Home New York Press Releases 2014 Union Officials Plead Guilty in Extortion Conspiracy Involving Christmastime Tribute Payments

Union Officials Plead Guilty in Extortion Conspiracy Involving Christmastime Tribute Payments

U.S. Attorney’s Office May 13, 2014
  • District of New Jersey (973) 645-2888

NEWARK—Three former International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) union officials admitted today that they conspired to extort ILA Local 1235 longshoremen on the New Jersey piers for Christmastime tribute payments, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman and Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch announced.

Vincent Aulisi, 82, of West Orange, New Jersey, the president of ILA Local 1235 from approximately 2006 through 2007; Thomas Leonardis, 56, of Glen Gardner, New Jersey, the president of the union from approximately 2008 through 2011 and former ILA representative; and Robert Ruiz, 55, of Watchung, New Jersey, the delegate of the union from approximately 2007 through 2010 and former ILA representative, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to extort Christmastime tributes from ILA Local 1235 members—count three of the second superseding indictment against them. Aulisi, Leonardis, and Ruiz entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in Newark federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

During their guilty plea proceedings, Aulisi, Leonardis, and Ruiz admitted that they conspired with each other and others to compel tribute payments from ILA union members, who made the payments based on actual and threatened force, violence and fear. 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 charge to which Aulisi, Leonardis, and Ruiz pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is currently scheduled for September 4, 2014, for Ruiz and September 9, 2014, for Aulisi and Leonardis.

U.S. Attorneys Fishman and Lynch credited the FBI in New Jersey, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford, and in New York, under the direction of Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos, as well as the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Cheryl Garcia, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty pleas.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mahajan, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey.

The charges and allegations against the remaining defendants are merely accusations, and they are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.


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