Longshore Union Kingpins Plead Guilty to Shaking Down Dockworkers

Two former presidents and a former delegate of a West Orange, N.J.-based local of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) union have admitted that they conspired for many years to extort money from the very dockworkers they purported to “represent.”

According to the Newsroom America account linked below, Vincent Aulisi, president of ILA Local 1235 from approximately 2006 to 2007, Thomas Leonardis, president of the same union from approximately 2008 through 2011, and former Local 1235 delegate Robert Ruiz have confessed to conspiring with each other and others to “compel tribute payments from [Local 1235] members, who made the payments based on actual and threatened force, violence and fear.”

According to federal prosecutors, one especially egregious form of extortion Aulisi, Leonardis, Ruiz and their cohorts engaged in was the collection of “Christmas tribute” from New Jersey dockworkers after they received their year-end bonuses.  And much of the money extracted from workers ultimately end up in Organized crime coffers:

The timing of the extortions typically coincided with the receipt by certain ILA members of “Container Royalty Fund” checks, a form of year-end compensation. Leonardis and Ruiz were suspended from their positions following their arrest in January 2011. Aulisi had already retired from his employment on the New Jersey piers at the time of his arrest.

Charges are still pending against eight defendants in the superseding indictment, including a racketeering conspiracy charge against Stephen Depiro, 58, of Kenilworth, New Jersey—a soldier in the Genovese organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra.

Since at least 2005, Depiro has managed the Genovese family’s control over the New Jersey waterfront—including the nearly three-decades-long extortion of port workers in ILA Local 1, ILA Local 1235, and ILA Local 1478. Members of the Genovese family, including Depiro, are charged with conspiring to collect tribute payments from New Jersey port workers at Christmastime each year through their corrupt influence over union officials, including the last three presidents of Local 1235.

Two of the three remaining Genovese family associates are former union officials: Albert Cernadas, 78, of Union, New Jersey, the president of ILA Local 1235 from approximately 1981 to 2006 and former ILA Executive vice president; and Nunzio LaGrasso, 63, of Florham Park, New Jersey, the former vice president of ILA Local 1478 and former ILA Representative. The third, Richard Dehmer, 78, of Springfield, New Jersey, is charged with illegal gambling conduct unrelated to the waterfront extortions.

The ILA’s New York Harbor locals are representative of many union operations that have remained crooked, decade after decade, despite multiple crackdowns by law enforcement.

Federal labor laws that force employees to accept unwanted union representation and pay dues or fees as a condition of employment are the single most important reason why.  As labor law scholar and onetime unpaid union organizer Sylvester Petro explained back in the late 1950’s, if Organized Labor is going ever going to be “cleaned up,” the “house cleaners will have to be the working [people] of this country, and the “cleansing materials will have to be their own free choice and their right to refuse to join unions or to participate in strikes, picketing, and boycotts.”

Of course, Congress refused to listen at the time, but the words of Petro, who passed away in 2007, continue to ring true today.  It is long past time for Congress to recognize his wisdom and repeal all provisions in federal labor law that authorize compulsory union dues and fees.

Union Officials Plead Guilty To Extortion Conspiracy Involving