Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union long had been a fiefdom of New York’s Genovese crime family. At least three top officers had to resign over various federal criminal allegations. Now a new report is providing even more powerful evidence of a close working relationship between the Mob and the union. On September 6, dissident local members held a news conference to release the contents of a report prepared by an independent counsel in January, concluding that “organized crime, with the full knowledge of certain local and even international officials, had infiltrated and controlled” the Queens, N.Y.-based 15,000-member school bus drivers’ union.
The independent counsel, Richard W. Mark, called upon the parent ATU to bring internal charges against former Local 1181 President Salvatore Battaglia and former Secretary-Treasurer Julius Bernstein, and to conduct a further probe. Battaglia is facing a federal trial, having been indicted in 2005 for racketeering and obstruction of justice. Bernstein stepped down in June 2006, pleading guilty to racketeering charges filed the previous year. Ex-pension and welfare benefits manager Ann Chiarovano pleaded guilty in August 2006 to obstruction of justice, and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in January 2007 to five months in prison and five months of home confinement. Nearly a dozen and a half other persons, including reputed acting Genovese crime boss Matty “the Horse” Ianniello, were indicted; the aging Ianniello this past April was sentenced in federal court to 18 months in prison after admitting that he’d shared kickbacks and extorted money with local leaders.
Though Amalgamated Transit Union President Warren George has placed Local 1181 under trusteeship, that doesn’t mean dissident rank and file will see the kind of action they are looking for. Leo Wetzel, ATU general counsel, announced that his union had decided against bringing internal charges against Battaglia and Bernstein because each had retired and are thus ineligible to run for office. “It was the judgment of the union,” said Wetzel, “that the resources and attention of the international and local union were better directed to putting the local on the right course and to leave those matters to federal prosecutors.” The ATU already has assigned auditors to review the local’s books.
A dozen or so workers in the dissident faction, known as Members for Change, smell a cover-up. At their press conference, they noted that the two trustees appointed to oversee the bus drivers’ union had hired eleven local executive board members who had served under Battaglia for staff positions. The drivers said that those people helped perpetuate an intimidating atmosphere. They also complained that not enough had been done to recoup more than $2.7 million that federal officials say Battaglia obtained improperly. “The international didn’t bring in any new faces,” said Simon Jean-Baptiste, one of the dissidents. “The same people are there who stopped people from talking. It’s a bad situation.” Another member, Clifford Magliore, said that back in May, while distributing leaflets critical of local leaders, one union official pushed him against a fence and started screaming at him; others surrounded Magliore as well.
Wetzel defends his decision to hire the executive board members. “It is essential that you have experienced personnel to represent the union members,” he said. “If you sweep house and bring in a bunch of people who have no experience, this is not a good idea.” He added that those persons were hired only after they passed a background check. If only the ATU had exercised this kind of due diligence upon its locals years ago. (New York Times, 9/7/07).