Murder, extortion? No, Waterfront Commission probing theft of $2 dollar bottle of iced tea, sausage


Siegel for News

On the mobbed-up docks of Bayonne, the six-month probe was known as Operation Missing Link.

Its target: A suspect who swiped a $2 bottle of iced tea and used it to wash down a stolen 50-cent piece of sausage - the lost link that left a bad taste in everybody's mouth, sources told the Daily News.

An investigation of the penny-ante heist was ordered by the Waterfront Commission, the agency charged with policing the docks for mob corruption, drug smuggling and other major crimes, the sources said.

The investigation included scores of interviews over countless hours dating to last August, sources said - even though the victim was reluctant to press charges.

"It's like Capt. Queeg and the strawberries," said New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a harsh critic of the bistate commission.
"It's a $2.50 ongoing investigation."

One of the sources was more blunt: "The whole investigation is bull----. It's a waste of manpower, money and resources."

Waterfront Commission General Counsel Phoebe Soriel, while declining to address specifics, said the case was more complex than it appeared.

"While the commission does not comment on pending investigations, it takes any theft in the port seriously - especially theft involving extortion," she said without going into detail.

The reported value of the stolen goods - a handful of change - is a microfraction of the $200 billion that moves annually through the ports of New York and New Jersey.

The overkill began when the commission received an anonymous tip that someone filched the drink and the sausage from a food truck catering to dock workers.

According to two sources, the case was quickly wrapped up: The thief confessed to the crime, and the victim said an arrest was unnecessary.

The victim "didn't want to see him behind bars...just wanted him to stop," one source said.

But top commission officials, convinced its investigators mishandled the case, ordered a second probe with every possible witness reinterviewed, the sources said.

Investigators from the 58-year-old agency returned to the docks and conducted about 80 second interviews, all the while cranking out piles of paperwork, the sources said.

The commission was blasted in August 2009 - one year before the sausage investigation was launched - as home to corrupt execs barely better than the waterfront's notorious mobsters.

Officials were accused in a damning 60-page report of misusing Homeland Security money, keeping a convicted crook in business and surfing the Internet for porn.

The iced-tea-and-sausage probe - which has yet to wrap up - is considered an embarrassment among investigators and dock workers.

"They snicker about it," one of the sources said.

Murder, extortion? No, Waterfront Commission probing theft of $2 dollar bottle of iced tea, sausage