NEW YORK — Just when it seemed Seventh Avenue had shed its cloak of organized crime, it could be pulled right back in.
This story first appeared in the March 26, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Lewis Kasman, a former trim producer who once fashioned himself as John Gotti’s “adopted son,” is expected to turn state’s evidence this week in the latest Mob crackdown. A federal court in Brooklyn unsealed an 80-count indictment last month charging 62 alleged mobsters with a list of crimes, from racketeering conspiracy and extortion to theft of union benefits and money laundering.
Although the indictment focuses on the connection between the Mafia, the construction industry and its unions, testimony by Kasman,
who is alleged to have for years run a fashion industry front for the Gambino crime family, might also illuminate connections between organized crime and the New York fashion industry over the past three decades — although the ties go back longer than that.
Kasman is slated to appear in federal court Thursday and is expected to testify on his background as an associate of the Gambino crime family and his relationship with its leaders, including Joseph “JoJo” Corozzo. The government also has filed a motion to disqualify Corozzo’s son, Joseph, an attorney on the case.
The indictment outlined crimes dating back to the Seventies and ensnared reputed associates of the Gambino, Genovese and Bonanno organized crime families with movie-ready nicknames such as “Vinny Hot,” “One Eye” and “Fat Richie.”
The three-year investigation also included a cooperating witness who wore a wire, according to the indictment, although it could not be determined at press time whether that witness was Kasman.
“The evidence relating to many of the charged crimes consists of hundreds of hours of recorded conversations secured by a cooperating witness who penetrated the Gambino family over a three-year period,” said a statement last month from the office of U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell, who oversees the Eastern District of New York.
Despite the breadth of the current wave of indictments, this won’t be Kasman’s first time in a courtroom.
He was a principal with the now-defunct Albie Trimming Co., a family-owned trimmings manufacturer with a storefront operation and warehouse at 229 West 36th Street that supplied materials such as zippers, linings and buttons to garment industry companies, but was said to be a front for the Gambino family, then headed by Gotti. At the time, the Gambino family had a stranglehold on Seventh Avenue’s trucking activities.
Kasman, who often played up his relationship with Gotti by saying he was like an “adopted son” of the convicted murderer and racketeer, pleaded guilty in 1994 in Federal District Court in Brooklyn to lying to a grand jury in 1990 by saying he was not familiar with the terms “Gambino,” “capo” or “consigliere.” Kasman was sentenced to six months in prison, was given a $30,000 fine and was sentenced to three years of supervised release once he was out of prison, with the stipulation that he not associate with any members of organized crime.
When Gotti, also known as the “Dapper Don,” died in prison in 2002, Kasman told newspapers, “He’s a man amongst men, a champion.”
During its investigation that led to Gotti’s conviction, the government said Albie Trimming and an associated firm, Scorpio Marketing, existed “merely to provide the appearance that John Gotti and other Gambino family members have a legitimate income.” Gotti was even said to have an Albie Trimming card that identified him as “salesman.”
It was the same Gambino crime family that was prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in 1992 for illegally controlling garment industry trucking. Then-assistant district attorney Eliot Spitzer, in his opening remarks in the trial of Thomas and Joseph Gambino, sons of crime family founder Carlo Gambino, said the Gambinos and their associates resorted to an occasional show of force “where the velvet glove comes off.”
Spitzer won acclaim for his successful prosecution and used it as a stepping stone to his now-disgraced governorship of New York.
The level of the Mafia’s involvement in Seventh Avenue today is a matter of debate, with some contending that the corporatization of the industry and the federal government’s repeated crackdowns have stifled the Mob, but others saying it’s still around. Whether Kasman’s testimony will shed the kind of light on the garment industry and organized crime that past state’s witnesses have remains to be seen. Sources told WWD after the Gambino trucking trial in state court in 1992 that one reason Thomas and Joseph Gambino pleaded guilty of restraint of trade was that prosecutors were prepared to call Mob-turncoat Sammy “The Bull” Gravano to testify how the family and its associates used strong-arm tactics and unscrupulous bookkeeping to form a garment industry cartel. In a separate federal trial that same year, Gravano was the star witness against Gambino crime family head Gotti and his damaging testimony led to Gotti’s conviction and life sentence for racketeering and murder.