Garbage hauling cartels: the dark matter of organized crime

Garbage hauling cartels: the dark matter of organized crime

“This targeted criminal cartel is a ‘black hole’ in New York City’s economic life. Like those dense stars found in the firmament, the cartel can not be seen and its existence can only be shown by its effect on the conduct of those falling within its ambit.” —Sanitation and Recycling Industry Inc. v. City of New York (1997)

You don’t usually see lawyers citing Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time in their filings, but the crime in question had proven especially difficult to prosecute.

The waste hauling cartel in New York City is a corruption as old as the industry in which it is embedded. While it isn’t as old as the known universe, rackets like this one can be traced back to the origins of the Mafia in Sicily.

The city’s Law 42, enacted in June 1996, freed garbage collection customers from their contracts and created a list of individuals barred from the trade. A consortium of debarred waste haulers sued the city, claiming it violated their constitutional rights. (They lost.) The quote above comes from their federal appeal.

In his 2014 book, The Mob and the City, Alexander C. Hortis describes the origins of the most powerful Mafia Families in New York City as dock gangs who held the transportation of goods for ransom. The same extortionate practices were rampant in Sicily, where transport along poor and nonexistent roads, through bandit-ridden, unpoliced countryside, was recognizable as a cartel. Mule drivers, herders, and others whose livelihoods depended upon safe travel had agreements with the de facto leaders of the lands they crossed: whoever could guarantee their safe passage, or broker the return of stolen goods. 

This network represented a modest but dangerous market, impossible or impracticable for the outsider to enter. It allowed the rural entrepreneur to trade on his other assets, including his contacts, his guns, and his knowledge of the terrain. The stevedore of New York City engaged in the same practice in a landscape which only differed in its details. For all its streets and transport lanes, New York City was overcrowded and its docks routinely handled cargo far beyond their true capacity. Special handling was the only kind that would do for fragile, valuable, and fresh items, from imported liqueur to live chickens.

The transport of goods directly to the homes of consumers was a tremendous market in New York City. Early in the 20th Century, coal and ice deliveries were lucrative businesses, engaged in famously by mafiosi including Giuseppe Morello and his half-brother, Vincenzo Terranova. Fresh fruit and vegetables were another example of a market that grew in direct connection to the transportation network which delivered them. All of these industries required a great deal of labor, and Mafia-associated business owners could be found in cities all over the United States.

Waste removal has always been a necessary element of urban life. In New York City, it has traditionally been practiced by small “mom and pop” carting businesses. The debarred list produced in 1999 contains over 200 waste haulers’ names and dates of birth. Virtually every entry on the list has an Italian surname.

In August 2022 (just over a month before this was published), a Long Island gambling ring was broken up and eight men arrested, associated with two different New York City Mafia Families: the Bonanno and the Genovese. One man, Joseph Rutigliano, aka “Joe Box,” was still on the run a month later as I began researching this set of co-conspirators. I don’t usually work with such current subjects—they’re much more difficult to find genealogical information on—but this one got my attention.

While looking for more information on Rutigliano, I found his name on a list of commercial waste carters barred from licensure in New York City. “Joe Box” is not the same man who was barred from waste hauling in New York City—they’re not the same age—but there has been more than one notable Joseph Rutigliano involved in organized crime in New York. A third man with this name defrauded the LIRR for more than $400K and taught literally hundreds of his fellow retirees to do the same. (Read more about him on Patreon.)

Every one of the Mafia Families operating in New York City had a piece of the waste trade.

Noticing five men on the debarred list who shared the surname “Rutigliano,” I endeavored to learn whether and how they were related to one another, where in Italy their families came from, and how they entered the trade. Three are brothers John, Paul, and Salvatore Rutigliano, and two, George and Joseph, are father and son. Paul Rutigliano died last year. He and his brothers are from Brooklyn, sons of Victor Rutigliano, who came from Bisceglie, in Apulia, on the Adriatic coast. In the 1940 census, Victor ran a waste paper business with his brother-in-law, Peter Minutillo, and he continued to operate the business in 1950. 

Joseph Rutigliano is the son of George Rutigliano. They and their company, Rutigliano Paper Stock, were indicted for restraint of trade, grand larceny, and falsifying records. Since pleading guilty in 1996, Joseph has gone into business outside the city. He is a principal of both Coastal Distribution, a transportation, concrete works, and waste removal company based in Smithtown, on Long Island, and Coastal Distribution Paterson in New Jersey.

George Rutigliano, who started the family company in 1971, died in 2005. His father, Gioacchino, or Jack Rutigliano, was a barber who emigrated with his mother, Antoinetta Castellucci, and siblings as a teenager from their native San Severo, about 80 miles southeast of Bisceglie, in 1913. Jack’s father, Domenico Rutigliano, also emigrated; he died in New York City in 1942. Domenico was a miller in San Severo, where he married Antoinetta and where Jack was born, but he was originally from Terlizzi, where his father—Jack’s namesake—was a broker. 

The Rutigliano families involved in waste hauling come from Apulia, on the east coast of the Italian peninsula.
The Apulia region. San Severo is at the top center of this map. Bisceglie is on the coast between Trani and Molfetta. Terlizzi is due west of Bari, near the “heel” of the boot.
In this map of Italy, Apulia, on the east coast, is in green; Campania, the region of which Naples is the capital, is in red; Calabria is in yellow; and Sicily is blue.

Millers and brokers were among the wealthiest members of Italian society. Brokerage is positively associated with organized crime in southern Italy wherever mafias are endemic. However, the region shared by San Severo and Terlizzi does not have a native crime organization like the ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria or the Camorra of Naples, that was active when the Rutigliano families lived there. (Since the 1980s there is a crime organization in Apulia, Sacra Corona Unita.)

Members of the Italian middle class of merchants and property owners who emigrated frequently started their own businesses. Barbers were important members of the community, in Italy and in America. They knew every man in town worthy of acquaintance. Their shops were nerve centers where men could meet and network, relax and be groomed, read the news, find work, housing, or a translator, pick up mail, and put their money for safekeeping. 

A barbershop is a territory, but since everyone needs to use it, and it is small and contained, it doesn’t require as much cooperation or effort to defend as a sales territory for ice, coal, or fruit. Or, for that matter, waste hauling. 

Residential customers in New York City have their trash taken for free by a municipal service, but businesses had to contract for waste hauling. Sources trace the entry of the Mafia into waste hauling to a 1956 change in city law that took away a loophole that gave free garbage hauling to businesses on residential blocks. 

Every one of the Mafia Families operating in New York City had a piece of the waste trade. They infiltrated the unions and trade associations, divided commercial waste customers into territories, and assigned them to carting companies. When a customer put out bids for trash services, carters cooperated by submitting inflated estimates, allowing the Mafia-appointed “owner” of the account to submit the winning bid. When carters intentionally underbid the owners assigned by the Mafia system, they were considered by their colleagues to be stealing. Despite the violent actions that were sometimes carried out to protect carting rights, these “thefts” were rampant: Rutigliano Paper Stock underbid competition to steal their contracts, and had other waste haulers who tried to take business from them. 

Writing about Law 42 in 1996, Selwyn Raab quoted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as saying the Mafia overcharging for waste hauling earned them $500M a year. The DOJ’s 1981 figure on the “mob tax” is an order of magnitude smaller, with only $45M of additional costs each year. Another consideration in comparing these figures is that commercial carting has been a more efficient industry under the Mafia than residential trash pickup controlled by the city, costing $185 per ton compared with the City’s Department of Sanitation’s costs of $431/ton.

The initial effects of Law 42 were to dramatically increase carting traffic on city streets, as the Mafia’s efficient system of territories was replaced with a free market. More than 25 years later, New York City still struggles to create the degree of order among waste carters servicing commercial accounts comparable to the system the Mafia maintained for forty years. Most recently, Mayor De Blasio created twenty “zones” for commercial waste haulers, a decision which drew protest from small carting business owners. The 2019 decision was initially going to be implemented this year, but the plans to roll out extend into 2024.

Image credits. Feature image produced by Dall-E 15 September 2022. First two maps from OpenStreetMap (C) under the Open Database License. Bottom map modified from Wikipedia under Creative Commons.

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Sources

The City of New York Business Integrity Commission. (2002, August 15). Decision of the business integrity commission denying the application of Capitol Carting Corp. for a license to operate as a trade waste business. NYC.gov [PDF] 

Colbeck. (2020, September 25). The Cosa Nostra candy store: organized crime and the waste collection industry. https://medium.com/limited-liabilities-by-colbeck/the-cosa-nostra-candy-store-organized-crime-and-the-waste-collection-industry-8f9e2ff62465 accessed 14 September 2022

Hortis, C. A. (2014). The mob and the city: The hidden history of how the Mafia captured New York. Prometheus Books.

Mack Smith, D. (1988). History of Sicily: Modern Sicily after 1713. Dorset Press.

Persons who have agreed not to participate in the waste collection, removal, or disposal industry. List of Debarred Individuals [PDF] 

Raab, S. (1996, June 19). Trash haulers face new list of charges about fees. The New York Times. NYTimes.com

Raab, S. (1996, August 10). City’s new waste agency flexes regulatory muscles. The New York Times. Gale [database].

‘Red flag’ raised over incinerator. (2002, November 15). Long Island Business News. https://libn.com/2002/11/15/red-flag-raised-over-incinerator/

Rutigliano Paper Stock, Inc., George Rutigliano and Joseph Rutigliano, Plaintiffs, v. US General Services Administration, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City Transit Authority, US Dept of Transportation, and US Coast Guard, Defendants. (1997, June 10). https://case-law.vlex.com/vid/rutigliano-paper-stock-v-889783633

Waste mafia charged in New York. (2013, January 17). Waste Management World. https://waste-management-world.com/artikel/waste-mafia-charged-in-new-york/ accessed 14 September 2022

Labor and the Mafia

Labor and the Mafia

The image of a saint was often burned in the initiation ritual into the mafia. The feast day of Saint Isidore, patron of labrorers, is 15 May.

When the pioneering labor organizer Bernardino Verro joined the Mafia in the spring of 1893, he was inducted through a ritual involving his own blood, and the burning image of a skull.

The Fratuzzi leader at this turbulent time in Sicilian history was Giuseppe Battaglia. Critchley says that in December 1889, when Giovanni Vella was killed, the leader was Paolino Streva, whose uncle had led the cosca before him. Other sources, however, say that Battaglia took over leadership from the former capo, Salvatore Cutrera, in the early 1890s.

A proverb popular in the late 19th century in Sicily divided a peasant’s opportunities into two categories: immigrate, or become a criminal. Of course, some managed doing neither, and others did both. Birds of passage—migrant workers from Sicily who intended to return—included the father of Vito Ciancimino and his brothers, who were barbers and shoemakers. Giuseppe Morello‘s stepfather, Bernardo Terranova, and his family were also among the early wave of immigrants that left Corleone in the 1890s, seeking opportunity in America.

Critchley says that Gagliano was Giuseppe Morello’s uncle, but I have not been able to confirm this. The men shared a first name and with it, the common nickname “Piddu.” Using clues from two sources that give Battaglia’s year of birth and his father’s name to find his vital records, I’ve learned that Battaglia’s wife, Maria Rosa di Miceli, is a third cousin of Morello.

During a brief liberal period of Italian leadership around 1893, a worker’s movement arose, with Corleone as its hub. Bernardino Verro held one of the first labor conferences there in the summer of 1893, a few months after he joined the local mafia.

John Alcorn, writing about the Fasci Siciliani, offers another proverb to explain why Verro would have enlisted the aid of the criminal organization. “If he can take what you have, give him what he wants.” Unlike other successful labor movements that relied upon funds to support their members until the conclusion of negotiations, Corleone’s Fasci Siciliani (also called the Sicilian Leagues in English) used threats and violence to enforce the strike. In order to make a credible threat against landowners and potential scabs, Verro enlisted those who excelled at extorting and committing violence.

Because neither the mafia, the landowners, nor the peasants were as solidly organized as history can make them appear, the reality was one of strike interspersed with violence, but also with compromises from landowners, and strike-breaking laborers. At the end of the planting season, in the late fall, most workers were still locked out of their lands. A long simmering banking scandal erupted, taking the liberal prime minister with it. The Italian government switched to conservative rule, and peasants redirected their frustration from the landowners to the state. In the ensuing riots, government offices were burned down, and several dozen people were killed by troops who fired on demonstrators.

The failure of the strikes of 1893 to bring fair contracts, resulted in massive emigration from Sicily, writes Alcorn. An early wave of pioneering immigrants provides a critical mass in the destination country, making it easier for others to follow. As I’ve written in this blog before, part of the structure that evolved to provide such aid, was the early Sicilian Mafia in America.

 

Sources

John Alcorn. “Revolutionary Mafiosi: Voice and Exit in the 1890s.” Accessed http://www.comune.corleone.pa.it/file%20da%20scaricare/Saggi%20palermo1_Saggi%20palermo1.pdf 5 May 2016.

David Critchley. The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. Routledge: New York, 2009.

Marzia Andretta, “La mafia corleonese e la sua continuità.” Accessed http://www.comune.corleone.pa.it/file%20da%20scaricare/Saggi%20palermo1_Saggi%20palermo1.pdf 6 May 2016. (Citing Archivio di Stato di Palermo, GP, aa. 1906-1925, b. 267, f. 3, Associazione per delinquere scopertosi in Corleone, 13 agosto 1916.)

Featured image credit: Isidore, patron saint of laborers, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183298