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City looks into Caffe on Green

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A spokeswoman for the Department of Investigation confirmed that the agency is investigating the city Parks Department contract awarded to Franco in 1992 to operate the concession.Franco could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, Sidney Davidoff, "categorically denied" that Franco was involved in organized crime."This is a 20-year-old story and it's just not true," Davidoff said. "There's never been a criminal allegation against Joe Franco."The story resurfaced in the New York Post Monday after City Comptroller William Thompson announced that a separate Parks Department contract in Brooklyn went to a businessman allegedly tied to organized crime.The allegations against Franco are not new. In testimony during a 1998 labor tribunal, one of the FBI's top agents probing the Mafia said Gambino turncoat Sammy "The Bull" Gravano had identified both Joseph Franco and his brother Salvatore, as well as their uncle Giuseppe Arcuri, as members of a Gambino crew, according to the tribunal decision. Salvatore Franco, the former president of a street-pavers' union local, was kicked out of the Laborers' International Union of North America after the 1998 tribunal concluded that he was in the mob.The TimesLedger reported Joseph Franco's reputed mob ties in 2003, citing law enforcement sources, after several diners at Caffe on the Green were involved in a fight that led to charges of assault as a hate crime against three patrons. Franco was not at the restaurant during the incident and condemned the attack afterward.Franco rescued Caffe on the Green, the one-time home of film star Rudolph Valentino, from neglect. Now an elegant gardenside restaurant in the shadow of the Throgs Neck Bridge, the spot is a frequent setting for gatherings of the borough's political and business leaders.Davidoff said his client was a "hardworking, honest businessman" who has long been estranged from his brother and uncle."We can't visit the sins of the fathers on the sons or the uncles on their nephews," he said.As for the DOI probe, Davidoff said, "we welcome the opportunity to clear his name."Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 174.

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