Emmanuel “Manny” Garafolo nearly swam with the fishes. Or his neighborhood did, anyway, according to a letter the reputed Gambino family associate’s attorney sent to a federal judge on Nov. 9, requesting that his client’s sentencing on extortion charges be pushed back.
Garafolo’s been too busy helping to restore Sea Gate—the gated community on the western tip of Brooklyn’s Coney Island where he lives—in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the lawyer wrote.
To be sure, Sea Gate was among the areas in New York hit hardest by the historic storm. Nearly three weeks later, residents are still struggling to recover. Whether or not Garafolo is irreplaceable in that effort is another matter.
“Each day, he returns to Sea Gate to work with his neighbors to repair their community,” Garafolo’s attorney argued in the letter to U.S. District Judge Dora L. Irizarry. “As a skilled operator of heavy machinery, Mr. Garafolo has been manning equipment—such as a bulldozer—to clear the streets and perform other critical tasks.”
“In addition to the grueling physical work in which he has been engaged, he has been navigating the complicated, and often frustrating, process of dealing with FEMA and insurance companies—a process that is both time consuming and draining, and the outcome of which is still uncertain.”
Garafolo pled guilty to extortion charges in February of this year, according to court documents. He was one of eight Gambino associates listed in an indictment filed on Jan. 5, 2011, in the Eastern District Court of New York, which alleged that Garafolo and other defendants had engaged in extortion through “actual and threatened force, violence, and fear.”
The man’s name appears as Emmanuel Garafolo in documents filed by the government, but his last name is spelled both Garofalo and Garafolo in his attorney's letters to the court. His name appears as Emanuel Garofalo in city property records. Neighbors confirmed that the man on Atlantic Avenue is the correct alleged mob associate. Neither he nor his attorney returned requests for comment for this article.
In a letter on Nov. 13, Assistant U.S. Attorney Whitman Knapp smacked down the request to have Garafolo’s sentencing moved from Dec. 6 to mid-January, writing that he “has already been provided with nearly nine months to prepare for his sentencing, and his assertion that he now needs six additional weeks is not reasonable.”
Meanwhile, residents of Sea Gate are struggling to get by. Most houses on the street seemed empty, and the few neighbors who were around didn't have much to say about Garafolo's supposedly “grueling” recovery efforts. They had more to say about how their own lives were destroyed by the storm.
On Friday, shopkeepers along Mermaid Avenue, a main drag that runs down the peninsula to the entrance of Sea Gate, were still sweeping debris out of their powerless storefronts. Restaurants and food stores were closed. Police cars and vans idled at intersections and drove down streets where people wandered with seemingly no place to go. At least three Red Cross Disaster Relief trucks crawled through the neighborhood’s streets, which were still coated with sand and littered with debris.
Mary Konner lives across the street and two houses over from Garafolo. Wearing a green surgical mask to keep out the dust, she was sweeping her driveway, even as mud was still piled in her basement.
Konner said that the house where she lived with her husband and three children has been in her family for 50 years. It will take extensive work before it’s habitable again. Apart from the mud and rush of water that filled her basement to the brim, floating the more than 100 once-pristine vintage pinball machines her husband collected, windows were blown out and waves destroyed her carefully manicured backyard, which sits about 50 yards from the ocean.
“It was gorgeous, I used to sit back here, and there was another world around me,” Konner said. “It was so peaceful around here. You forgot about everything.”
Now, with possessions piled throughout the house in various states of destruction and plywood boarding up windows that once offered sweeping views, her family has to think about what they may not be able to recover.
“When we arrived here the morning after [the storm] every window was completely broken,” Konner said, standing in what once was her dining room, beginning to cry. “It still hurts.” She said that her 22-year-old son had trouble taking it all in when they first walked into the house.
“He just held on to the wall and he said, ‘I can’t believe everything is gone.’”
As for Garafolo, Konner said she remembers seeing him with some machinery on the first day after the storm, but that officials told him to stop. He said he would help her with her house, Konner said, but then never turned up. He’s not a bad guy, though—he does help shovel the street in the winter sometimes when it snows, Konner said.
Michael Apterman, who lives directly across the street from Garafolo, watched waves beat against his house from another property down the block when Sandy hit, he said. The storm was “really unpredictable,” Apterman said, and a house not far from his was leveled.
Natasha Reinhard, who has lived on Atlantic Avenue for 25 years, said she was reassured after a dangerous nor’easter hit the area in 1992. That was supposed to be the 100-year storm, she was told.
“The whole peninsula of Sea Gate is in an unprotected situation,” Reinhard said. “Where if we get another big coastal storm not even on the scale of Sandy, the community would cease to exist.”
What’s next for the neighborhood?
“There isn’t much for the Atlantic Avenue residents to restore. There is no value here now,” Reinhard said. “Nothing. There’s nothing. This block is dead.”
At Garafolo’s address on Atlantic Avenue, the garage was boarded up and a heavily dented and scratched black SUV sat in the driveway. No one answered repeated knocks on the front door. No one was outside working.
From the second-floor patio hung a large green Christmas wreath about three feet in diameter, decked with a single strand of bright white Christmas lights—the only electric light shining from any house for at least a block in any direction.