MOUNT OLIVE TWP – Benito Tavano had a big labor problem after he won a $4 million subcontract to help build the Mount Olive Middle School in 1999.
PHIL GARBER, Managing Editor
According to federal authorities, Tavano allegedly called for help from a few organized crime acquaintances, like Peter “The Crumb” Caprio, Raymond “Frenchie” LePore, Wayne Cross, Anthony Proto and Vincent “Vinny Beeps” Centorino.
But when the smoke cleared, the people Tavano had called for help had pleaded guilty to various federal charges.
And a fourth person who was helping in the FBI investigation, has landed in prison on charges of being an organized crime hitman.
Cross, 54, of Clifton pleaded guilty in federal court on Monday, May 10 to labor extortion and fraud. Proto, 68, of Bloomfield, LePore, 66, of Brick, and Centorino, 72, of Lebanon, previously pleaded guilty.
Jury selection in a trial against Cross, LePore and Proto was scheduled to begin on Monday, May 10, but each pleaded guilty instead to taking part in a scheme to defraud. They face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and fines ranging to $250,000 when they are sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise in the fall.
Cross, Proto and LePore were indicted in 2001 and were named in a five-count superceding indictment returned last September, charging them with extortion and attempting to defraud union health care plans along with making false statements in connection with the Mount Olive project.
Centorino pleaded guilty last December to extortion in connection with the case and is awaiting sentencing, facing a maximum 20 yeas in prison.
Tavano escaped prosecution as he cooperated with authorities in the investigation.
Caprio, 74, of Union, agreed to be a government informant in the case and also is awaiting sentencing.
Another individual who helped authorities in the Mount Olive case, Bill Casale of Newark, is serving a 20-year term in federal prison after admitting to eight murders.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Grady O’Malley and Steve D’Aguanno. In discussing the case on Friday, the federal prosecutors described Proto and Centorino as “made guys” or direct members of organized crime while Caprio is a capo or lieutenant in the Bruno organized crime family of Philadelphia. Others involved in the case were described as organized crime associates.
O’Malley said on Friday that Tavano and his Connecticut company, TMT Masonry, had won a $4 million contract in March 1999 to help build the $28.4 million Mount Olive Middle School.
Tavano’s winning bid was based on using non-union workers, largely low-paid, Latino employees he would bring in from Connecticut. But when he arrived in Mount Olive he was confronted by pickets from the bricklayers and laborers union locals who demanded Tavano use union labor.
The indictment identified the locals as Local 4 of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union in Morristown and Local 913 of the Laborers International Union of North America in Dover. Union workers originally lodged their protests in 1999 against the general contractor, Worth Construction of Bethel, Conn., for hiring non-union, out of state, workers.
Worth Construction is a major contractor for numerous school and governmental projects in the New Jersey and New York area. Worth also was the general contractor for the Morris County Correctional Facility, completed in 2001 and located on John Street in Morris Township.
O’Malley said that during the investigation authorities learned of a “personal relationship” between Worth and TMT. O’Malley did not elaborate further.
Tavano also was overheard in tapes saying he had been involved in construction of the Morris County Jail and was trying to win projects in Connecticut and Newark.
A spokesman for the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on the matter.
Tavano initially capitulated to the union demands at the school project but after three weeks, changed his mind because it was going to cost him an added $200,000 if he had to hire, the higher-paid, union workers, O’Malley said.
Initially, Tavano reached out for Centorino who set up a meeting with Caprio. The three met at a Newark diner to discuss the problem.
“Caprio said he knew people who could alleviate Tavano’s problems,” O’Malley said.
After the meeting, Caprio called on Lapore and asked him to try and “persuade” the unions to allow Tavano to use non-union workers. Lapore subsequently met with the union reps but “the deal he made didn’t accomplish much,” said O’Malley.
Tavano was still being stopped from using non-union workers so Caprio said he’d ask Cross to help. Cross visited the job site but he too “didn’t get it done,” O’Malley said.
For his efforts, Tavana paid Cross $10,000.
Not to be defeated, Caprio next called on Proto who had just been released from a federal prison after serving seven years for labor racketeering. Proto and LePore together went to Mount Olive and threatened the union reps to give in.
“That works,” said O’Malley.
For the next 11 months, through November 2000, the union reps underreported the number of union workers on the job, saving Tavano not only the added wages but also the payments he would have to make to the union pension funds. The deal, however, did cost Tavano another $30,000 he paid to Proto and Caprio, O’Malley said.
The situation first came to light as part of an unrelated federal investigation involving Bill Casale, a Caprio associate who was cooperating with the FBI.
O’Malley said the FBI believed Casale was someone who knew many organized crime individuals but they didn’t know that Casale also was an organized crime hit man.
Casale tried to escape prosecution by cooperating with the FBI in 1999. At one point, Casale met with Caprio and wore a wire to record his conversations. The two discussed several issues including the problems at the Mount Olive worksite, O’Malley said.