It was my kindly professor’s obsession with a pair of Italian immigrants, Sacco and Vanzetti, which first focused my attention on my family’s role on the Brooklyn waterfront at the turn of the 20th Century. The celebrated story of the hapless Italian-born anarchists, who were executed in 1927 for a senseless robbery/murder in Braintree, Massachusetts — prompted me to realize that my great grandparents shared similar radical political roots as the duo. Though the story doesn’t end there.
In a double twist of fate, another mystery revealed itself as I was researching this chapter on labor leader Anthony Scotto and the landmark trial that bears his name. It emerged that there is little doubt that both the Scotto and La Rossa ancestors crossed paths on the Brooklyn docks in the early 1900s.
Anthony Scotto, one of the most powerful labor leaders in the United States, was born in the tough Red Hook waterfront section of Brooklyn in 1934, where both his father and grandfather had been dockworkers. My father, who would become Scotto’s lawyer in one of the most celebrated trials of a generation, was born in Flatbush Brooklyn three years prior.
In the early 1950’s, Scotto started working on the docks on weekends and summers. He eventually attended Brooklyn College where he studied political science with the goal of eventually entering law school. After two years of college, however, he dropped out to pursue a full time career on the waterfront. By 1957, he was the business administrator of a health clinic operated jointly by the I.L.A. and the New York Shipping Association (NYSA), a conglomerate of waterfront employers. He held various other union posts until 1963, when Local 1814 elected Scotto its president. The I.L.A. soon elected Scotto its vice-president and he began to build his reputation as a political power broker, quickly molding his union local’s cash raising ability and manpower into a viable political force.
My grandfather, who I called “Pop,” was the first generation of the La Rossa family born in New York. Pop was as big and tough with his hands as my father was with his mouth. Pop’s father and mother owned a longshoreman’s restaurant on the docks of Brooklyn. My great grandmother cooked and my great grandfather tended bar and kept the peace. I never met my great grandparents, but for the life of me, I cannot imagine how tough you had to be to own a longshoreman’s restaurant in New York City, circa 1900.
Almost 80-years later, The Scotto and La Rossa families were well matched to fight side by side. Not even they could have known, however, that as the jury was seated in The Unites States v. Scotto in September of 1979, that the future of RICO — and the survival of organized crime at the end of the 20th Century — was on the line.