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FEDS SAY LOCAL 91 STRANGLEHOLD GOING THE WAY OF THE DINOSAUR
By David Staba
In March, 1997, Mark Congi had a chat with the project manager of a company attempting to do an asbestos removal job without the benefit of workers from Laborers Local 91.
According to the 54-page, seven-count indictment announced Friday by federal prosecutors, the hulking Congi delivered a simple message. The project manager told the grand jury that indicted Congi warned him, "This is Niagara Falls and it is (our) town."
Friday's arrests of Congi, longtime Local 91 Business Manager Michael "Butch" Quarcini and 12 other union members on a boatload of charges, including racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and destruction of property, effectively gutted the leadership of a union that prosecutors say evolved into a criminal organization.
"The hierarchy of the union as it is today will cease to exist," said Anthony Bruce, Chief of Organized Crime Investigation for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo.
|U.S. Attorney Michael A. Battle said the investigation into Local 91 is ongoing. Anyone wishing to come forward with information can call the U.S. Attorney's Office at 551-3865.
The union's Washington, D.C.-based parent organization, Laborers International Union of North America, took control of Local 91's operations over the weekend, while the Niagara County Sheriff's Department padlocked its Seneca Avenue headquarters and put officers on 24-hour watch outside the building.
"These premises have been placed under the supervision of Sheriff's Department," read a sign posted on the front door.
LIUNA's constitution mandates immediate suspension of "any officer, agent, representative, or employee of any entity within the Union (that) has been indicted for any felony violation ... relating to the conduct of the affairs of a labor organization."
And the 14 defendants were charged with plenty of felonies Friday -- 33 in all. Each carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, 10 of the indicted -- Congi, Quarcini, former President Dominick Dellaccio, Vice President Salvatore Bertino, Assistant Business Manager Albert Celeste, Andrew Shomers, Salvatore Spatorico, Andrew Tomascik Jr., Paul Bellreng and Brian Perry -- also face forfeiture of any money or property gained from the acts alleged in the indictment.
"The defendants as a group were referred to as the 'goon squad,' 'strong arms' and 'thugs,' based, in part, upon their willingness to engage in acts and threats of violence, sabotage and destruction of property on construction projects within Niagara County," the indictment reads.
"These criminal acts were perpetrated by the defendants upon a number of victims, including persons and businesses conducting projects in Niagara Falls, their fellow union members and other tradespersons and persons suspected of cooperating with law enforcement authorities against members of the Local 91 Criminal Enterprise."
Unlike the International's takeover of Laborers Local 210 in Buffalo, the four-year investigation of Local 91 found not a union infiltrated by the Mafia, but something of a mob unto itself.
"Clearly, the organization of Local 91 is the criminal enterprise here," said Peter Ahearn, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Buffalo office. "Whether they were 'wanna-bes' in terms of how they did business, you can draw your own conclusions."
Ahearn characterized the vast majority of the union's 666 members as "hard-working guys," who at worst knew something about the activities of their leaders.
"This isn't an indictment of the rank-and-file," Ahearn said. "I think some of them should say, 'Hey, how come I'm not working?'"
Ahearn and several other officials at Friday's news conference at the U.S. Attorney's office cited the impact of the defendants' tactics on the local construction industry.
"For the people of Niagara County, this is huge," said District Attorney Matt Murphy III, whose request triggered the four-year investigation that included federal, state and local officials. "For 30 years, this corrupt labor union has had a stranglehold on Niagara County. For the first time, we can see daylight."
United States Attorney Michael A. Battle said Local 91's strategy began with threats like the one Congi allegedly delivered on the aforementioned asbestos removal project.
"On at least eight occasions, the threats turned into a reality and a major-league nightmare for the victims," Battle said.
While some incidents of Local 91-related violence were prosecuted individually in city and town courts, most cases were pleaded down to minor violations or dismissed entirely, with defendants often receiving support from elected officials who accepted campaign donations from Local 91's political action committee.
Ahearn said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 may have snuffed that long-prevalent "boys will be boys" attitude.
"There's that old school of thought that a certain amount of violence is tolerable in labor disputes," Ahearn said. "That level, since September, has gone down. People don't want to deal with this anymore. And it went beyond the job site to people's homes."
Battle and Ahearn said the investigation continues, and encouraged anyone else threatened or attacked by Local 91 members to come forward. The federal grand jury has almost a year remaining on its term and could be extended an additional four months.
"If people connected to Local 91 continue to participate in this kind of activity, there will be more arrests," Battle added.
The charges filed last week involved projects dating from November, 1996 to August, 2001 -- a construction project in Lockport, the asbestos removal project in Niagara Falls, and construction projects at the Rainbow Bridge, the Clarion and Niagara Falls hotels, Wegman's on Military Road, the new Niagara Falls High School, the Niagara Falls Air Base and the Lewiston-Porter Middle School.
Some lowlights from the indictment (Note: The companies, victims and witnesses involved were not named in the indictment itself for safety reasons. Battle said some witnesses have already been threatened. These excerpts have been edited to eliminate redundancies and some legalese. And consider yourself warned about some of the language. To paraphrase Mayor Irene Elia, if you like Mike Tyson interviews, you're going to love this):
LOCKPORT CONSTRUCTION PROJECT
- "In 1995 or 1996, defendant Mark Congi directed a member of Local 91 to make welded metal stars which could be used to damage property and vehicles and thereafter, the Local 91 member supplied Congi with the welded metal stars."
- "In or about late November or early December, 1996, Dominick Dellaccio told the owner of Company 1 not to use workers the owner had selected for the Lockport construction site and thereafter, Local 91 members threatened, followed, threw projectiles at, damaged the property of, and sought to prevent the owner and his employees from working at the project."
- "On or about January 30, 1997, a member of Local 91 threw a welded metal star at the Lockport construction project."
- "In or about March, 1997, Dellaccio, Albert Celeste, Paul Bellreng and other members of Local 91 attempted to intimidate the family of the owner of Company 1 in an effort to coerce the owner into acceding to the enterprise's extortionate demands."
- "On or about March 20, 1997, a Local 91 member was arrested at the residence of the owner of Company 1 and thereafter, Local 91 paid the attorney's fees for this member based upon the request of Dellaccio."
ASBESTOS REMOVAL PROJECT
- "On various occasions in February, March and April, 1997, Congi, Dellaccio, Celeste and another member of Local 91 told the project manager of Company 2 that Company 2 should leave its employees home, and threatened that the project would be performed by Local 91 members or would not be done at all."
- "On or about March 12, 1997, Congi told the project manager that 'they' knew when he would be in town."
- "On or about March 21, 1997, Congi, Dellaccio and Celeste threatened the project manager of Company 2 that if the Company did not use Local 91's men, the defendants would 'do what we have to do.'"
- "On or about March 26, 1997, Celeste and another Local 91 member followed employees of Company 2 to their residence, in order to terrorize them and place them in fear for their safety."
- "On numerous occasions after March 26, 1997, the exact dates being to the Grand Jury unknown, defendant Paul Bellreng and other members of Local 91 threatened to kill the employees of Company 2 and their families."
- "On several occasions in 1997, Local 91 members destroyed the decontamination barrier at an asbestos removal project in Niagara Falls."
- "On numerous occasions on or about March 27, 1997 and continuing thereafter through May, 1997, Congi, Andrew Tomascik Jr., Salvatore Spatorico, Brian Perry, Bellreng, Celeste and other members of Local 91 prevented employees of Company 2 from entering and leaving the job site, launched projectiles, threatened to commit arson upon the employees of Company 2, threatened to rape juvenile and adult female members of their families, and attempted to destroy their property."
- "On or about April 21, 1997, Bellreng exited the automobile of Celeste, told an employee of Company 2 that "I'm going to take your head off tonight," and later that same evening, two explosive devices were detonated inside the residence of the Company 2 employees, causing permanent injury to one of the employees."
- "On or about April 22, 1997, a member of Local 91 asked an employee of Company 2 how it was sleeping in the fire."
CLARION AND NIAGARA FALLS HOTELS
- "Sometime in or about 1998, Congi told a Local 91 member that Local 91 needed 'a strong arm' and somebody to direct violence, and Congi was going to be that person."
- "On or about April 17, 1998, Spatorico told a truck driver that he would not be leaving the Clarion Hotel, and thereafter, Spatorico, Tomascik and other members of Local 91 attacked the truck driver and caused serious injury to the driver and his vehicle."
- "On or about April 17, 1998, members of Local 91 attacked two employees of Company 3 as they attempted to leave the site."
- "In early September, 1998, Congi told a person, 'I've had it with the bricklayers over the sweeping. Maybe somebody should stick a broom up their ass.'"
- "On or about September 16, 1998, Tomascik told one person that 'there was going to be a problem today,' said to another person, 'I'm going to take care of this,' and said to a third person, 'it's just starting to get fun.'"
- "On or about September 16, 1998, Congi told a member of Local 91 to send defendant Andrew Shomers to Wegman's food market."
- "On or about September 16, 1998, Congi, Dellaccio, Bertino, Shomers, Tomascik, Perry, Bellreng and other members of Local 91 attacked, beat, punched and kicked four employees of Company 5."
NIAGARA FALLS HIGH SCHOOL
- "On or about March 31, 1999, Shomers grabbed a broom from an employee of Company 6, broke it, and stabbed the man with the handle, causing bodily injury. A few minutes later on the same day, Shomers attacked the same employee, causing further serious bodily injury."
- "Approximately one week after the attack by Shomers upon an employee of Company 6, defendant Michael "Butch" Quarcini threatened an employee of Company 6 that unless an employee of Company 6 dropped his charges against Shomers, 'fireproofing is slippery and someone could fall.'"
- "One evening in late 1999 or early 2000, Congi, Shomers and approximately 10 others arrived at a construction project, intimidated the workers and forced them to abandon the project."
- "On or about Nov. 24, 1999, Congi directed Bertino, Shomers and several other members of Local 91 to meet at Gagster's Bar in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and thereafter, Congi, Bertino, Shomers, and two other members of Local 91 attacked a man and his wife and damaged their vehicle."
- "On or about Nov. 24, 1999, Congi told members of Local 91 'we're going to wait for these guys outside and kick the shit out of them.'"
- "Sometime after Nov. 24, 1999, Congi told a member of Local 91 that he uses Shomers and Bertino to do his dirty work."
- "Sometime in or about December, 1999, Congi told a member of Local 91 that Congi and Shomers were outside the Denny's Restaurant in Niagara Falls, waiting for one of the Denny's employees to get off work so they could inflict physical injury on the employee."
- "On or about Dec. 16, 1999, Congi told a person that if he fired Shomers from a construction project in Niagara Falls, 'it's going to get ugly.' On that same day, Shomers told the same person, 'we know where you live, you better watch your back.'"
- "On or about Feb. 9, 2000, following the firing of Shomers from a construction project in Niagara Falls, a large explosion occurred at this same construction project, severely damaging property."
- "In or about May, 2000, Shomers challenged an employee of Company 7 to a fight because the employee had swept a portion of the floor."
- "In or about September or October, 2000, Shomers told a member of Local 91 that Shomers and Congi had followed the man in an effort to determine if he was cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
NIAGARA FALLS AIR BASE
- "On or about May 21, 2001, Shomers prevented four employees of Company 8 from working at a construction project and told the employees of Company 8 that he could have '10 or 100' Local 91 members make sure the employees did not work."
- "On or about May 22, 2001, Congi told an employee of Company 8 that Shomers was 'only doing as he was told.'"
LEW-PORT MIDDLE SCHOOL
- "On or about July or August, 2001, Congi told an employee of Company 10 that if he wanted a problem, 'we can settle it quickly, I can have 20 guys here in a few minutes.' On that same day, Congi told another employee of Company 10, 'We have a way to get even.'"
- "On or about July 18, 2001, Bertino, in the presence of Congi, told the owner of Company 9, 'I'm not from this country. We know how to take care of people like you.'"
- "On or about Aug. 7, 2001, Bertino told an employee of Company 9, 'You motherfucker, you fucking motherfucker, the fun doesn't begin until the feds (federal investigators) leave.'"
But the feds never did leave. Bertino, along with Congi and Shomers, will have to find their fun in jail, where they're slated to remain until at least Wednesday's detention hearing.
Prosecutors plan to ask U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio to deny them bail, saying that they pose a continued threat to witnesses. The other 11 defendants were released Friday on signature bond.
And if convicted, the members of "the goon squad" and the union leaders who gave them their orders will have up to 20 years to reminisce about the days when Niagara Falls was their town.
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|Niagara Falls Reporter
||May 21 2002