THE MAFIA CONNECTION
THE INFILTRATION OF THE INDUSTRY BY NEW YORK’S TOP CRIME FAMILIES HAS OFTEN LEFT A DIRTY MARK ON SEVENTH AVENUE.
Byline: Arthur Friedman
NEW YORK — Organized crime has dipped its beak into the garment industry ever since it became a big enough enterprise to catch the attention of mobsters back in the Twenties. The Mafia’s reach has extended to financing, manufacturing and trucking, as well as organized labor, mostly in the form of loan-sharking and racketeering.
In April 1998, Howard Safir, then New York City Police Commissioner, told WWD after a major crackdown on mob activities that organized crime has had a hold on midlevel and small businesses in the apparel industry for more than 50 years. Safir said the Luchese, Columbo and Genovese families have long been linked to Seventh Avenue.
Safir’s comments followed the indictments of 12 men — one of them acting boss of the Luchese crime family — charged with extortion of garment firms. The indictment also suggested complicity with organized labor.
The indictment claimed mobsters extorted $2.5 million from garment center businesses. It further alleged that Joseph (Little Joe) DeFede, as acting boss of the Luchese family, supervised the monthly extortion of garment center businesses. The defendants pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
Charges of relationships of one sort or another between the mob and the apparel union go back a long way. In the early 1960s, ILGWU cutters were found working in non-union dress contracting shops owned by Thomas (Three Fingers Brown) Luchese.
In 1992, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office successfully prosecuted Thomas and Joseph Gambino and various lieutenants for restraint of trade in a case involving the Gambino family’s control of garment trucking.
During his opening remarks, as reported in WWD in a front-page story on Feb. 2, 1992, prosecutor Elliot Spitzer, who is now New York State Attorney General, said the members of organized crime operating on Seventh Avenue are the “salesmen who do not speak.” Spitzer told the court that the Gambinos created an illegal cartel that “extorted money from manufacturers for work that wasn’t done by creating a climate of fear generated by the fear of organized crime and physical threats.”
After a nearly month-long trial, the Gambinos pleaded guilty to restraint of trade and competition.
In the late Seventies, several government investigations were focused on garment center rackets. WWD went on the investigative trail, as well, leading to a series of articles that ran from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2, 1977 called “The Mafia: SA’s Silent Partner.”
The nine-part series uncovered massive Mafia participation at every level, from hauling garbage to running dress manufacturing operations. WWD reported on several Mafioso with a piece of the action in the garment trade. Topping the list were Dons Carlo Gambino, who operated Arlene Dress Co. in Brooklyn, and Thomas Luchese, who had interests in Sherwood Fashions at 501 Seventh Avenue and Amy-Deb Fashions of 463 Seventh Avenue, among many other firms.
Following every major government crackdown on mob activities, officials declared they had weakened the Mafia’s stranglehold on the industry. With the prosecutions of the Nineties and the domination of the industry today by publicly held conglomerates, the mob’s position in the industry again appears to have weakened. But that’s been said before.