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:
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.