The government is suing in an attempt to seize control of an Atlantic City casino workers' union whose alleged dirty

work of murder, extortion and bribery is said to be orchestrated from prison by a Mafia boss.In a federal racketeering lawsuit filed Wednesday, prosecutors charged that Local 54 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union has been controlled by the Bruno-Scarfo crime family of Philadelphia and New Jersey for 20 years.

The lawsuit asks that a court-appointed trustee be put in control of the local and that its president, William Roy Silbert, and five other officials be removed.

Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said at a news conference that removing the leadership is the only way to rid the union of mob influence.

Local 54 represents about 22,000 hotel, bar and restaurant workers in Atlantic City casinos and other New Jersey establishments.

Thornburgh said prosecutors believe that Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, who is serving a life sentence for murder and racketeering, has controlled the local from prison through his son, Nicodemo Jr.

"Through their brutal and often deadly acts of violence and intimidation, members of the Bruno-Scarfo families have destroyed the integrity of the union and its leadership," Thornburgh said.

The lawsuit alleges the mob helped maintain its control of Local 54 through the murders of the presidents of two union locals in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., in 1973 and 1980.

Thornburgh said the allegedly mob-connected union leaders were not hit with criminal charges because the burden of proof placed on the government is less in a lawsuit than in a criminal case.

A receptionist at Local 54 headquarters in Atlantic City said the union had no comment.

A key witness in the case is expected to be Philip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti, a mob turncoat who also is expected to testify in a criminal case against reputed Gambino crime boss John Gotti, said U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff.

In February, the government filed a similar lawsuit against six locals of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union to end decades of alleged mob control of the New York-area waterfront.