JAY JOCHNOWITZ Staff writer
February 28, 1998
Samuel Fresina, a local labor leader and
longtime political supporter of Mayor Jerry Jennings, has been
swept into a controversy in the New York State Laborers' union
over a payment of $221,000 to a former labor official accused
of having organized crime ties.
The Laborers' union has been operating under
Justice Department scrutiny since 1995 in the wake of a federal
Fresina, the Albany Laborers' business agent,
was among four members of the union's statewide political action
committee, or PAC, accused by a union attorney of making the payment
to Salvatore Lanza, who was earlier ousted from a New York City
union on charges he was involved in racketeering and had mob ties.
Lanza had been found by a court-appointed
union monitor to have engaged in racketeering and associating
with organized crime figures, including the late Anthony ``Fat
Tony'' Salerno, the former head of the Genovese crime family,
while Lanza was in the Mason Tenders' District Council in New
Fresina faces no criminal charges.
The union, however, long has been in the
glare of the Justice Department, and Fresina himself was identified
in a draft 1994 Justice Department complaint against the Laborers'
International as ``an associate of the LCN (La Cosa Nostra) in
Buffalo.'' The lawsuit was not filed after the Laborers' International
agreed to clean up the union.
Fresina's attorney, Eugene Devine, said the
allegation of mob ties against his client is untrue, and noted
that while several hundred Laborers' officials across the country have been ousted for racketeering
and mob connections, no such charges were ever brought against
Fresina. He said the term ``associate'' is loose enough to include
even casual encounters that were unavoidable in the union.
``You cannot be a member of this union, be
active, and not have met somebody who might have been a bad person,''
Fresina has been a close political ally of
Jennings, who said he stood behind Fresina and was unaware of
the ethics charges. Jennings said he doesn't believe the allegations.
``Absolutely no way,'' Jennings said. ``I've
known him too long. I wish I had more labor leaders like him that
I could work with.''
The payment accusation was made by union
attorney Robert Luskin on Sept. 15. Closed-door hearings on the
case before a union hearing officer concluded Feb. 9, and Devine
said he expects a decision in April.
The hearing officer could decide to oust
the entire union PAC board.
Fresina and the other PAC board members were
accused of a ``breach of duty and loyalty and obstruction,'' according
to Luskin's charges.
While acknowledging the board paid the money
to Lanza in a Dec. 30, 1996, settlement, Devine and members of
the PAC board facing the charges said nothing improper was done.
Devine said Lanza had a three-year contract, and the board would
have likely faced a lawsuit if it didn't buy out the contract.
He estimated the PAC might have been liable for more than $1 million
in salary, pension and attorney's fees if Lanza sued and won in
Devine and Charles Dolcimascolo, a PAC member
and business manager of the Cement and Concrete Workers District
Council in New York City, said the case boils down to whether
the payment was legally necessary or a favor to Lanza in the form
of severance pay.
``Believe me, Sam Fresina didn't do anything
wrong and neither did anybody else,'' said Dolcimascolo. He said
union officials, particularly downstate Italian-Americans, have
been unfairly pegged as Mafia members. ``You come from New York,
you're a gangster,'' Dolcimascolo said.
The other PAC members accused by Luskin in
connection with the payment were Dario Bocarossa, business manager
of Local 235 in Elmsford, and Joseph D'Amato, a field representative
for Local 731 in New York City.
Fresina's union topped the mayor's list of
contributors in his first mayoral bid in 1993. In Jennings' 1997
re-election campaign, Laborers' groups allied with Fresina donated
more than $15,000 to the mayor's coffers.
Fresina and Jennings have worked together
on a $6 million federal lead-abatement grant. The city and the
union teamed up to hire and train workers to clean up lead in
an estimated 500 homes in low-income neighborhoods. Jennings on
Thursday cut the ribbon on the program's first house on Orange
Street. Fresina, who Dolcimascolo said is vacationing in Florida,
was not present.
Fresina and several relatives have also served
in the Jennings administration. Fresina was a member of the mayor's
transition team in 1993.
The mayor's executive assistant, Nicholas
D'Antonio, is Fresina's cousin, as is Nicholas' brother, John
D'Antonio, who runs the city's recreation programs and was recently
tapped to be assistant commissioner. Fresina's son, Samuel A.
Fresina, is the president of the Albany firefighters union.
Copyright 1998, Capital Newspapers
Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.