Buffalo News



Dec 5, 1999

Buffalo, N.Y Federal District Judge Richard J. Arcara faces a daunting task in choosing whether to name an overseer for Laborers Local 210, Mafia- influenced for decades.

La Cosa Nostra, The Arm, the Buffalo mob, organized crime, the hats.

Like a faded reel from "The Godfather," rented a few too many times, the story of the local mob played last week in a federal court.

Going back to the late Stefano Magaddino, the native Silician who started a crime family here after fleeing a New York City gangster war in the early part of the century, federal prosecutors told how organized crime allegedly had come to dominate Laborers Local 210 over the past four decades.

They told of colorful names: Salvatore Sam "The Farmer" Frangiamore, Frederico "The Wolf" Randaccio, Donald "Turtle" Panepinto, Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, Antonio "Peanuts" Tronolone.

They told of secret meetings in the basement of a local pizzeria. Accounts of a sit-down an overthrown local mob boss had with members of the Mafia's ruling commission in New York City. Stories of how local mobsters in their 20s with no experience were given jobs running training programs or pension funds for Local 210.

And though they told of no mob crime tied to Local 210 since at least 1994, prosecutors and lawyers for Laborers International Union of North America said mobsters and their associates were waiting in the shadows to take over Local 210 once the international's trustee went back to Washington, D.C.

At stake is control of a 1,200-member local that supplies workers to union contractors in construction, demolition and asbestos work throughout much of Western New York.

The arguments did not play well with a handful of laborers in the courtroom, those who say they have no mob involvement and say whatever problems Local 210 once had are now in the past, and that it's time to return the union to local control.

A prosecutor drew snickers from them and others in court when he continually pronounced La Cosa Nostra -- Sicilian for "this thing of ours" -- like a Spanish translation of "this house of ours."

But it was serious business in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, as the U.S. Justice Department and Local 210's parent union tried to get Arcara to approve an agreement naming a court liaison officer to oversee the union for the next five years.

The agreement, if Arcara approves, would end a civil racketeering lawsuit the Justice Department and international union filed against Local 210 last week.

The suit ties 16 co-conspirators to the local mob and accuses them of controlling every aspect of a union that draws $1 million a year in dues from its 1,200 members.

It's the latest step since 1995, when the government and international laborers union agreed to rid all laborers locals of organized crime. Local 210 is only one of three laborers unions under the international's control. Others are a district council in Chicago and a New York City local.

Since taking over, the international union has bounced more than two dozen Local 210 members because union officials said they were members of the mob, or mob associates, and put in a number of internal reforms aimed at opening up the local to all members.

The international's attorneys told Arcara the union is on its way to a full democracy for the first time in its history.

But lawyers for dissident members of Local 210 wondered how the judge could go along with the consent agreement. They said the international union is both the plaintiff and the defendant, because the international has been running Local 210 for the past four years. "You've got the government and the international union holding hands skipping into court together," said attorney Joseph V. Sedita, who has represented Local 210 members ousted from the union by the international.

Sedita also said the government and international union took the easy way out, naming the local as defendants, knowing there would be no opposition because Local 210 is controlled by the international.

The racketeering suit, filed last week, names 16 men as mobsters and mob associates, accused of dominating the local. The government made plain that two of those listed were dead but didn't mention that others were in their 70s and 80s.

And the two named in the suit as the city's mob bosses, Joseph E. Todaro Sr. and Joseph A. Todaro Jr., are two white-haired owners of the area's biggest pizzeria who have supplied pizzas and wings to the Clintons and Gores and soldiers serving in the Persian Gulf war.

Their attorney called the evidence flimsy and points out the Todaros have never been convicted. The allegations, however, will go unchallenged because neither the Todaros nor any of the other 16 are named as defendants.

Who, Sedita asked, is representing the members?

Attorneys William F. Trezevant and Michael J. Stachowski, saying they learned of the proceedings only from The Buffalo News, filed last-minute motions to have Local 210 members represented at the proceedings. Arcara has yet to rule on their motions.

Stachowski said the trustee running Local 210 could not be independent if he was named by the international union. "If the international union says, 'Jump,' " Stachowski said outside the courtroom, "he says, 'How high?' "

Arcara also had questions about the agreement.

How can the government and the international union bring a lawsuit, the judge asked, when Local 210, the defendant, is being run by a trustee appointed and paid by the international union? "Is it legal?" Arcara asked at one point. "Absolutely," replied John M. Curran, who serves as local attorney for the Laborers International Union of North America.

Robert D. Luskin, the union's executive board attorney from Washington, told Arcara the agreement was almost identical to one a federal judge in Chicago approved in September for a district council of 21 laborers locals under the international union's control.

Luskin, who formerly directed organized-crime cases for the government and was brought in by the international union to rid itself of the mob, said the local trustee's first obligation is to the local's members.

But Arcara remained so troubled in two days of questioning that Denise E. O'Donnell, the U.S. attorney in Buffalo, told the judge the government would bring the case alone if Arcara could not live with the international's involvement.

Arcara said he would rule later.

If the consent decree is approved, retired FBI agent John J. McDonnell would be named as Local 210's court liaison officer. He would oversee the work of the local's trustee until the union was deemed ready for elections.

Steve Hammond, Local 210's trustee, said he felt the union was about 75 percent ready for an election, but said an open union once under domination requires more than that. "I think a union member should be able to stand up at a meeting and say, 'I want to run for office' and not be intimidated when he shows up on the job the next day."

The government and international union said in its suit that Local 210 would have to pay for the cost of the court liaison officer and any other related expenses. But attorneys told Arcara last week those costs will be waived.

Copyright Buffalo News Dec 5, 1999

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