By STEVEN GREENHOUSE | Published: September 7, 2007
An independent counsel appointed to investigate the union representing 15,000 New York City school bus drivers has concluded that there is substantial evidence that “organized crime has infiltrated and controlled” it.
The counsel’s report, written in January and made public yesterday by dissident union members, said that top officers of the union, Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, were involved in what it called racketeering activity that included extortion, kickbacks and bribes.
Salvatore Battaglia, the local’s former president, is facing trial on federal charges accusing him of extortion, receiving bribes and hiding Mafia involvement in the union. He has pleaded not guilty. The local’s secretary-treasurer, Julius Bernstein, was forced to resign by federal prosecutors and has pleaded guilty to obstructing justice.
The independent counsel, Richard W. Mark, called on the parent union to bring internal charges against Mr. Battaglia and Mr. Bernstein and to conduct a further investigation “to determine the extent of criminal activity.”
Leo Wetzel, the general counsel of the parent union, said the union had decided against bringing charges against those officials because they had both retired and cannot run again for union office.
“It was the judgment of the union,” Mr. Wetzel said, “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.” Mr. Wetzel said the parent union assigned auditors to review Local 1181’s books for financial wrongdoing.
At a news conference yesterday, a dozen bus drivers complained that the two trustees whom the parent union had named to oversee the local had hired 11 of the local’s executive board members who had worked under Mr. Battaglia.
The drivers said those people had helped perpetuate an intimidating atmosphere that discourages criticism of union leaders. They also complained that not enough was being done to recoup the more than $2.7 million that federal officials say Mr. Battaglia obtained improperly.
“The international didn’t bring in any new faces,” said Simon Jean-Baptiste, who belongs to a dissident faction called Members for Change. “The same people are there who stopped people from talking. It’s a bad situation.”
Another bus driver, Clifford Magloire, said that in May, when he was distributing leaflets criticizing the local’s leaders, one union official pushed him against a fence and started screaming at him as others surrounded him.
Defending the decision to hire the 11, Mr. Wetzel said: “It is essential that you have experienced personnel to represent the union members. If you sweep house and bring in a bunch of people who have no experience, that is not a good idea.”
Mr. Wetzel said the 11 executive board members were hired for staff positions only after they passed a background check by the parent union. He said one executive board member was not hired because of questions about his integrity.
The independent counsel’s report criticized several officials from the parent union who knew for decades about mob involvement in Local 1181 but did nothing.
Last September, Matthew Ianniello, the acting boss of the Genovese crime family, admitted that he had helped arrange for bus companies to make payoffs to Local 1181 officials. Some payoffs, prosecutors say, went to Mr. Battaglia, who in exchange agreed not to attempt to unionize certain bus companies.
Mr. Ianniello also said he shared kickbacks and extorted money with Local 1181’s leaders. He made those admissions when he pleaded guilty in Federal District Court in Manhattan to obstructing justice.
Mr. Wetzel said that union officials planned to enact a stronger ethics code at their convention this month that would, among other things, require union officials to notify headquarters if they know of any union official mishandling funds or involved in corruption.