At the headquarters of New Jersey's most notorious union, the front windows are etched with an anchor-and-rope motif. They're opaque, making it impossible to peer inside International Longshoremen's Association Local 1588.

That hasn't stopped law enforcement.

Local 1588 was historically so corrupt that mob enforcers were unnecessary, according to one veteran investigator. Kickbacks, extortion and fraud became as routine as a Labor Day picnic at the local, long a lucrative outpost for the Genovese crime family.

In 1954, when Marlon Brando starred in the Oscar-winning "On the Waterfront," one of 1588's delegates was already under investigation for taking kickbacks from its members.

Nearly 50 years later in this weathered waterfront city, the cast of characters on the genuine New Jersey docks remains consistent: Local 1588's president and seven others with union ties face a racketeering trial in the spring.

The group demanded cash and kickbacks from dozens of union members in return for promotions, overtime and job training, authorities said. The local's leadership "blatantly and repeatedly" associated with the Mafia, added an infuriated federal judge -- who then appointed a former New York police commissioner as the union's boss.

Robert McGuire, who ran the nation's largest police force from 1978 to 1983, predicted it will take at least three years to clean up the local.

"There's been mob dominance and domination for many, many, many years," said McGuire, who took over last year. "When it becomes very pervasive, it's like rooting out a cancer in a body."

Local 1588 is battling in court to get McGuire booted. Its attorney, James A. Cohen, said the government takeover was a patronage deal to benefit McGuire and his associates.

Longtime ILA spokesman James McNamara complained that prosecutors "paint the whole ILA with a brush that's not accurate," ignoring its honest workers.

The president's job at the 440-member local comes with an office, salary, benefits -- and lately, criminal charges. The last three heads of 1588 all have wound up as defendants.

The latest was John Timpanaro, indicted on charges of racketeering and extortion just months after his January 2002 installation. After serving a 60-day suspension, Timpanaro, 45, returned to the Bayonne waterfront as a foreman while awaiting trial.

His predecessors, John Angelone and Eugene G'Sell, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to embezzle union funds. The two admitted forcing union employees with no-show jobs to surrender huge chunks of their salaries to the Mafia.

Typically, authorities say, the union catered to the mob over its membership.

Organized crime's waterfront control is multifaceted -- from extorting a Staten Island trucking firm to fixing bids on the ILA's prescription drug plan. The latter scam netted $400,000 for the Genovese and Gambino families and led investigators to a $3 million mob extortion plot against action-movie star Steven Seagal.

The local's real power was Genovese associate Joseph Lore, who took over in 1988 from legendary New Jersey mobster John DiGilio, authorities say.

Lore, a waterfront hiring agent for a Bayonne company, was an old-school mobster, a hard case who once threatened to take a blowtorch to Angelone's crotch.

For nine years, the reputed Genovese family member received up to $2,000 per week through the no-show-job scam -- a total of $821,000 looted from Local 1588. The Lore era ended quietly in July, far from the Bayonne docks, when a Trenton judge sent the 64-year-old to jail for 70 months.

DiGilio's exit was more dramatic. In 1988, two weeks before his sentencing on a loan-sharking conviction, the body of the former middleweight boxer was fished out of the Hackensack River with two bullets behind his ear.

The hit came four months short of the union's 50th anniversary -- a brutal reminder of what went awry at Local 1588 after its launch in September 1938.

Organized crime's interest in the waterfront predated Local 1588, and the attraction was obvious: boatloads of money. The New York-New Jersey docks remain the busiest on the Eastern Seaboard, with nearly $90 billion in water-borne cargo moved in 2002.

The corruption often increased the cost of goods shipped through the port, effectively creating a "mob tax" passed on to consumers, McGuire said.

Yet there was no bloody war when the Genovese family claimed the New Jersey docks in the late 1960s. George Barone represented the Genoveses at a peaceful mob sit-down with the Gambino family.

Barone's pedigree was impeccable. He had been a member of the Jets, the Hell's Kitchen gang immortalized in "West Side Story," and was a contemporary of infamous mob boss Vito Genovese.

Barone became both an ILA official and a "made" man who handled his work with elan, avoiding conviction despite an admitted role in a dozen slayings. When he met with the Gambinos, an understanding was reached: The Brooklyn and Staten Island waterfront belonged to the Gambino family; Manhattan and New Jersey went to the Genoveses.

Everybody was happy, and everyone was soon to get richer.

By the mid-1970s, John DiGilio was installed at Local 1588, taking advantage of its location -- far from the Genoveses' Manhattan base, and beneath law enforcement's radar.

"John was a maverick," said Lawrence Lezak, former law director for the watchdog Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. "He was a big moneymaker for the Genovese crime family."

DiGilio operated in anonymity until 1981, when he was publicly linked with 1588 Secretary-Treasurer Donald Carson, the son of a Bayonne cop and a 22-year veteran longshoreman. By then, the pair were extorting money for labor peace, authorities said.

DiGilio's murder coincided with Carson's criminal conviction, leaving a leadership void quickly filled by other Genovese associates. Local 1588, along with five other metropolitan ILA locals, was targeted by Operation Marionette -- a federal probe into the Mafia's puppeteer-like control of the unions.

In 1992, Local 1588 acknowledged what federal authorities had long suspected: It was a mob-run racketeering enterprise, and had been for years. The union signed a consent decree promising its officers would sever all illegal ties.

Agreeing to the decree was the union's president, future felon Eugene G'Sell.

The deal had little effect. The Timpanaro indictments, a decade later, persuaded federal Judge John S. Martin Jr. to name McGuire as union administrator in January 2003.

For McGuire, it was reminiscent of his successful 1992-97 assignment to clean up the Gambino-dominated Garment District in Manhattan. This task was more daunting, as McGuire discovered that organized crime was "a way of life" on the waterfront.

McGuire recruited a forensic auditor and a pair of veteran investigators to help out at 1588. One was Tom Gallagher, a balding, burly veteran of 27 years with the Waterfront Commission.

Like Barone, Gallagher knows the docks' history. He remembers two Genovese hoods collecting $25 on every container unloaded. He has watched, too, as mob influence over the union became less violent, more subtle. "It's not like the old days," Gallagher noted while touring the Bayonne waterfront. "They realize that action draws heat and makes headlines."

Lezak agreed, saying the mob families declared a hiatus on waterfront hits shortly after the DiGilio slaying. But other approaches endure. "I can walk up to you, and you know who I am, and I don't have to say a word," Lezak said.

Can that be changed? The trial this spring will go a long way toward determining the local's future. An acquittal, said Waterfront Commission Executive Director Thomas De Maria, would send the message, "You can get away with it."

Under McGuire, some things have already changed. In the past, 1588 members were recruited by friends or relatives. McGuire's group, in soliciting 100 potential new members, found half through employment agencies.

The McGuire team also provided the membership with a detailed accounting of its annual budget -- down to the penny. "One member said, 'That's the first financial statement I've heard in 35 years,' " McGuire said.

A federal judge appointed a former New York police commissioner to run Local 1588 of the International Longshoremen's Association in Bayonne, N.J.