Measured moves by feared waterfront racketeer Tino Fiumara to reassert his control over the New Jersey docks and move toward the top of the powerful Genovese crime family - as well as the feds' efforts to derail him - came to a sudden and decisive end last week.
Fiumara, who was observed meeting with mobsters and an allegedly corrupt longshoremen's union official by FBI agents earlier this year, died a week ago at a hospital near his Huntington, Long Island home after losing a bout with a fast-moving case of pancreatic cancer. He was 69.
At the time of his death, sources say the Genovese capo was a member of a three-member panel that was running the family and was regarded by many as the family's street boss.
Fiumara has been implicated in numerous murders - but never convicted of any - since he cut his gangster teeth working for the legendary Livingston, New Jersey mobster Ruggiero (Richie The Boot) Boiardo in the 1960s. Most recently, federal and local authorities in two states have been trying to tie Tino to the 2005 slaying of mobster Lawrence Ricci, who was killed while on trial for federal racketeering charges in Brooklyn.
In a secret FBI memo, Genovese soldier George Barone, a waterfront racketeer for decades, gave Fiumara the ultimate gangster compliment. "Tino is a legitimate tough guy who is very capable," said Barone, with "capable" being mobspeak for "able to commit murders."
Fiumara's death was unexpected - to both sides of the law. He passed away last Thursday, and was buried on Saturday without a traditional wake for friends and loved ones to pay their respects. The death was so shrouded in secrecy that some adversaries wondered aloud on Monday whether Fiumara had actually died.
"I don't know that he passed away," said one longtime lawman. "I heard that he's dead, but my gut tells me that he is not. It is right up his alley to pull a stunt like this," he added, recalling that the cagey gangster often traveled in the trunks of cars to avoid the watchful eyes of the law.
But a spokeswoman for the Huntington Hospital confirmed that Fiumara, who relocated from Wyckoff, New Jersey to Huntington in 2002, had expired Thursday evening, and a spokeswoman for the Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island said he was laid to rest there.
"He went very quickly; he went to the hospital, and in two weeks he was dead," said one Gang Land source.
"I'm saddened by his death" said Bloomfield attorney Salvatore Alfano, who told Gang Land that he attended a small graveside ceremony with family members and close friends at the cemetery on Saturday. "He was a client of mine for over ten years and I am obviously sorry that he passed away. He was always a gentleman with me."
"He was a controversial and charismatic individual," said Alfano. "Law enforcement vilified him and people who knew him loved him."
Last year, Fiumara's murderous reputation caused angst for former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie when the New York Times disclosed his familial connections to Fiumara and questioned how Christie handled his office's 2003 prosecution of Tino - whose brother John had been married to Christie's aunt - for a 1990s parole violation.
The flap arose during Christie's successful campaign for Governor.
As a boy, Christie had seen Fiumara at family parties in Livingston. As a young lawyer, in 1991, he visited the convicted racketeer in prison, at the request of a relative, he told the Times.
Christie, who had taken over as U.S. Attorney after the Fiumara investigation had begun, had no involvement in the case but never disclosed his connections to the defendant or his reason for removing himself from the case when his office trumpeted the conviction of the fierce mobster.
"My view at the time was, I had nothing to do with the case, I'd had no involvement with it, and I didn't think it was of any import to anyone why I'd recused," he told the Times. "It was a personal matter; it was not a professional matter."
Tino suffered from kidney disease, but according to several sources, had been in relatively good health in recent years. His health improved following a kidney transplant that he underwent shortly before beginning his most recent prison stint in the case handled by Christie's office. He received eight months for associating with fugitive cohort Michael (Mikey Cigars) Coppola in the late 1990s.
Following his release from prison in January of 2005, Fiumara, who also received a post-prison, three-year, supervised release term, maintained a very low profile in Huntington, where sources say he lived with his longtime paramour.
Later that year, Fiumara allegedly approved the murder of Ricci, who disappeared while on trial for labor racketeering charges along with two International Longshoremen's Association officials. Ricci was found shot to death in the trunk of a car in Union, New Jersey a few weeks after all three defendants were acquitted of all charges.
Convicted along with Coppola and Ricci of separate labor racketeering charges in Newark and Manhattan Federal Court in 1978 and 1979, Fiumara served 14 years behind bars before being released on parole in 1994.
According to court papers filed in connection with those convictions, authorities linked Fiumara to four murders in the 1960s, including the 1969 grisly slaying of a Robert (Bobby) Harris, a black civic leader in Paterson who also ran a bookmaking operation that was linked to the Genovese family.
Harris, 49, was found shot to death, his feet tied to the back of his head, in a garbage dump in Kearney three months after he disappeared. His skull was crushed. His spine was broken. The ribs on his left side were caved in. Nine ribs on the left side were fractured, as was his right leg.
"We received information from confidential informants that Tino had done it and had driven the trussed-up body around to make sure that everyone knew that the family was very serious about its control of all the bookmaking business in New Jersey," said one law enforcement source.