On the cusp of walking free at the start of the New Millennium after a 10-year stay in prison on a federal RICO conviction, recently-deceased New Jersey mob don Giovanni (John the Eagle) Riggi was done-in, at least partially, by his son-in-law Sean Richard, a true gangland rags-to-riches story and the man who in the mid-to-late 1990s looked after Riggi’s stake in the local labor-union rackets. Instead of a parole and going home to his Garden State mafia kingdom, Riggi took another case and was forced to do another dozen years behind bars. Finally sprung from the joint in 2012, he died last week at 90, having reined atop the Jersey underworld for three and a half decades, most of which was spent as a guest of the government in federal correctional facilities.
Richard feared doing time in the pen and gave up his father-in-law and several more mob dignitaries and union executives representing multiple organized crime factions. He entered the Witness Protection Program in January 2000, mere months preceding a pair of RICO indictments levied against Riggi and the others which charged them with murder and a massive labor racketeering conspiracy and were the result of an expansive federal inquiry titled “Operation Textbook.”
John “The Eagle” Riggi assumed command of the DeCalvacante crime family in around 1981, replacing a retiring Simone (Sam the Plumber) DeCalvacante, the syndicate’s namesake and longtime nationally-respected Godfather. For the previous five years or so, Riggi had been Sam the Plumber’s acting boss, groomed for throne by DeCalvacante personally. Following DeCalvacante becoming the syndicate’s acting boss in the late 1950s, Riggi stepped into his former capo slot in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he held a formidable powerbase from inside his Local 394 (LIUNA), a construction workers union that came to dominate the industry in the state with Riggi’s star on the rise in the east coast mafia. Finally indicted for a variety of racketeering offenses in 1990, Riggi was smacked with a 12-year prison sentence, however never surrendered his title as boss of the Jersey mafia, running the organization from behind bars via a series of intermediaries.
That’s where Sean Richard came into the picture.
Born and raised in the Bronx and hailing from meager, lower middle-class beginnings, Richard was a non-mob connected carpenter and labor foreman when he met and started dating John Riggi’s daughter, Sara, in 1995. Soon, Richard and Sara Riggi were living together and opened a construction business together called S&S Contracting. The business was started with money provided by an incarcerated John Riggi, who Richard met for the first time in a Maryland prison visiting room and quickly became the jailed don’s eyes and ears in the union.
Richard married John the Eagle’s little girl in 1996 and the couple gave the rough-around-the-edges crime lord two granddaughters. With his new father-in-law’s counsel, backing, and encouragement, Richard transformed himself from a thirtysomething “regular joe” working stiff to the point man for all the New Jersey mob’s construction rackets along the entire eastern seaboard. From his office at S&S Contracting and using Riggi’s deep union ties, Richard spearheaded kickback, bribery, bid-rigging and extortion schemes and the creation of slush funds and no-show jobs in the construction industry in both New Jersey and New York. He enjoyed the perks of his newfound mobster status, too – throwing his weight around at every opportunity, spending extravagantly and hooking up with a stripper girlfriend on the side.
Many of the construction scams Richard and the DeCalvacante clan were engaging in were being done in tandem with New York’s Lucchese crime family. Richard was dealing directly with a number of Lucchese luminaries, including street boss Steven (Stevie Wonder) Crea and capo Dominic (Crazy Dom) Truscello, in these illicit transactions which the government estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
Things began unravelling for Richard in the summer of 1999. The FBI raided Richard’s home and S&S Contracting, informing him a federal indictment with his name on it was forthcoming. Sensing the walls closing in, Richard descended into a heavy depression fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, cocaine and heroin. He also started skimming money he was responsible for couriering between DeCalvacante administrators and Crea and Truscello in the Luccheses.
By the late fall of 1999, Richard knew he was in trouble, suspecting he would have zero wiggle room in the pending indictment coming his way and the Lucchese had uncovered his dipping into the till. In November of that year, he bolted a meeting with Truscello and his primary Lucchese liaison Joseph (Big Joe) Datello, believing it to be a set-up and that he was about to be killed. Around the Christmas holiday, fearful of prison time and the Luccheses, not to mention his father-in-law Riggi, who he thought had signed off on the Lucchese’s hit attempt, Richard had his attorney reach out to the government to arrange a cooperation agreement, offering up Riggi and the DeCalvacantes and the Luccheses to boot.
Wiring-up for the feds, Richard taped incriminating conversations with Riggi, Crea, Truscello, Datello, and others, concealing a recording device in a cast on his right arm. Adding insult to injury for Riggi, his son-in-law wasn’t only a rat, he was a lousy husband and parent to his daughter and grandkids, deciding to enter the Witness Protection Program with his stripper girlfriend instead of with his wife and children.
Stevie Crea and Crazy Dom Truscello both pled guilty after the September 2000 indictment finally dropped and did six years in prison apiece. Riggi pled out in a separate case that was filed that same year against a drove of DeCalvacantes and was highlighted by Richard’s recordings and Riggi’s ordering of a 1989 gangland slaying (mob associate Fred Weiss).
Richard remains in the Witness Protection Program today at 51. He testified in close to a half-dozen successful federal prosecutions between 2002-2010.