Feature Articles

October 2002

Senator Robert Torricelli And The Mafia

Part Two

By James Ridgway de Szigethy

The Senator Quits His Re-Election Campaign

      In a stunning event that some observers likened to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Robert "The Torch" Torricelli ended his campaign for re-election to the United States Senate � and perhaps his political career as well. Torricelli�s decision, made on the last day of September, was prompted by declining poll figures that resulted from months of revelations regarding his financial dealings with convicted felons, Mafia associates, corrupt Labor Unions, international con artists, and Islamic terrorists. Torricelli became the second member of Congress this year who accepted money from Mafia associates to fall from grace; in July, Congressman James Traficant was sent to prison after having been convicted on 10 counts of bribery, income tax evasion, and racketeering.

      Statements by numerous Democrats, including Torricelli himself, made it clear that both State and National political figures had pressured Torricelli to step aside in an attempt to retain Democratic control of the U. S. Senate after the November elections. The Democrats currently hold a one-seat majority in the Senate. The New York Daily News took the story a step further, reporting that Torricelli�s decision was prompted by his belief that additional disclosures of ethical violations in the Media were imminent.

      Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliiwa stated in response to the events surrounding Torricelli�s demise: "I want to know the identity of the waste management Contractor on the 7-11 videotape!" Sliiwa�s question regarded a man in the company of Senator Torricelli who appeared to have followed international businessman David Chang into a Fort Lee, New Jersey 7-11 convenience store at a time Chang was under investigation for making illegal contributions to Torricelli�s campaign. The event was caught on the store�s videotape surveillance equipment which was confiscated by the FBI the very next day. The identity of the �waste management contractor� associate of Senator Torricelli has to date not been made public, despite intensive investigations of Torricelli by several major news organizations.

      The decision of Senator Torricelli to quit his Senate race appears to have been prompted by events that escalated in the days prior to his dramatic announcement. One was the release of a letter from Federal Prosecutors to the Judge who sentenced David Chang to prison for making illegal contributions to the Torricelli campaign. The letter revealed the evidence Prosecutors uncovered in relation to a series of gifts Chang claimed he gave the Senator. The letter, which the Senator took every legal step to prevent from being made public, was ordered released after a Court ruling in response to legal challenges filed by attorneys for the New York Times, Bergen Record, Channel 4 NBC, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

      Torricelli�s drop in popularity was also the result of a relentless campaign by which his Republican opponent, Douglas Forrester, revealed the many instances of questionable actions by Torricelli. One such was Torricelli�s acceptance of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from an organization that the U. S. State Department has denounced as being an Islamic terrorist organization supported by Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein, the Mujahedin-e Khalk. This information had been previously detailed in a February, report that named Torricelli and Congressman James Traficant as recipients of thousands of dollars from associates of the MEK terrorist organization.

      Also on the issue of national security, Forrester challenged the Senator over the �Torricelli principle,� a restriction on the part of the CIA in regards to the agency�s ability to recruit informants in the war against terrorism. The restriction was put into place as a result of Torricelli�s leaking to the public information regarding a CIA asset in Guatemala accused of human rights violations. Torricelli leaked the information to the Media in 1995 after he acquired it through his work on the House Intelligence Committee when he was a United States Congressman. Torricelli�s tactics provoked uproar among his Congressional colleagues. Still, the restrictions on the U. S. Intelligence Community�s methods of operations were put into place. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the House Intelligence Committee called for repeal of the �Torricelli Principle.�

      The recent sentencing to prison of Torricelli associate Lawrence Penna, aka Lawrence Pennacchio, was also used by his opponent to challenge the Senator�s ethics. Torricelli made a one-day profit of $50,000 on an investment in a drug company called Compare Generiks whose stock was found to have been illegally manipulated by Penna. The Judge in Penna�s case sentenced him to 9 months in prison and ordered he pay back $36 million illegally earned in the stock rip-off. Penna also pleaded guilty to illegally donating $20,000 to Torricelli�s election campaign.

      As Torricelli�s numbers in the polls continued to slide, he received a brief boost by expensive television ads run for him by the AFL-CIO. The ads claimed that Torricelli�s opponent opposes guaranteed prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Forrester immediately denounced the AFL-CIO, claiming the statement was false and threatened to take action with the Federal Communications Commission.

      Richard Trumka is Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. In February, 2001, Ron Carey, the former President of the Teamsters Union, was indicted on charges involving the illegal laundering of Union funds between the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO into the 1996 Carey re-election campaign. Trumka would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination before a Congressional Subcommittee that invested these crimes, as well as before a Federal Grand Jury in New York. Carey was eventually acquitted of the charges against him.

      Carey�s rise as head of the Teamsters was a result in part due to action taken by the government to rid Mafia control of the Union. Those efforts began in 1988 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. Also indicted was Francis Walsh, owner of Walsh Trucking Company.

      Stephen Andretta and Tony Provenzano have been identified in FBI documents as among those responsible for the abduction and murder of former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa. 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.

      In 1996 Robert Torricelli attended a $2 thousand a plate fundraiser at the home of Francis Walsh. 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," Torricelli minimized. Federal Election Commission records show that in addition to the fund raiser for Torricelli, Francis Walsh donated $1,000 to Torricelli's 1996 Senate campaign and the Walsh family has continued contributions of thousands of dollars since that time.

      Torricelli received a $10,000 donation from the Teamsters in 1996 and another $10,000 in 1999 and 2000.

      Despite these and other suspicious associations, Torricelli has been quick to denounce those that he believes defame all Italian-Americans because of the actions of those few in the Mafia. 5 years ago, Torricelli wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal in which the Senator relayed the anguish he claimed he felt as a child from viewing on television Senator Estes Kefauver�s public hearings into the Mafia. Torricelli complained that the hearings unfairly tainted all Italian-Americans and that he would never forget that experience. Before he quit his Senate campaign, the Forrester campaign pointed out to the public that Torricelli, in fact, was only 5 days old when the Kefauver hearings ended.

      When Torricelli announced he was quitting the race, he noted that his decision was the most difficult of his life. Yet another blow was to come to "The Torch�s" ego within 48 hours; New Jersey Democrats announced Torricelli�s replacement would be his archrival, former Senator Frank Lautenberg. At a public event in 1999 held at the Library of Congress, Torricelli and Lautenberg had a confrontation. Said Lautenberg to the New Yorker Magazine: "He threatened to cut my balls off!"

Related Stories:

Senator Robert Torricello and the Mafia, Part One: Mystery Associate Still Unidentified

In The Money: Senator Robert Torricelli and His Campaign Contributors


James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at

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