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The Priest and The Mob

CHRISTMAS EVE MASS has just ended at St. Athanasius Church in the South Bronx. Three little girls in angel costumes and a trio of pa­rishioners dressed as the three wise men stream outside into a cool mist blowing on Tiffany Street. Inside, the 80-year-old church is glow­ing in the warm light of hundreds of red and white candles. To the left of the altar, churchgoers gather around Father Louis Gigante and ex­change holiday greetings.

For many families in the Hunts Point community, the 56-year-old Gigante is a saint. He has been credited with single­handedly halting an urban death march by rescuing sections of the South Bronx from arsonists and abandonment. In the last 10 years, the South East Bronx Com­munity Organization, a not-for-profit housing group founded by the Catholic priest and politician, has developed al­most 2000 new or renovated housing units for low-income families in the area and hundreds more are in the works. Gi­gante and SEBCO — of which he is presi­dent and chairman — have helped resur­rect a neighborhood where garbage­-strewn lots once stood.

As Gigante later guides his gray Cadil­lac down Southern Boulevard and out of the South Bronx, his parishioners return to the housing projects that surround St. Athanasius. While the priest, known to all as “Father G.,” once was a fixture at the church, these days church members usually see Gigante only on the Sundays he says mass. He spends less and less time at St. Athanasius and, in fact, no longer lives in its rectory. It is unclear where Gigante actually resides, but neigh­bors say he does not live in either of the Manhattan apartments he owns, and his upstate home is almost a four-hour drive from the Bronx. Where once the streets of the South Bronx were Gigante’s backyard, they now seem to interest him purely in terms of their profit potential. The housing built for his hard-pressed Latino parish may be Gigante’s public legacy, but it is not the selfless contribution of a saint.

A four-month Voice investigation of Gigante and SEBCO has revealed that the priest and his publicly financed developments have been a $50 million opportunity for the Mafia. The homes that Gigante’s parishioners live in — senior citizen projects, one- and two-family houses, large and small apartment buildings — have been built, to a large extent, by companies owned by or affiliated with top-ranking members of the Genovese or­ganized crime family. For years, Gigante has been close to the leadership of the crime syndicate, a relationship that has a distinctly personal side to it: the Geno­vese gang includes Father Gigante’s brothers Mario and Ralph, and is now run by the priest’s eccentric older broth­er, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante.

In the course of the investigation, the Voice examined thousands of documents concerning SEBCO from city, state, and federal agencies and conducted inter­views with numerous law enforcement officials, public officials, and friends of the priest. Other documents obtained by the Voice revealed that in addition to con­tracts for SEBCO developments, mob-­connected contractors have received more than $80 million in other city, state, and federal contracts over the past six years.

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At the same time that Father Gigante’s operations have been profiting these mob-tied construction companies, the priest has enriched himself. Gigante’s business transactions appear to be laced with instances of fraud, conflict of inter­est, misrepresentation, and misuse of public funds. SEBCO has been used to make him a wealthy man.

These revelations about Gigante and SEBCO come at a time when Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau and the state’s Organized Crime Task Force, headed by Ronald Goldstock, are in the midst of a broad investigation into labor racketeering in the construction industry. The probe, which has already resulted in the indictment of Gambino boss John Gotti, is also targeting three of Father Gigante’s close associates, including his chief assistant.

Father Gigante’s considerable sway over construction in the Bronx, an indus­try long controlled by the Genovese synd­icate, first came to the attention of prosecutors by way of wiretapped phone conversations. Building contractors have been overheard discussing Bronx construction projects — which have nothing to do with SEBCO — that still “have to be cleared by Father.”

Gigante declined to be interviewed for his story, stating, “There’s no reason to talk to you. I don’t deem it important to talk to you about SEBCO.” While he has ever denied his personal relationships with Mafia figures — he has attended their birthday parties and conducted their funeral masses — Gigante has said on numerous occasions that he is not “involved” with organized crime. The priest has claimed that his brothers are not Mafia members, that his family has been persecuted by law enforcement offic­ials because of an “Italian stereotype,” and that, in fact, the Mafia does not actually exist. While his three brothers are listed on FBI intelligence reports as Genovese members, Father Gigante is not considered to be a member or an “asso­ciate” of the Genovese organization or, for that matter, of any of the city’s four other crime families.

While the specter of organized crime has hung over Louis Gigante for 30 years, it has never impeded his rise to power in New York. By force of will — and with a little help from his clerical collar — Gi­gante has been able to brush aside ques­tions about his “connections.” He has been a player in city affairs since the late ’60s and probably now has more clout than at any other time in his career. A favorite with city and federal housing of­ficials, the priest currently has about $70 million worth of construction projects in the pipeline for SEBCO. Cardinal John O’Connor refers to him as the Catholic Church’s “master builder,” and city poli­ticians — including Ed Koch and other prominent figures — have sought his ad­vice and support.

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THE PRIEST AND THE HOOD

GROWING UP on the lower West Side, Louis and Vincent Gigante, from early on, took different career tracks.

The Gigante boys’ parents immigrated in 1921. Salvatore worked as a watch­maker and Yolanda sewed garments in a factory, often taking home work at night. The couple, like many other Italian im­migrants in lower Manhattan, had to raise their children in the midst of orga­nized crime. But Salvatore Gigante made it a point to steer clear of the amico nostra. The same, however, could not be said for Vincent and two other sons.

Of the five Gigante boys, Louis, the youngest, was the star. A good student, he first made his mark playing basketball, beginning at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx and then at George­town University, which he attended on an athletic scholarship. Though known for his tenacious defense, Louis had a good outside shot and once scored 24 points against George Washington University. After graduation, Gigante entered St. Jo­seph’s Seminary in Yonkers. He was or­dained a priest in 1959 at the age of 27.

While Louis Gigante was excelling on the court, Vincent Gigante was often in one: His arrest record dates back to his teens. Vincent’s sport of choice was box­ing. His manager was Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli, a well-known local hoodlum. Though not a bad puncher, Vincent didn’t have his little brother’s defensive prowess — he had a glass jaw, which, the legend goes, earned him the nickname “The Chin.” (Years later, after Eboli was rubbed out on a Brooklyn street in 1972, Chin Gigante immediately took over Eboli’s vast bookmaking operations. Fa­ther Gigante performed the mobster’s fu­neral mass.)

Vincent was best known in the mid-­’50s as the bodyguard and chauffeur for then-rising mafioso Vito Genovese. Chin Gigante first made headlines in 1957, when he was arrested for the shooting of underworld boss Frank Costello. Gigante, then 29, was eventually acquitted of at­tempted murder charges after Costello refused to identify his assailant. (Costello did, however, heed the warning and step aside, allowing Genovese to replace him on the Mafia’s ruling “commission.” Lat­er that year, Genovese consolidated pow­er and became “boss of all bosses” by ordering the barbershop rubout of Albert Anastasia, chief executioner for Murder, Inc.)

In 1960, both Chin Gigante and Geno­vese were sent to prison following their convictions on narcotics conspiracy charges. At this time, police records listed two other Gigante brothers, Mario and Ralph, as Genovese crime family mem­bers who were suspected of involvement in illegal gambling and loan-sharking activities.

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After being ordained, Louis Gigante was assigned to a parish in Puerto Rico, where he lived for two years — and learned to speak Spanish — before moving into St. James Church on the Lower East Side. It was at St. James that Gigante earned the reputation of a “ghetto priest.” A World Telegram headline once exclaimed that his “Good Works Atone for Brother Who Went Wrong.” Father Gigante’s image as a hard-knocks priest — like the film heroes played by Pat O’Brien — began to appear in the papers: the Journal American reported in 1961 that Louis single-handedly prevented a rumble between 200 “wild-eyed youths who seemed eager for combat” outside the Catherine Street projects.

In 1962, Louis Gigante was assigned to St. Athanasius Church in Hunts Point, a crumbling South Bronx neighborhood. It was the deterioration that brought Gi­gante into Bronx politics, primarily through the fight for funding of various antipoverty programs. His main oppo­nent was Ramon Velez, whom he once labeled a “poverty pimp” and “communi­ty eater.”

The priest lost his first bid for elective office in 1970, when Herman Badillo beat him, Velez, and Peter Vallone, for the seat in the 21st Congressional District. Gi­gante’s election-day poll watchers includ­ed the sister and the son of Mafia boss Joe Colombo, whom the priest knew through his involvement with the Italian American Civil Rights League. Minutes after Colombo was shot during a 1971 league rally at Columbus Circle, Gigante calmed the crowd and began leading it in prayer.

In 1973, Father Gigante ran for City Council and scored a 107-vote victory over William Del Toro. But except for his surprising support of the gay rights bill, Gigante’s four years on the council were undistinguished. While the priest never enjoyed the legislative end of politics, he loved the clubhouse aspect of it: patron­age, brokering deals, and making judges. At a Harvard University lecture he once revealed his goal: “I’m in politics to be­come a political boss, and I want to be a boss to get the power.”

Father Gigante closed out his council term in 1977. Not long after, he served a week in the Queens House of Detention for refusing to answer grand jury ques­tions about conversations he had with Genovese soldier James “Jimmy Nap” Napoli back in 1974 while the mobster was imprisoned at Rikers. Prosecutors believed that Gigante was either trying to use his political pull to get the gambling kingpin special privileges or that he may have been carrying messages for Napoli. Gigante cited his “priest’s privilege” not to repeat the private conversations.

Upon his release from jail, Father Gi­gante told supporters that his family was not involved in organized crime and that the Mafia did not exist.

Soon after, Gigante began his new ca­reer as a developer of low-income hous­ing. The priest’s new power base — with its attendant discretionary power over millions of dollars in construction con­tracts — would bring him even closer to the Genovese hierarchy and his brother Vincent, whom he was even then describ­ing as “mentally incompetent.”

1989 Village Voice article by William Bastone on Father Gigante and his brother the mobster Vincent

THE “CHIN”

LIKE HIS BROTHER THE PRIEST, Chin Gigante may now be at the height of his power.

Chin Gigante, 60, goes to work each day at the Triangle Social Club at 208 Sullivan Street. It is from this storefront, and another at 229 Sullivan, that, law enforcement officials say, Gigante directs the operations of the Genovese family.

Gigante became head of the crime syn­dicate, according to police and FBI rec­ords, after Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the previous boss, was convicted in 1986 on federal racketeering charges. Until that time, Gigante was listed as the fam­ily’s “underboss,” though a former Geno­vese soldier has recently testified that Gigante actually became boss in 1981, after Salerno suffered a stroke.

Gigante gives the impression that he is crazy. Two weeks ago, with the tempera­ture at 35 degrees, Gigante, accompanied by two bodyguards, was seen walking on Sullivan Street in a royal blue hooded bathrobe and striped pajama pants. Once, when Gigante was sought for questioning by the FBI, an agent found him hiding in the shower of his mother’s apartment. He was naked and standing under the run­ning water. He was not wet, however: the umbrella he held over his head kept him dry. Intercepted conversations, some in­volving former Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito, also revealed that Genovese as­sociates had a strange code name for Gi­gante. Whenever they wanted to talk about the Genovese boss without using his name, they referred to him as “Aunt Julia.”

While law enforcement sources believe Gigante does have some mental prob­lems — he enters an upstate sanatorium for “annual tune-ups” — they believe he acts nuts to raise doubts about his con­trol of the family. Secret wiretaps have captured a lucid Gigante discussing fam­ily business with his associates. Despite his act, sources say, Gigante is in full control of the Genovese family and, as such, personally gets a cut of all activities of the brugad (see sidebar, “Is ‘Chin’ Sane?” below).

Chin Gigante lives in an $800,000 East Side townhouse with Olympia Esposito, his longtime companion, and three of his children. The Genovese boss, who some law enforcement officials believe is more powerful than John Gotti, does not share the Gambino boss’s flair: Gigante will not be seen wearing white linen raincoats or drinking at P. J. Clarke’s. He does not eat in restaurants, and his principal clothing accessory — besides his bathrobe — is the ratty fisherman’s cap he wears shading a face battered by boxing. He will never be mistaken for the “Dapper Don.”

In fact, there is no love lost between the country’s two most powerful mob­sters: Louis “Bobby” Manna (a/k/a “The Thin Man”), Gigante’s consigliere, is un­der indictment in New Jersey for conspir­ing to murder Gotti and his brother Gene, a Gambino captain. Law enforce­ment sources say that a planned hit on the Gotti brothers could never happen without Gigante’s approval, but prosecu­tors have been unable to develop evidence to link the Genovese boss to the murder conspiracy.

More importantly, what distinguishes Gigante from Gotti and the chiefs of the other three city crime families is that, since becoming a power in the Genovese organization, Gigante has been able to escape any Mafia-connected criminal prosecution.

Gigante usually avoids telephone con­versations — they might be bugged — and carries out business from behind a layer of crime family members. He has success­fully insulated himself from direct in­volvement in the family’s criminal enter­prises, principally by limiting his conversations to only a few associates close to him. These talks never occur inside the Triangle, where a sign warns, “Don’t talk in here. The FBI is listening to you.” Chin Gigante’s important con­versations are saved for walks around the same Greenwich Village streets where he and his brother Louis were raised.

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SEBCO AND THE WISEGUYS

LABOR RACKETEERING has been de­scribed by one law enforcement official as “graduate school” for Mafia members. While most low-level Genovese family members are involved in mob staples like hijacking, loan-sharking, gambling, and prostitution, the control of labor unions and construction companies has usually been the province of the Genovese hierar­chy. This is mainly because of the com­plexity of some deals, as well as the enormous profit potential of these enterprises.

The high-profit stakes were never bet­ter revealed than in testimony and evi­dence introduced during a federal racke­teering trial last year, which showed that Genovese leaders masterminded a scheme to rig bids on every city concrete contract worth more than $2 million. Through kickbacks and hidden interests in concrete companies, family leaders made millions in a scheme that involved the fixing of more than $130 million worth of these contracts. Investigators believe that the crime family has also operated similar “clubs” in various other ends of the construction industry.

Thanks to its control of unions dealing with plasterers, laborers, truckers, car­penters, and other workers, the Genovese gang has often been able to dictate which construction companies will get certain jobs. “Our real power, our real strength, came from the unions,” former Genovese soldier Vincent “Fish” Cafaro testified last year. “With the unions behind us, we could make or break the construction industry … ”

SENATOR SAM NUNN: What about subcontractors?

VINCENT CAFARO: Well, now there’s some contractors is usually around wise­guys, so you get the plumber, he is look­ing fo the job …

NUNN: So the wiseguy helps control the subcontractor?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

NUNN: In other words they help the con­tractor get the job?

CAFARO: Then there is a subcontractor — ­if you got, let us say a plumber with you, or an electrician, or a carpenter, or the drywalls, you go to the contractor, you tell him, listen, give him this job, whatev­er. And that is how you get him.

NUNN: Do the wiseguys get money back from the subcontractor by helping them get the job?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

NUNN: So basically they are controlling everything from one end to the other.

CAFARO: Top to bottom.

NUNN: Top to bottom?

CAFARO: Sure.

Cafaro’s testimony before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on investigations, chaired by Senator Sam Nunn, April 29, 1988.

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SEBCO’S SILENT PARTNER

TOP TO BOTTOM, SEBCO developments show the hand of the Genovese crime family. Under Father Gigante’s leader­ship, SEBCO has permitted organized crime onto jobs, from the demolition of rotting tenements to the construction of walls to the installation and maintenance of elevators. At the center of the mob’s decade-long involvement with Father Gi­gante is Vincent DiNapoli, the Genovese family’s construction specialist, who has, for years, directed a network of construc­tion companies and businessmen tied to the mob. DiNapoli, who is now impris­oned, and Steven Crea, his protege and heir apparent, have been pivotal in the syndicate’s relationship with Father Gi­gante and SEBCO since 1979, when it first became deeply involved in low-in­come housing construction.

Vincent DiNapoli, 51, is an accom­plished fixer and a three-time felon. He was sentenced last year to 24 years in jail for his role in the concrete conspiracy. Though a prior conviction should have barred DiNapoli from receiving munici­pal contracts, two drywall companies that state investigators say are controlled by the mobster have secured more than $16 million worth of SEBCO contracts, as well as more than $60-million in munici­pal contracts since 1980.

The two firms — Inner City Drywall and Cambridge Drywall — were both founded by DiNapoli in 1978. Though he had no prior experience in drywall — the construction of interior walls in build­ings — DiNapoli’s companies secured more than $25 million in federally fi­nanced contracts during their first three years in business. Most of these contracts were on projects financed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban De­velopment.

SEBCO has provided Cambridge with more than $6 million in drywall and car­pentry work since 1980, records reviewed by the Voice reveal. The firm has also received contracts worth more than $15 million from other governmental agen­cies — including the New York City Hous­ing Authority and the federally financed Newport City development in New Jer­sey. Investigators believe that DiNapoli’s stature in the Genovese family allowed him to get most of these lucrative con­tracts — including the SEBCO jobs­ — without any competitive bidding. Inner City and Cambridge came onto jobs as subcontractors. Normally devel­opers hire a “general contractor” to man­age the construction site and to hire sub­contractors — the building trade’s specialists — who handle various facets of the construction project, from pouring concrete foundations to planting trees. At the city, state, and federal levels, general contractors doing government work are routinely subjected to nominal back­ground checks, but subcontractors rarely are scrutinized. In fact, many of the gov­ernmental agencies contacted by the Voice have no idea which subcontrac­tors — the companies actually building publicly financed projects — are working, or have worked, for them.

Following DiNapoli’s 1981 indictment, HUD officials placed him and his firms on what the agency calls its “debarment” list (see sidebar, “Federal Fraud”). But Cambridge and Inner City were removed from the list of ineligible contractors only a few months later when DiNapoli pre­sented documents showing that he had apparently sold his shares in the firms. Since their reinstatement, Inner City and Cambridge have each received dozens of federal housing and other municipal con­tracts, including every major SEBCO drywall contract during the last eight years. Drywall work is usually the largest subcontract awarded in rehabilitation projects. A report released by the state Orga­nized Crime Task Force in 1988 conclud­ed that DiNapoli “has long controlled” the two firms. The Voice has also devel­oped information that DiNapoli never di­vested himself of the drywall business.

In the midst of his 18-month racke­teering trial, DiNapoli held meetings in bis Pelham Manor home regarding construction business, according to law en­forcement sources. In fact, one of these meetings was taking place when the Voice visited DiNapoli’s home in November 1987. Automobiles in the driveway were registered to a Manhattan plasterers lo­cal; Bronx union boss and Genovese asso­ciate Louis Moscatiello; and attorney Vincent Velella, the father of State Sena­tor Guy Velella.

Until last summer, Cambridge Drywall operated out of a storefront at 2242 First Avenue, a building owned by Vincent “Fish” Cafaro; FBI surveillance has shown that various members of the Gen­ovese family regularly used Cambridge’s office as a meeting place. The firm has also operated from 2368 Westchester Ave­nue in the Bronx, a building owned by DiNapoli and three associates. In addi­tion, city records reveal that Cambridge has owned a pair of private homes on Kenilworth Place in the Bronx that have been the residences of Cafaro and Car­mine Della Cava, another powerful Geno­vese soldier.

HUD records indicate that DiNapoli’s interest in Cambridge was reportedly bought out by Larry Wecker for $900,000 in May 1981. An affidavit signed by Wecker in June 1981 states DiNapoli “maintains no control and exercises no influence” over the firm. The sale was not an arms-length transaction, however. FBI sources say that Wecker, 48, is considered an “associate” of the Genovese family and that he regularly visited DiNapoli at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecti­cut. The subcontractor and his wife live in an East Side co-op and own a $400,000 home on the edge of a golf course in Plantation, Florida. Wecker did not re­spond to a dozen messages left with his answering service.

SEBCO also gave over $1 million in subcontracts to another company linked to DiNapoli, Three Star Drywall. The company’s owner, Arthur Felcon, who has two criminal convictions, was a defense witness during DiNapoli’s 1982 trial. When pressed by prosecutors about Di­Napoli’s role in the drywall industry, Fel­con clammed up: “I don’t ask anybody who’s associated with anybody.” Felcon could not be reached for comment.

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TRANSFER OF POWER

DINAPOLI’S LEGAL PROBLEMS over the past five years have made a rising star of Steven Crea, 41, a longtime DiNapoli friend and business partner, who is listed in FBI records as a “made” member of the Genovese family. Crea now plays an important role for the syndicate in vari­ous aspects of the construction industry, which, according to law enforcement sources, has gotten Crea closely involved with Father Gigante and the SEBCO developments.

Crea is described by investigators as a “money man.” He grew up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx surrounded by wise­guys, and now lives in a sprawling home just across the street from DiNapoli. Crea is the godfather of DiNapoli’s daughter Deborah, and he arranged her engage­ment and wedding parties while her fa­ther was in prison.

Following DiNapoli’s jailing in 1983, FBI records reveal, Crea was designated by Chin Gigante to “assume Vincent DiNapoli’s former role” in the construc­tion “rehab” industry. Federal prison re­cords show that Crea visited DiNapoli more than 35 times in the first 16 months of DiNapoli’s incarceration in Danbury, and investigators believe that these meetings concerned the duo’s joint real estate and construction investments.

Crea’s federal tax returns from 1979 to 1983 reveal that he drew salaries each year from both DiNapoli drywall firms: Cambridge — a total of $170,000 from ’79 to ’83 — and Inner City — $86,468 in 1982 and $67,032 in 1983. According to federal prosecutors, Crea is believed to still own stock in both firms, though Cambridge recently went bankrupt, with creditors claiming more than $4.5 million in un­paid debts.

Vincent DiNapoli reported selling his 40 per cent interest in Inner City Drywall in April 1981, according to an affidavit signed by Antonio Rodrigues, the compa­ny’s president. But as with Cambridge Drywall and Larry Wecker, investigators say, DiNapoli’s influence over Inner City and Rodrigues has never really abated. Rodrigues did not return Voice calls to his New Rochelle office.

The ongoing relationship between DiNapoli and Inner City is apparent in some of their real estate transactions and other business dealings. Though Inner City is headquartered in New Rochelle, the firm often conducts business out of a DiNapoli-owned storefront at 1237 Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx. The site is also home to the DiNapoli printing and waste-hauling businesses. In April 1985, Inner City gave a real estate company owned by Vincent DiNapoli and Crea a $450,000 mortgage on a Bronx property that was purchased three years earlier for only $15,000. And last July, Inner City transferred ownership of a 1976 white Cadillac Eldorado to Crea’s 17-year-old son.

Father Gigante too can be counted among Steven Crea’s business associates and personal friends. In 1985, after Crea was convicted of conspiracy in connec­tion with a plot to kill a Bronx man who Crea believed had assaulted his wife, Fa­ther Gigante wrote a personal appeal for leniency to the sentencing judge, calling Crea a “special friend” who once helped him fight the “onslaughts of crime and housing deterioration” in the South Bronx. (Crea’s conviction was overturned in 1987.) A 1982 FBI affidavit stated that Gigante’s crime-fighting friend was sus­pected of “loansharking, gambling, and narcotics activities.”

Inner City has grown over the past 10 years into one of the metropolitan area’s chief drywall contractors, according to an industry source. The company and its subsidiaries have received more than $10 million in SEBCO contracts since 1980, and the firm has secured at least $40 million in other municipal contracts. This total includes a $19 million joint venture with developer Samuel Pompa for the New York City Housing Author­ity, as well as more than $10 million in current work with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. While some of the contracts were award­ed on a low-bid basis, many others are were subcontracts that involved no competitive bidding.

But Steven Crea’s new clout in the Genovese gang and SEBCO-tied con­struction has a downside: he has recently come under intense scrutiny by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

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CLOSE TO HOME

PART OF THE Morgenthau-Goldstock probe, according to investigative sources, is focusing on Crea; Mario Tolisano, Fa­ther Gigante’s right-hand man at SEBCO; and union leader Louis Mosca­tiello, in connection with various labor racketeering offenses. As part of the probe, prosecutors have subpoenaed SEBCO’s financial records for the past three years. A special 11-month grand jury has been empaneled, and indict­ments are expected within the next few months.

Sources have told the Voice that the investigation, which has involved the ex­tensive use of wiretaps, has centered, in part, on Tolisano’s role as the link between a “club” of contractors and Mosca­tiello, in the “covering” of construction jobs. This process, once a Vincent DiNa­poli specialty, results in contractors being allowed to illegally hire cheaper, non­union laborers for projects that are sup­posed to “go union.”

Tolisano is a protege of Father Gigante, and over the last 10 years the 39-year-old has been instrumental in planning and developing every SEBCO housing project. Tolisano last year ran his friend Philip Foglia’s unsuccessful campaign for Bronx district attorney, an effort partially fi­nanced by SEBCO contractors and supported by Father Gigante (see sidebar, “Pols and the Mob”). Foglia’s father, a former police detective, has been head of SEBCO’s security division since 1981.

The Voice spoke briefly with Tolisano last month and gave him an outline of areas to be discussed in an interview. Tolisano said that he would confer with Father Gigante and call back, but never did so. Ten subsequent calls placed to Tolisano’s office also went unreturned.

In addition, investigators are examin­ing Moscatiello’s role as a “broker” be­tween this club of contractors and officials from other unions. As president of Local 530 of the plasterers union, Mosca­tiello, 51, was paid $64,000 in 1987. He is very close to Vincent DiNapoli and Fa­ther Gigante, both of whom supported his unsuccessful 1982 bid for City Coun­cil. Father Gigante has referred to Mosca­tiello as “the most honest man I know.” According to labor investigators, Local 530 was formed with DiNapoli’s assis­tance and has served as a “sweetheart” local for contractors, paying workers less and offering fewer benefits.

[In addition to Gigante and Tolisano, the Voice attempted to question four oth­er SEBCO officials. Father William Smith, SEBCO’s secretary and a 10-year board member, declined to be inter­viewed, claiming, “I stopped giving inter­views in 1971.” Board member Vincent Molinari also refused to talk to the Voice. The other board members, who share a Manhattan apartment, did not respond to messages left at their residence.]

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FOR “THE BOYS”

THE 1982 LABOR RACKETEERING CASE involving Father Gigante’s friend Vincent DiNapoli exposed some of the inner workings of the subcontracting under­world. In this instance, DiNapoli and Theodore Maritas, then president of the District Council of Carpenters, conspired to rig a bid for Petina Associates — a long­time major contractor for SEBCO and the New York City Housing Authority, with more than $35 million in municipal contracts. In addition, one of the firms that prosecutors charged had conspired with DiNapoli and Maritas to submit in­flated bids was controlled by builder Sid­ney Silverstein, who is currently handling more than $22 million in SEBCO jobs and $30 million in other city housing projects.

After his first trial ended in a hung jury in 1982, Vincent DiNapoli pleaded guilty to labor racketeering charges in Brooklyn federal court. One of the specific counts of the indictment for which DiNapoli ad­mitted guilt involved an amazing shake­down of a small building contractor. The outline of the conspiracy was secretly re­corded and videotaped by the FBI in Maritas’s Manhattan office.

On the tape, Maritas and DiNapoli ex­plained to the contractor that he had stumbled into their plan to fix a $5.5 million contract for Petina to perform renovations on a group of Chelsea brown­stones. Maritas told the small business­man that he and DiNapoli had “set up” the owner of the brownstones with inflat­ed bids so that “a certain guy got the job.” Maritas then explained to the con­tractor that “everybody had been in on it, and you come along, innocently, okay, and come in a million less than the low bidder … You’re in the middle of a big ball game, my friend.” Maritas then add­ed, “If you were just some guy we didn’t know … you would have problems. … We’d go for your eyeballs.”

DiNapoli chimed in that various “con­nected” individuals were involved in the scheme and that the job had been “regis­tered.” DiNapoli eventually gave the con­tractor the choice of either taking $100,000 to get off the job or going back to the owner of the brownstones and re­questing an additional $100,000 for “the boys.” But before the contractor returned with an answer, the undercover investiga­tion was terminated, and charges were brought against Maritas, DiNapoli, and five others.

With the exception of Maritas, every defendant in the DiNapoli racketeering case pleaded guilty. Maritas’s first trial ended in a hung jury. But in March 1982, before he could be retried on the federal charges, the labor leader disappeared. Maritas’s wallet was later found floating near the Throgs Neck Bridge. Investiga­tors believe he was the victim of a Geno­vese-sanctioned hit.

Petina Associates, the contractor who would have gotten the rigged bid, is con­trolled by Peter DeGennaro, a neighbor of Crea and DiNapoli in Pelham Manor. Since 1982, the firm has received $19.6 million in contracts from the New York City Housing Authority for the construc­tion and rehabbing of public housing. The company has done more than $6 million worth of work for SEBCO over the past eight years. An additional $8 million has been earned by DeGennaro’s company from city agencies such as the Police Department and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Father Gigante had lined up Petina to do a $7 million small-homes project in 1984, but when SEBCO encountered problems securing bank financing, DeGennaro was forced to back out of the deal.

Petina and Vincent DiNapoli have a real sweetheart association. DiNapoli was once so involved with Petina’s opera­tions, records show, that he would per­sonally pick up bid specifications for the company from general contractors. And up until last year, the DiNapoli family’s carting company shared a Bronx office with Petina Associates at 1821 Mahan Avenue. DeGennaro did not return Voice phone calls.

Deed records reveal that in April 1980 Petina Associates purchased a house at 1446 Roosevelt Place in Pelham Manor for $150,000. Eleven months later, Petina sold the home to DiNapoli’s wife, daugh­ter, and mother-in-law for the bargain price of $126,000, which represents a $24,000 loss — an unusual Westchester County real estate deal. At the time of the sale to the DiNapolis, real estate re­cords show, Petina gave the family a $99,065 mortgage, which carried a 6 per cent annual interest rate. The mortgage was another incredible gift, since prevail­ing rates at the time were 13.91 per cent, according to Federal Home Loan Bank Board records. The house, now occupied by DiNapoli’s daughter, is currently worth $700,000.

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PROBLEM SOLVER

ONE OF THE SEBCO PALS implicated in the DiNapoli-Maritas case is currently Father Gigante’s developer of choice: Sid­ney Silverstein is now serving as general contractor on three current SEBCO proj­ects. These development contracts are worth a total of $22 million, according to city records. Two of the contracts are for the construction of small homes ($10 mil­lion and $4 million), and the other proj­ect is an $8 million, 90-unit senior citizen development, cosponsored by St. Barna­bus Hospital. In addition, Silverstein’s firm may also be in line to build SEBCO’s largest project to date, a $19.1 million small homes project. The project, dubbed St. Mary’s Park, will consist of 113 two­-family homes on 144th and 145th streets, bounded by Willis and Brook avenues, south of SEBCO’s normal hub.

Since 1981, Silverstein has operated under the name Sparrow Construction, of which he is chairman. In addition to his work with HPD and HUD, Silverstein has also gotten contracts from the state Urban Development Corporation and the New York City Housing Authority — in spite of past investigations of his busi­ness dealings, including possible forgery in connection with a federally funded Brooklyn housing project.

Testimony in the DiNapoli-Maritas case revealed that Silverstein submitted an inflated bid of $6.4 million in an attempt to help secure the contract — fixed for Petina Associates. In an outgrowth of the Maritas-DiNapoli case, Silverstein’s company and a host of other construction firms were targeted in 1983 by a joint FBI-IRS-Department of Labor probe in­vestigating allegations of drywall bid-rig­ging. While two companies were eventu­ally convicted of federal crimes, Silverstein and his firm were not charged.

In addition to his ties to DiNapoli, Silverstein also has a close association with Steven Crea, a relationship that investigators working on the Morgenthau-­Goldstock probe are examining.

In a 1985 letter to Crea’s sentencing judge, a Bronx priest wrote about the mobster’s efforts to rehabilitate the Belmont section of the Bronx. “He has been instrumental personally and through the Sparrow Construction in rehabilitating more than 100 units of housing,” wrote Reverend Mario Zicarelli. When the Voice phoned the priest about the Crea letter, he said could not remember any details and hung up.

Asked during a Voice interview to de­scribe his relationship with Crea, Silver­stein initially responded, “Who is he?” But after the Voice told the developer that it had documents that linked Crea to Sparrow Construction, Silverstein admit­ted that he employs Crea as a “labor consultant” who “helps mainly with problems in the various communities and with the church groups. He takes care of whatever problems come up.” Asked what types of problems arose with “church groups,” Silverstein said: “At the moment I can’t really tell you.” When the Voice told Silverstein it had information that Crea was paid more than “six fig­ures,” he responded, “Yes, that’s correct.” At that point, Silverstein said he did not want to answer any more questions and would consult with his attorney. He did not return subsequent calls.

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RISING PROFITS

SEBCO’S “TOP TO BOTTOM” subcon­tracting network once also included Cur­tis Lifts, Ltd., an elevator company that paid Crea $67,500 in 1983 according to his tax return for that year. The firm’s Bronx address — 3743 White Plains Road — also happened to be the offices of Sid Silverstein’s Sparrow Construction, but it is unclear who owned the company. (When asked about Curtis Lifts, Silver­stein said he had “no comment.”) The company was apparently sold sometime in 1985 or 1986.

Curtis Lifts, nonetheless, was a large SEBCO subcontractor, with more than $5 million in contracts. The company, which was incorporated in 1980 by Crea’s attorney Paul Victor, stopped getting SEBCO contracts soon after it was sold to the Flynn-Hill elevator company.

While it may not be clear who was installing SEBCO’s elevators, it is clear what firm services many of them: Al-An Elevator Maintenance, which is owned by Vincent DiNapoli’s brother Anthony, and Allie Salerno, who prosecutors contend is the nephew of Anthony “Fat Tony” Sa­lerno. (Attorneys for the DiNapoli broth­ers have denied this charge, contending at Allie Salerno has never even met “Fat Tony.”) The firm’s contracts with SEBCO have totaled more than $250,000. Taped conversations introduced as evi­dence in DiNapoli’s last federal trial show that Vincent DiNapoli often tried to round up business for his brother’s com­pany. Furthermore, Al-An operates out of a property owned by Vincent DiNapoli and Steven Crea.

BIG HAULS

IF SEBCO WANTS GARBAGE CARTED from a project site, it often turns to yet another DiNapoli family concern Crest­wood Carting, which specializes in haul­ing construction debris. The firm has re­ceived about $1 million in SEBCO contracts — usually for taking away the remains of demolished tenements. Crest­wood is currently doing work for SEBCO at a building project on Fox Street spon­sored by the Archdiocese of New York.

City records show that the sole owner of Crestwood is DiNapoli family relative Joseph Brancaccio. The firm has recently employed both Louis and Vincent DiNa­poli as well as their sister, who is the company’s bookkeeper. Federal prosecu­tors contend that Crestwood Carting was a direct beneficiary of the DiNapoli brothers’ concrete industry scheme, since the firm received carting contracts for many of the construction sites involved in the bid-rigging operation.

The carting industry has long been dominated by the Mafia. Genovese mem­bers like Louis DiNapoli — Vincent’s younger brother — and Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello have held financial interests in a number of carting firms.

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WIRED

RALPH ARRED, THE CHAIRMAN of the Yonkers Democratic Party, can often be seen holding court at a back table in Pagliaccio’s restaurant on Bronx River Road in Yonkers. Arred, a Cuban immi­grant who shortened his name from Arre­dondo, grew up with Steve Crea and re­mains very close to him. And he too has a spot at the SEBCO trough.

Arred owns an electrical contracting company that has received $10 million in SEBCO contracts in addition to $20 mil­lion from governmental agencies. The Yonkers political boss has received nu­merous SEBCO contracts over the past three years despite the fact that his firm declared bankruptcy in early 1986 and is currently “on the verge of collapsing,” according to an attorney representing its creditors.

Arred is “of great interest” says one source on the Morgenthau-Goldstock team, but the pol is not currently a target of the investigation. A state law enforcement source, however, told the Voice that investigators from the United States At­torney’s Office in Manhattan have opened a separate probe of Arred. The Yonkers boss told the Voice that he was not surprised that he was being probed. “I’m a political leader, I expect it. But I don’t give a fuck. It’s not the first time that they’ve investigated me.”

According to state board of elections reports examined by the Voice, a main source of funds for Arred’s Yonkers Dem­ocratic Party has been organized crime. The party has received substantial cam­paign contributions from corporations owned or controlled by Crea and/or Vin­cent DiNapoli.

Arred operates his contracting firm out of a building at 4443 Third Avenue in the Bronx. He shares this warehouse space with other prime SEBCO subcontrac­tors, Nicholas and Anthony Russo. (The brothers Russo are also close friends of Crea.) The Russo companies, which in­clude a large metal contracting company and a painting business, have done a total of $8 million in business with SEBCO and have received additional municipal contracts totaling at least $12 million.

Until he sold it last October, Nicholas Russo was listed in State Liquor Author­ity records as the owner of Pagliaccio’s. According to a 1982 FBI affidavit, Crea had a “financial interest” in the Italian restaurant. The two-story building that houses the restaurant and Crea’s office is owned by a relative of Crea’s employed by him.

Like Arred, Nicholas Russo, 45, wrote to the judge on behalf of Crea in 1985. Stating that he had known him for 25 years, Russo referred to Crea as someone who “does not shy away” from helping his community, particularly senior citi­zens. Arred’s bankruptcy filings show that his firm owes $280,000 to Nicholas Russo, and the electrical contractor said he is negotiating with Russo for an addi­tional $500,000 loan.

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MEADE AND MARIO

WHEN CONTRACTS HAVE BEEN doled out, Father Gigante has not forgotten his friends in politics. Records show that SEBCO has given business to the law firm of Mario Biaggi and the insurance brokerage of Meade Esposito, another pair of felons. The priest is an old friend of Biaggi and Esposito (long tied to a number of Genovese family hoods), and once called the former Brooklyn Demo­cratic boss, “one of the finest leaders in the country.” Federal housing records show that Esposito and Biaggi each pulled down more than $200,000 in fees from SEBCO developments.

Another Gigante crony earning money from SEBCO is Ely Colon, a former member of the not-for-profit’s board of directors. In his spare time, Colon serves as the principal broker for SEBCO’s pur­chase of couches, tables, chairs, and other furnishings. Colon told the Voice that he works full-time for HPD and operates his furniture company from his Bronx apart­ment. Individual SEBCO orders placed through Colon have totaled about $200,000 over the past two years. Colon said that SEBCO uses him to purchase furniture because “I have all the catalogs to order from.” Asked to provide a list of his clients, Colon struggled to come up with the name of one other customer.

NO VOW OF POVERTY

If You Can’t Trust Father Gigante, Who Can You Trust?
— A sign that hung for years on the side of the Bruckner Boulevard business headquarters of Genovese soldier William “Billy the Butcher” Masselli

THE VOICE’S INVESTIGATION showed that not only has “Father G.” been busy steering construction jobs to his mob pals, but he made money himself. As he is quick to point out, he never took a vow of poverty. While many of his parishioners live be­low the poverty line, records show that Gigante definitely does not. He owns two Manhattan co-ops and a home in upstate New York. The priest has also enter­tained friends in a swank San Juan con­dominium that he told them he owned. Gigante owns six automobiles and at least six pieces of Bronx real estate.

The priest once told a friend, “People may think I do this for free, but that’s their problem.” Gigante described himself last year as a “non-order” priest and, as such, says he does not have to adhere to the strict financial limitations of orders such as the Jesuits. SEBCO records re­veal that the company paid the priest $85,576 in 1987, and, in ’88 paid him $44,088 for part-time work. But the Voice has found that Father Gigante was un­doubtedly able to supplement his income thanks to a number of side ventures that are blatant conflicts of interest.

After a federally financed housing proj­ect is constructed, the only remaining source of continuing income comes from the management of the property. Gigante quickly realized this once he got in the business, and formed a management arm for SEBCO in 1979. Gigante, records show, now personally owns the real estate company, SEBCO Management, that provides those services to most of the SEBCO developments. According to financial records, the management compa­ny has a gross income of more than $450,000 annually. The board of directors of SEBCO — the parent company­ — which Gigante chairs, is responsible for picking which realty firms will manage its properties. It should come as no surprise that the priest’s company has gotten ev­ery SEBCO contract.

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In fact, the management of SEBCO properties is so important to Gigante that he broke with his long-time principal developer, Jerome Chatzky, after the builder refused to turn over management of certain projects to the priest, sources said.

A second company, Tiffany Mainte­nance, provides services — from painting hallways to repairing roofs — for about 1000 SEBCO apartments. Tiffany does more than $200,000 a year in business with the SEBCO organization. The firm was incorporated in April 1985 and was listed as a personal asset of Gigante’s on a June 1986 city disclosure report. On subsequent report, filed in May 1987, it appears that the entry for Tiffany Maintenance had been whited out. A Gigante disclosure filed in June 1988 also fails to list Tiffany Maintenance as an asset. Who owns the firm today is unclear, but Tiffany continues to be headquartered in a SEBCO project on Southern Boulevard, and when nobody is in its office, the company’s phones are forwarded to SEBCO Management.

In various filings with city and federal housing agencies, SEBCO and Gigante have not been forthcoming about the priest’s insider trading. In the thousands of documents filed by SEBCO with the federal housing department, the group never discloses that SEBCO Manage­ment is owned by Father Gigante, and that, at the very least, Tiffany Maintene­nce has also been — and may still be­ — an asset of the priest’s. In applications filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1987 and 1988, SEBCO refers to itself as the “par­ent company” of SEBCO Management. SEBCO also refers to Tiffany Mainte­nance as its “affiliate.” Since Gigante did not change the management company’s name, it appears the firm is still owned by the not-for-profit simply because it still carries the “SEBCO” moniker.

Records indicate that SEBCO Manage­ment was sold to Gigante sometime in 1986 for roughly $75,000, with no money down. Since then, it appears, the priest has paid SEBCO $35,000 toward the full purchase price. SEBCO’s records do not explain how the $75,000 sales price was established, if there were other potential buyers, what the company’s market value was, and if the sale had SEBCO board approval. Documents filed with the state Division of Housing and Community Re­newal reveal that after SEBCO sold its management operation to Gigante, the group received a $60,000 state housing preservation contract that was earm­arked, in part, to “market SEBCO Management” by preparing a brochure about the company, compiling a list of “potential clients,” and then sending the brochures out in a “bulk mailing.” This appears to be a misuse of state funds to enhance a private business.

Along with the various SEBCO pro­jects, Gigante’s management company has branched out, securing contracts with three separate federally funded Bronx ousing projects. It is not known whether these contracts were secured as a result of SEBCO’s state-funded “marketing” effort.

An even more intriguing transaction involved a second company that was once owned by SEBCO, but which also found its way into Gigante’s private portfolio.

This firm, the SEBCO Housing Devel­opment Company, Inc., was formed in November 1982 and had its name changed to SEBCO Realty in February 1985. (Like the management firm, most city and federal housing officials continue to believe the company is owned by Gi­gante’s not-for-profit organization.) In a June 1986 city disclosure form, Gigante listed SEBCO Realty as an asset wholly owned by him. Nowhere in any SEBCO tax returns or financial documents is the sale of this asset fully explained with re­gard to market value, purchase price, or approval by SEBCO’s board of directors. This lack of disclosure is critical since the SEBCO Housing Development Company stood to profit from a lucrative 1985 housing development deal.

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City records show that, initially, SEBCO (the parent company) was sched­uled to receive a $593,750 fee for its role as cosponsor of a publicly financed pro­ject on Kelly Street. However, days be­fore “closing” the deal, SEBCO informed city housing officials that it was being replaced as sponsor by the SEBCO Hous­ing Development Corporation, which SEBCO described as a wholly owned sub­sidiary. While city officials were surprised at this last-minute switch, they nonethe­less approved the project. The substitu­tion, in effect, meant that the SEBCO subsidiary — and not the parent compa­ny — was now in line to receive the $593,750 sponsor’s fee.

According to a schedule of payments, the subsidiary was to get its share over five years, beginning with $91,250 in 1984 and followed with payments of $147,500 in 1985, $85,000 in 1986, and $90,000 in 1987, 1988, and 1989.

Using this formula, the firm — in its new incarnation as SEBCO Realty — had at least $270,000 in cash receivables when Gigante took it over. It is not known how much — if any — of the previously dis­bursed $323,750 in fees was on hand when Gigante got the company.

The only other assets that can be traced to the SEBCO Housing Develop­ment Company/SESCO Realty are four South Bronx buildings — with a combined total of 177 apartments — that were pur­chased from the city in January 1984 for $50,000 in unpaid bills. It seems that Gigante has been involved in more self­-dealing: this time, he apparently has used city and state funds to spruce up the four buildings he owns.

Part of the $60,000 state housing preservation grant was earmarked for renova­tions to the four rent-stabilized  buildings, though Gigante them himself. In addition, development fees earned by SEBCO itself in connection with the group’s sponsorship of two federal pro­jects have recently been used to pay for new windows and doors, light fixtures, an intercom system, roof repairs, and paint jobs in the four buildings. City records list the work being done on properties ”currently owned and managed by SEBCO.” Department of Housing Preser­vation and Development records show the four rent-stabilized buildings have a total of 657 housing code violations.

Of course, SEBCO — the parent compa­ny — neither owns nor manages any of the four buildings. The “SEBCO” firm that manages the properties as well as the “SEBCO” company that holds title to the buildings are both privately owned by the priest. On a June 1988 city disclosure Gigante listed the four buildings as per­sonal assets, a fact that has escaped city housing officials.

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FATHER G’S HIDEAWAY

WHILE GIGANTE’S BUSINESS DEALINGS may be tainted, his recent action on be­half of a convicted Genovese associate is a true illustration of the priest’s character.

Morris Levy, the president of Roulette Records, has been a long-time source of ready cash for the Genovese family, par­ticularly Chin Gigante and his live-in companion, Olympia Esposito. According to a 1985 FBI affidavit, Levy money was also “funnelled” to Father Gigante in the form of a gift of a piece of upstate prop­erty and a low-interest mortgage.

The property, located on the edge of Levy’s sprawling horse farm in the town of Ghent, was given to Father Gigante in August 1979 with an accompanying $32,000 mortgage at 5 per cent interest. At the time, prevailing rates were be­tween 10 and 11 per cent. In addition to the house loan, records show that Levy also gave the priest a $15,000 “business loan” in 1981.

When the Voice first tried to question Gigante about the 1979 transaction in April 1988 (when the FBI affidavit was made public), he did not return phone calls. He finally told his tale just before Levy was sentenced last year on federal extortion charges.

On September 20, 1988, Gigante wrote to Stanley Brotman, the federal judge sentencing Levy, and termed the FBI’s account of the house deal “a bold lie” Gigante claimed that Levy actually do­nated the land to Gigante so that the pair could build a home for one of the priest’s former secretaries.

In his letter, Gigante explained that he uses a “large part” of his earnings “to take care of my dear friend and loyal assistant” Erma Cava. The priest’s for­mer secretary, 55, who is partially para­lyzed and confined to a wheelchair, has had a SEBCO senior citizens project named after her, Gigante went on to state that since 1980, Cava “has been living full-time at the farm” and that there she is cared for by “another of my secretar­ies,” who Gigante claimed he also sup­ports. The spacious ranch-style home, which sits on about an acre of land, fea­tures a sun room, two-car garage, and a backyard that slopes down to a large pond.

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“Morris and I visit frequently and I often bring children from the parish to visit and spend time in the country. Erma is still paralyzed on her right side, but we see continued improvement. She is even beginning to speak although she is aphasic,” Gigante wrote. He concluded: “I  am not involved with organized crime and it is an insult to mischaracterize Morris’ kindnesses to me and others as the funneling of money to organized crime. I believe Morris’ greatest contribution was the idea to build a home for Erma … an unfortunate pe·rson who might have been forgotten without us.” While appearing heartfelt, Gigante’s letter borders on total fiction.

Not only is the deed, mortgage, and phone at the property in the name of Louis Gigante, when the Voice visited the home last year, two cars registered to the priest were in the driveway, but nobody was home. In addition, Department of Motor Vehicle records show that the priest currently registers his Cadillac from the Ghent address as well as three cars owned by his real estate manage­ment firm. When a neighbor was asked if he knew where the “Gigante house” was, he immediately pointed it out.

In addition, SEBCO records for 1986, 1987, and 1988 list Erma Cava’s home address as 520 Second Avenue in Man­hattan. Cava’s address turns up on the SEBCO records because the woman, who Father Gigante described in his letter as brain-impaired and barely able to talk, sits on SEBCO’s five-person board of directors.

Cava lives with Migdalia Morales, a SEBCO board member and former Gi­gante secretary, in apartment 8-8 in the Phipps Houses development on Second Avenue in Manhattan. A fellow Phipps resident immediately recognized Cava’s name, said “she’s in a wheelchair,” and added that the woman has lived in the building for “at least eight years and maybe more.”

Though the priest claims to support her, Cava had enough pocket change to donate $1000 last March to the campaign of Phil Foglia, a Gigante-backed candi­date for Bronx district attorney, accord­ing to Board of Elections campaign dis­closure statements. These election records also list Cava’s address as 520 Second Avenue. Morales donated $1000 to Foglia on the same day; her address is also listed on election records as 520 Sec­ond Avenue, Apartment 8-B.

AT THE 9:30 A.M. MASS on Sunday, De­cember 4, Father Gigante is at the altar at St. Athanasius talking about sin. The priest explains that if one is to be saved, one must acknowledge and take responsibility for his sins. He then decries the crime and violence in our society and how “we have allowed it to invade all our neighborhoods. We have accepted the violence. We have accepted the crime and the drugs. This violence against our peo­ple happens every day on the streets out­side this very church.”

Since the days he studied at St. Jo­seph’s Seminary, Louis Gigante has also accepted crime and violence-and the men involved in these criminal attacks on the community. The priest’s relationship with the mob is not innuendo: it clearly has been one of long-time cooperation with hoodlums.

Father Louis Gigante is not just a troubling anomaly. More than any prosecutor or parolee in this city, the priest sits at the crossroad of good and evil, happy to live off both sides of the street. ❖

IS CHIN SANE?

FATHER LOUIS GIGANTE recently began legal proceedings to have a conservator appointed to handle the affairs of his brother, Vin­cent “The Chin” Gigante, the Voice has learned. Legal papers state that the Genovese boss is “unable to manage his personal affairs by reason of mental illness.” The FBI, on the other hand, has long contended that Chin Gigante runs the crime family.

On February 16, the priest-repre­sented by attorney Barry Slotnick’s law firm-requested that state su­preme court judge Jacqueline Silber­man name a conservator for his broth­er. Silberman told the Voice that she has appointed attorney Peter Wtlson to represent Chin Gigante lllld said the lawyer is to submit a report to her on March 14 regarding Gigante’s mental state. Silberman said the report­ which will address whether a conser­vator is warranted-will include inter­views with Gigante’s doctor, Eugene D’Adamo.

In most cases, conservators are appointed for individuals-often elderly or mentally infirm-who cannot take care of their business and personal matters. While family members say that Chin Gigante is mentally ·ill, this action will be the first public review of those contentions. Law enforcement officials have previously voiced their concern that Gigante-given his bi­zarre behavior-might be able to easi­ly mount an insanity defense if he were to face any future criminal charges.

Father Gigante’s legal maneuver comes at a time when Gambino boss John Gatti reportedly has put out a contract on Chin Gigante. The Daily News reported Monday that the FBI recently advised the priest and his brother Mario, a Genovese soldier, of the alleged Gambino plot. While secu­rity around Chin Gigante is tight on Sullivan Street, the Genovese boss ap­pears to be guarded only by his chauf­feur Vito Palmieri when he is picked up at his East Side home. — W.B. & EDWARD BORGES

POLS AND THE MOB

LOCAL POLITICIANS have been on the receiving end of campaign contributions from members of the Genovese crime family, campaign records show. Politicians and committees receiving mob money include:

  •  State Senator Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican, has gotten tholl88nds of dollars in Genovese-tainted contribu­tions since 1986. Velella’s campaign committee -has received donations from two companies owned by the family of Genovese soldier Vincent DiNapoli ($600); a Genovese-connect­ed bricltlayers local ($200 ); and mob­linked labor leader Louis Moscatiello ($ 100). Larger donations were sent in 1987 to the Velella-chaired Bronx Re­publican committee by firms linked to DiNapoli and fellow Genovese mem­ber Steven Crea: Cambridge Drywall ($750); Inner City Drywall ($750); V.L.J. Construction Corp. ($750); Al­An Elevator Maintenance ($750); and DiNapoli’s wife ($1500).
    Velella told the ¾>ice he was not sure who solicited contnbutions from the DiNapolia, but that one posaibility was Moscatiello-head of plasterers Local 530-who has helped with fundraising.
  • The Genovese hand can al80 be seen in donations to the Yonkers Demo­cratic party, Again, the money comes principally through firms tied to DiNapoli and Crea. The Voice has sin­gled out 19 Genovese-linked contribu­tions, totaling $5150, that chairman Ralph Arred’s committee has received since July 1984. Firms donating in­clude Crea’s road paving and real es­tate development companies and two drywall companies tied to DiNapoli and Crea.
    Arred said he did not know how mob firms ended up donating to the · party. “I have a mailing list with 2200 names. Whoever gives me names, I put them on the list.”
  • Before his election to Congress last fall, Eliot Engel, a former Bronx as­semblyman, got donations from Mos­catiello, Crestwood Carting-the DiNapoli family garbage company­and Molat Homes, a firm that gave its address as the New Rochelle home of Vmcent DiNapoli’s brother Joseph, a convicted heroin trafficker.
  • Last year’s campaign by Philip fog­lia for Bronx district attorney ‘got $1000 from the District Council of Carpenters, which state investigators say is involved in “racketeering.” Vm­cent Tolentino, Local 530’s secretary and a Moscatiello business partner, donated $150; and a real estate part­ner of Crea and Vincent DiNapoli’s gave $500. Foglia al80 received more than a dozen donations-for a total of about $6000-from companies receiv­ing SEBCO contracts. — W.B.

DECEIVING THE FEDS
Vincent DiNapoli’s Two Dirty Deeds

FOLLOWING HIS INDICTMENT on labor racketeering charges in April 1981, Vincent DiNapoli was declared persona non grata by the federal housing department

Officials at the Department of Hous­ing and Urban Development placed the Genovese soldier on their list of ineligi­ble contractors pending the resolution of charges brought against DiNapoli. A letter from the agency dated April 16, 1981, informed DiNapoli that he was “suspended from participation in HUD programs.” Following DiNapoli’s guilty plea in latr 1982, HUD issued a “final determination” barring DiNapoli-for an indefinite period of time-from any partic,pution with the housing agency. DiNapoli still is on HUD’s debarment. list.

This ruling, however, did not deter DiNapoli or Father Gigante.

The Voice has discovered that, in vi­olation of federal regulations, DiNapoli secretly invested $305,000 in two HUD projects, including a $6 million SEBCO renovation. Both DiNapoli investments were in projects financed under “Sec­tion 8,'” a federal program popular with investors because of its lucrative tax shelter benefits.

Unbeknownst to HUD or city hous­ing officials, DiNapoli-with Gigante·s help-secretly invested $110,000 in a real estate limited partnership that. was approved by HUD to renovate two rot­ting buildings on Faile Street in the South Bronx. As part of the HUD package, the federal agency guaranteed a $4.5 million mortgage granted to the limited partnership, Faile Street Associates.

When the housing project. called Al­dus I, was being reviewed by HUD and the city’s Department of Housing Pres­ervation and Development, Father Gi­gante’s organization submitted docu­ments to both agencies listing SEBCO and the Renata Construction Company as 50-50 partners in the deal. Renata is owned by builder Samuel Pompa.

Following HUD and HPD background investigations, which include a check of federal debarment lists, as well as an examination of the project’s cor­porate papers, both housing agencies signed off on the deal. Shortly there­after, the realty partnership received final authorization from HUD to begin renovation on 96 apartments.

It was at this time-with the project safely approved-that Gigante secretly brought Genovese family operatives into the deal, including Vincent and Joseph DiNapoli-two convicted fel­ons-and their brother Louis. Joseph DiNapoli was convicted in 1974 of con­spiracy to distribute heroin and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Other new partners investing $110,000 apiece included Genovese family member Steven Crea, and four executives of Inner City Drywall, a company tied to Crea and Vincent DiNapoli. The amendment effectively transferred control of the partner­ship-and ownership of the housing de­velopment itself-from SEBCO and Pompa to the DiNapoli crew.

Gigante surely knew that if either city or federal housing officials were apprised of the DiNapolis’ role in the Faile Street project, the renovation would never have been approved. And SEBCO would have lost more than $100,000 in sponsorship fees. In fact, while all 10 partnership agreements were signed and notarized in December 1982, Gigante and Pompa didn’t get around to actually filing the corporate amendment with the Bronx county clerk’s office until May 1984-eight months aft.er renovations were com­pleted on the Faile Street properties.

The 1982 agreements with DiNapoli and the other new “limited” partners called for a $5000 payment up front, with the $105,000 balance to be paid over three years (1983, ’84, and ’85). In return, the new investors would each receive 9.9 per cent of the partnership’s profits. This percentage apparently was carefully calculated to avoid an HPD rule that requires sponsors to disclose the names of any individual holding 10 per cent or more of its stock. But dis• closure still should have been made since city rules also require family members holding stock in aggregate of 10 per cent to file disclosure forms. The DiNapoli brothers purchased 29.7 per cent of Faile Street Associates, which holds the deed to the two five-story buildings.

Marylea Byrd, an assistant counsel in HUD’s Washington office, told the Voice that DiNapoli’s debarment pre­cluded, from the day of his suspension in April 1981, his being “involved in any way with a HUD deal. This in­cludes being a subcontractor as well as being the recipient of a HUD-insured mortgage.” Byrd said that debarred in­dividuals “are certainly not supposed to be limited partners in any HUD-in­ sured ventures.”

THE DRY RUN for DiNapoli’s Faile Street gambit apparently was the mob­ster”s July 1981 investment of $195,000 in a limited partnership developing a 50-unit HUD project on Saint Mark’s Avenue in Brooklyn. DiNapoli had al­ready been suspended for three months when he purchased a 14.83 per cent interest in the project. As with Faile Street, the Brooklyn limited partner­ship-Rochester Associates-also re­ceived a multimillion mortgage guaran­teed by HUD. And as with Faile Street, city and federal housing officials were never informed of the corporate switch.

Joining DiNapoli in this limited partnership, according to corporate pa­pers, were his daughter Deborah, then only 19 years old ($65,000 for a 4.945 per cent interest), Crea ($130,000/9.89 per cent), Inner City Drywall president Antonio Rodrigues ($130,000/9.89 per cent), and Genovese associate Robert DeFilippis ($130,000/9.89 per cent). DeFilippis is currently facing federal extortion and conspiracy charges in New Jersey.

On a financial disclosure statement filed last year with the U.S. Parole Of­fice, Louis DiNapoli also reported hav­ing a $109,500 stake in Rochester Asso­ciates, but his partnership interest is not reflected on any of the group’s cor­porate papers. — W.B.

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Sins of the Father

A chauffeur-driven black Lincoln Executive pulled to a stop in front of a crumbling building in the South Bronx on a chilly night this past October and out stepped Father Louis R. Gigante, the low-income- housing developer and brother of legendary mobster Vincent “the Chin” Gigante. Father G. was once hailed as the savior of the South Bronx for convert-ing hulks of charred buildings into affordable homes for impoverished families. But on this night, the white-haired 74-year-old priest had arrived to meet with angry tenants who accuse this once heroic figure of being a slumlord.

Just as his late brother, onetime head of the Genovese crime family, would have done, Father G. brought an entourage to protect himself from a potentially volatile situation. On the dimly lit sidewalk in front of 741 Coster Street, one of the buildings that Father G. renovated but which now have devolved back into violent slums under his guardianship, he and the local Catholic pastor, William J. Smith, met two security guards and two tall uniformed police officers from the 41st Precinct. (The police officers claimed that someone from the neighborhood asked them to come to the meeting, but tenants insisted none of them called the department.) Father G. was escorted into the building by his nephew, Salvatore Gigante, son of “The Chin.”

The Chin became one of New York’s most dangerous mobsters and later one of the most strange as he faked mental illness to try to avoid prosecution (think “Uncle Junior” in The Sopranos). Meanwhile, Father G. became a beacon of light for many of the city’s poorer residents. As a street priest in the ’60s, he was kicked out of a City Council meeting for vociferously railing against the horrendous living conditions in the South Bronx. But today, Father G. heads a housing empire, takes home a $150,000 salary, and is despised by many of the same kind of low-income residents he once helped.

Gigante, who manages the buildings but doesn’t own them, faces major problems on two fronts: HUD has started foreclosure proceedings, and Gigante’s tenants are fighting to block their sale to the priest’s company. Under Gigante’s watch, they say, the Hunts Point I Rehab project—home to about 300
low-income residents—has fallen into such disrepair that the apartments are almost uninhabitable. After years of living without heat or hot water and with holes in their ceilings and rotting floors, residents formed the United We Stand Tenants Association with help from the nonprofit organization Tenants and Neighbors, and they might just be successful in stopping the sale. The tenants have been angry for a long time and allegations have flown, but Gigante has glided past. But now tenants are organizing against him for what is believed to be the first time in his long career.

It was only fitting that the priest and his entourage walked through a dark tunnel of scaffolding lined with smashed lightbulbs to get to their meeting. The founder and head of the recently formed tenants’ association, Mildred Colon, glared at Father G. and the entourage of police, security guards, and management staff on the sidewalk. “We would like to have security all the time, not just when management is here,” Colon said angrily as she walked by the men. Inside awaited a crowd of tenants in an equally dark mood.

buildings for insurance money, and teen gangs were battling one another for control of the streets—the Catholic Church fought on the front lines of the tenants’ rights movement. Father G. launched the South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO) in the fall of 1968 with funds from the federal Section 8 housing program, through which tenants pay 30 percent of their income in rent and the federal government pays the difference. “I brought the neighborhood up from ashes to help the people in the South Bronx,” Gigante has told tenants. “There isn’t one other organization that can take credit. Nobody is going to kick me out of my neighborhood.”

During the resurrection of the South Bronx, Father G. fought the city on behalf of tenants. In her book South Bronx Rising, Jill Jonnes described a 1969 incident in which Father G. organized 300 Hunts Point residents who heaved furniture and wood from abandoned buildings and set fire to them in trash barrels, marching up and down 163rd Street while chanting the familiar protests that echo through the Hunts Point I Rehab buildings today: No hot water. No heat. We’re sick and tired of junkies.

“There was nothing holier-than-thou about the man,” recalled veteran community activist Aureo Cardona, who described Father G. as one of his closest friends and praised him for serving the Puerto Rican community. Cardona grew up in the South Bronx and was a member of the Catholic Youth Organization run out of St. Athanasius Church when Father G. was one of the priests. He wrote a musical about the burning of the South Bronx, which he described as a cancer spreading through the neighborhood, and headed one of the first housing organizations, the South Bronx Community Housing Corporation, in the late 1970s. “People of the cloth are usually up on the pulpit reciting words,” said Cardona. “Gigante took those words to the street. He rolled up his sleeves and he got things done.”

Father G. captured the limelight when he hit the streets to rebuild the South Bronx, but his family’s infamy cast a big shadow. Vincent Gigante, one of Father G.’s four brothers, ran the Genovese crime family while dodging criminal charges most of his life. Their parents, Salvatore
and Yolanda Gigante, had emigrated from Naples to New York City in 1921; Salvatore worked as a watchmaker and Yolanda was a seamstress. Growing up in Greenwich Village in the ’40s, Vincent Gigante dropped out of junior high and boxed as a light heavyweight in several Manhattan clubs before becoming the protégé of Vito Genovese. Between the ages of 17 and 25, Vincent was arrested for receiving stolen goods, possession of an unlicensed handgun, auto theft, arson, and bookmaking. The majority of the charges were dismissed, but at age 30 he was convicted of heroin trafficking, alongside Genovese, and served a five-year prison term.

The Gigante family saga shifted into the initial stages of a Homeric epic in 1969 when Vincent Gigante was arrested again. He was indicted for conspiracy to bribe the entire police force of Old Tappan, New Jersey, that year, but the charge was dropped after psychiatrists deemed him mentally unfit to stand trial. For the next three decades, Gigante wandered around the Village in a tattered bathrobe and slippers, muttering to himself in what many believed was an elaborate ruse to avoid criminal prosecution and for which he earned the nicknames “Daffy Don” and the “Oddfather.” Convinced that Gigante was running the crime family from a building across from his family home on Sullivan Street, the FBI pursued him for years. But the feds failed to nail him with the wiretapped conversations that were used to ensnare other mob figures of the time.

Father G. became the family spokesman, defending his brother’s claims of mental illness and outright denying the existence of a Mafia—he argued that the Mafia was an anti-Italian stereotype created by the media and law enforcement officials. Despite Father G.’s support, Vincent Gigante was convicted in 1997 of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder for attempting to assassinate several of his enemies, including John Gotti, head of the Gambino family. The Chin was sentenced to 12 years in a federal prison. It wasn’t until 2003 that he admitted in court that the bathrobe theatrics were an act to avoid prosecution. The Chin died in prison at the age of 77 in 2005. As a
New York Times article noted, Father G. preached at the funeral that friends and family knew him as “a gentle, kind man, a man of God.”

Yet there are allegations that Father Gigante not only protected his brother, but helped him run the Genovese crime family from prison. In a deposition taken on June 12, 2006, for a civil suit filed by the federal government against the International Longshoremen’s Association, George Barone incriminated the priest. Barone is a former hit man and soldier from the Genovese crime family turned cooperative witness once he was marked for death by the mob. When asked whether a mob head can conduct business from jail, he replied, “Yes, yes, they do, and probably will always continue to. Chin Gigante to the day he died was feared as the boss of the Genovese family and continuously
through his brother, the priest, he sent messages out.”

While his brother became infamous, Father G. mostly avoided allegations of mob ties and instead achieved his own brand of celebrity. After seminary and a two-year stint in Puerto Rico, where he learned to speak Spanish, he was ordained in 1959. He quickly won a reputation as a priest with chutzpah for halting street fights on the Lower East Side. When he was transferred to St. Athanasius in 1962, he was said to have wielded a bat on walks around the neighborhood. After the launch of SEBCO, Father G. tried his luck in politics; he unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the 1970 Democratic primary, but he won a city council seat in 1973. When his term was up, he spent a week in jail for refusing to testify before the grand jury about his conversations with reputed mob figure James “Jimmy Nap” Napoli, whom he called a “dear old friend.” The priest also appeared in two films; one of them was Last Rites (1988), about a mob-connected priest in New York City.

Depending on whom you speak to in the South Bronx, Father G. inspires either devotion or disgust, but his power and influence are undeniable. His nonprofit organization expanded into a mini-kingdom with a real estate value of $50 million. Between 1978 and 2004, the SEBCO team registered 18 businesses, including six nonprofit organizations and 12 for-profit companies. Gigante is listed as CEO of five of the corporations and a chairperson of the majority of the nonprofit organizations. The money flows into the nonprofits in the form of government funds and tax-deductible donations and into the for-profit companies in the form of contracts for services, records indicate. Hunts Point I Rehab is a private company, and its financial records are not public. But Gigante’s nonprofit financial records demonstrate how the money moves around his companies. SEBCO VIP Housing Development Fund, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide housing for the elderly, shows government contributions for 2004 at $37,517. Gigante’s security company, Sentry Security, was paid $106,904 for services, resulting in a significant net loss. Nonetheless, the priest is listed as taking a $150,000 salary. Father G. has claimed that he never rejected wealth. “I didn’t take a vow of poverty,” he was quoted as saying in a 1981 Times article. “People think that I don’t get paid and that I’m a saint for doing it. That’s their problem.”

It’s impossible to deny the impact his company has made in the South Bronx. He employs more than 300 people, including many from the surrounding neighborhoods. Piles of rubble, hulks of burned-out buildings, and abandoned cars from the Hunts Point of the ’70s have given way to fully developed neighborhoods, some even with rows of ranch houses and cars parked suburban-style in driveways. But even as Father G. was transforming the neighborhood, he was accused of working with the Mafia. William Bastone, in his 1989 Voice article “The Priest and the Mob,” revealed that Father G. had developed more than 2,000 housing units with roughly $50 million in federal funds by hiring contractors whom authorities deemed mob-connected. But the city was never able to dig up enough dirt. “We never prosecuted them,” Manhattan D.A. spokeswoman Barbara Thompson said of SEBCO. “The only time we would run into them was when we were conducting investigations on other companies or individuals, organized crime–related and otherwise. Then we would come up against the contracts they had with SEBCO.”

In those days, Father G. was said to play an aggressive game with his rivals. At one point, his main competition for federal funds was Ramon Velez, a man for whom former mayor Ed Koch coined the phrase “poverty pimp.” The battle for political power and federal funds became so heated, wrote Jill
Jonnes in South Bronx Rising, that Velez called the priest a “maricon” (a derogatory Spanish word for homosexual) and Father G. retaliated by punching Velez in the nose. Today, the elder Velez suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and his son runs his housing organization, the South Bronx Community Management Company.

“In the beginning, you had a lot of competition,” said Ramon Velez Jr. “There were four organizations fighting to develop community housing. There were turf wars and people jockeying for position.” When asked about the fight between his father and the priest, he replied, “There have always been stories about that. They had their differences. Honestly, I don’t know. It wasn’t dinner-table type of conversation.”

The men made peace and each carved out his own section of the Bronx. Father G. laid claim to Community Board 2’s district, on which he sat for 22 years, and rigorously pursued federal money to construct buildings. Harold DeRienzo, the founder of Banana Kelly, another community group in the South Bronx involved in redevelopment,
said that Father G. often called him into his office. One such time, seated behind a desk, chomping on a cigar, the priest confronted DeRienzo about his intentions. “What are you trying to do?” he recalled Gigante asking him. “Are you applying for federal funds?” Father G.’s philosophy, DeRienzo explained, was that once you had a rivalry for federal funds no one received money. So he wanted no competition. “The city was bankrupt. The state was out of the housing game. Section 8 was the only game in town,” DeRienzo said. “The man has been very successful in developing low-income housing. I’ve seen him outmaneuver people—
planning-wise, business-wise, and politically. As long as I stayed away from the Section 8 applications, there wasn’t a problem.”

With a hero’s reputation still mostly intact in the South Bronx, Father G. is not someone tenants would have expected to fight.

“SEBCO brought hope to the neighborhood,” said Joyce Culler, first vice chair of Community Board 2 and someone who has worked to rebuild the community through multiple housing scandals. “This is a battle we shouldn’t have to fight. How do you break something that was so beautifully built?”

SEBCO was also well-built—now it’s a $50 million housing company. But Father G.’s operation is accused not only by its tenants but also by federal housing officials of mismanaging four federally subsidized buildings, known collectively as the Hunts Point I Rehab. SEBCO refurbished them more than 20 years ago, and although it does not own them, Gigante has acted as the de facto landlord. (Gigante said in an interview that the actual owner, Samuel Pompa, is living in Europe and was unreachable for comment.)

The priest, who started winding down his formal parish duties in 2002 and is now retired, wants to purchase the Hunts Point I Rehab buildings, folding them into his portfolio of more than 8,500 developed or managed housing units in the city that he has built up during the past three decades.

Mildred Colon, 51, a longtime resident of one of the Hunts Point I Rehab buildings, started the tenants’ association a year ago out of frustration. On August 4, 2006, for example, residents received a $14,390 bill from Con Edison because Gigante’s management company hadn’t paid it. Her daily calls about the gaping hole in her kitchen ceiling—roughly the diameter of a sewer cover—went unanswered for months. On August 30, she confronted the building super about the lack of hot water in the building. In response, she said, he swung a broom at her and called her a “bitch.” She filed a complaint with the police department and called the management company. The superintendent still runs the building.

“I’m fighting because I have lived in the buildings for 24 years,” said Colon. “I love my community. But the conditions have gotten so bad I can’t continue to let SEBCO take over. Father Gigante said that this is his community, but he doesn’t live here. He hasn’t saved the neighborhood. He abused the neighborhood. I may be slow to understand his bullshit, but I’m not stupid.”

There is evidence to support the tenants’ claims. Gigante’s management company, Building Management Associates Inc., received a combined yearly rental income of $1.8 million from the tenants and a subsidy from HUD to pay the utility bills and maintain the apartments, according to HUD records. Yet over the past two years, the records show, the utility payments have been in default, and the buildings are falling apart. “We are not satisfied with SEBCO’s management,” said Deborah VanAmerongen, director of HUD’s New York multi-family office.

HUD inspectors evaluated the entire physical structure in April 2004 and gave the tenements a score of 28 out of 100; 60 is failing. SEBCO was given 60 days to make improvements. But two months later, when HUD reevaluated, the score increased only one point, to 29. HUD again demanded that SEBCO make repairs. But when the federal agency assessed the buildings in August 2005, it gave them a score of 39. Inspectors dole out evaluations based on what they find the day they arrive on site, VanAmerongen explained. So an increase in 10 points could mean, for example, that the superintendent cleaned the buildings that morning. “It’s still a bad score,” she said. “It’s very uncommon for buildings to get scores so low.”

When asked if SEBCO had enough money to provide heat, hot water, and minor repairs, VanAmerongen replied, “One would think.” But she didn’t elaborate on whether or not HUD was investigating how the money was used, stating simply, “I can’t speak to that.” Ruth Ritzema, special agent in charge of HUD’s Office of the Inspector General, said that as routine procedure, she could not confirm or deny criminal investigations.

As the buildings have deteriorated, some of the area’s junkies, prostitutes, and drug dealers have taken notice and staked out positions in the project’s hallways and elevators. One night in September, a strung-out junkie with unruly hair, a dirty white T-shirt, and ripped jeans lurched out of an elevator that smelled of urine. He howled at the tenants before stumbling out the front door. More than two years ago, Gigante’s management company removed the security guards who once manned the entrance to the buildings. To make matters worse, tenants said, police broke down the door a year ago in pursuit of criminals and despite multiple complaints from residents, Gigante’s management company never fixed it. Father G. told the tenants that his company ran out of money. “Security was given to this building because I put it here,” Gigante said at one of the meetings between tenants and management. “But we didn’t have enough money, so we had to move them out.”

It’s a slap in the face to tenants like Evelyn Alameda, a petite, soft-spoken single mother who has encountered prostitutes having sex in the hallway and addicts shooting up in the stairwell in the middle of the afternoon. One night, she said, she yelled at a trespasser to leave the building, but he merely lifted up the sleeve of his shirt, slapped his arm to emphasize a gang tattoo, and then walked on, ignoring her plea. A 13-year tenant, Alameda said she constantly checks her back when walking through the hallways of her home. She has reason to be cautious—a young woman was raped in the corridor almost two years ago by an intruder. “When they took away our safety, they took away our dignity,” Alameda said.

Father G. may not have a legal obligation to provide security guards, but by law, his company is obligated to provide minimal security like functioning doors and windows. The problems have festered for years, even when there was security, and once Father G.’s company was held accountable. On August 3, 1997, when guards from Sentry Security were still patrolling the sidewalks, a crazed man dashed into the lobby of one of the Hunts Point I Rehab tenements. With the security guards in pursuit, the man fled up the stairs, jumped the fence, and entered the adjacent building through a rooftop door. At the same time, a nine-year-old girl waited in the doorway of her apartment while her grandmother, 60, put out the trash. As the grandmother was about to enter her apartment, she felt a strange hand on her back. The man was behind her. He shoved the grandmother into her apartment, and according to the court transcripts, terrorized the pair for over an hour.

“He dragged me all over the floor,” said the grandmother in court. “Me and [my granddaughter].” The man announced that he was HIV-positive and that he was going to prick the grandmother and granddaughter with a needle. The grandmother made her way to a window to scream for help, but he pushed the pair into another room and brutalized them.

“He grabbed us by our necks,” the grandmother said. “I had this bun and he would push it all the way to the back like he wanted to crack my neck. So, he would grab the little girl and slam her to the other side of the room . . . I would take the girl away from him so he would let go of the girl and grab me. He was like an hour hitting me, hitting me up and down with the floor . . . he was hitting me in my entire body. I was struggling with him. I felt this pinch that he gave me. But I didn’t pay any attention to it because I was struggling with him so much so he wouldn’t harm more my girl . . . we were both screaming so much. Nobody came. Not even security. Nothing. Nobody.”

Eventually, neighbors heard the screaming and called police. Five or so cops climbed through the window, grabbed the man, and hauled him out of the apartment “like a pig,” according to court records. The grandmother and her granddaughter brought a civil suit against Samuel Pompa’s corporation, Hunts Point I Associates, and the SEBCO management and security companies, and it landed in the Bronx Supreme Court in 2000. SEBCO and the other defendants argued that they couldn’t be held responsible for the crime for two reasons: There was no prior criminal activity in the building alerting them to a possible offense, and the company satisfied its obligation to supply minimal security. In the end, the case was settled out of court, with the management team agreeing to pay the grandmother and her granddaughter, according to their lawyers. Now almost 10 years after this brutal crime, there’s less security than before.

The tenants’ security problem extends all the way to Washington, D.C. It is unclear how SEBCO has used the tenants’ rent money and the HUD subsidy because HUD itself doesn’t track how the money is spent. Instead, the owners or managing agents calculate their expenses and submit an audited financial statement to HUD at the end of each year. When the buildings failed HUD’s 2004–05 inspections with those dismal scores of 28, 29, and 39, HUD officials said their only options were to foreclose on the buildings or withhold the subsidy money. HUD considered recommending the projects for its “Mark-to-Market,” a program that reduces the federal subsidy to market-level rents but also restructures the mortgage so that the payments are lower, freeing capital for renovations. But 20 years after SEBCO first renovated Hunts Point I Rehab, HUD determined that the projects required complete “gut” rehabilitation. Since the amount of money needed to repair the buildings exceeded that which could be legally mandated within HUD’s guidelines, the buildings were disqualified. But even though they knew—from the results of their own inspections—that the residents were living in squalor, HUD reduced the yearly subsidy going into the buildings by roughly $1 million. The result has been a drastic decline in conditions over the past two years. “It is mandated by Congress to reduce the rents to market level,” said HUD’s VanAmerongen. “We had no options left at that point and no additional resources. We were obligated. We had no choice.”

Many tenants said they think they have no choice but to fight Father G. Not all of them are longtime residents. Concepion Samb, for one, explained how she moved to the Hunts Point I Rehab buildings five years ago when she could no longer afford her apartment in a more affluent section of the Bronx. Working as a home health aide, she suffered a cutback in her hours and struggled to cover her bills with the $8.95 that she earned per hour. This is her first Section 8 home, she said. Walking around her apartment, she pointed out the problems in each room. The vent in the bathroom is broken, so there is a constant layer of mold in the shower. A radiator in her bedroom burst last year, leaving a rotting hole by her bed that’s spongy when she steps on it. In the winter she wears two pairs of pants, two sweaters, two pairs of socks, and a robe to keep warm—inside her apartment. “Jesus, in the winter you freeze to death,” she said. “I like the cold, but not that cold. It’s lousy. I’m not making the money I used to make, so I have to settle for this crap. Just because you need help from the government doesn’t mean that the management company should reject basic needs like heat, hot water, and respect. It’s humiliating.”

The tenants’ association is racing to find an alternative buyer for the buildings. HUD began foreclosure proceedings late last year, requiring Gigante to pay the outstanding mortgage payments of $500,000 by November 15 to forestall the process and open the door for a possible sale to SEBCO. HUD paid off the $6.8 million mortgage in August, so although Samuel Pompa technically still owns the buildings, HUD has the right to send them to the auction block. After supporting several funding options to refinance the mortgage and stalling the foreclosure process, HUD has lost confidence in SEBCO’s ability to complete a purchase, VanAmerongen said. The details of the foreclosure process are uncertain, but she said that the Hunts Point I Rehab will remain an affordable-housing unit.

It’s unclear why Gigante hasn’t taken the first step toward ownership by paying down the outstanding mortgage payments. But the tenants have made their grievances known. In addition to meeting with HUD, they sent letters to Congressman Jose Serrano and Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. The foreclosure proceedings have energized Father G.’s opponents. “In a way, that has clearly focused us,” said Tenants and Neighbors representative Patrick Coleman.

There was a time when Father G. was mobilizing people in a far different way. He molded St. Athanasius parishioners into an influential voting bloc, according to Frank Marrero, a Hunts Point resident for 49 years and a current member of Community Board 2’s housing committee. But as SEBCO grew, Father G. spent less time in the community and more time fortifying his businesses. “When SEBCO started having problems with the community, who did they bring?” Marrero said. “Father Gigante is a figurehead and he’ll stand up in the front of the room and tell them how much he did for the community. You can’t argue with the fact that he got things done. But I think they lost touch when they got too big. He’s getting older and the organization has lost touch with the community. . . . When I pray, I pray for him to open his eyes so they will fix the buildings.”

He’d be joined in that prayer by longtime resident Miriam Diaz-Marin, who recalled a warm atmosphere two decades ago in the Hunts Point I Rehab buildings. A small woman with short dark hair and warm brown eyes, Diaz-Marin, 53, smiled as she described how the women in the building threw holiday parties and exchanged homemade food. They named a bench in the courtyard after her son Adam when she christened the building with its first birth. She was thrilled with her new apartment developed by Gigante’s company, and when her family grew to five, she was grateful for her living space, including two bathrooms that she designated “a girls’ bathroom” and a “boys’ bathroom.” “It was so new,” Diaz-Marin said. “I was so proud of it.”

Diaz-Marin doesn’t leave her apartment much any more. Suffering from a respiratory disease, she has difficulty breathing without an oxygen tank. It’s bad enough for Diaz-Marin that there is a lack of heat in the winter, the closet doors pop unexpectedly out of place, and the kitchen cabinets sag, but for three months she was without a functioning shower. The shower in the “boys’ bathroom” stopped working in the fall of 2005, she said. Then in the fall of 2006, SEBCO management told her to stop using the shower in the “girls’ bathroom” because it was flooding the apartment below her. They told her they would fix the problem in a week. Instead, they gave her the key to a vacant apartment on the first floor and didn’t fix the problem until three months later, in December. Diaz-Marin is prone to pneumonia and afraid of catching a chill, so many days she took a “cat bath” in her tub with a small blue bowl. One day she craved a bath so badly that she turned the water on, but the neighbors appeared almost immediately. ” ‘Miriam, Miriam,’ ” she recalled them yelling. ” ‘Turn off the water. It’s flooding!’ ”

Diaz-Marin lives in the worst of the four Hunts Point I Rehab buildings, but all of them are in disrepair. The SEBCO management team sent a letter to the tenants on March 30, 2006, explaining that the buildings needed complete gut rehabilitation. In the letter, they wrote that they would relocate the tenants while they renovated the buildings. So far, there is no relocation plan. In the meantime, tenants wait, anxious to know whether they will still have an affordable home. Tenants like Diaz-Marin are afraid they will be forced to move permanently, or worse, end up homeless. “I’ve been taking sleeping pills for the last year and a half,” she said. “The worries get me going. I just don’t sleep. Oh Lord, I hope they don’t make me move.”

A security guard stands watch 24 hours a day in a small booth at the head of Gigante Plaza between Tiffany and Fox streets in the South Bronx. One side of the plaza is decorated with fountains of lions’ heads made in Italy. On the other side, a security camera aimed at the plaza is perched on top of St. Athanasius, just below the church’s cross. A weatherbeaten blue-and-white sign tied to the courtyard fence reads: “SEBCO: Dedicated to Our Community. Helping Our Neighborhood Grow.” Once referred to as “Giganteland,” the plaza stands in stark
contrast to the Hunts Point I Rehab buildings on the other side of Bruckner Boulevard.

Back on that chilly October night on the sidewalk in front of the Hunts Point I Rehab buildings, Gigante and his entourage walked under the creepy scaffolding and entered the community room of 741 Coster Street. Roughly 40 residents gathered in the shabby room, restless with anticipation. Monsignor William J. Smith, the current St. Athanasius pastor—and also secretary treasurer of SEBCO—glided down the aisles, shaking hands with residents. From behind him, Father G. watched, a half-smile on his face. At the back of the room, near the door, the cops and security guards stood with their arms folded. Seated on backless folding chairs were the tenants, mostly Latina mothers and grandmothers, anxious to learn about the future of their homes. The tenants were quiet at first, and Father G. stood to address them. He alternated between blaming the tenants for the problems in the buildings and being conciliatory. He promised to relocate them and renovate their apartments.

At a meeting two weeks earlier, Gigante tried the same tactics, one moment admonishing the tenants and the next moment pleading for their support. “I know you’ve suffered,” he said to the room. Then he spun around in a circle and waved an arm at provocative signs on the wall that read things like: “We want a new owner!” “We want responsible management.” “Enough is enough!”

“With all I’ve read on the walls,” Father G. said, “I don’t know why you’re still here.” Then he attempted to win their support by suggesting they work together to improve the apartments. “I’ve come tonight to tell you that it’s the real thing,” he said. “We will own the buildings. But I need your help. I need the people’s voice.”

The tone was similar at the later meeting —Father G. alternately cajoled and coddled. “I’m disgusted by what is going on in the buildings,” he said at one point. “Prostitutes having sex in the hallway!” The room erupted. The tenants were furious for being blamed, especially since Gigante’s company hadn’t fixed one of the front doors, which contributed to the problem. “Do you want to exchange your living situation with me?” one of the tenants shouted.

A hot debate ensued for an hour. Father G. promised to return to update the tenants on his plans to buy and refurbish the buildings. With that, the priest and his entourage filed out onto the sidewalk, leaving angry tenants inside.

Later, several tenants said Gigante had made them feel that they were to blame for “destroying his creation.” Father G., for his part, told a reporter, “This is a local situation that was blown out of proportion.” Asked why he removed the tenants’ security guards, the priest-turned-businessman replied, “You can’t have services you don’t pay for.” But when asked if he was the one who, in effect, built the Hunts Point I Rehab, his eyes brightened. He bent his knees slightly, raised his arms above his head and proclaimed, “I built the whole neighborhood!”

Before being whisked away in the black car, Father G. agreed to another interview with the Voice, but he never returned phone calls, nor did he or his management team respond to written requests for information. A few weeks later, however, inside one of the SEBCO offices, Father G.’s nephew Salvatore Gigante responded to queries with this: “I don’t want to hear the sound of your voice. No one is going to talk to you. We have nothing to say. Our actions will speak for what we’re doing.”