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U.S. moves against mob on N.Y.-N.J. waterfront

NEW YORK - The Department of Justice, contending that the mob has dominated the New York and New Jersey waterfront for almost a century, on Wednesday filed a massive civil racketeering lawsuit against top officials of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), several dockworker employers and dozens of reputed Mafia figures. The civil action seeks to put the entire waterfront under court supervision. The court is being asked to oversee six locals of the 90,000-member longshoremen's union, to oust corrupt officials and to hold free elections.

It is only the second time the government has tried such a tactic with a labor union on such a large scale, and it reflects, in part, the failure of criminal prosecution to break the grip that organized crime figures are said to have on the union.

Although the government has successfully prosecuted mob figures in the past, including many of the ones named in the civil suit Wednesday, "none of those (criminal sanctions) have removed the pervasive influence of organized crime from the waterfront," U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said. He vowed to have "the influence of organized crime removed, root and branch, from the waterfront."

Government investigation has uncovered evidence that the defendants were involved in extortion, embezzlement of union funds, bribery, mail fraud, assault and murder, Thornburgh said.

Mob domination has not only made the world's second largest port a dangerous place, but imposed a "hidden tax of payments to organized crime" that have cost consumers millions of dollars, the attorney general added.

A union spokesman did not return repeated telephone calls. The AFL-CIO, of which the longshoremen's union is a member, declined to comment.

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court and charges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

Its defendants include 32 present or former union officials, 21 of whom are described as members or associates of organized crime groups.

Among them is John Bowers, who is president of the international union, as well as three of the six named locals.

Also named were 12 other people. They included John Gotti, the reputed head of the Gambino crime family who has been tried on a variety of charges and last week won his third acquittal in a row.