New York City to Lasso Mob's Spreading Tentacles

Latest tactic in crime fight: Keep mob out of key businesses

NEW YORK is starting to change tactics in the fight against ''Da Boys.''

After decades of going after the mobsters themselves, Big Apple officials are taking the battle to another level by beefing up methods aimed at keeping organized crime out of such key businesses as garbage collection and food distribution.

The city's new direction emphasizes independent audits, city-controlled competition, and structural reforms. If the city is successful at rooting out decades-old corrupt practices, this approach could to become a model for other cities faced with organized-crime problems.

''The problem has been that we have attempted to deal with systemic problems by fighting a war of attrition with the racketeers when what we need is structural reform, eliminating their ability to enter or maintain control of an industry,'' says Ronald Goldstock, former director of the State's Organized Crime Task Force and now a managing director at Kroll Associates, a private security firm.

On Wednesday, Public Advocate Mark Green and City Councilman Ken Fisher introduced legislation that would set up pilot ''competition zones'' in the collection of garbage from commercial business. To ensure competition, the law would allow the city's Department of Sanitation (now confined to household collection) to bid against private trash pickup companies -- some of which have Mafia ties.

The city's efforts come at a time when there are weekly revelations about organized-crime influence. Last week, after the City Council held hearings on Cosa Nostra influence at the Fulton Fish Market, a fire destroyed part of the largest wholesale fish market in the country. Fire officials quickly said the fire was set and the fire alarm and sprinkler system had been turned off.

The suspicious nature of the fire, says Mr. Fisher, has accelerated legislation that requires the registration of all the wholesalers who do business at the market and requires background checks and licensing of the men who load and unload the fish.

The council will hold another hearing on April 10. ''I am expecting we will have the legislation enacted in final form no later than the middle of May, perhaps earlier,'' Fisher says.

At the same time, there is an ongoing state investigation into corruption at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. This investigation is focusing on union featherbedding, exorbitant prices charged to exhibitors, and mob influence.

Gov. George Pataki (R) has brought in a new management team and is trying to reshape the Convention Center's Board. At the same time, the national Teamsters Union has asked that a trustee run the union. In a report last year, a former federal judge, Kenneth Conboy, said the union ran a hiring hall for convicted felons and a Mafia family.

New York's battle against organized crime has been going on for decades. In the 1980s, then-prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani embarked on a successful campaign against the top mobsters. However, other thugs took their place. ''The problem is structural,'' says Goldstock, who worked with the Rand Corporation to develop the strategy of structural reform 10 years ago.

Officials have been aware of problems in the garbage collection industry for years. Mr. Green says the industry operates like a cartel. As a result, commercial businesses pay 30-50 percent higher rates than in other cities.

Although Green notes that most firms in the industry are honest, he also says ''organized crime plays a role'' through intimidation and violence if the collectors bid against each other. Independent auditors will guarantee competitive bidding, Goldstock says.

The idea of another layer of bureaucracy is not appealing to the private trash collection industry.

Tracy Donner, a publicist for the Sanitation and Recycling Industry of New York, terms the concept ''another example of over-regulation.''

David Snyder, a lawyer representing the Greater New York Wastepaper Association and a number of private carters, says he is not opposed to the idea of competition ''as long as it is a level playing field.''

But Snyder is quick to point out that competing against the Sanitation Department will be difficult ''because you never know what is subsidized by the City.''

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