Edison, NJ — John M. Riggi, the man who inspired the explosive HBO hit, The Sopranos, who ran the notable New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family is dead at 90 years of age. Riggi served as the official head of the family for over 30 years as he controlled a powerful local labor union that funneled millions of dollars directly into the hands of the most elite mobsters in the game.
Riggi was released from federal prison in November of 2012 after completing his sentence for racketeering, murder, and a few other serious crimes. Although his lifelong stint as a criminal was considered and proven to be successful, ironically Riggi demonstrated acts of kindness as he has been labeled “widely charitable.”
He had been heavily involved with the Police Athletic League…shocker. This opened the door allowing full access into a unit of individuals who held a tight grip on Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 394 of Elizabeth. Of course, according to law enforcement officials, this connection enabled him to extort contractors, control jobs, and mandate companies to deal with the established mafia supplies and businesses.
Former mob-guerrilla and author of best seller “Gotti’s Rules,” John Alite asserts, “John was one of the last authentic old timers around.” He further vocalized his affection towards the don by stating, “he truly believed and understood the mob lifestyle and was considered to be a gentlemen—even from the most powerful and influential of New York families.”
Despite descriptions of having a bit more of a stockier build, Riggi was a “tough guy” to say the least—no nonsense and smart. He graduated from Linden High School in 1942 as class president prior to enlisting in the United States Army where he served as an aircraft and engine mechanic. Police officials then chronicle his close association to the late Simone Rizzo “Sam the Plumber” DeCavalcante, head boss of the New Jersey’s only home-grown mob family. Through this evolving common pursuit, Riggi quickly took the reins after Sam stepped down.
Widely thought as the weaker sister to New York’s five Cosa Nostra families, the DeCavalcante family was able to control many major trade unions, offering the ability to effectively bilk contractors on everything from hiring staff to controlling residential and commercial projects.
“With John Riggi in charge, the family prospered,” added Alite, who considered John Riggi a man of “respect.”
A report on organized crime in the New York metro area dating from 2004 archives up to 20 members and associates of the DeCavalcante family as being members of Local 394 with no-show jobs. Rumors swirled of Riggi openly bragging of his control over the construction business in New Jersey claiming, “not a nail doesn’t go through a wall that we don’t get a piece of.”
Federal authorities reported Riggi had spent at least two decades as a “caretaker” for DeCavalcante, taking over the day-to-day operations after Sam “The Plumber” moved to Florida.
He eventually resigned from his post as business representative of the labor union shortly before federal authorities—armed with surveillance tapes from FBI cameras hidden inside Daphne’s Restaurant in the Sheraton at the Newark airport in Elizabeth—charged him with racketeering.
His conviction was subsequently overturned by a federal appeals court. Riggi pleaded guilty to state and federal extortion and labor charges, and was sentenced in 1992 to 12 years in prison.
The foundation of the fictional HBO’s series, The Sopranos, was reportedly inspired by the DeCavalcante family, as well as Riggi. Still, many of the local community who had been interviewed reclaim he came across as a gentleman—even citing one morning during a routine sweep of mob figures, the infamous Riggi even politely requested if he could shower and put on a suit. Riggi often used his powerful connections to help build up and give generously to various local charities.
When John Alite was asked if the mob is officially dead in New Jersey, he responded, “The New Jersey faction is a shadow of its former self. When a leader like John Riggi dies, it hurts their organization as a whole and they may never recover.”