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MoMA and the Mob

In a shed on the museum’s construction site, Carl Carrara painted a vivid, obscene picture of mob life—and the Feds taped it all.


It will be five months before the Museum of Modern Art opens its mostly new building on West 53rd Street, but the site has already been the scene of one exciting installation. The installation, which was the creation of the FBI, was done at the beginning of 2002. It consisted of a listening device in the shed on the construction site. The bug was all ears for four months, and the end product was a 61-count indictment filed in the Southern District. Twenty-four defendants, including Ernest “Ernie” Muscarella, a capo in the Genovese family; Louis Moscatiello, a Genovese soldier; fifteen family associates; and a number of fellows from locals 14 and 15 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, an AFL-CIO affiliate, have been indicted on charges that include racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking, and all the trimmings. The star of the Shed Tapes—upon which much of the case is built—is the man who, according to the indictment, ran the locals for the Genovese family. His name is Carl Carrara.

It happens that I am slightly acquainted with Carl Carrara. We met in 1980 when I was researching a book that touched on the activities of a drug gang he was involved with. A powerfully built fellow, Carrara didn’t dress mob, but country club, so it was fitting that when he did agree to talk, he invited me to tea in the Palm Court of the Plaza hotel. He was agreeable, and not a word that passed his lips tinkled the neighboring teacups. “You’re not going to betray me, are you?” he said as we parted. I assured him I had no such intention.

“I know. You live on the ground floor, don’t you?” he said. He beamed, meaning that this was a joke.

The ground-breaking for MoMA’s new building, which was attended by Mayor Giuliani, was in May 2001. The building, which has devoured the Dorset Hotel and has grown from 378,000 to 630,000 square feet, was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, who has left nothing of Philip Johnson’s work and very little of Cesar Pelli’s. MoMA chose the New York branch of AMEC, a British construction company, to manage the $425 million project. “They did the Rose Center at the Museum of Natural History, so they did have museum experience,” says Jean Solomon, MoMA’s executive director of construction. She says that “approximately 500” workers were employed. I ask about labor problems.

“Carrara’s diction throughout is enough to make a Sopranos sit-down sound like small talk at the Junior League.”

“We haven’t had any labor problems. We’re very fortunate,” Solomon says.

According to the prosecutor, Carl Carrara claimed on tape that he would spend several hours a day there, conducting business, handing out jobs, including no-shows—and a crane operator can make six figures—and talking, both to his cronies and on his cell phone. “He explained in one call, Judge—and pardon the vulgarity—that he was like a ‘fucking delegate’ himself because he gave out so many jobs,” federal prosecutor Adam Siegel said at a bail hearing. “Carl was really holding court there,” one of Carrara’s old crime associates told me. “Pity he didn’t know it was a recording studio.”

I have not heard the original tapes, but the transcripts of the bail hearing, which draw on them liberally, make it clear that they have a novelistic richness and that Siegel does not err when he describes them as “incredibly explicit.” In one memoirish passage, “Mr. Carrara is explaining to another individual inside the shed how he got where he is.” He says he started living the life at 17, with the Bonnano family. He was in the crew of Philip Giacone, who, none too appropriately, given that he was whacked during the 1980 Bonnano family war, was known as “Phil Lucky.” Actually, Carl Carrara was the lucky one—he was in the pen at the time.

“What Mr. Carrara explained was that while he was in prison, Mr. Giacone and his entire crew were assassinated. And when Mr. Carrara got out of prison, he had nobody left to turn to in his own crew,” Siegel told the court. A friend introduced him to Louis Moscatiello, a Genovese family soldier, who asked him to handle the unions. Reluctant at first, Carrara later agreed. “That’s how I ended up here. That’s my life story,” he concludes. He also explains why he refused to become a “made man.” Siegel told the court, “He boasts that the option has been available to him for years, but all it does is get the heat of law enforcement on you . . . you don’t make any more money from it.”

Carl Carrara’s diction throughout is robust enough to make a Sopranos sit-down sound like small talk at the Junior League. “I’ll kill them,” he allegedly hollered after an incident of on-site fisticuffs. “Believe me, there won’t be a fucking live person on that job.” He observes to somebody who has not repaid a loan: “I would rather die in McCann [a penitentiary] than have you beat me . . . I’m going to watch your fucking ass suffer.” Stewart Orden, Carrara’s attorney, pleading for bail, described such language as “puffery” and pointed out that it had been almost twenty years since his client had been convicted of a violent crime.

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