A number of high-ranking Colombo crime family members — including 87-year-old street boss Andrew "Mush" Russo, 83-year-old underboss Benjamin "Benji" Castellazzo and another 87-year-old underboss — were arrested early Tuesday by the NYPD and FBI in connection with a wide-ranging labor racketeering and extortion fraud scheme, according to prosecutors.
The 19-count indictment unsealed later Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court charges a total of 14 defendants, including 10 members and associates of the Colombo crime family, with multiple schemes in a long-running effort to allegedly infiltrate and take control of a Queens-based construction labor union and its affiliated healthcare benefit program.
They are also accused of conspiring to commit fraud in connection with workplace safety certifications. A Bonanno crime family solder has also been named in the case. Russo faces charges of racketeering, as does Castellazzo and consigliere Ralph DiMatteo. Alleged Colombo crime family captains Theodore Perisco, Jr., Richard Ferrara and Vincent Ricciardo are charged with racketeering, along with solder Michael Uvino and associates Thomas Costa and Domenick Ricciardo.
John Ragano of the Bonanno crime family is charged with loansharking, fraud and drug trafficking offenses, officials said. Twelve of the 14 defendants were arrested Tuesday in New York and New Jersey and are scheduled to be arraigned in Brooklyn federal court later in the day. A 13th defendant was arrested in North Carolina and will be arraigned there, while the 14th defendant, Dimatteo, remains at large.
According to the indictment, top Colombo crime family members and alleged co-conspirators extorted the labor union management by threatening bodily harm to force decisions that benefitted the crime family. Since 2001, one of the captains and his cousin allegedly collected part of a senior labor union official's salary -- by threatening to harm both him and his family.
Beginning in late 2019, the defendants allegedly broadened the extortion effort to force that official and others at the labor union and its affiliated health fund to select vendors for contracts who were associated with the Colombo family. The defendants allegedly sought to divert more than $10,000 a month from the health fund's assets to the administration of the Colombo family, prosecutors said.
Among other examples, prosecutors say as recently as June 21 Ricciardo was recorded on the phone threatening to kill the labor union official if he didn't comply.
He explained that the labor official knows, “I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids, right in front of his f-----g house, you laugh all you want pal, I’m not afraid to go to jail, let me tell you something, to prove a point? I would f-----g shoot him right in front of his wife and kids, call the police, f--k it, let me go, how long you think I’m gonna last anyway?" the indictment says.
"Today’s charges describe a long-standing, ruthless pattern by the administration
of the Colombo crime family, its captains, members and associates, of conspiring to exert control over the management of a labor union by threatening to inflict bodily harm on one of its senior officials and devising a scheme to divert and launder vendor contract funds from its healthcare benefit program," Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Jacquelyn Kasulis said in a statement. "In addition, for their own enrichment, the defendants conspired to engage in extortionate loansharking, money laundering and fraud, as well as drug trafficking."
The alleged Bonanno soldier, Ragano, is accused of leading a scheme to issue fraudulent workplace safety training certifications to construction workers. Rather than provide the training, he and a business partner allegedly falsified federal paperwork, indicating hundreds of workers completed mandatory safety courses that they did not in fact complete, the indictment says.
Instead, various defendants used Ragano's "schools" to conduct meetings involving Sicilian mafia members and to store illegal drugs and fireworks.
The loansharking charges against four defendants stem from their alleged involvement in extending and collecting extortionate loans totaling $250,000 to an unnamed individual. They collected a weekly 1.5% interest rate on that. Three of those four defendants and two others were also charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana by moving large shipments from New York to Florida.
Two of them were also charged as previously convicted felons with possessing and transporting ammunition.
"Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat
itself. The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well. These soldiers, consiglieres, underbosses, and bosses are obviously not students of history and don't seem to comprehend that we're going to catch them," added FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael Driscoll in another statement Tuesday.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea called the indictment yet another example of the department's long-term commitment to working with its law enforcement partners in holding organized crime members are held accountable.
Jennifer R. Louis-Jeune, the attorney for Castellazzo, said that her client is "innocent of the charges against him" and pleaded not guilty at his hearing. Seth Ginsberg, the attorney for Ferrara, said he was "confident my client will be vindicated."