Niagara Local Probed for Violence

A federal task force and a grand jury are investigating possible connections between Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am. Local 91 and a series of threats, assaults, vandalism and sabotage incidents at Niagara County, N.Y., construction sites. The incidents include beatings, bombings, death threats, damage to vehicles and equipment, and rocks hurled through the windows at truck drivers on work sites where Local 91 has had disputes with contractors, non-union workers and members of other unions.

The U.S. Atty. in Buffalo, Denise E. O’Donnell, is coordinating the probe, which also involves the FBI, the U.S. Dep’t of Labor’s Inspector General’s Office, N.Y. State Police, the Niagara County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices, and Niagara Falls Police. Investigators want to determine whether Local 91 bosses, particularly longtime business manager Michael A. “Butch” Quarcini, had any role in a series of strong-arm incidents that, some believe, have inhibited development in Niagara County.

Among the crimes under investigation are the beating of a carpenter working on the new Niagara Falls High School, a beating and stomping attack at a Wegmans store construction site involving as many as 15 attackers, the bombing of the home of a worker who had a dispute with Local 91, and a $100,000 vandalism spree at a landfill job in the Town of Niagara.

The intimidation tactics that have caused at least one developer to surround his work sites with 8-foot fencing, barbed wire, armed guards and police dogs. A local contractor took out a $1 million life insurance policy after criticizing Local 91.

“These guys play rough. They even flattened the tires on one of my deputies’ cars at a picket site… They threw metal ‘stars’ under his car while it was moving. The deputy could have been injured,” said Niagara County Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein

Critics of Quarcini call the boss one of the most feared and politically powerful men in Niagara County. Quarcini, his daughter and his son-in-law hold three of the highest-paid positions in the local. Each year, Local 91’s political fund sends thousands of dollars in donations to elected officials in the county. “Butch Quarcini is a very powerful man, both politically and in the business community,” Beilein said. “When he makes a call, people pick up the phone.”

Niagara County Dist. Atty. Matthew J. Murphy, III, said. “The problem of union violence in Niagara County is a serious concern,” Murphy said. “Local 91 seems to be responsible for most of it… People in law enforcement are not intimidated by Butch Quarcini, but are people in the community? I would only say that he seems to be involved in some of the decisions that have led to violence on construction sites.”

Quarcini has been Local 91’s boss, almost without interruption, since 1965. The Quarcini family makes roughly $250,000 a year from union jobs. Quarcini is business manager, making an annual gross salary of $78,123. His daughter, Cheryl Cicero, is the secretary-treasury at $89,907. Her husband, Joel Cicero, runs a training program for the local at a salary over $80,000.

The perception that Quarcini is a powerful man was fueled, in part, by developments in a driving-while-intoxicated case against him in Sept. 1993. Niagara Falls police thought they had an ironclad case when they arrested the union leader on a DWI in the early-morning hours.  The three arresting officers said Quarcini blew an illegal 0.15 on a Breathalyzer test, failed simple balance tests and could not get past “P” while trying to recite the alphabet. He also had a previous DWI conviction on his record.

When the case went to a non-jury trial a year later, the city’s chief judge heard all the evidence, dismissed the charge and sealed all records on the case from public view. Judge Anthony J. Certo said the district attorney had failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge — who has since retired — said his ruling was based on solid legal grounds, but the ruling upset police and prosecutors.

O’Donnell would only confirm that her office is “conducting an investigation into labor violence in Niagara County.”   Her office recently subpoenaed documents from the Local 91 office in Niagara Falls. O’Donnell has assigned one of her most aggressive prosecutors, William J. Hochul, Jr., to the investigation. Hochul, working with  veteran prosecutor Richard Endler, filed embezzlement and conspiracy charges in May against longtime Buffalo Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Int’l Union Local 4 bosses Frank Ervolino and his wife, Anna May.

Some of the investigators and prosecutors working on the Local 91 case also worked on a lengthy investigation into LIUNA Local 210 in Buffalo. That investigation prompted LIUNA to take over Local 210 in 1995, pushing a number of reputed mobsters out of the local.

The following incidents and others are under investigation by the task force:

  • During a 1997 demolition job at the old Niagara Falls water treatment plant on Buffalo Avenue, two small bombs were hurled through a window and exploded at the home of a worker who had a dispute with Local 91. The worker suffered damage to his hearing. There were also bomb threats at the work site. Local 91 picketed the site.
  • Six tile setters said they were attacked by as many as 15 men from Local 91 during a dispute over work jurisdiction at a Wegmans supermarket in Niagara. Police said some of the victims were knocked to the ground and stomped during the September 1998 incident. Four tile setters were injured, and a Local 91 job steward wound up being convicted of disorderly conduct. Witnesses said a large black Lincoln Continental pulled up to the site just before the attack.
  • A delivery truck driver suffered facial injuries in Apr. 1998 when picketers, allegedly from Local 91, hurled a brick through the window of his vehicle outside a Clarion Hotel. LIUNA had been picketing the hotel because of the use of non-union workers. Some workers’ car tires were also slashed and punctured with spikes during the picketing.
  • In Mar. 1999, a carpenter working on the new Niagara Falls High School was beaten and injured. Police said members of Local 91 became angry with the carpenter because he was sweeping up a work area, a job they were hired to do.
  • Four Local 91 members were arrested in 1996 and 1997, during a violent series of pickets over the use of out-of-town workers to renovate the Niagara Falls Air Base. Police said there was vandalism at the site, including rocks thrown at vehicles entering the base.
  • A Local 91 picketer was arrested in Apr. 1998 after he allegedly threw nails and spikes in the way of cars entering the Niagara Hotel parking lot. Car windows were broken, and police were also told that picketers spat and shouted racial slurs. The picketers were protesting the use of non-union labor.
  • A non-union subcontractor was punched in the nose during a June 1996 picket at the Royalton-Hartland Central High School in Middleport.
  • In Sept. 1997, police said an estimated $100,000 damage was done by vandals at a Niagara landfill where a Las Vegas company had been doing some work with non-union personnel. Vandals used cutting tools to slash up a huge plastic liner — roughly the size of four football fields — which had been placed over the landfill to prevent seepage of contaminants. Car tires were also slashed at the work site, and at a Niagara Falls hotel where some of the non-union workers were staying.

Reportedly, the task force is apparently not looking at a 1995 controversy involving a former Local 91 vice-president who received a 1995 Lincoln Continental as a going-away present when he was sent to prison for shooting his wife in the head. DOL investigators said Robert Malvestuto received the $34,000 luxury car in 1995 after he pled guilty to a weapons charge in connection with the shooting. Malvestuto had to resign the vice presidency because he was a convicted felon.

“We looked into that incident, and while it raises questions, it does not appear to be illegal,” Joseph S. Wasik, district director of the U.S. Office of Labor Management Standards. “As long as the union’s executive board and membership approved it, it was their right to give him the car.” Union officials explained that the car was given to Malvestuto as a retirement benefit. [Buff. News 8/6/00]