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The Mob and the Machine

"We've found wiseguys just about everywhere we looked," said Raymond Dearie, the former U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District, who was recently appointed a federal judge.

Following the mob's political trail is a complex, touchy business these days because the connections are usually subtle or hidden. Working through lawyers, union leaders, and businessmen, the hoods have managed to make their contacts and work their deals without resorting to strong-arm tactics. The big guns on both sides—the top mobsters and the top pols—rarely need to get involved. The arrangements are made through middle-men and aides, people who have forged friendships in childhood, in campaigns, in various business deals.

"Few hoods are in power themselves," Goldstock said, "but they are sometimes behind the people in power. The real connections seem to come between the pols, business associates, and certain union support. Almost every politician needs some kind of business and union support. The pols need money, phone banks, lawyers to safeguard the polls, manpower to get petitions signed, buses to get people to the polls, and flatbed trucks for loudspeakers.

"We've found wiseguys just about everywhere we looked," claims one former U.S. Attorney.

"The person running for office may not directly have to make any deals, but his campaign people do. The friendships and relationships are established. Then, when the candidate gets elected, he usually appoints the same people who have helped get him elected. They may not be appointed to the top, showcase posts, but they do get the jobs where they can affect what goes on."

The story of the mob and the machine goes back at least to 1931, when Lucky Luciano sent two gunmen to see Harry C. Perry, the co-leader of Manhattan's 2nd Assembly District. The gunmen asked Perry to step down in favor of Albert Marinelli, a pol in Luciano's debt. Perry complied.

In the years that followed, the mob's influence became brazen. During a Tammany Hall fight in 1941, Frank Costello dispatched gunmen to Tammany clubs around the city to help elect Costello henchmen as district leaders. Within a year, Costello's men made up the majority of Tammany's governing board. Not long after, Costello was getting calls from judges thanking him for his support in getting them court nominations.

The mob's interest in the business of government grew more sophisticated in the sixties and seventies, when government became big business. Food programs, day-care leases, waterfront development, urban-renewal contracts, and minority-enterprise businesses, for example, offered great opportunities for theft. By the late seventies, the city's real-estate boom and the mob's hold on key construction unions helped put organized crime in a position to drive up the costs of building in New York. The mob became a participant in the city's booming economy.

Until recently, no one seemed to be looking, and few people seemed concerned that the mob had worked its way into the machine.

For years, the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club of Canarsie, in Brooklyn, has been the most powerful clubhouse in the city. Brooklyn Democratic boss Meade Esposito headed the club for fifteen years, until his retirement in 1984.

Esposito's connections to organized-crime hoods are well known. His name popped up repeatedly in a bugged junkyard trailer used as a headquarters by Lucchese capo Paul Vario in 1972. The tape led to the convictions of 40 organized-crime hoods and 21 corrupt policemen. Esposito has never tried to hide his connections. He says he knows some of the city's crime chiefs because he grew up with them. During his years as a bail bondsman, he bailed them out. He denies, however, that they have any influence with him. "I never do a thing for them," he says.

Nonetheless, in the 261-acre Brooklyn Navy Yard, for example, where Esposito long held the patronage key, it was discovered a few years ago that the mob had somehow managed to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in shipyard elevator-repair contracts, despite the fact that the repair company had no employees and operated out of the rear of a Brooklyn café. The contracts were rescinded.

"Things have been going on for years," said Ed McDonald, the chief of the Federal Organized Crime Strike Force in Brooklyn. "But no one seemed to be paying any attention. We had a series of convictions involving wiseguys and politicians; we had murders, disappearances, and congressmen writing mercy letters to judges on behalf of vicious mob capos; and, after a paragraph in the papers, very little seemed to happen. The bad guys were replaced by new bad guys, and the system continued without missing a payoff."

As a result of the current investigations, however, many of the cozy relationships between the mob, its middle-men, and the city's pols are being looked at with new suspicion.


  • Archive: “Features
  • From the May 5, 1986 issue of New York