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Subversion By Organized Crime And Other Unscrupulous Elements of the Check Cashing Industry
State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation 1988 Report
PUBLIC HEARING-THIRD/FINAL DAY (April 28, 1988) – Expert Reviews Probe's Organized Crime Aspects

Intelligence Chief Dintino Hits Mob Incursion

Although the SCI's chief of organized crime in­telligence, Justin Dintino, testified on this final day of the public hearing, many of his individual ob­servations have been incorporated into this report with the testimony of previous witnesses for the sake of clarity and relevance. However, his com­mentary was extensive and what has not already been cited on pertinent organized crime issues will be noted here.

Dintino's qualifications as an expert witness were put into the hearing record by Counsel Gaal. In 1985, he retired as deputy superintendent of the New Jersey State Police after 33 years of service, during 18 years of which he was involved with organized crime investigations and assembling and utilizing organized crime intelligence He ser­ved on the President's Commission on Organized Crime during 1983-86 and is past general and national chairman of the Law Enforcement In­telligence Unit, an international organization which exchanges crime intelligence data.

New Jersey's Mob Burden

At the outset Dintino summarized the organized crime elements most active in and near New Jer­sey:

Q. Chief Dintino, regarding the traditional or­ganized crime families known by the various names of La Cosa Nostra, Mafia and so forth, what organized crime families operate within New Jersey or exercise considerable influence on this State?
A. You have the Bruno/Nicodemo Scarfo family and they operate basically in Trenton and south Jersey, with the exception of a segment in Essex and Union County and Atlantic City. You have the Gambino/John Gotti organiza­tion, which primarily operates in the north and central New Jersey. You have the Geno­vese/Vincent Gigante family which operates primarily in north and central Jersey. You have the Colombo [family with] Joseph Russo, Vic­tor Oreno [and Benedetto] Aloi. That is un­usual but those are three individuals that are acting bosses at the present time and they basically operate in north Jersey. You have the Bonanno/Anthony Spero organization which operates basically in north Jersey. You have the DeCavalcante/John Riggi organization which operates in north and central New Jer­sey. And you have the Lucchese/Victor Amuso organization, which operates in north and cen­tral New Jersey, basically in the Ocean and Monmouth areas of central Jersey.

Who Constitutes Crime Group

Counsel Gaal asked Dintino to describe who constitutes an organized crime group. The testi­mony on this topic:

Q. Could you describe the organizational struc­ture of an organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra? 83
A. At the top of the organization you have the boss, such as Nicodemo Scarfo, and you must understand that he is a complete despot. He has absolute powers over the organization, in­cluding life and death. All policy decisions are made by him. He normally receives a piece of the action from each individual connected with that organization, whether they be members or associates or whatever, including both legit­imate and illegitimate businesses. Under him you have the underboss. The underboss is known as a buffer. Anyone wishing an au­dience with the boss would go through the underboss and more than likely wouldn't re­ceive that audience unless he were someone in close standing with the boss. The consiglieri has no command function in the organization. He would be an advisor, a mediator. He would (be the] historian, a face saver, [and] mediate disputes. Below the underboss [are] capos or caporegimes, depending on the size of the organization. You may have five in a small or­ganization. You could have as many as 15 or 20 in a large organization. The capos in some organizations control a specific criminal activi­ty such as loansharking or gambling or labor racketeering. In other organizations, the capos would be in [charge of] a variety of criminal activities. Under the capo would be the soldiers and normally there would be an aver­age of ten soldiers under each capo. It could be as few as three or four soldiers or as high as 20. Under the soldiers we have associates, and I might point out here that we're talking about criminal associates. I want to emphasize that when we're speaking about associates, a number of them are much more important to the organization than the members.

Greed Spurs Organized Crime

Dintino next described how an insatiable greed for money drives organized crime members and associates into any kind of a violent or non-violent crime that will produce cash or booty that can be converted into cash:

Q. What illegal activities are organized crime fam­ilies involved in?
A. They are involved in illegal gambling, narcotics, loansharking, labor racketeering, murder, public corruption, white collar crimes, extortion, money laundering-you name it, they're involved in it. Their objective is making money. They'll do just about anything to make money.

Q. Are the proceeds from organized crime's il­legal operations used to infiltrate and control legitimate businesses?
A. Yes, they are. Organized crime members and associates are always looking for places to invest illegal money. They want to legitimatize cash so they're constantly looking for places to invest in legitimate businesses.

Q. Does organized crime have a need to launder or make legitimate the cash generated from illegal operations?
A. Yes, absolutely. It's very important that illegal income be run through a business so it be­comes legitimate income. Organized crime would have a problem if they had nothing but illegal income. They have to show some legit­imate income; otherwise, they could run afoul of the IRS in a net worth case. I might point out that they never forget Al Capone; he was imprisoned on an IRS net worth case.

Q. What are some of the ways that cash can be laundered?
A. Money laundering-an example would be someone purposely buys a tavern that's losing money and then they invest their drug money into the tavern, run it through the books, and the tavern now shows a large profit and they legitimize the money. They pay taxes on it. That's very important, pay taxes on it ... make it legitimate income. Another example would be to [divert funds to] off-shore banks and then to legitimate businesses in that country and then transfer [the funds] to a legitimate business in this country. In other examples, many use legitimate businesses such as casinos, banks and stock exchanges, all of which have been used extensively, usually with someone on the inside. Another place to launder money is obviously check cashers.

Check Cashers Ripe For Scams

As three days of public hearing testimony amply confirmed, check cashing outlets offer fertile locales for almost every type of criminal enterprise. Intelligence Chief Dintino described how such establishments, licensed or unlicensed, are attractive to crooks and swindlers:

Q. Would having access to a check casher facili­tate organized crime figures in their illegal enterprises?
A. It certainly would because it would allow them to embezzle funds, collect extortion payments, collect gambling debts, conduct loanshark op­erations, evade taxes and undertake many other crimes.

Q. Does a check casher also give organized crime a way to hide legitimate income to evade taxes?
A. Yes, by inflating expenses, by issuing checks for services never rendered and goods never received, thereby reducing taxable income; by issuing checks to fictitious individuals and businesses, by phony invoices and ghost em­ployees, by receivables that are not reported on the books but cashed at check cashers.

"Wise Guys" Versus "Squares"

The SCI's investigation confirmed payoffs, kick­backs or extortion of usurious interest by means of disbursements to a certain "WGA"-meaning Wise Guy Association. These initials, found among certain books and records, described-or disguised-the organized crime recipient of illicit payments, as Dintino explained in his testimony:

Q. Chief Dintino, during the investigation of one business involved in the check cashing in­vestigation we discovered handwritten notes of payments that had been made to an entity identified as WG
A. We have been able to es­tablish through testimony during the public hearing and in private session from those in­volved in the writing-the writing of the notes with the initials WGA-that this actua~iy stood for Wise Guy Association. From your ex­perience in the field of organized crime have you ever heard the term "wise guy"?
A. Yes, I have. In my experience it means some­one connected to an organized crime or­ganization. The individuals within the or­ganized crime group think of themselves as wise guys and they think people like ourselves as squares or straight people.

Siegel-Santoro Connection, Again

The names of Edwin Siegel of Clifton, Robert Santoro of Wanamassa and their City Check Cashing entity in Jersey City were cited in various episodes of misconduct during the Commission's hearing. As these episodes evolved in this report, Dintino's confirmation of their relationship to or­ganized crime figures or frauds was noted. How­ever, because of the Siegel-Santoro connection's significance in the SCI's probe findings, additional excerpts from Dintino's testimony on these indi­viduals and their check cashing company are provided here:

BY MS. GAAL: Chief, during this hearing we've learned that Robert Santoro of Wanamass
A. New Jersey, and his since-deceased father. Cono, had been involved in unlicensed check cashing businesses since the mid-1970s. Rob­ert Santoro began working at City Check Cashing in Jersey City when Edwin L. Siegel of Clifton, the owner and a licensed check casher, opened his business in March of 1985. Robert Santoro presently works for Edwin Siegel at City Check Cashing. Robert and Cono operated unlicensed check cashing businesses at 1033 Communipaw Avenue in Jersey City, Colony Plaza, and associated with Robert Brandon's check cashing business at the same location which used the name Abob. The Santoro operations have been the target of federal, state and local law enforcement in­vestigations for years. The Department of Banking has tried without success to curtail the Santoro check cashing activities.

Q.Do you know Robert Santoro ...?
A. Yes.

Q. Does he have any connections with organized crime?
A. Yes. Robert Santoro has a long involvement in the check cashing business. He was brought into the business by his since deceased father, Cono Santoro. Both Santoros have had a long relationship with Edwin L. Siegel through check cashing and other business operations. Robert Santoro is connected to organized crime through John DiGilio, a soldier from the Genovese crime organization; Anthony Gal­lagher, a significant associate of the Genovese group, and Robert Brandon, a known Geno­vese associate. He is also an associate of Rich­ard D'Agostino, who is serving a life sentence in Trenton State Prison for a double homicide. City Check Cashing has always been and is today a front for the DiGilio faction of the Genovese operation to facilitate extortion pay­ments, pay off usurious loans and [for] money laundering.

Q. Do you know the name of Edwin L. Siegel, date of birth March 19, 1935?
A. Yes, I do.

Q. Does he have any connections to organized crime?
A. Edwin Siegel owns City Check Cashing. He employs Robert Santoro who manages the business and [is] a known associate of DiGilio and Gallagher. City Check Cashing is a facility that has been utilized by the DiGilio faction of the Genovese organization for criminal activity such as loansharking, gambling, debt collec­tions. Edwin Siegel is either a willing or unwill­ing front for the Genovese organized crime group. It has been documented in the past that Edwin Siegel had business relationships with Pasquale A. Macchiarole, a Genovese LCN, who was murdered May 22, 1978, and Phillip (Brother) Moscato, a known associate of the Genovese organization.

Q. Chief, during this hearing we have demon­strated that major organized crime figures and their associates from the major organized crime families operating both in and out of the State of New Jersey are using the services of New Jersey check cashers. In several in­stances we've seen high-level members of or­ganized crime families traveling from another state. We have heard them on court­authorized electronic surveillance tapes dis­cussing organized crime business and profits and about providing this service of cashing checks for other parties and many times pay­ing considerably more for this service than if they simply deposited the check into their re­spective bank accounts and drew upon the check. Do you have an opinion as to why check cashing operations are so attractive to organized crime?
A. Certainly. It provides organized crime with a vehicle to conduct numerous criminal ac­tivities.

Q. Does organized crime's infiltration of New Jer­sey check cashers for [utilization as] fronts give you any concern as to what they are being used for by organized crime?
A. Without question it concerns me. I know [that] the check casher enterprises are being used by organized crime to facilitate a number of criminal activities.

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