January 12-18, 2000
One Woman's Campaign
Against Her Former Union Employer
Can One Woman Clean
Up the City's Dirtiest Union ?
by Bob Fitch
Jan. 11, 2000
Louise Furio knew if she passed
out leaflets this summer in front of the laborers' union meeting
hall, she might be risking trouble. That's why she asked her
sister, Rosanna, to come watch her back. Furio's leaflets,
illustrated with cartoons of deaf, blind and mute monkeys, accused
Mason Tenders District Council officials of an ongoing cover up
of corruption in the union's annuity and benefit funds. .
"At first, I told Louise
I wasn't going, I was afraid " admitted Rosanna Furio,".
But then she decided to stick by her sister. "Both of us
had worked all our lives -- thirty years between us -- for the
union. We helped expose the thieves in the funds. Then just before
Christmas in 1992, we were both fired. Louise was six months short
of a full pension," explained Rosanna: "I couldn't let
her go alone, besides, how would I have felt if something had
happened to her?"
New York's Mason Tenders District
Council isn't as dangerous as it used to be. In the early '90's
ten of the twelve locals were run by crime families. And the Genovese's
and the Luchese's fought each other with ax handles for control
of Local 46.
Today, incumbent union officials
praise a cleanup of mobsters that began in 1994 with the indictment
of 23 officers, employees and vendors for labor racketeering and
pension fund theft. "You must make a distinction between
the current and the previous leadership," said MTDC spokesperson
Richard Weirs in a phone interview,". Ms. Furio continues
to be a disgruntled former employee who's carried out a relentless
and at times, pathetic campaign," he insisted. "Whatever
grievances Louise has are with people who are no longer here."
But Furio points out that it's
the present trustees, who refuse to release to the members an
explosive Court-Appointed investigator's report. She also asserts
that one employee who stole nearly $400,000 has been identified,
but never charged. And readers of the city's tabloids know that
reform notwithstanding, scary things still have a way of happening
in the 10,000 member umbrella organization for New York City laborers
who do the hardest, dirtiest, most dangerous jobs in the construction
In the summer of 1997, Anthony
Tarantino, a business agent from Local 95 of the MTDC was found
slumped over the steering wheel of his union-leased Buick with
a bullet in his head. The union's President, his girl friend,
Christine McKenna, still hasn't turned up. All the local's assets
disappeared too: even the leather couch and the rugs off the
floor -- "busted out" like a mob-controlled night club.
Most recently, in July,1999, the Manhattan DA raided the largest
local in the MTDC, Local 79, as part of Operation Textbook. The
indictments have yet to be unsealed.
So, given past traditions and
recent history, Louise Furio wasn't exactly surprised by the reception
her protest got from union officials. Local 79's Secretary Treasurer,
Daniel Kearney, grabbed her leaflets and threw them in her face.
(Later, he allegedly explained, it was the monkeys that made
him lose his temper.) Through a spokesperson, Mr. Kearney however,
denied the incident ever happened. "Dan says it's all nonsense.
She handed him the flyer. He crumpled it up and threw it away.
What did shock Furio though,
was a call from the FBI a few weeks after the incident warning
her to back off. "Louise, I don't think you should get the
members involved." Furio says top FBI agent Wendy Brouwer
told her. "We don't want the Pete DiNuzzo's of the world
to get a hold of this."
Pete DiNuzzo is a longtime
member-activist, who is organizing an opposition slate to challenge
the Local 79 leadership in this spring's election. If he won,
it would be the first time in half a century that a contested
election was won by a non-incumbent. But at least one FBI agent
seems anxious to keep the incumbents' streak going. According
to Furio, Wendy Brouwer not only participated in the investigation
that led to the indictments, she's stayed on the case, as a kind
of FBI political commissar.
Furio is pretty sure if she
hadn't helped the FBI in the first place, she wouldn't have been
on the street leafleting trying to get her pension rights restored.
In May '92, the Bureau was four years into an investigation that
would expose the biggest pension fund rip-off in trade union history:
trust fund employees, trustees, and mobsters helped themselves
to nearly sixty million of the members pension, health and annuity
One Saturday morning, Agent
James Schmidt showed up at the Furio's Park Slope apartment asking
questions. "We were glad to cooperate, "recalls Louise.
"Everyone -- including the controller, Carlo Mellacce knew
that Fred Jandras was stealing money from the members. "Nearly
$400,000 it turned out. "Members would come in to claim their
annuity money, "Furio recalls, "And we'd have to tell
them 'you don't have an any.' Freddy was just cashing the checks
that belonged to the members at a coffee shop on Union Square,
and forging their name.' That was a 'Freddy Special' we'd say.
Carlo would issue a special check to the member to make up for
the loss." Eventually the funds went broke.
"For six months, we cooperated
with the FBI. Agent Mike Tyms was our main contact. He'd regularly
call us at home and even at work. 'Whatever you say will be confidential,'
he promised. But Furio thinks Tyms constant calls to the office
were probably overheard. The trustees -- who were later indicted
-- fired both Furio sisters, claiming economic reasons."
But we were the only supervisory people laid off. I immediately
contacted Mike Tyms." Tyms was no help. "For six months,
we were there for everybody. After we got fired, nobody knew us."
Furio is angry that Controller
Carlo Mellacce, together with his wife Teodolinda got a sweetheart
deal when they left the Fund December 31, 1998. Both were allowed
to retire last year with full pensions. Although Teodolinda according
to Furio worked part-time for a full-time salary and couldn't
speak English. And Carlo Mellacce served as Controller while
money was being stolen. Mellacce, a church deacon, says he passed
on the information to his boss, Anthony "Nino" Lanza.
But years passed and Melacci never went to authorities. None of
the annuity money was ever recovered. "They said Fred Jandras
was a derelict, he didn't have any money,"
Mellacce's lawyer, Kenneth
Aronson, insists that Teodolinda did work 35 hours a week. And
that her linguistic limitations didn't hurt her performance. Carlo
did the best he could to expose the thefts, under the circumstances,
explained. Aronson "it's unrealistic to think that you report
a situation like that to the police. That's not the way it's done."
Mellacce was in fear of his life, says Aronson "He was getting
threatening letters. Bullets were twice shot into the windows
of his residence, "
Although the Furio's exposed
the thefts in 1992, and never stopped peppering government agencies
with affidavits and inquiries, it was wasn't until 1997, that
Louise was allowed to give a deposition to Wendy Brouwer and
a Court appointed investigative officer. Their report recommended
firing Mellacce. But the trustees, advised by attorney Myron Rumeld,
rejected the recommendation. The trustees also refused to release
the report which exposed the funds' cover-up to the members.
Rumeld counterattacked, says
Furio, by suggesting she may be linked to organized crime figures.
Furio says she was asked by an investigator if she was related
to the Lupo's, the family that ran the District Council for nearly
seventy years. "Are you crazy?," she shot back. "Do
you think I'd have been fired if I was related to the Lupo's?"
A source close to the investigation acknowledges he was told to
ask the question by the MTDC Fund's attorney Myron Rumeld. Asked
if he had suggested Furio was linked to the Lupos', Rumeld said
"I don't remember, And I wouldn't answer you anyway."
"When I started out this
campaign, over 7 years ago, I wanted my job back. And I wanted
a pension. But now I have a job. And since I handed out the leaflets,
I got a letter from the pension department saying that the denial
of my pension was just a typo."Furio doesn't believe it."
A typo? Come on! It's a peace offering. But I reject it. What
I care about now is justice. I want them to release the report.
want the members to know they've been ripped off. And that the
people who stole were rewarded with jobs and pensions. And the
honest people got kicked in the butt."
I reached Agent Brouwer in
her Baltimore office. "I can't discuss the case, I would
get in trouble. But everything Louise says is true and it's all
in the public record anyway." explains Brouwer."
"Is it true that you told
her she should stop passing out the leaflets because it would
help Pete DiNuzzo?" Brouwer was asked. Brouwer laughed softly
and replied,"I am not going to confirm or deny anything like
that." When told that her response would be quoted, she
said,"Then I'm hanging up. Forget it."
According to Louise Furio,
Brouwer has confided that she's been a crucial behind the scenes
player in MTDC politics. "It was Brouwer went to MTDC President
James Lupo's office and threw him out." It was also Brouwer
who decided to throw one member off the '97 "Clean Team"
election ticket. "How can we get rid of him, his name is
on all our tee-shirts?" Brouwer was asked. "I told
the guys, 'Brouwer explained to Furio," just tuck your shirts
in. His name is the last one on the shirt, just pull up your pants,
no-one will see his name."
Wendy Brouwer also allegedly
told Furio she had a role in getting rid of the LIUNA trustee
David Elboar. She didn't like his spending habits. He spent too
much time in the Ritz Hotel. Elboar was replaced by his deputy,
On the other hand, according
to Furio again, Wendy Brouwer did like Genovese crime family associate
Mike Pagano. And despite being named in three 1994 RICO counts,
and serving as a pension fund trustee during the era of corruption,
Pagano was slated by LIUNA trustee, Steve Hammond, to become
the head of Local 79. The court monitor turned him down. But Pagano's
official career continues to soar. He's now in charge of state
LIUNA funds in Albany..
A recent issue of Tri-Fund
a glossy quarterly put out by New York LIUNA, shows Pagano just
beneath a photo of the LIUNA general president, and to the left
of Denis Hughes, New York State AFL-CIO president. In the Pagano
frame, he is being couched by a media training specialist.
Even if you've been indicted
and hung out with mobsters, it seems, you can still go far, if
you get along with prosecutors and the FBI. They'll even protect
you from whistle blowers like Furio and pesky union activists
like DiNuzzo. Before he got whacked by John Gotti, "Big Paul"
Castellano, head of the Gambino crime family, once said, "It's
our job to run the unions." Does the FBI think it's now
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