Journalism / New Haven Register

Meyer recalls days as mob prosecutor

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 15, 2008

GUILFORD — State Sen. Ed Meyer stepped back in time Tuesday to a period when, as a federal prosecutor in New York, he investigated men with names like Peanuts, One Eye and Joe Bananas.

Meyer, D-Guilford, worked as a federal prosecutor in the Department of Justice between 1964 and 1968. He prosecuted members of the mafia, specifically the Genovese family, for crimes including extortion and fraud.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy appointed him to a position investigating the Cosa Nostra — the Sicilian mafia — at a time when the Justice Department was focusing on organized crime and the Teamsters Union, Meyer said.

Speaking at the Nathanael B. Greene Community Center, Meyer regaled the audience of about 30 people with stories from his prosecutions of the mob, some funny, some bloody and some bittersweet.

He opened his talk with a story about a mafia informant who met a violent death.

Through a planted bug, Meyer and other investigators learned that people were planning to kill the man because he had intruded on their territory in the waste disposal business. They intended to meet the man at a diner in New Jersey and then drive him to a nearby Ford plant, where they would compact his station wagon — with him still inside it.

Unfortunately, Meyer said, he learned that the bug had been set up without a court order, so his superiors at the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation decided that he could not intervene. The killing went off as planned.

He found out later that the mobsters provided for the dead man’s family, buying his widow a new car and paying his children’s parochial school fees.

“I never felt in danger myself,” he said of his early career. “(It was an) unusual form of honor, brutal, and yet there was a code there.”

Meyer said that most of the investigations were done through bugs, phone wire taps and undercover agents.

“You don’t get many live witnesses — you don’t get many people coming forward to testify against the mob,” he said. “So you make your case through bugs and taps.”

The talk also touched on current mob-related scandals in the state legislature, where Meyer is serving his second term. Former Sen. Louis DeLuca, a Republican, resigned last year after admitting that he asked a man with ties to the Genovese family to threaten a man he thought was abusing his granddaughter.

Audience members asked Meyer about efforts to implement ethics reform at the Capitol.

“The legislature and state politics is partly corrupt,” Meyer said. “The most prevalent form of dishonesty in Hartford is not stealing directly from the state, but is conflicts of interest.”

He added that he hopes a bill revoking the pensions of legislators convicted of corruption will pass eventually and the legislature will establish an ethics committee.

Tuesday’s talk was part of a series of events organized by the newly formed Shoreline Institute of Lifelong Learning, which intends to offer ongoing programs for retired and semiretired residents of Guilford and Madison. Paula Schiller, one of the group’s organizers, said the institute is offering classes geared at area seniors on topics from spirituality to the Civil War.

Lois Meyers, another member of the institute’s steering committee, said she enjoyed Meyer’s presentation.

“It’s part of our history,” Meyers said. “It was a fascinating little slice of Americana.”

Meyer said his years working as a federal prosecutor influenced him to later run for office. He was a representative in the New York state legislature and served on the New York Board of Regents before moving to Connecticut.

“It was a very special time in my life, (as) you can imagine from these experiences I’ve told you. I grew up as a person,” he said. “That whole experience is why I decided to go on with public service.”

For more information on the Shoreline Institute of Lifelong Learning, visit http://www.guilfordparkrec.com/seniorprograms.html or http://www.madisonct.org/depot/depothome.htm.

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