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Tino Looks For Chrismas Past

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After biding his time for several years, powerful waterfront racketeer Tino Fiumara has been flexing his prison-hardened muscles in recent months and reasserting himself as the Genovese family's go-to guy on the New Jersey docks - and as a contender for the post of family boss.

Fiumara is a much feared capo who resides on Long Island these days. But the FBI says he still controls the family's lucrative rackets that are based in the Garden State. And the feds view Tino as a strong candidate to succeed the late Vincent (Chin) Gigante as leader of the powerful clan.

"He's a gangster down to the core and he's definitely not thinking of riding off into the sunset," said one knowledgeable source. Fiumara, the source added, "has been making his presence felt" since he was forced to avoid meeting his wiseguy cronies for three long years following a prison stretch that ended in 2005.

Tino has a new bodyguard/chauffeur who takes him on his appointed rounds. And he has a new emissary who does his dirty work on the piers. But the 68-year-old gangster is still the same old Tino, says FBI agent John Penza, who has been keeping an eye on him. Fiumara is the crime family's main man when it comes to controlling the longshoremen's unions and labor rackets on the New Jersey waterfront, says Penza.

Penza has detailed Fiumara's lofty crime family position in a 57-page complaint that the FBI used to arrest the mobster who allegedly does Tino's bidding on the docks, Stephen Depiro, in a failed effort to coerce him to cooperate. The complaint charges Depiro, 54, with harboring an old Fiumara pal, Michael (Mikey Cigars) Coppola, (left) during the months before he was caught and arrested on a murder warrant three years ago after 11 years on the run.

Since late 2005, Depiro has overseen gambling, loansharking, and several labor racketeering schemes. He is alleged to handle extortion kickbacks from vendors and members of several International Longshoremen's Association locals for his boss, according to the complaint.

Depiro moved into his slot after his predecessor, the late mobster Lawrence Ricci, fell down on the job, so to speak. Ricci, another old Fiumara pal, disappeared while he was on trial in Brooklyn Federal Court for labor racketeering charges. He was later acquitted in absentia, but it did him no good: He was found murdered in the trunk of a car a month later, allegedly carried out on Tino's orders.

"During the past several months," wrote Penza, "Depiro has been observed meeting with a leader of a local of the ILA in New Jersey" and "with Fiumara on multiple occasions on Long Island."

Sources identified the union official as Nunzio LaGrasso, the treasurer of Newark-based Local 1478, who also is an ILA Atlantic Coast Division vice president. LaGrasso did not return a call for comment from Gang Land last week.

During the current investigation, the FBI used wiretaps on at least four cell-phones, including one that Depiro used to call Fiumara from August 2009 through February, to track and monitor meetings between the men in Manhattan and on Long Island, the complaint said.

On January 11, the FBI used several teams of agents and cars to track Depiro and a New Jersey attorney as they traveled in separate cars from the lawyer's Bloomfield, NJ office to meet Fiumara for dinner at Bryant & Cooper Steakhouse in Roslyn, L.I.

As their respective drivers and mob associates sat at the bar, the Genovese gangsters, and attorney Salvatore Alfano, who has represented Fiumara previously, engaged in a hushed dinner meeting as FBI agents in the restaurant strained to hear what they were saying.

Agents overheard one of the men, who was not singled out, state: "Christmas is long gone." This statement had little to do with the joyous holiday 17 days earlier, wrote Penza. It referred to "Depiro and Fiumara's concerns about the future of the extortion scheme" involving "tribute payments" that dock workers are required to fork over to ILA officials at Christmas so they could be passed up to the Genovese gangsters.

Alfano did not return a call for comment. Fiumara, who is the main target of the investigation, was mentioned 25 times in the affidavit, but not charged with any crimes. His attorney, Gerald Shargel, said: "My client steadfastly denies doing anything that would even come close to breaking the law."

At Depiro's arraignment on April 1, assistant U.S. attorney Taryn Merkl sought to detain the mobster, if not as a danger to the community, as a possible flight risk. Attorney Sarita Kedia argued against it, noting without objection that agents had hounded her client for months before his arrest, approaching him at least three times while he was at church, and that he had not harmed anyone or flown the coop.

After five suretors, including his girlfriend, Michele Caruso, agreed to sign a $1.2 million bond on Depiro's behalf, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Levy released the wiseguy under house arrest provisions. But the judge added an unusual proviso that allows Depiro to attend daily religious services, which Kedia had said was his general routine.

Merkl questioned whether Depiro really went to church every day, or whether Caruso was a suitable suretor because, as the complaint alleges, she knew about Depiro's gambling activities. But the prosecutor did not press the issue. After she signed the bond with a smile and a flourish, Caruso and Depiro left the courthouse together for their home in Kenilworth, NJ to await the next move by the feds in their effort to put Fiumara behind bars for good.