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On the waterfront today: mob rule wears white collar

By Ward Morehouse IIIStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / March 19, 1981

New York

Organized crime remains in tight control of the New York waterfront, with the cooperation of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and local shipping and stevedore firms, say FBI agents, congressional investigators, and othe law-enforcement offiicals here.

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This is despite a recent series of investigations, indictments, convictions, and congressional hearings.

This mob dominance of America's leading port is fostered through sophisticated, "white collar" techniques perfected in recent decades. But still underpinning the system, law- enforcement officials say, is the kind of violence portrayed in "On the Waterfront," the classic Elia Kazan-Marlon Brando movie of the early 1950s.

Just-concluded hearings on waterfront crime before the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations focused primarily on the economic stranglehold that organized crime, with its dominance of the ILA, has over shippers and stevedore firms. Investigators told the Monitor that millions of dollars are paid either directly or indirectly to organized crime in the Port of New York alone to avert work slowdowns and for the distribution of contracts to selected companies.

Of 32 local and national officials of the ILA who have been convicted as a result of a fiveyear US Justice Department investigation of waterfront racketeering, seven played key roles in white-collar corruption in the Port of New York, these sources say.

But behind the web of "economic fear" that hangs like a persistent fog over the New York docks is the everpresent threat of physical violence. This, says FBI waterfront crime expert Ray Maria, continues even though "most of the mob's actual violence seems to be directed against themselves in terms of control."

"The prospect of some sort of physical violence has to be in the minds of people who are 'paying off,' "says one Senate subcommittee source. While federal investigations and resulting convictions may have made some shippers and stevedores "think twice" before making these payments, such activity is nonetheless so pervasive, this source adds, that "it has become a way of life."

Such federal strike forces as UNIRAC (for union racketeering) have successfully penetrated the ILA and waterfront firms by means of both human and electronic "plants." But their work, which may be threatened by the Reagan administration's possible deemphasis on white-collar crime, is hampered because -- according to Mr. Maria and others -- "the ILA and organized crime are one," at least in much of the Port of New York.

To address this and similar accusations, ILA president Thomas W. Gleason broke his characteristic silence at the subcommittee hearing late last month and said in a prepared statement: "I am here today to deny that -- emphatically, categorically, and without any reservation whatsoever. I neither received my office nor do I maintain my office by any means but through right of eletion by the rank and file of the union. I assure you, I'm part of no mob. Nobody controls me; i'm an independent guy."

Mr. Maria and some other investigators concede Mr. Gleason's point in the sense that "it's not a question of direct control of Mr. Gleason." But they point to those 32 convictions nationwide and the union's repeated failure to "clean house" as evidence that organized crime's influence is not only condoned by the union but is fostered by it as well.