James C. Gaile was mayor of Niagara Falls, N.Y. in 1998 when hired hands belonging to Laborers Local 91 assaulted non-union workers at two hotel construction sites in the city. But was he privy to a secret agreement to look the other way? Gaile insists neither he nor any other public official gave approval to the goons’ behavior. But one of those indicted goons, Dominick Dellaccio, 60, who at one time was president and business manager of the local, may tell a different tale when he takes the witness stand next January at a federal racketeering trial.
The long reign of intimidation by Local 91 has been well-documented in these pages. But prosecutors think there’s a chance the union had some hidden help from City Hall. Gaile, 63, admits that he, then-Police Superintendent Anthony Fera, and then-City Administrator Anthony Restaino had a meeting with Dellaccio and other local officials at the union hall. But he categorically denied the intent was to give a green light for assault, vandalism and other crimes. “I believe we did go over to the union hall at one time, but it was to advise them to keep everything orderly and that we would be monitoring their activities,” Gaile said.
These activities, not to put too fine a point on it, involved crime. In April 1998, picketers from Local 91 disrupted construction by non-union workers at the Clarion Hotel (now the Holiday Inn Select) on Third Street and the Holiday Inn (now the Travelodge) on Buffalo Avenue. According to police, one of the union members threw a brick through a truck driver’s window, striking the driver in the face and severely injuring him. In other incidents, Local 91 members placed nails and spikes in hotel driveways, smashed the windshield of a car driven by a non-union worker, and slashed a tire of another motorist. Dellaccio, for his part, pleaded guilty in federal court in July to one count of felony racketeering conspiracy. In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors will recommend to a judge that his prison term of 46 to 57 months be reduced to 33 to 41 months.
In the meantime, there’s a new twist to the Niagara Falls saga. On September 1, ex-Local 91 President Robert Malvestuto, Jr. pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. He admitted to involvement in a firebombing and other criminal acts taking place during 1997-98. He could get up to 20 years in prison, but that sentence could be reduced if he cooperates with the prosecution in nailing other former local officials.
Malvestuto was elected in July 2004, after LIUNA’s national leadership lifted the trusteeship it had imposed in May 2002 in the wake of the indictment of 14 local officers. Because Malvestuto committed his crimes prior to becoming president, the national union has no plans to reassume control of the local. “In order to sustain a trusteeship, you would have to have some current wrongdoing,” explained longtime LIUNA attorney Robert Luskin. “Local 91’s executive board will choose a new president, and we’ll continue to watch the situation.” (Buffalo News, 8/26, 9/3).