By Nick Falsone | The Express-Times
A Hunterdon County man who previously served as president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1235 has admitted to a role in extorting union members, a scheme tied to the Genovese crime family, authorities said.
Thomas Leonardis, 56, of Glen Gardner, pleaded guilty today in federal court to a conspiracy charge and faces up to 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey.
Leonardis, who was the president of the Local 1235 from 2008 to 2011, admitted that he and other union officials compelled union members who worked on New Jersey waterfront piers to make "tribute payments" based on "actual and threatened force, violence and fear," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The statement says the timing of the extortion typically coincided with the receipt of "container royalty checks," a form of year-end compensation given to workers around Christmastime.
Leonardis and other union officials made the collections at the behest of Stephen Depiro, a 58-year-old Kenilworth, N.J., man who was a soldier in the Genovese crime family, according to authorities.
The family had control over the New Jersey waterfront and practiced forms of worker extortion for nearly three decades, authorities said.
The feds busted the operation in January 2011. Leonardis was suspended from his position as were other union officials arrested in the bust.
Authorities at the time also collared Depiro on racketeering charges and other suspected members of the crime family. Eight, including Depiro, still await trial.
In addition to Leonardis, Vincent Aulisi, 82, of West Orange, N.J., and Robert Ruiz, 55, of Watchung, N.J., also pleaded guilty to conspiracy today in connection with the case, the U.S. Attorney's Office says in its statement.
Aulisi served as Local 1235 president from 2006 to 2007; he was retired at the time of his arrest. Ruiz was a union delegate from 2007 to 2010 and was suspended after his arrest.
Aulisi and Ruiz, like Leonardis, also face up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing for all three is scheduled for September. It was unclear today if any of them are currently incarcerated.
Efforts were unsuccessful late this afternoon to reach the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey and Michael Pedicini, the attorney representing Leonardis, for comment.