The Changing Face of ORGANIZED CRIME IN NEW JERSEY – A Status Report – State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation 2004 Report

The DeCavalcante organization is the only LCN group in the region indigenous to New Jersey. It is rather small and consists of approximately 40 members, including many who are incarcerated, and at least 50 criminal associates. Based in the Peterstown section of Elizabeth, the DeCavalcante family, also known as the “Jersey family,” used the Ribera Club in Elizabeth as a meeting place. Most of the early family members came from Ribera, a town in Sicily. Beyond New Jersey, the group also maintains a presence in New York, Connecticut and Florida. One key distinguishing feature of the DeCavalcante group is that it is the oldest of the 24 United States-based families of La Cosa Nostra, tracing its origins as a sustained criminal group as far back as early in the first quarter of the 20th Century.

More recently, this group drew its current name from Simone “Sam the Plumber” DeCavalcante, who served as boss from the early 1960s until 1982, when John Riggi was named head of the family. Riggi remained in charge until his incarceration in 1990, when his underboss, John D’Amato, became the self-appointed acting boss. In 1992, members of the family murdered D’Amato, allegedly for his hubris in appointing himself boss, stealing money from the group and engaging in homosexual activity embarrassing to the family. Jake Amari assumed the role of acting boss until his death in 1997, when Stefano “Steve” Vitabile, family consigliere for approximately 30 years, appointed Vincent “Vinnie Ocean” Palermo, Girolamo “Jimmy” Palermo (no relation) and Charles Majuri as a triumvirate to run the family during Riggi’s incarceration.

After the death of John D’Amato, leaders of the five New York-based LCN families and the DeCavalcante family met in New York City and decided that the DeCavalcantes could no longer make New York residents soldiers of their family. It was decided that all future made members would be drawn from among New Jersey residents.

In a December 1999, the DeCavalcante group took a huge hit in a federal indictment and a subsequent superceding indictment targeting the entire upper echelon or the family, including incarcerated boss John Riggi, acting bosses Vincent Palermo, Girolamo Palermo and Charles Majuri, consigliere Steve Vitabile, four capos and seven soldiers. All were charged with murder, conspiracy, securities fraud, loan sharking, gambling, extortion of unions and construction contractors, purchase and sale of stolen property, theft, robbery and home invasion. The indictment left the organization with only one capo not indicted. All the defendants either pled guilty or were found guilty at trial. Sentences ranged from 12 months to life in prison. With the convictions and imprisonment of virtually the entire DeCavalcante leadership heriarchy, the group is undergoing reorganization and retrenchment at the hands essentially of a skeleton crew of non-indicted members.

According to law enforcement authorities, Joseph Miranda is serving a dual role as the acting boss and official underboss. Former acting boss Vincent Palermo, capo Anthony Rotondo and soldier Anthony Capo, among others, agreed to cooperate with the government and testified against their fellow family members at recent trials. Cooperators testified that in the 1980s, John Riggi, boss of the DeCavalcante Family, created Local 1030 to represent asbestos workers within the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). Members of the asbestos union had to be licensed. They attended a school created by Riggi ostensibly to learn how to detect and remove asbestos. Anthony Capo testified he slept during school and had the school’s operator, Manny Riggi, the son of John Riggi, take the test for him. Capo subsequently received his asbestos removal license. When questioned by a federal prosecutor about his knowledge of asbestos, Capo stated, “I wouldn’t know it [asbestos] if I was sitting on it.”

John Riggi’s father, also named Manny, started Local 394 to represent general laborers within LIUNA. According to trial testimony, 15 to 20 members and associates of the DeCavalcante family were members of Local 394. The DeCavalcantes installed the business agents in Local 394, as well as Local 1030, starting with John Riggi at Local 394. DeCavalcante members were often no shows or did no work at laborers jobs. Capo testified that he even received overtime for jobs where he was a no show. Members of the DeCavalcante group also received preferential treatment at job shape-ups at the union hiring hall.

The DeCavalcante family used its control of Local 394 for extortion and labor racketeering, accepting payoffs from companies to let them use non-union labor at job sites. Anthony Rotondo described the union as the family’s “cash cow.”

The laborer’s union initiated a reform program in 1995 with the concurrence of the U.S. Department of Justice. The ultimate goal of this effort is to rid the laborers’ union of organized crime, corruption and financial malpractice and to restore democratic procedures. The principal officers responsible for implementing this program are the General Executive Board attorney and the Inspector General for LIUNA. Based on investigations conducted by the Inspector General, the General Executive Board was able to initiate internal proceedings that resulted in the permanent expulsion of numerous individuals from LIUNA, including former DeCavalcante acting boss Charles Majuri and capo Pino Schifilliti

According to the cooperators, DeCavalcante caporegime Philip Abramo, referred to as the “original pump-and-dump wizard on Wall Street,” made millions of dollars through stock fraud, leaving investors with worthless stock. Abramo gave “cold callers” scripts to read to prospective investors over the telephone. It did not matter whether the information given to a customer was true as long as the customer bought the stock. After spending time in federal prison for income tax evasion, Abramo was released from a halfway house in January 1998. He now faces lengthy incarceration on a recent conviction for stock fraud and conspiracy to commit murder.

Certain sons of former DeCavalcante boss John Riggi are among the organization’s soldiers. There is some affiliation or interaction with Gambino and Genovese family members, but such connections appear to be based upon individual relationships rather than through any collective family-to-family affiliation.

Gaetano “Corky” Vastola, a DeCavalcante soldier, served time in prison on a 1989 conviction for racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and extortion- collection conspiracy. Although Vastola resides in his wife’s million-dollar mansion in Colts Neck, N.J., he still owes the lion’s share of a $70,000 fine imposed in the racketeering and extortion case. Vastola has a history of interaction with elements of the Gambino LCN group.

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