Another Plea Deal in Buffalo Area Racketeering Case

A second indicted member of Local 91 of the Laborers Intl. Union of N. Amer. agreed on Oct. 1 to cooperate with the fed. investigation of the troubled local union.  James McKeown entered a guilty plea to the only charge he faced, attempted destruction of a motor vehicle involved in interstate commerce. By entering the plea, McKeown — who could have faced a sentence of up to 20 years if convicted at trial — may have avoided a prison term, according to David Staba of the Niagara Falls Reporter.


The plea agreement requires McKeown to cooperate with prosecutors as they prepare to try the rest of the Local 91 defendants. Mark Lostracco, who was to be tried along with McKeown on the vehicle-destruction charge stemming from a 1998 incident at a picket line, is still set for a trial slated to begin with jury selection on Nov. 4.  On Dec. 7, jury selection is scheduled to begin for the trial of Anthony Cerrone and Steven Markel on charges stemming from an alleged attack on several union tile setters during construction of a supermarket.


The main event, though, starts on Feb. 15, when jury selection is set to begin in the case of 10 former officials and members charged with various racketeering, extortion and conspiracy counts.  Nine of them are charged under federal RICO statutes, while Joel Cicero — husband of deposed Local 91 secretary/treasurer Cheryl Cicero — faces one count of extortion stemming from an alleged shakedown of Colorado businessman Joel Aragon while he was trying to build a restaurant complex near the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.  The first Local 91 member to make a plea deal with the feds, Brian Perry, was originally charged under RICO as well, and is expected to be a star witness in that trial.


The charges against McKeown and Lostracco resulted from a picket-line clash while the Clarion Hotel was undergoing renovations performed by a non-union company in 1998, the plea agreement reads.  Members of Local 91 were picketing on the morning of April 17, when a truck driver for Alliant Foods made a delivery to the hotel unrelated to the work dispute.


As he was trying to leave, driver John Spiller “heard Local 91 picketers yell a number of statements, including a statement to the effect that Spiller was not going to be permitted out of the parking lot.  At approximately 7:15 a.m., Mr. Spiller attempted to drive his Alliant Food Service truck out of the Clarion Hotel parking lot, at which time Local 91 picketers began to surround Mr. Spiller’s truck.  A number of Local 91 members, including co-defendant Salvatore Spatorico, jumped on the running boards of Mr. Spiller’s truck and began to hit the windows and bend the truck’s mirrors. The defendant, along with co-defendants Andrew Tomascik, Jr., and Mark Lostracco and other Local 91 members, were present at this attack upon the Alliant Food Service Truck and also attempted to stop the truck from leaving the Clarion Hotel,” the plea agreement reads.


“Before Mr. Spiller could leave the parking lot, and while co-defendant Spatorico was beating on the driver’s side window, one of the Local 91 picketers threw a rock at the truck. Either the rock or the fist of co-defendant Spatorico broke the driver’s side window of the Alliant Food Service truck, also breaking Mr. Spiller’s nose and causing lacerations to Mr. Spiller’s face.” [Niagara Falls Reporter, 10/4/04]