Editorial Blasts Indicted Buffalo Bosses

The following are key excerpts from the Buffalo News’ May 22 editorial, entitled “Laborers Local 91,” that put the recent racketeering and extortion indictments in the proper perspective:

“[S]omeone has been committing labor violence in Niagara County for years. With these charges, law enforcement has finally served notice that it has to stop. For the sake of that enfeebled county, and all Western New Yorkers, it is important that it does. A 43-page indictment described the charges that led to Friday’s arrests of 14 members of Local 91, including its business manager, Michael “Butch” Quarcini, and its president, Mark Congi. It is a damning document, accusing the 14 of crimes ranging from vandalism and beatings to bombings and death threats.

If proved in court, the allegations could go a long way to explaining why Niagara Falls, one of the world’s best-known tourist destinations, is an economic backwater. Facing a backdrop of worksite violence and exorbitant labor costs, in addition to governmental incompetence, what developer would bother to build there, especially if it could go somewhere else? The answer is, almost none.

. . . But it’s not just costs. According to the indictment, the home of an asbestos-removal worker was bombed twice hours after a union steward, Paul Bellreng, allegedly threatened the worker’s life, saying “I’m going to take your head off tonight.” In another incident, Congi and four other defendants allegedly threatened to rape one person’s family members, including youngsters. That accusation is both chilling and revolting.

Perhaps most startling is that, only months after the federal investigation was publicized in the summer of 2000, the indictment alleges that union members were still at it, threatening and extorting contractors at Niagara Falls Air Base and at Lewiston-Porter Middle School. If they are convicted, these guys will have been proved not just to be criminals, but stupid criminals, at that.

The only unfortunate aspect to these indictments is that they were so long in coming. Matthew J. Murphy III, the Niagara County district attorney, celebrated their announcement, saying ‘For 30 years, this corrupt union has held a stranglehold on Niagara County, its construction contracts and its economic development.’ If that’s true, justice has been a very long time coming. Citizens might reasonably ask why local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were unable to loosen the grip of these criminals as they were choking the life out of an entire community. Still, better late than never.” [Buffalo News 5/22/02]