By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Since his earlier drug problems occurred when he was a union official, not an active Times driver, the company could consider the alleged incident LaChance's first violation, which requires a 30-day suspension. In fact, drivers report that LaChance was absent from the paper's loading docks for about a month, then returned to work.
Could the paper have been tougher? Lawyers for other newspaper unions, who refused to talk on the record, say the Times has fired other employees for "off-premises" behavior, saying they would "pollute the environment."
Catherine Mathis, a Times spokesperson, denied LaChance has received special treatment. "He is a member of the NMDU and the terms and conditions of his employment are governed by the contract," said Mathis. Over-the-road drivers are routinely tested for drugs, she said, but results are not disclosed. As for the alleged letter, which law enforcement sources confirm was written, Mathis said that no one at the paper had any recollection of it, adding, "We found no such letter in our files."
LaChance himself says there is no evidence of new drug use on his part. "To me it is a vicious rumor. 'Medically unqualified' could mean I have high blood pressure," he says.
Such rumors begin, of course, among his union foes. And when the talk turns to them"the haters" as LaChance calls themthe charm slips away. The eyes turn bitter, the voice booms louder, and the hands pound the table. "There are guys in this union who should kiss their union cards. They have no talents for anything; what they have is the NMDU. These haters, they say, 'This guy is running things.' Capone is dead since 1947, but they still talk about him whenever Chicago comes up. Me, it's the same thing. What I did, I did. Did I go to jail? Did I do my fuckin' time? I challenge anyone to tell me I'm involved in any way with anything illegal. I want to drive my truck and be left alone."
The loathing is mutual. LaChance's NMDU opponents describe a two-fisted force of darkness whose rule of the union has been marked by greed and intimidation.
"Guys go in groups to the general body meetings for protection," charges one member, a union shop chairman. "Doug places the intimidators around the room. Guys who carry pieces. They give you the death stare."
Union dissidents and the district attorney say that fears of violence from LaChance and his supporters are well grounded. In one episode in the mid 1990s, several drivers witnessed a fight outside the Times between LaChance and a rival tough guy named Shanty Aguiar. Aguiar had his head split open in the battle, but survived. Two other punch-ups featured LaChance's son, Glenn, currently a driver at The Wall Street Journal.
Secret court papers have leaked out over the years and they make vivid reading, a description of an industry where each workplace was its own mini-gangland.
In 1988, a 61-year-old overweight delivery worker named Bernie Stern at the Times' 43rd Street docks made the mistake of arguing loudly with Doug LaChance on the plant floor. The argument erupted again the next day, this time with Glenn LaChance, who, with another man, used the butt end of a broken pool cue to beat Stern senseless. Glenn LaChance did nine months in jail for that attack. He served a separate three-month sentence for his 1993 attack on Peter Trombina, a 60-year-old driver who had openly opposed his father. Witnesses said that after exchanging words with Trombina, Glenn LaChance sucker punched the older man, breaking his glasses.
"If Glenn's guilty of anything, it's of loving his father too much," says LaChance, who insists his son took the rap for someone else in the pool cue incident.
The father and son added to their reputation by getting arrested together in 1997 for beating a man they had argued with in a bar near Doug LaChance's home in East Rockaway. The charges were dismissed after the victim dropped his complaint.
Those kinds of dustups, however, are kid stuff compared to the blood that has been spilled in the course of delivering newspapers in this town.
Newspaper deliverymen were always a tough crowd. Publishers wanted them that way. To get the edge on competitors in the rough-and-tumble circulation wars of the early 20th century, newspaper tycoons recruited the nastiest thugs they could find to steal rivals' papers and generally disrupt distribution. In New York, Daily Mirror owner Moe Annenberg hired gangsters Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. It was a good deal for the mobsters who found newspapers ripe pickings because vendors had to get them on timelate papers were worthlessand paid for them in easily laundered cash.
Formed in the early 1900s, the Newspaper and Mail Deliverers Union was equal parts Irish, Italian, and Jewish, a reflection of the city's then dominant ethnic groups. Well into the 1970s, Jewish racketeers played a major role in the union. One of them, Red Levine, was reputed to have been one of the assassins of Salvatore Maranzano, the old-school mobster who helped to found America's Cosa Nostra. Law enforcement officials, as well as longtime union members and mob associates (often the same thing in the NMDU) say that Levine cleverly allowed each of the city's five Mafia families to have a piece of the newspaper delivery action, which included bootleg sales of stolen papers as well as loan-sharking and gambling among drivers.