Senator Robert Torricelli And The Mafia
By James Ridgway de Szigethy
On the surface, the story sounds like a plot line from the hit HBO series THE SOPRANOS: the owner of a New Jersey waste disposal company, in the company of a high-profile politician who has accepted thousands of dollars from alleged Mob associates, attempts to threaten a witness who has made illegal contributions to the politician. Unfortunately for the citizens of New Jersey, this scenario is not a television script, but rather just one of many allegations recently presented for examination to the Senate Ethics Committee in regards to their investigation of Senator Robert Torricelli.
This event was described in documents originally filed last May at the sentencing hearing of David Chang, a foreign businessman who had pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to the 1996 Torricelli Senate campaign. In the documents Chang alleges that in January, 2001, Torricelli and another man followed Chang into a 7-11 convenience store in Ft. Lee, New Jersey in an apparent attempt to threaten Chang into not co-operating with the Federal investigation of Torricelli’s fund raising ventures. Chang averted the confrontation by slipping out the back door of the store. The next day agents of the FBI confiscated the store’s surveillance videotape which reportedly shows Chang followed into the store by Torricelli and his associate. To date, the mystery man who accompanied Torricelli has only been described in Media reports as a contractor in the waste disposal industry.
In sentencing Chang to prison, Judge Alfred Wolin sealed a key document relating to the Torricelli investigation, citing Torricelli’s "privacy interests." Earlier this year, the office of Manhattan U. S. Attorney Mary Jo White announced that no criminal indictments against Torricelli would be brought, but rather evidence compiled in the probe would be forwarded to the Senate Ethics Committee for review. Prosecutors also detailed in a document submitted to Judge Wolin a synopsis of their investigation as it pertained to the allegations made by Chang for the Judge to consider before handing down his sentence.
Lawyers for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Record of Hackensack, and NBC affiliate Channel 4 of New York City, have gone to Court seeking the release of information in the report. Lawyers for Torricelli have opposed this, as has the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan that produced the report. Wolin announced in July that he would release some of the information in the report after lawyers for Torricelli had exhausted all Appeals to prevent such release.
As to the question "who is David Chang?" the answer depends on whom you ask. To the NYPD, David Chang is a hero, who once wore a wire which led to the rescue of 4 little girls who had been kidnapped, raped, and tortured by a vicious Chinatown gang. Public statements by Torricelli and his associates have ranged from Torricelli calling Chang "my friend" once Chang was indicted, to Torricelli's lawyers denouncing Chang as a "pathological liar," once Chang pleaded guilty, to Torricelli once again calling Chang his friend, from whom he accepted "no illegal gifts."
In regards to the gifts, Chang has alleged that once a new Federal investigation into Torricelli was underway, Torricelli asked him to falsely claim that the gifts of cash and goods were in fact loans, to be repaid by the Senator. Congressman James Traficant made similar claims before his recent trial before the House Ethics Committee in regards to gifts he accepted from several businessmen, but the Committee rejected Traficant’s claims and Traficant was expelled from Congress.
Just weeks before the confrontation at the Ft. Lee 7-11, Senator Torricelli established a Legal Defense Fund in response to the growing investigations. According to documents maintained by the Federal Election Commission, waste management contractors Frank and Peter DiTommaso contributed $10,000 to this fund. At the time of the donations, the DiTommaso brothers, owners of Interstate Industrial Corporation, were the subjects of a Federal, New York City, and New Jersey Casino Control Commission investigation into allegations of ties to the Mafia. The City investigation was prompted by a $30 million contract sought by the DiTommaso brothers’ business to assist in the closing of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. This illegal Mob-controlled landfill was allowed to operate for decades until the people of New York City elected as Mayor a former Mafia Prosecutor, Rudolph Giuliani, who shut the operation down. As a result of the city’s investigation the $30 million dollar contract with the DiTommaso brothers’ business was canceled.
The Federal investigation of the DiTommaso brothers concerned their purchase of a Staten Island waste station controlled by Edward Garafola, who is married to the sister of former Gambino Family Underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. Garafola was indicted in March 2000 along with Lawrence Ray, an executive of Interstate Industrial Corporation, and Daniel Persico, nephew of Colombo Family Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico, on Federal charges involving a $40 million stock ‘pump and dump’ scam. Interstate Industrial Corporation was also denied a contract by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 2000 to perform work on an Atlantic City gambling casino.
Federal Election Commission records also show that Frank DiTommaso contributed $1,000 to the Torricelli campaign on March 26, 1999 and that DiTommaso Family members made several other $1,000 contributions that year. The DiTommaso brothers have denied they have ties to the Mafia.
Another contributor to Torricelli’s Legal Defense Fund is former Congressman Frank Guarini, Chairman of the National Italian American Foundation. This organization made headlines in 1998 when it joined with the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) in calling for a demonstration outside the Manhattan offices of the producers of the HBO series The SOPRANOS, which both organizations claimed reinforced negative stereotypes about Italian-Americans. The demonstration was called off after reports in the Media revealed that NECO President William Fugazy was a convicted felon named in Court proceedings as a Mafia Associate. Fugazy was one of many felons who received a Presidential Pardon from Bill Clinton during the final hours of his Administration. Among the Board of Directors of the National Italian American Foundation is John J. Cafaro, President of the Cafaro Company of Youngstown, Ohio. Cafaro pleaded guilty last year to bribing Congressman James Traficant and testified against him this year at his trial. Traficant was convicted on 10 Counts of bribery, income tax evasion, and racketeering and is currently serving an 8-year prison sentence.
Before Traficant was sent to jail, he called as a witness before his House Ethics Committee trial former Cafaro employee Richard Detore, who is also under indictment on bribery charges regarding Traficant. Detore told the Ethics Committee that the Cafaro family had made illegal gifts to Senator Torricelli and one of the Senator’s girlfriends.
Another contributor to Torricelli’s Legal Defense Fund is international businessman Grover Connell, who had previously contributed $35,000 to a Political Action Committee founded by then-Congressman Torricelli that was challenged by Common Cause in regards to it’s questionable expenditures. Connell first achieved national attention in 1978, when he was indicted in the "Koreagate" scandal in which members of Congress were caught accepting bribes from Korean officials. Although charges were eventually dropped, Connell and his business partner Joseph Alioto were later sued in Federal Court over a Korean rice scam that resulted in financial ruin for several American rice farmers. Alioto, the son of a fish merchant from Sicily, was a lawyer whose political career was eclipsed by published reports detailing his familial ties to the Mafia, which included John Alioto, who served for many years as Godfather of the Milwaukee Mafia Family.
As was the case with David Chang, Torricelli invited Grover Connell to accompany him on trips to countries where both businessmen had financial interests, including Communist North Korea. Associated Press reporter John Solomon has reported on an unsecured loan to Torricelli by Connell of $100,000 in 1992, which Torricelli used to invest in a new financial institution owned by friends, First Savings Bank. This deal between friends gave the Congressman a quick profit of $144,000. For advice on the deal, Torricelli had turned to criminal lawyer Abbe Lowell, who found no ethical or legal violations. Lowell has made a career representing politicians accused of wrongdoing, including Congressmen Dan Rostenkowski, Jim Wright, and Gary Condit. Torricelli is himself a lawyer, as was his father, who immigrated to the United States from the Torricelli family ancestral home of Corleone, Sicily.
The loan by Connell to Torricelli was investigated by the FBI, agents of which questioned Torricelli in regards to Under Oath. Torricelli was not charged and FBI agents took the unusual step of forwarding the information from their investigation to the U. S. Senate.
In May 2001 Associated Press reporter John Solomon would break an even more explosive story on Torricelli, reporting that in 1996 Torricelli was caught on an FBI wiretap soliciting contributions over a telephone at a Florida pizza parlor under surveillance for suspected Mafia ties. Among those captured speaking with Torricelli were Francis and Sam Roti, the nephews of Fred Roti, a Chicago politician convicted in 1993 of racketeering, bribery, and extortion with members of the Chicago Mafia Family and the Laborers Union. On the FBI tapes Torricelli asks for $1,000 contributions from the Rotis and their associates and the Rotis then suggest that their native Chicago would be a good place for Torricelli to raise funds, even though Chicago is a thousand miles away from the constituents Torricelli would represent in the Senate.
The owner of the pizza parlor, Nicolas Castronuovo and his grandson Nicholas Melone later pleaded guilty to evading the government of $100,000 in taxes, according to a Miami Herald-Tribune report. Sam Roti was indicted in 1993 on Federal tax charges, which were later dropped, according to an ABC News report. Fred Roti, along with Chicago Mafia figures Tony Accardo and Joey Aiuppa and Laborers Union Vice-President John Serpico were named in a 1999 Federal civil racketeering lawsuit filed to end Mafia dominance of the International Laborer’s Union. Serpico was convicted in July 2001 on Federal fraud charges involving misuse of the Union’s Pension funds. The Laborer’s Union contributed $7,000 to the 1996 Torricelli Senate campaign, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
Also during Torricelli’s 1996 race for the Senate, a $2,000 a plate fundraiser was held for Torricelli at the home of convicted felon Francis Walsh, owner of Walsh Trucking Company. In 1988 Walsh was named in a landmark prosecution of the Teamsters Union and the Genovese Mafia Family. The indictments listed a veritable "Who’s Who" of mobsters, including Genovese Family Godfather "Fat Tony" Salerno, capo "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, Vincent "Fish" Cafaro, James "The Little Guy" Ida, and Teamsters officials Tony Provenzano and Stephen Andretta.
Andretta was later convicted of loan sharking and racketeering and Provenzano was convicted of racketeering and murder. "Fat Tony" Salerno was among those convicted in the famous "Commission" trial prosecuted by Rudolph Giuliani. "Matty the Horse" Ianniello was sent to prison for income tax evasion. Vincent "Fish" Cafaro turned ‘rat’ and testified against several Mafia figures, including Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti and Genovese Family Godfather Vincent "The Chin" Gigante. James Ida is now serving a Life sentence for racketeering and murder. Francis Walsh pleaded guilty to charges he bribed Teamsters officials and served time in prison. Congressman Torricelli, when questioned by U. S. News & World Report about his association with the Walsh family, shrugged off criticism. "Walsh did something wrong, and he paid a price," the Congressman minimized. Federal Election Commission records show that in addition to the fundraiser for Torricelli, Francis Walsh donated $1,000 to Torricelli’s 1996 Senate campaign and the Walsh family has continued their contribution of thousands of dollars to Torricelli.
According to a Newark Star-Ledger report, Senator Torricelli received a paper profit of $220,000 on an investment of only $5,000 in a 1998 initial investment in the Internet Telecommunications firm e.Volve Technology Group. The value of this stock skyrocketed once the company was acquired by eVentures Group, an Internet holding company. Among the main figures in eVentures Group were Kerry Rogers, who was convicted in 1985 for his participation in a $20 million bank fraud case in New Jersey, and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. Before being elected as Mayor of Las Vegas, criminal lawyer Oscar Goodman served for over 30 years as the "mouthpiece of the Mob," representing Mafia figures including Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, Meyer Lansky, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, and Philadelphia Underboss Phil Leonetti. Goodman has flaunted his Mafia associations and portrayed himself in the Mafia epic movie "CASINO."
Another allegation David Chang has made against Senator Torricelli is his claim that in 1999 Torricelli urged him to flee the country in order to escape criminal prosecution for his alleged bribery of Torricelli. This is exactly what Mark Jimenez did in 1999 after being indicted for making illegal contributions to Torricelli’s campaign. Jimenez, who faced over 50 Counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, tax evasion, false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and illegal campaign contributions, escaped to his native Philippines.
Torricelli himself had placed on his 1996 Senate campaign finance committee an international fugitive from Justice, Philippe Hababou, who fled his native France in late 1995 where he was wanted on charges of money laundering and a stolen checks scam with members of the French Mafia. Once on the lam in the United States, Hababou hooked up with another Fugitive from Justice, Mark A. Rousso, who was wanted in France on stock fraud charges. Hababou and Rousso quickly set up similar stock fraud scams in the U. S., raking in millions of dollars as the two hooked up with Congressman Torricelli. Rousso pleaded guilty in 1999 to money laundering and securities fraud charges. In 1996 Hababou was convicted "in absentia" in France on the French Mafia stolen checks case. Hababou was extradited to France after he pleaded guilty in September 2000 to laundering thousands of dollars into the Torricelli Senate campaign.
David Chang has also made another claim regarding Torricelli and his associates that is eerily identical to a plot line in a Mario Puzo Mafia novel. Chang claims that he was visited in jail by several men unknown to him on the weekend he was first incarcerated in December, 1999, and that these men made overt threats that he was to keep quiet as to his business dealings with Senator Torricelli. Martin Budnick, a senior prison official at the Hudson County Correctional Center where Chang was taken after his arrest, has told authorities that he visited the Center at the request of an aide to his friend Robert Janiszewski, a Hudson County executive who is a close associate of Torricelli. Budnick, who normally works Monday through Friday at the Center claims that his weekend visit was to procure an extra blanket and food for Chang, who had complained of cold and hunger. As in the case of the associate of Torricelli involved in the 7–11 incident, the identities of two other men who visited Chang in jail have not ye t been made public.
Despite the evidence of Torricelli’s involvement with a variety of criminals who illegally funneled money into his campaign funds, the Senate Ethics Committee appeared to have focused on one lone person who made allegations against Torricelli, David Chang. Early on in the investigation the Committee made it known that they would not call Chang or anyone other than Torricelli as a Witness. Torricelli testified in secret before a closed session of the Committee.
In the end, the Senate Ethics Committee handed Torricelli a 3-page admonishment for his dealings with Chang which critics claimed was nothing more than a ‘slap on the wrist.’ Since then, Senator Harry Reid, (D-Nevada), has gone on the offensive, demanding Federal investigations of alleged leaks to the Media about information regarding the investigation of Torricelli. Reid had previously recused himself from the Ethics Committee investigation of Torricelli due to the fact that he had contributed to Torricelli’s Legal Defense Fund.
Reid’s tactic was similar to that which Torricelli and his lawyers had taken in recent months; the Defense Team had unsuccessfully sought an Independent Prosecutor to take over the Federal investigation from U. S. Attorney Mary Jo White, who was nevertheless an appointee of the Clinton Administration. White’s office had in fact subpoenaed the phone records of Associated Press reporter John Solomon in an attempt to discover who had leaked to him the story about Torricelli being caught on the FBI wiretap investigating the Mafia in Florida.
Senator Reid complained to ROLL CALL Magazine that recent New York Times articles offering documentary evidence that Torricelli accepted expensive gifts from Chang were evidence that someone in the Judicial branch of government had illegally leaked Grand Jury information to the Media. Chang’s attorney, however, was reported to state that his client had been interviewed at length by the FBI but had not testified before a Federal Grand Jury, thus the information Chang had offered up was not protected by Grand Jury secrecy rules.
Members of Congress have also called upon the Justice Department to investigate the leaking of information to the Media in regards to information given to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees regarding the investigations in the war against terrorism. Such concerns are identical to those voiced in 1995, when then-Congressman Torricelli received a barrage of criticism after leaking to the Media information he received as a member of the House Intelligence Committee regarding an alleged CIA asset in Guatemala who was accused of human rights violations. Torricelli accused the CIA of a cover-up and would later claim that the CIA was involved in a conspiracy against him by offering assistance to his Republican opponent in the 1996 Senate race.
In response to the furor over the Guatemala affair, the CIA implemented what critics dubbed the "Torricelli principle," which effectively halted recruitment by the intelligence community of informants involved in possible illegal activity. After the terrorist attack of 9/11, the bi-partisan House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security began a review of U. S. intelligence operations. Last month the House Intelligence Committee called upon the CIA to return to the recruitment policies that existed prior to Torricelli’s 1995 revelations.
James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at JAMESDE@prodigy.net.
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