In these days of cutthroat competition, the President's Commission on Organized Crime says legitimate businessmen are turning more and more to organized crime for their competitive edge. Just ask Frank Perdue, whose Maryland-based Perdue Farms is one of the East Coast's major marketers of chicken.
Perdue, who advertises that it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, says he twice sought the help of the late Mafia boss Paul Castellano Sr. five years ago in fighting a union's effort to represent workers at his $500-million-a-year company, according to a commission report on labor corruption.
Perdue told commission investigators last September that he turned to Castellano, the boss of the Gambino crime family who was gunned down last month in midtown Manhattan, because of his "long tentacles."
A commission attorney asked Perdue if he meant that Castellano was an organized crime figure. "Yeah. Mafia and the mob," Perdue responded, according to the commission report.
Although the union lost its bid to organize Perdue's workers, Perdue contended that Castellano "obviously didn't help me." But the commission used the incident to illustrate organized crime's influence on the meat and poultry industries in the New York area.
And it cited Perdue's case and others as examples of a phenomenon that is more common than law enforcement authorities would like--business executives deciding that it pays to do business with the mob. That trend is central to the commission's theme that only a broad-scale attack involving business as well as labor can cut back organized crime's influence over the nation's marketplace.
"Organized crime cannot function without assistance from financial institutions that knowingly launder money and (from) renegade businessmen, lawyers and union leaders who either share in the illicit bounty or look the other way," said Judge Irving R. Kaufman, the panel's chairman, after parts of the report were made public.
"If organized crime is to be eliminated, it must be denied access to both the board room and the union local," said Kaufman, a federal appeals court judge in New York. He gave the full labor report to President Reagan on Jan. 14, but it will not be released in its entirety until completion of the New York trial of a car-theft ring and murder conspiracy in which Castellano had been a defendant.
The commission's references to Perdue Farms are in the part of its report that has not yet been made public. Perdue's approach to Castellano over his labor troubles five years ago was not his first contact with him.
Perdue began selling in New York in the late 1960s. Initially, he resisted overtures from Dial Poultry to distribute through that firm, which is owned by Castellano's two sons, Paul Jr. and Joseph.
Perdue indicated that his reluctance stemmed from what the commission described as "the company's well-known LCN connections." LCN is the acronym for La Cosa Nostra, or Mafia.
"It was fairly common knowledge that Dial was owned by or run by or operated by Paul Castellano Jr. and that he was associated in some way--I didn't know exactly how--with the Mafia, so therefore I avoided selling to him," Perdue told the commission.
"I just felt, look, there is no need getting involved with people like that where I may have a problem. So I avoided him for several years."
Eventually, however, Perdue changed his mind and began doing business with Dial Poultry. The principal reason, he told commission investigators, was the substantial number of retail butchers served by Dial.
Several years later, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union tried to organize the workers at Perdue's plant in Accomac, Va. Irving Stern, an international vice president of the union, urged major retail chains in the New York area not to sell Perdue products, according to the commission report.
Perdue told the commission that the chains cut back on their special sales of his products. At that point, Perdue arranged a meeting with Paul Castellano Sr. through his son, Paul Jr., to discuss the union's organizing effort.
While Perdue said he turned to Castellano because of his "long tentacles," he could not explain the reason. When asked what he believed that Castellano could do for Perdue Farms, Perdue responded, according to the deposition: "Oh, I don't know. I didn't know if he could help us or not. I was concerned about my plant and being able to operate."
Perdue said Castellano told him that he doubted he could help "because it's pretty far away (from New York)."
Despite that, Perdue soon went back to Castellano on a related union problem that was closer to the mob boss's area of operations. The UFCW, in support of its organizing effort, planned to picket a restaurant Perdue was opening in Queens in February, 1981.
"In a meeting at a La Guardia Airport hotel, attended also by capo Thomas Billatti of the Gambino crime family, Perdue asked Castellano whether he could help in any way with the matter," the commission said in the report. "Castellano indicated that he did not know whether he could help. According to Perdue, Castellano 'didn't help.' "
About 50 pickets appeared at the restaurant's opening night, and the picketing continued for two weeks. In July, 1981, the UFCW lost the election at Perdue's Virginia plant.
No Comment on Report
Attempts to reach Perdue about the commission's findings were unsuccessful. Richard Auletta, a New York public relations man who represents the company, said he could not comment until he had a copy of the commission report. Auletta said the commission declined to provide him with one until it is publicly released.
But Castellano, after New York magazine disclosed some of his dealings with Perdue, discussed them with his maid in a 1983 conversation recorded by a court-authorized electronic surveillance and quoted in the commission report:
"I can't help him," Castellano said. "I say, Mr. Perdue, I can't help you. . . . Why would Frank Perdue want to talk to this quiet, graying, Staten Island man? Why, why? . . . Perdue told the FBI man, I'm the Godfather. I don't believe that. I, I can't do what he want. I can't help him."