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
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,
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
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
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
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
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