Union Jacked

How DC 37 became America's most indicted municipal union

What about the reports that Morelli died in 1994 not of a heart attack, but of a beating in his 5th floor office right next to the executive director's? "I heard it was AIDS," said Gotbaum. "But it wasn't a bad beating. It was more of a threat. Anyway, it was after my time."

The sounds of Morelli's beating could be heard by dozens on the 5th floor. Sources say the ruckus caused two top DC 37 officials to run out of the building and hide in a nearby hospital. Cutolo's crew reportedly was expressing its concern that kickbacks from sandwich pilfering hadn't been shared properly. When the proper arrangements were made, the two DC 37 officials left the hospital.

Under Hill, things got completely out of hand. On July 17, 1990, not long after Hill had become executive director, Vinnie Parisi was attacked by five goons on DC 37's loading docks. He got no slack because he was 72 years old and undergoing chemotherapy. Why beat a dying man? Parisi sat on DC 37's executive board. He ran the hospitality committee, with power to determine which resorts and caterers DC 37 would choose. According to a source, Parisi refused to sanction Cutolo's favorite places. He wouldn't agree to shifting members from his local to Morelli's, which Cutolo controlled. "He threw something at Cutolo," said a witness at a meeting between the two men a week before the beating. "Then he told Cutolo to go fuck himself."

After the incident, Parisis's daughter Carol immediately called Morelli to reach Cutolo, whom she strongly suspected had ordered the beating. "I called Cutolo every name I could think of," she said. "Morelli not only relayed the message, he taped it and gave it to Cutolo."

It was from Cutolo himself that Edward Bennett, Parisi's son-in-law, got the tape of his wife's obsecene tirade. "Sometimes the husband can get into trouble for what the wife does," Cutolo said ominously. The Bennetts, who still have their complimentary tape from Cutolo, reported the threat to the FBI.

It's widely said, and frequently by Victor Gotbaum himself, that Stanley Hill was "weak." But it was under Gotbaum that Morelli and his associates won influence in the union, leaving Stanley to handle them. True, Stanley didn't manage them well, but these "associates" are notoriously hard to manage. The "seven habits of highly effective people" don't seem to work.

When 100 boiler guys stormed into 125 Barclay in 1995, breaking into offices, vandalizing the building, and shutting down the elevators, Stanley quickly gave in to the demand that a $450,000 retainer be paid to an outside lawyer of his acquaintance. As park workers' president and whistle-blower Mark Rosenthal's civil RICO suit charges, Hill made the "imprudent payments to Klein in order to protect Hill against threats of physical harm."

Was Hill just chicken? Actually, Cutolo seemed pretty scary to a lot of people. It was allegedly Cutolo's crew that murdered most of the 12 crime family members who died in the Columbo family wars. Cutolo himself beat a 1994 murder charge. But recently, he disappeared. One rumor has it he went into a building and never came out. Another has Cutolo in the government's witness protection program.

Cutolo may be hard to find now, but he hasn't lived his life in total obscurity. In 1990, he was publicly identified as a Columbo crime-family member and expelled from the Teamsters Union for life by a court appointed Independent Review Board. So how come in 1991, Gerald McEntee made contributions to Wild Bill Cutolo on behalf of the National Leukemia Research Association? And then, throughout the 1990s, DC 37 officials kept repeating McEntee's mistake. Many bought tables at Cutolo's affairs. Two union presidents, Al Diop and Robert Taylor, also received awards.

During the '90s, an award from the National Leukemia people meant you got a microscope to keep for a year— and you gave them $20,000. Was it charitable impulses that led to the contributions? Or self-preservation? Diop and McEntee were long term, well-known labor leaders. But Taylor, Morelli's driver, had just been in office a few months after Morelli's death. Why did Taylor, who's been indicted on multiple counts of grand larceny by the D.A. and is the target of two civil RICO suits, get the chance to pay for the microscope? Did he have a choice?

Probably not. Patronage leads to corruption; corruption leads to organized crime. When union leaders demand kickbacks, sell no-show jobs, and rip off their vendors, they wind up not only with more cash but with a need for unique criminal services: money laundering and protection. People who purchase these mob services gradually tend to lose leverage over the terms of the agreement.

What explains DC 37's mob ties? How could the same union that helped finance the Columbia Teach-In, featuring philosopher Richard Rorty and feminist Betty Friedan, pour money into Wild Bill's favorite charity? Undoubtedly, as Gotbaum maintains, "Cutolo was not my kind of guy." Victor's early career was in foreign affairs. Nowadays, he prefers the company of investment bankers and art dealers. But as a labor leader, he found himself reaching out not just to Cutolo but to even bigger mob figures like Scotto as well as mob-wannabe's like Frankie Morelli. How come?

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