Cargo passing through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) has increased by over 250% in less than two decades, but the US Supreme Court has handed a major victory to New Jersey politicians and organized crime.
In a landmark decision, the US Supreme Court has ruled to allow New Jersey to abandon the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.
The commission, which was created in 1953 by the two states, was designed to crack down on organized crime and corrupt labor practices at the New York-New Jersey container port.
Mob-allied New Jersey politicians have long sought to reform or leave the agency, arguing that it adds bureaucracy and hinders hiring, while New York has argued that the commission is still necessary to tackle corruption.
The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, allows New Jersey to exit the Waterfront Commission unilaterally, effectively ending the agency.
The ruling, which came after five years of litigation in federal district and appeals courts, hinged on the fact that the Waterfront Commission Compact does not explicitly bar either state from exiting the agreement.
The verdict was celebrated by the shipping industry and a powerful dockworkers union, who have supported New Jersey’s move to leave the commission. According to court documents, the waterfront remains in the “ironclad grip” of a corrupt union and organized crime, where kickbacks and crooked labor contracts are commonplace.
“Despite the commission’s notable successes, organized crime still very much continues to exist on the waterfront,” said Walter Arsenault, the commission’s executive director, in a court filing.
The commissioner has also directly accused the International Longshoremen’s Association of mafia connections. “You can’t throw a stone at the port without hitting the son, the daughter, the son-in-law, the nephew, the cousin, the godson of a ‘made’ guy,” said Arsenault in 2018.
In New Jersey, a 2018 law signed by former Governor Chris Christie will put the state police in charge of licensing dock workers and policing the port.
New York, which once warned of chaos at the port if the commission was dissolved, is now trying to figure out who will oversee dock workers.
Supporters of disbanding the commission have argued that there is no more crime on the waterfront than in other parts of society and that the police can handle whatever is happening there.
The Waterfront Commission conducted the investigation that resulted in the conviction of a numerous Genovese crime family associates. Among them was Stephen Depiro, a Genovese family soldier, who pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi to racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced to 41 months in prison.
Since at least 2005, Depiro has managed the Genovese family’s control over the New Jersey waterfront – including the nearly three-decades-long extortion of port workers in ILA Local 1, ILA Local 1235 and ILA Local 1478.
Members of the Genovese family, including Depiro, are charged with conspiring to collect tribute payments from New Jersey port workers at Christmastime each year through their corrupt influence over union officials, including the last three presidents of Local 1235 and vice president of ILA Local 1478.
During their guilty plea proceedings, Depiro and two other Genovese family associates – Albert Cernadas, Sr. , of Union, former president of ILA Local 1235 and former ILA executive vice president; and Nunzio LaGrasso, of Florham Park, former vice president of ILA Local 1478 and ILA representative – admitted their involvement in the Genovese family.
The Genovese mafia associates admitted to conspiring to compel payments from ILA union members, who gave up their money based on actual and threatened force, violence and fear. Cernadas and LaGrasso admitted to carrying out multiple extortions of dockworkers.
Cernadas was one of Senator Joseph Cryan‘s earliest legislative campaign contributors, according to reports filed with the New Jersey Election law Enforcement Commission. The mob associate’s son—Albert Cernadas, Jr.—was employed as the First Assistant Prosecutor in the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, where he worked for over 20 years.
While Cryan and others say that organized crime is no longer a problem at the ports, six Genovese crime family members and associates pleaded guilty to racketeering on February 9, 2023.
However, the former head of the commission has stated that over 300 people “associated with organized crime” were either removed or prevented from working on the waterfront in the 13 years before the dispute reached the Supreme Court.
In a joint statement, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Tish James said they were disappointed by the ruling, while New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he was “thrilled” by the decision, which fulfills one of his 2017 campaign promises.
Harold Daggett, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association, has also welcomed the state police’s arrival, stating that he looks forward to their “professionalism, transparency, and accountability.”
“Since the first hours of our time in office, my administration has steadfastly pursued the dissolution of the Waterfront Commission because it was the right thing to do,” Murphy said. “Over 90 percent of commerce at our ports happens on the New Jersey side.”
The two-member Waterfront Commission was created in 1953 by New York and New Jersey to address labor corruption in the Port of New York and New Jersey. The entity oversees mandatory employment licensing for waterfront workers and conducts law enforcement probes in the port.
A year after the commission was created, the Marlon Brando movie “On the Waterfront” depicted the labor-related crime that the commission was set up to combat. The film won eight Academy Awards, including for best picture, best actor and best director.
In December 2022, the Waterfront Commission removed longshoreman William Sampson IV, 33, of Bayonne, for failing to meet the work and availability requirements as a crane operator at Global Container Terminals and member of the International Longshoreman’s Association Local 1588.
Sampson blamed his absenteeism on his part-time job as an elected New Jersey state assemblyman.
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