Former Union Delegate Sentenced to 20 Months in Prison for Extortion Conspiracy Involving Christmastime Tribute Payments
NEWARK—A former delegate of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1235 was sentenced today to 20 months in prison for conspiring to extort 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.
Robert Ruiz, 55, of Watchung, New Jersey—the delegate of the union from approximately 2007 through 2010—previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi to one count of an indictment charging him with conspiring to extort Christmastime tributes from ILA Local 1235 members. Judge Cecchi imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Ruiz and two other former ILA officers—Vincent Aulisi, 82, of West Orange, New Jersey, the president of ILA Local 1235 from 2006 through 2007; and Thomas Leonardis, 57, of Glen Gardner, New Jersey, the president of the union from approximately 2008 through 2011—admitted that they conspired 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 arrests in January 2011. Aulisi had already retired from his employment on the New Jersey piers at the time of his arrest.
Aulisi was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Oct. 8, 2014. Leonardis still awaits sentencing.
Charges are still pending against three defendants in the superseding indictment, including a racketeering conspiracy charge against Stephen Depiro, 59, 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 other Genovese family associates charged in the case are former union officials: Albert Cernadas, 79, 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.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Cecchi sentenced Ruiz to serve two years of supervised release.
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 Special Agent in Charge Cheryl Garcia of the New York Regional Office, with the investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony Mahajan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, and Jacquelyn M. Kasulis of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York.
The charges and allegations against the remaining defendants are merely accusations and they are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.