Tales of the Jersey mob: body behind diner a missing Mafiosi?

A mob trial, a missing defendant, a decomposing body and a car trunk. Don't cue "The Sopranos" theme for this real-life mob scenario, where a reputed Genovese family capo vanished during his waterfront corruption case only to turn up dead _ perhaps _ behind a New Jersey diner.

The body found Wednesday in a parking lot behind the Huck Finn Diner in Union, New Jersey, was likely that of Lawrence Ricci, a mob veteran last seen on Oct. 7. Positive identification was pending, but Ricci's lawyer said Thursday that the body was definitely his client.

The news was particularly disquieting for Schmukler, who won an acquittal for Ricci on federal charges after the mobster's disappearance. Ricci, a well-known presence on the metropolitan-area waterfront, was accused of steering a lucrative union contract to a mob-connected pharmaceutical company.

Speculation about Ricci's disappearance and likely death centered on both the trial and his alleged life of crime. One report suggested he was killed after ignoring a Mafia "request" to cop a plea in the waterfront trial. A law enforcement official also had said the slaying was the result of an unrelated power struggle in Ricci's mob crew.

The answers will eventually come out, said Ronald Goldstock, former head of the New York state Organized Crime Task Force. This is not the first time a mobster has disappeared before a court date. Joe Bonanno, head of the family that still bears his name, was allegedly kidnapped on the eve of a 1964 appearance before a grand jury investigating the mob's Apalachin conference seven years earlier. Or he might have staged his disappearance. Nobody talked, so nobody knew.

Bonanno was returned alive. "Big Paul" Castellano wasn't so fortunate. On Dec. 16, 1985, in the middle of his racketeering trial, Castellano was gunned down outside a midtown Manhattan restaurant. Mob turncoat Sammy "The Bull" Gravano later testified about the John Gotti-orchestrated plot to whack Castellano and assume control of the Gambino family.

The Huck Finn, both in menu and mileage, is a long way from Castellano's final stop at the pricey Sparks Steak House on East 46th Street. But it now holds a place in mob lore, along with Umberto's Clam House ("Crazy Joey" Gallo's last meal) and Joe and Mary Italian-American Restaurant (farewell, Carmine Galante).

Ricci, 60, wasn't among the highest-level Mafiosi. He generally kept a low public profile, although his mob ties dated back decades. He was convicted 20 years ago of extortion with New Jersey waterfront boss Timo Fiumara. the AP reported.

On Thursday, one day after the grisly discovery, it was business as usual at the diner, said manager George Diakides _ proof that a random body can cause barely a ripple in the long fertile mob ground of New Jersey. A.M.

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