Tables Turned on Investigators of New York Local

Seven years ago, N.Y. State investigators cut a deal with an air freight company, Amerford Int’l Corp., they had caught working with the mob: forfeit $2.5 million said to have passed through the hands of the Mafia and avoid the embarrassment of criminal charges. Amerford had been caught, by both the federal government and the state attorney general’s office, firing more than twenty shipping clerks at Kennedy Int’l Airport and handing the money from the saved wages to the Luchese crime family. The forfeiture agreement called for the state’s Organized Crime Task Force to distribute the money to the clerks who had been wrongly fired.

But on Mar. 30, U.S. Dist. Judge Eugene H. Nickerson ruled that the att’y gen. at the time, Dennis C. Vacco, had apparently violated the agreement by funneling about $1.5 million of the forfeited money into the task force’s coffers. And, according to the Nickerson, that money was never accounted for and remains missing. “The dismissal of criminal charges here was contingent upon a $2.5 million payment,” stated Nickerson. “The task force apparently intended all along to keep $1.5 million of that sum for itself.”

The task force did return nearly $365,000 to some of the workers who had lost their jobs. But in 1998, the Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters Local 851, which represented the shipping clerks, complained in a lawsuit that the task force had stopped making payments and had kept about $1.5 million. Nickerson said the federal government could not force the AG’s office to repay the money. Instead he encouraged Local 851 to try to reclaim the $1.5 million from the former head of the task force and from Vacco. Current AG Eliot L. Spitzer’s spokesman, said that despite Nickerson’s ruling, “Our position is that the task force had the legal authority to retain the funds.”

The ruling offered a “scathing” appraisal of the Organized Crime Task Force and its leaders, who sought to stave off the IBT’s lawsuit under the Eleventh Amendment, which provides some protections for state officials who become the subject of litigation. Vacco and his staff, Nickerson wrote, demonstrated “a cavalier attitude toward the rule of law.” Not only had the task force kept more than $1 million that should have gone to a group of shipping clerks, it also hid the fact that money had been set aside for the workers in the first place, Nickerson wrote. “There is plausible evidence,” he wrote, that state officials “affirmatively concealed the existence of the task force agreement and the forfeiture fund.”

Reportedly, the task force paid about $365,000 to clerks who worked for Local 851, about $50,000 to the local’s pension fund and about $650,000 to a state-run substance abuse program, which received the money under state law governing forfeitures. The location of the remaining money is unclear, Nickerson said, although officials have said “the task force retained an unspecified amount to cover its expenses.”

Ronald E. DePetris, who was named Local 851’s trustee after its ties to organized crime were revealed, could pursue Vacco and George Quinlan, the former head of the task force and still a member of the attorney general’s staff, in federal court. Or he could pursue the attorney general’s office as a whole in State Supreme Court. DePetris said he intends “to fully pursue all options.” But he added, “We’re obviously pleased with the decision insofar as it clearly held that the state officials acted illegally and without any authority under state law.”

Local 851’s troubles began in 1990 when the authorities launched an investigation of the connection between organized crime, Anthony Razza, the local’s former secretary-treasurer, and air-freight shippers at Kennedy, which an ex-U.S. Attorney once called “the mob’s private candy store.” In Apr. 1994, they pled guilty to racketeering charges, in essence, for turning a blind eye to Amerford’s decision to fire the shipping clerks and hand some of their salaries over to the mob.  Razza served a 21-month prison term. Amerford, now known as Thyssen Haniel Logistics Inc., was never charged in the case. [N.Y. Times 4/1/00]

Shooting Believed Tied to West Virginia Strike
With an IBT strike at Coke Consolidated plant in Huntington, W. Va. in its third week, three of the bottler’s delivery trucks were shot at on Mar. 31 near Charleston, W. Va.. The 18-wheelers, driven by management employees filling in for strikers, were on an entrance ramp to I-64 less than one mile from one of Charlotte-based bottler’s facilities. The vehicles were disabled by the shots, but no one was injured.

“It looks like they intentionally fired at the vehicles and not at the drivers,” said Special Agent Steven Viglianco of the FBI’s Charleston office, which is investigating with the state police.Viglianco said there are no suspects, but investigators are “certainly considering” that the shootings could be related to the strike. There are 38 Teamsters from the Huntington facility on strike. Teamsters from five other facilities also are striking in support, for a total of 215 striking workers.

Coke Consolidated is offering a $50,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the shooting. “We are appalled by this deplorable action and blatant disregard for human life and safety,” said a Coke Consolidated spokesman. “We are calling upon the Teamsters to join us in guaranteeing the safety of all of our employees and the public at large.” [Charlotte Observer 4/1/00]