When the Lawyer Met the Hitman

The Lawyer and the Hitman, Part 2

By Daphne Freise

So, David never had to deal with Kayo again. “Thank God,” he says, with audible relief, before casually mentioning that he was a lawyer for John DiGilio, a high-ranking figure in the infamous Genovese crime family.  

“Yeah, I tried a number of cases for him, and he was obviously a killer, but I represented him in a beating and extortion case. And he really was innocent that time!” he insists. “Honestly, he was innocent!”

The statement has staggering contrasts. In one breath, he admits that he knew that his client had committed murders. In the next, he fervently asserts the killer’s innocence against assault and robbery charges. Basically, the guy may kill people, but he didn’t mug anyone.  

DiGilio presented a problem for David, a nice young lawyer who would follow in his father’s footsteps from private practice to the New Jersey state assembly. As they worked on his defense for the assault, DiGilio openly declared malevolent intentions—he said the quiet part out loud.

“I’m gonna kill that son of a bitch!”

“Johnny, you’re not going to kill anybody,” David scolded him. “I can’t represent you—I’m not going to be your attorney and then find out that the person who’s, you know, squealing on you, ends up dead over here. I’m not getting involved in that!”

 “I’m gonna kill him!” DiGilio repeated.

 “You’re not going to kill him! Not as long as I’m your lawyer. I’ll get everything dismissed. But you’ve got to give me a word, you’re not going to kill him!” David protested.

The capo was unyielding.

“I’m not gonna promise you anything. I’m killin’ ‘im,” he scowled.

Under pressure but determined to glean a commitment of good behavior from his client,

David told the hit man that he was not to leave his office until he swore that he would not kill the man he had already badly beaten.

DiGilio’s response was forked acquiescence. “I’ll tell you what you want me to say, but I’m not going to give you any promises.”

David laughs as he reflects on the exchange and says, “Anyway, that’s the way they were.”

While I am grateful that he enjoys telling me these stories about many other figures in mafia history, I want to return to Konigsberg to be sure that I have gotten from him everything that he remembers.

“So, you had heard about Konigsberg before that day that you met him,” I led.

“Oh, sure!” he returns to Kayo.  

“How much had you heard about him? And how?” I ask, trying to pry open memories a half-century old. “What was it like for you to walk into that office to learn that he was there looking for you?”

Well, I knew his reputation was of being a murderer for the mob. His role was significant in the Teamster union. Now, I’m going to give you some very deep inside information that most people don’t know,” David says, clearly thrilled to relive his own story.

“The way that people like Provenzano and Hoffa maintained control over the union was through people like Kayo Konigsberg. Now, just about every shop steward in the Teamster union at every terminal was a loan shark. And during the years that Tony Provenzano would be in office, the shop stewards—who actually controlled most of the terminals because they brought the arbitration cases, settled the labor disputes, represented the employees with the employer—were spokesmen for the union with a particular employer, and on the job on a day to day basis. That’s what shop stewards do. Almost all of them and the Teamsters were loan sharks, so they would lend money to all of the truck drivers, many of them.”

“When the election came up about every four years for president of local 560,” David continued, “or for that matter, almost every Teamster union, Tony Provenzano and the loan sharks would announce that if Tony was elected, all of the debts were forgiven.”

My fragmented memories of Dad lamenting the flawed culture of unions and their relationship with the mafia underworld begin to fall together. Between Dad’s dinner table rants about ‘thugs and the mob’, my innumerable viewings of “Goodfellas”, and David’s words, the game of politics, crime, and the struggling ordinary Joe takes on more clarity. 

So, you know what happened?” David poses, “Everybody would come out and vote for Tony Provenzano, and nobody ever had a chance. And that is the role that Kayo Konigsberg filled in. He was the enforcer that enabled people like Provenzano and the mob to control a lot of the labor unions.”

Konigsberg concentrated his efforts on his hometown of Bayonne, making that city and the New Jersey waterfront areas his main prowling ground. The Longshoremen and Seafarers unions were the core of his territory, and with them came direct ties to the Teamsters. From there, the organized crime families of New York controlled the unions, who controlled the laborers, who manned the ports. Larceny and hijacking big rigs filled with goods were the usual order of business. Though Konigsberg would boast of up to twenty murders throughout his reign on the ports, it was a hijacked load of men’s suits worth $150,000 that sent him to prison in 1965. Many more years passed before he was pinned for murder.  

“I don’t know how many people he killed, but DiGilio was a mafia henchman, and he and Salvatore Bruguglio—Sally Bugs, they called him—he and Sally presided over the mafia graveyard in New Jersey. I was told they had buried, over 17 people. I didn’t know the location, but they had a graveyard where they buried people.”

I remember Dad saying something about Konigsberg bragging about a special burying ground. He called it the “chicken yard”.

“DiGilio ended up floating in the Hudson River in a barrel at one point,” David reflects (John DiGilio was murdered in 1988 and his bagged body surfaced a few weeks later). Salvatore Bruguglio, he was the guy who killed Jimmy Hoffa. Now I’ll tell you that story!”

Continued in The Lawyer and the Hitman, Part 3

Copyright © 2020 Daphne Freise. All rights reserved.