Long before the sun comes up, thousands of crates of bananas,
apples, oranges, grapes, and cherries start rolling out of the
Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, destined for stores and
fruit carts around New York. With more than $1.5 billion in gross
revenues annually, Hunts Point is the biggest wholesale produce
market in the country. It is also, reputedly, under the thumb of
But not for long.
This spring Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the former federal
prosecutor who hasn't lost his zeal for fighting organized crime,
announced his intentions to root the Mafia out of the market.
"It's no secret organized crime has been heavily involved in the
wholesale food markets ... for too long," says Mayor Giuliani.
That control let Mafia-dominated groups squeeze out competition,
fix prices, and run up extra costs to consumers of hundreds of
millions of dollars a year, experts say.
The mayor calls it the "Mob tax." And he's determined to lift it
by going after the weaknesses in the system that allowed the Mafia
to get its talons into such industries in the first place. He's
attacking the Mob with simple, straightforward government
regulation. City Hall is taking control of the city's wholesale
food markets, and everyone who works in the market will now have to
be licensed and undergo a background check. If there's any taint of
organized crime, they're out.
"We're checking to be sure that everyone who works there has
good character, honesty, and integrity," says Deputy Mayor Randy
Mastro, who's heading up the mayor's regulatory attack on the Mafia.
Both Mr. Mastro and Giuliani are confident they'll be
successful, primarily because they've done it before. Similar
tactics were used to ease mobsters out of the Fulton Fish Market,
the city's wholesale fish market, and the commercial carting
industry. But each time, it took both guts and muscle.
Success at the fish market
For more than 60 years, the Genovese crime family reportedly ran
the Fulton Fish Market. Prosecutors say mobsters routinely
extracted bribes, threatened violence, and set up shadow companies
that would run up huge bills with suppliers, then disappear. While
individual mobsters were successfully convicted time and again,
they'd simply be replaced by more-junior thugs.
Giuliani's solution: Take control of the administration of the
market, regulate everything from parking to the hiring and firing
of workers, and investigate every firm and individual involved for
any hint of mob ties. …