Thursday, May 24, 2007

NJ man arrested as Gambino leader

Andrew Merola, 40, of East Hanover NJ, was arrested May 21 and charged with supervising organized criminal activities, with racketeering and with theft by extortion, according to a story by Kareem Fahim of the New York Times.

Law enforcement officials say Merola (whose name was legally changed from Knapik) has been an important figure in the Gambino Crime Family and has worked closely with an ally in the Lucchese Crime Family on racketeering ventures.

Investigators have linked Merola to corruption in Springfield-based Local 825 of the International Union of Operating Engineers and Newark-based Local 1153 of Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA). Two union officials were also arested this week.

Through their influence with Local 825, Merola and his Lucchese Family ally allegedly arranged for a $20,000 bribe from a construction company. Prosecutors have charged Martin Taccetta with membership in the Lucchese clan and with engaging in racketeering with Merola. Taccetta is the brother of imprisoned Lucchese bigshot Michael Taccetta. (Martin and Michael Tacchetta shown at right.) Martin's recent racketeering conviction was overturned, and he is awaiting retrial.
Union officials John Cataldo of Nutley NJ and Joseph Manzella of West Orange NJ were arrested. According to a story in the Daily Record, Cataldo was an organizer for Operating Engineers Local 825, and Manzella was a business agent for LIUNA Local 1153.

"Both men basically surrendered their control of the unions to Andrew Merola of East Hanover, New Jersey, a known soldier of the Gambino Crime Family," said Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow.

Merola is also accused of supervising gambling rings in northern New Jersey and New York State. Those were allegedly run by Merola underlings Ralph Cicalese and Kyle Ragusa. Cicalese is a former investigator of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.

Before his name change, Knapik was reportedly jailed for almost four years in the 1990s for theft by deception and for distributing a controlled substance.

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Editor/publisher of crime history journal, Informer. Publisher of American Mafia history website mafiahistory.us. Moderator of Mafia-related Yahoo discussion group. Author of Wrongly Executed? Coauthor of Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia and DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime. Contributor of American Mafia history to Australian-published Mafia: The Necessary Reference to Organized Crime. Writer/co-writer of crime history articles for Informer, On the Spot Journal, Cigar City Magazine, Tampa Mafia Magazine.