MoMA and the Mob

Photo: Tomer Hanuka

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.

Siegel made vigorous attempts to counter this by rehashing such alleged incidents in Carrara’s misspent youth as putting C4 explosive—actually, a Claymore mine—beneath somebody’s car. The bomb blew prematurely, almost costing Carrara his eyes and ears, a matter to which he frequently returns in the tapes. “He explains in general that he has blown out his eyes and ears for the mob,” Siegel says. That was in the seventies. So, too, apparently, was the incident when Carrara claimed he blew up the store of a contractor who had insulted his wife. “Mr. Carrara also engaged in an explicit discussion of a robbery he engaged in,” Siegel says. “He shot the person in the chest … the victim was pulling at his vest and saying, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ Mr. Carrara jokingly says on the tape, ‘I told him, “Don’t worry about it, buddy. I don’t think you’re going to make it.” ’ ”

Carrara’s humor deserted him, though, when he wanted to confront the representative of AMEC with whom he dealt most frequently on the MoMA project. “I got to know what’s going on with the fucking job,” he said. “I don’t give a fuck. I’m ready to throw punches. I don’t give a fuck. I’ll leave him in the fucking street over there. He thinks I won’t. I’ll leave him right on the fucking ground there.”

Carl Carrara and the Genoveses duly became aware that there was an investigation under way, and this too became grist for the Shed Tapes. People would “go to the trailer and explain to Mr. Carrara that they had received a subpoena or that an FBI agent came to their house.” His advice was “Don’t tell the government anything.” Also, “Mr. Carrara states repeatedly to others in the trailer that he is going to make sure that Mr. Diminno doesn’t cooperate with the government, that he’s going to do whatever he has to do to make sure Mr. Diminno does the right thing.”

Carrara’s instincts were sound but his confidence unfounded. Morris (a.k.a. “Fatso” or “Mickey”) Diminno pleaded guilty. As did the Genovese capo of the crew, Ernest “Ernie” Muscarella. They have been sentenced. Diminno got 63 months, Muscarella 60. Slaps on the wrist, so they have doubtless been talkative. This is the post-Sopranos mob ethic. The boss rats out his juniors, and the non–“made man,” Carl Carrara, lands at the center of the case. He has been indicted on 56 of the 61 counts.

“It is relatively rare that people who are charged with as many crimes as he’s been charged with actually get acquitted on all of them,” says Judge Naomi Buchwald. She agreed to bail, nonetheless. “I am assuming it is awful,” she said of a tape she had been given. “I am assuming he is a person who leaves much to be desired on the law-abiding and morality continuum of the world. But the issue is still with the age of the things the government is relying on and the fact that apparently he has a huge mouth, a dirty mouth. If we were in some other world, I guess soap in his mouth would be, you know, an appropriate condition of bail, but it’s not the world we are in.” Carl Carrara was given bail on a million-dollar bond, his conditions in the world that we are in being that he is electronically monitored and he is house-bound.

On May 6, the morning after Sotheby’s knocked down Picasso’s Boy With a Pipe for $104 million, a small group of journalists was taken around the MoMA site by the director of the museum, Glenn Lowry. We walked around heavy equipment colored hazard yellow, sky-blue, and orange, watched by quizzical hardhats, and occasionally crossing paths with an equally small, rather more nattily dressed group of trustees. A few Matisse posters were stuck to the walls of one space, and Lowry spoke of the Bauhaus, and of Brancusi, and of the way that “Yoshio has brought the street very dramatically into the museum’s visual landscape.” It seemed very much a tale of two cities. On the ground floor, the word AMEC was painted on a square of plywood. The construction shed, which is also made of plywood, is far smaller than I imagined from the orchestra of voices on the tapes. Perhaps it should be part of the permanent collection.

MoMA and the Mob