Certified Concrete, Harlem (The Mafia in NYC’s Ready Mix industry)March 18th, 2014 by Bad Guy Joe
Growing up in NYC in the 70s and 80s, kids would joke about what would happen if you crossed the mafia. 'You'll end up in the east river, with concrete shoes, sleeping with the fishes'. As with all humor, the jokes were based in reality. The ready mix industry in NYC was, for decades, closely tied to the mob.
One of those mobbed up companies was Certified Concrete.
"In 1988, Edward J. (Biff) Halloran, Certified's principal owner, and Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, a reputed Mafia boss, were convicted of Federal racketeering charges, including corruption in the concrete industry." In a nutshell, the mafia owned or was involved with nearly all of the ready-mix suppliers in NYC. Much of the revenue was 'off the books' and transactions took place with weekly delivery of bags full of cash (just take my word on this). By the time of this court case, the company was bled to death by those earning under the table. Certified was in such disarray it entered bankruptcy. it was during this period of bankruptcy in 1988 that the trustee closed the Harlem River (127th street) ready-mix plant.
With this and the ready-mix plants on the west side closed, the concrete industry was gone from Manhattan. Curiously though - During the weeks after September 11, 2001 - not having a concrete plant in Manhattan became a large issue. Many construction sites around town - like the AOL/Time Warner center that was being built at Columbus Circle at the time, simply ground to a halt. The Times reported at the time that "Only rusting hulks remain at what were once privately owned plants on the Hudson River at 26th Street and on the East River at 127th Street." - making no mention of those plants sordid histories.
2001 was when myself, M, Vlad & Marcin started hanging around Harlem. One day we were at Washburn Wire, and decided to take a walk up along the riverfront. What we walked into without realizing it at the time was the remains of Certified's 127th street plant. The scene unfolded very much as it quoted in this NY Times article:
"The elegant Robert F. Wagner Jr. esplanade along the Harlem River stops cold at 125th Street -- no more antique lights, no railing, no benches. What relentlessly unfolds as one keeps walking north is an almost surreal industrial wasteland. An enormous pile of road salt gives way to an abandoned concrete plant surrounded by hundreds of tons of asphalt chunks.
The dreary riverfront is littered with burned-out automobiles, rusted oil drums and empty bottles. There is a small encampment of homeless people."
That small encampment was probably at least a dozen people if my memory serves me right. They were living in every imaginable rust covered shred of metal in the place. Under aggregate towers, inside a garage, and in abandoned cars and vans. It was utterly surreal. My regret is that we only came through here once or twice. If this existed today, I'd go and photograph here a few times a year.
So what happened to this property? The Times continues:
In place of this desolation, people have long imagined a waterfront park beside the river from 125th to 145th Streets. A plan was actually drawn up in 1991 at the behest of Ruth W. Messinger, then the Manhattan Borough President. But administrations changed, and other projects claimed priority."
In the early & mid 2000s, this lot was cleared of debris and turned into a park.
In October of 1998, Biff Halloran disappeared and was never heard from again. This was after he had been released from jail on his prior conviction. 2 months later he was charged with $2 million dollars worth of fraud. He is assumed to be 'sleeping with the fishes' somewhere. It seems one company is working to market this story as a cable TV series.