Associating with the wrong kind of people is not a crime. But Scott Geise may have done more than pick his friends less than well. The Niagara Falls, N.Y.-area dentist was indicted a year ago for processing phony benefit claims for members of Laborers International Union of North America Local 91. Geise pleaded not guilty in Buffalo federal court, claiming in effect he’d been set up. But the case may hinge on his word versus that of an imprisoned former member of the local, whose goon-squad style of intimidation of contractors and nonunion workers has been chronicled frequently in this publication. And that individual, former Local President Robert Malvestuto Jr., helped put away several of the roughly dozen and a half persons eventually pleading guilty to various charges.
During September 2002-November 2006, notes the indictment, Geise billed both private insurance companies and the union’s welfare fund for dental work not performed. He also allegedly falsified tax returns. Insiders say the dentist’s problems began when he hired Wendy Fazzolari, wife of Local 91 then-member Tony Fazzolari, as an office assistant. The husband, who would plead guilty to embezzling $6,970 from the union welfare fund, had provided prosecutors with evidence against Geise in exchange for a lighter sentence (he wound up getting one year’s probation). Fazzolari happened to be a partner in a contracting business with Robert Malvestuto, who in turn had worn a wire for the FBI to help secure convictions for the firebombing of a house where nonunion workers had been living. Convicted were former union president Mark Congi, Congi friend Rico Liberale, Local 91 sergeant-at-arms Randy Butler, and union executive board member Patrick McKeown.
Geise’s attorneys, Joel Daniels and George Muscataro, insist their client is innocent. That might well be the case. Sources say that Wendy Fazzolari had access to paperwork in the dental office, implying that she ran a renegade operation. On the other hand, federal investigators are willing to pursue this case wherever it leads. This January, FBI agents with search warrants and subpoenas entered the union clubhouse on Seneca Avenue, seizing documents and questioning Local 91 business manager Rob Connelly for more than an hour. “Somebody put the stamp of approval on these obviously fraudulent claims, and that seems to be where the case is headed now,” said a source. “If the FBI can get the dentist to cooperate here, we might see another round of indictments relative to the Laborers here.” Geise, reportedly seeking to avoid prison at all costs, just might cut a deal. This is one union with a knack for attracting attention. (Niagara Falls Reporter, 6/2/08).