance of interests.
This is the story of the corruption of a U.S. congressman by the Mob. Not just any congressman, but one of influence and importance both within the U.S. government and, to an extent, abroad-the Honorable Cornelius E. ("Neil") Gallagher, Democrat from New Jersey's 13th Congressional District, a key member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Government Operations Committee, the chairman of the U.S. and Canadian Interparliamentary Group, and a former U.S. delegate to the Disarmament Conference. Gallagher, a man as prominent in the party as he is in government, was among the handful seriously considered by Lyndon B. Johnson as a possible running mate. He would have made an attractive candidate. He has good looks, charm, intelligence – he once taught at Rutgers. His war record is impressive – as a captain he commanded a rifle company in Europe in World War II and Korea and was wounded three times, winning eight decorations.

As previously revealed in LIFE'S continuing series on the Mob and its enterprises, organized crime has succeeded in planting its poisonous roots deep in American business, inside labor unions and city and state government. Now, an eight-month investigation by a team of LIFE reporters has established that the Mob has gained yet another choice plum. Behind the facade of prestige and respectability lives another Neil Gallagher – a man who time and again has served as the tool and collaborator of a Cosa Nostra gang lord.

Congressman Neil Gallagher's tiein with this glowering Cosa Nostra figure, Joe Zicarelli, has ranged from his own home turf in Bayonne, N.J. to points as far distant as Montreal and Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic. it has involved such diverse interests as "fixes" with local New Jersey police, Caribbean politics, the promotion of a contraband "cancer cure" and a gangster's weird tale about the disposal of a corpse.

The story of Gallagher's availability to run the Mob's errands begins with conversations he had in the summer of 1960 with Zicarelli. The latter had a complaint. The police had strayed out of line and were putting heat on some of his men in the gambling rackets. Zicarelli wanted this nonsense stopped.

In Cosa Nostra, Zicarelli holds the rank of capo, or captain, in the fearsome Joe Bonanno "Family." In the rackets he is known by the nickname Joe Bayonne, derived from the New Jersey industrial waterfront city, which squats opposite Manhattan's towering financial district. This is Zicarelli's - and Gallagher's - power base. To Zicarelli a political "connection" - or "The Fix" - is a thing of beauty, like cash in a Swiss bank, or two star sapphire pinky rings. Racketeering in all its profitable and ugly aspects is Zicarelli's trade, and his connections have kept him operating.

Above all, Zicarelli is cagey. For a long time, he followed the practice of issuing his orders to captive New Jersey politicians from public telephones.

On the morning of Monday, June 13, 1960, authorities began electronic surveillance of a Manhattan bar telephone booth from which Zicarelli conducted his business. They were interested solely in the mobster. The congressman came into the inquiry unexpectedly; and what to do about this has been troubling officials of the Department of justice ever since.

In 1960 Joe Zicarelli maintained a Manhattan "pad" in the Park Royal Hotel. Electronic surveillance of his suite by law officers yielded evidence linking the mobster boss to Congressman Gallagher.

On June 13, from the pay telephone, Zicarelli called Gallagher's unlisted telephone at the congressman's law office in Bayonne. There was no answer. Zicarelli called the congressman's home. Gallagher wasn't there, either.

A week passed. The following Monday, June 20, Zicarelli called Gallagher's law office once again and placed two more calls to the congressman's home. Again Gallagher was out and this time Zicarelli asked the woman who answered to tell the congressman to "call Mr. Gray at the Murray Hill number."

On the next day, June 21, Zicarelli finally got through to Gallagher on the unlisted office telephone. He complained that the Bayonne police had staked out the key stations of his gambling network. His business was being disrupted, Zicarelli huffed, by the treachery of a top police official.

"O.K.," said Gallagher. "Let me get hold of him right now."

A few hours later, Zicarelli phoned Gallagher again at his office, demanding to know what the congressman had done for him.

"I got hold of a friend who said [the police official] was jumping," said Gallagher. "I got a hold of the little guy in Jersey City and told him to reach out for him [the police official]."

That night, a messenger from Bayonne appeared at the West Side apartment used by Zicarelli as a Manhattan hideaway. With the authorities listening in, he gave the gangster some bad news.

"One of the lightweights [an honest policeman] grabbed a guy [a Zicarelli runner] with a bag of money - return money," the messenger said. "Later, I laid it in to -- -------- [naming a Bayonne policeman]. I said you guys are wrong here, taking out money and then hurting people."

Zicarelli cautioned the messenger to keep his cool. "I talked to the top man," counseled Zicarelli. "Take it easy. Don't get excited. He'll see [the police official] tomorrow."

'Mr. Gray got him off the House floor

Zicarelli was unwilling to wait. On June 23 he telephoned Gallagher's home and tersely left word for the congressman to "call Mr. Gray."

It was two days later, Saturday, June 25, before Gallagher returned the call to Zicarelli at the pay phone. This colloquy followed: Gallagher: I got hold of those people [Bayonne police] and there will be no further problem. Zicarelli: I hope so, because they're ruining me. Gallagher: They damn well better not.

Zicarelli: They're doing a job on me like was never done before. Gallagher: I laced into them.

Gallagher said he would "follow through" on the job. He explained that he was going to Washington, and said that if Zicarelli would call him there he would call back.

A few days later Zicarelli, using the name of "Mr. Gray," did telephone Gallagher's office in Washington. One of the congressman's aides told him that Congress was in session and Gallagher was on the floor of the House of Representatives.

"Well, get him off the floor – this is important," commanded Zicarelli.

The aide, shaken by the imperious manner of "Mr. Gray," suggested that Mr. Gray call the Capitol direct. Zicarelli did, and Gallagher quickly left the House floor at the word that Mr. Gray was calling. The "important" message was simply that Joe Zicarelli wanted to see his congressman as soon as possible.

That telephone conversation was followed by a number of Sunday morning meetings between Gallagher and Zicarelli. Some of these brunch powwows (LIFE, Sept. 1, 1967) were uncovered by authorities who had Zicarelli under surveillance.

In 1964, while he was serving as the cochairman of the Canadian-American Interparliamentary Group, Democrat Gallagher was received warmly by President Johnson at the White House.