New York City School Bus Inspectors Plead Guilty

Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in Queens, N.Y. for years had been in the pockets of the Genovese crime family until the union’s leaders were brought down by federal racketeering charges a few years ago. And even after the parent union placed the local under trusteeship, there was some additional cleaning up to do. Last spring, four New York City school bus inspectors and supervisors were indicted for various acts of extortion, bribery and bribe-taking going back to the mid Nineties. Neil Cremin, Ira Sokol, George Ortiz and Milton Smith at the time pleaded not guilty. But the evidence against them was too strong. On February 6, Cremin and Sokol pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to receiving bribes; Ortiz and Smith pleaded guilty in the same court to extortion and receiving bribes.

Federal prosecutors estimated that the sum of money changing hands was at least $1 million. The focus of the investigation was a federally-subsidized transportation program for special education students. The defendants knowingly overlooked vehicle safety violations in exchange for cash payments and received kickbacks for falsely reclassifying certain bus routes as “extended” in order to provide ATU Local 1181 drivers with extra wages. “The amount of cash payments…ranged from hundreds of dollars per year from certain bus company owners, up to tens of thousands of dollars per year from [others],” noted the indictment released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. The guilty pleas follow a lengthy joint probe by the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General conducted in response to a request by dissident members of the 15,000-member union. (OLMS, 3/20/09).