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Colombo crime family leaders, others charged in scheme to control union and its health fund

Some also charged in related workplace-safety scam

September 14, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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On Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court,14 defendants, including 10 members and associates of the Colombo crime family and a member of the Bonanno organized crime family, were charged with labor racketeering, extortion, money laundering and other offenses.

The charges in the indictment against the Colombo crime family members relate to a long-running effort by the crime family to infiltrate and take control of a Queens-based labor union and its affiliated health care benefit program, as well as conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with workplace safety certifications. 

Among those charged with racketeering are Andrew “Mush” Russo, the boss of the Colombo crime family; Benjamin “Benji” Castellazzo, the underboss; and Ralph DiMatteo, the consigliere. 

Alleged Colombo crime family captains Theodore Persico, Jr., Richard Ferrara and Vincent Ricciardo are also charged with racketeering, along with soldier Michael Uvino and associates Thomas Costa and Domenick Ricciardo. 

In addition, alleged Bonanno family soldier John Ragano is charged with loansharking, fraud and drug trafficking offenses. 

Thirteen defendants were scheduled to be arraigned via videoconference Tuesday afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Taryn A. Merkl at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. 

Vincent Ricciardo was arrested in North Carolina and will be arraigned before United States Magistrate Judge David C. Keesler in federal court in Charlotte. DiMatteo remains at large. 

According to the indictment, the defendants and their co-conspirators committed a variety of crimes on behalf of the Colombo organized crime family. Since approximately 2001, Colombo captain Vincent Ricciardo and his cousin, associate Domenick Ricciardo, collected a portion of the salary of a senior official in the labor union (“John Doe #1”) by threatening to harm John Doe #1 and his family. 

At the direction of the Colombo crime family’s leadership, beginning in late 2019, the defendants allegedly broadened the extortion effort to force John Doe #1 and others at the union and its health fund to make decisions that benefitted the Colombo crime family, including by forcing them to select vendors for contracts who were associated with the Colombo crime family. The defendants sought to divert more than $10,000 per month from the Health Fund’s assets to the administration of the Colombo crime family, according to the charges. 

For example, on June 21, 2021, in a consensually recorded conversation, Vincent Ricciardo threatened to kill John Doe #1 if he did not comply with Vincent Ricciardo’s demands. He reportedly explained that John Doe #1 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?” 

Furthermore, Colombo crime family members Russo, Castellazzo, Dimatteo, Ferrara, Persico, Vincent Ricciardo, Uvino joined with defendants Thompkins and Bellantoni, among others, to devise a scheme to launder money from health fund contracts and payments through third parties and eventually to the Colombo crime family’s leaders. The defendants attempted to re-bid health fund vendor contracts for claims administration, pharmaceuticals and other health services to persons and companies affiliated with the defendant Joseph Bellantoni. 

Bellantoni and others agreed that in exchange for the new vendor contracts, they would pay kickbacks to the Colombo crime family and would use various intermediaries to hide the payments, according to the charges. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Taryn A. Merkl, EDNY. Photo courtesy of EDNY

Fraudulent workplace safety scheme

The indictment also charges John Ragano with leading an unrelated scheme to issue fraudulent workplace safety training certifications.  Ragano allegedly operated two workplace safety schools in the New York area that claimed to provide Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) training courses and certifications, along with various New York state certifications, to construction industry workers. 

Rather than provide training, Ragano, along with his business partner John Glover and Domenick Ricciardo, allegedly falsified paperwork to the U.S. Department of Labor and other government agencies which represented that hundreds of workers had completed required safety courses when in reality they had not. Various defendants allegedly used Ragano’s “schools” to conduct meetings involving members of La Cosa Nostra and to store illegal drugs and fireworks. 

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of N.Y. Jacquelyn M. Kasulis. Photo courtesy of U.S. Attorney’s Office

Loansharking, drug dealing

Vincent Ricciardo, Uvino, Ragano and Costa are also charged with loansharking. As alleged, these defendants participated in extending and collecting on extortionate loans totaling $250,000 to an individual identified as “John Doe #2.” The defendants charged and collected a weekly 1.5 percent interest rate that did not reduce the principal owed and divided the proceeds between themselves. 

Furthemore, Vincent Ricciardo, Ragano, Costa, Glover and Vincent Martino were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana by transporting large shipments of marijuana in vehicles from New York to Florida. 

Vincent Ricciardo and Costa were also charged, as previously convicted felons, with possessing and transporting ammunition; and Persico, who is currently on federal supervised release following his release for a prior racketeering conviction, was charged with lying to federal court officers about his dealings with other Colombo crime family members.  

Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Michael Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, FBI, New York Field Office; Jonathan Mellone, special agent-in-charge, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, New York Region; Patrick J. Ryder, commissioner, Nassau County Police Department; Dermot F. Shea, commissioner, New York City Police Department and Margaret Garnett, commissioner, New York City Department of Investigation, announced the charges and arrests. 

“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 health care benefit program. In addition, for their own enrichment, the defendants conspired to engage in extortionate loansharking, money laundering and fraud, as well as drug trafficking,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kasulis. 

“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, under bosses, and bosses are obviously not students of history, and don’t seem to comprehend that we’re going to catch them. Regardless of how many times they fill the void we create in their ranks, our FBI Organized Crime Task Force, and our law enforcement partners, are positioned to take them out again, and again,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll.

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