Feds Finger Labor Boss

Apparel Union Tied to Mafia Shakedown

  • A confidential source told investigators that in late 1996 Romney canceled a strike against a garment company with ties to Joseph "Joe Notch" Ianacci, a Colombo crime family captain. Romney did this, the source claimed, "at the bequest of Ianacci." Among the documents seized during the UNITE raid, according to a search inventory, was a letter to Romney from a union organizer titled, "Re: Joe Iannaci." The contents of the letter are not further described in the inventory.

    In a 1996 affidavit filed in support of an eavesdropping warrant for Schlacter's office telephone, FBI agent John Giacalone quoted a source stating that Romney met with Schlacter in the attorney's suite to "discuss illicit labor peace deals." The source added that Romney was then "nervous about setting up any new labor peace deals. Apparently, Romney believes that he is the target of a federal investigation involving the Garment Center." At the time, the federal probe that resulted in April's indictments was in its second year.

    Based on these allegations against Romney, a federal judge agreed to allow the FBI to record conversations—and videotape meetings—between Schlacter and several of his associates, including Romney. But while at least three UNITE officials were recorded by the government bugs, Romney was not recorded on tape. As a result, when investigators petitioned a judge to extend their eavesdropping warrant, they dropped Romney's name from the list of individuals expected to be intercepted.

    Rochman noted that the only UNITE official to be charged in the federal investigation was Ed Ko, a former business agent convicted of receiving a bribe. Shortly after his arrest in early 1996, Ko began secretly cooperating with federal investigators and, as a result, did not disclose his bust to UNITE officials. In September, Romney learned that a Chinese-language newspaper had disclosed Ko's criminal problems. Confronted about the article, the 53-year-old Ko admitted to union officials that he had pleaded guilty to a felony. He was fired the following day (not surprisingly, one government affidavit describes their source's departure more kindly: after 12 years of employment, Ko "ended his association with the union").

    Ko's conviction—not to mention his suspected role as a government informant—was of such concern to Romney and UNITE that the union's general counsel, Max Zimny, petitioned a federal judge that September to unseal the transcript of Ko's plea allocution. The minutes, Zimny wrote Judge Denny Chin, were needed to "cleanse [the union's] ranks of any wrongdoing and to fully protect the interests of the workers they represent." Chin, though, denied the UNITE request.

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