It was during the two-year investigation of Rizzo that law enforcement officials say they heard him brag about his influence with Francis, then the chairman of the sports authority. Francis, a top GOP fund-raiser who was finance chairman for Gov. Whitman's 1993 campaign, was appointed to the authority in 1994. He was forced to resign last summer after state law enforcement officials - as an offshoot of the Rizzo inquiry - began to investigate whether Francis had used his public position to benefit his private business.
Earlier this month, Francis pleaded not guilty to influence-peddling charges. He also is accused of attempting to conceal his association with Rizzo when questioned by state investigators before his appointment to the state post.
Through his attorney, Justin P. Walder, Francis has denied any knowledge of Rizzo's alleged ties to organized crime. Walder said yesterday that the state Attorney General's Office had assured him that the racketeering case against Rizzo was ``totally unrelated'' to Francis.
Rizzo, of Wayne, Passaic County, and four other reputed Genovese associates - Joseph Abbate of Wayne, Michael Grillo Sr. of Woodbridge, Middlesex County, Joseph Lemmo of South Plainfield, Middlesex County and Anthony Scaffidi - are accused of conspiring to fix prices in the solid-waste industry.
From 1981 to 1996, authorities say, Rizzo and his associates forged an illegal alliance and divided up business in parts of six New Jersey counties, including Camden. Attorney General Peter Verniero said the scheme had restrained trade and inflated prices in the industry for more than a decade.
Verniero said the group used threats of union pickets, boycotts and fear of mob retaliation to enforce a system of so-called ``property rights'' that allowed companies to charge for services without fear of competition. In exchange for that privilege, he said, the companies paid kickbacks of between $5,000 and $20,000 annually to Rizzo and Abbate.
Rizzo, who was accused of heading the enterprise, is charged with being a leader of organized crime. He and Abbate were charged with racketeering, conspiracy, theft by extortion, restraint of trade and five other crimes.
In a related case, Abbate, 62, also was charged with being a leader of organized crime for allegedly heading an illegal bookmaking and loan-sharking operation.
Both men posted $15,000 cash bail yesterday in Middlesex County Superior Court and were released. Efforts to reach the two and their attorneys were unsuccessful.
Grillo, Lemmo and Scaffidi each posted $10,000 cash bail and were released. They could not be reach for comment.
The charges against the five men are strikingly similar to those brought against several reputed mobsters - including Rizzo - in 1982. In that case, Rizzo pleaded guilty in a scheme to fix prices in the garbage industry in parts of North Jersey and was barred from doing business in the industry.
In the case brought yesterday, the grand jury said he violated that court order by working with Milburn Financial Inc., a solid-waste consulting firm based in Wayne. The indictment seeks forfeiture of any assets the company gained through the alleged scheme.
In addition, authorities are seeking any illegally obtained assets of two Woodbridge firms, Mall Maintenance Inc. and State Carting Service Inc, which they say were run by Grillo and Scaffidi. As a result of his work with those companies, Scaffidi, who also pleaded guilty in the 1982 price-fixing case, faces contempt charges for violating an order barring him from the business.
In a related indictment announced yesterday, the grand jury charged Abbate and four other reputed mob associates with heading a bookmaking and loan-sharking operation in Bergen and Passaic Counties. Authorities say bets were taken in New Jersey as part of a large bookmaking operation in New York City. Abbate and his associates also are accused of running an illegal money-lending scheme that charged interest rates in excess of 50 percent.
Charged with racketeering, conspiracy, promoting gambling and other crimes were Abbate, John Chiodo of Lodi, Joseph R. Castellano of Belleville, Will Odierno of Lodi, and Doreen Harris of Mahwah. Chiodo, Castellano, Odierno and Harris posted 10 percent of $75,000 bail in Bergen County Superior Court yesterday and were released.