The Newspaper Racket

Tough Guys and Wiseguys in the Truck Drivers Union

In more recent times, a hustling gangster named Irving Bitz—nicknamed "The Little Guy" for his diminutive stature—also helped keep peace among mob factions in the industry. Bitz, an NMDU member who also ran Imperial News Service, carried his own fearful legend: The feisty businessman was credited with the 1931 slaying of famed gambler Legs Diamond. In his later years, he reputedly breakfasted each morning with former Genovese crime family boss Frank "Funzi" Tieri. In 1959, he was convicted of conspiring with NMDU officials to control Long Island's newspaper and magazine deliveries. Bitz remained a powerful force in the industry up until the day in 1981 when his trussed-up body was found in a Staten Island swamp. His murder was never solved.

When Robert Morgenthau first dispatched investigators to look into the NMDU in 1990, following allegations of shakedowns and assaults, they found the descendants of Levine and Bitz conducting business as usual.

Prosecutors mustered their best evidence of corruption and violence in affidavits for its racketeering case against the union, but most were placed under seal at the defense's request. Still, many of the 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.

Former newspaper Drivers Union president—and alleged mob associate—Doug Lachance delivers the Times
photo: Marc Asnin
Former newspaper Drivers Union president—and alleged mob associate—Doug Lachance delivers the Times

The Post's superintendent of delivery was an ex-cop who used chukka sticks to collect loan-sharking debts from the workers he supervised.

At the New York Post on South Street in lower Manhattan, an aging Bonanno crime family captain named Al Embarrato ruled. Known as "Al Walker," Embarrato had been selling labor peace in exchange for kickbacks along the waterfront since the 1940s. When real estate owner Peter Kalikow bought the Post in 1988, his managers noted that Embarrato, a foreman, did no visible work and naively tried to fire him. When word of the move spread, other Post foremen quickly agreed to take a salary cut so Embarrato could keep his job.

The Post's superintendent of delivery was Embarrato's nephew, an ex-cop named Bobby Perrino who used chukka sticks to collect loan-sharking debts from the workers he supervised. A secret video camera placed in Perrino's office in the fall of 1991 caught Embarrato bragging to his nephew about his crime family role. "Al Walker's the smartest guy in the whole Bonanno family, and he's the toughest fuckin' guy." It also taped Perrino and other Post employees discussing the finer points of bootleg newspaper theft and passing around loaded pistols to admire. "It's bad to carry a fuckin' piece in the car, you'll have to shoot everybody," Perrino advised drivers on one tape.

The Daily News' old plant on Pacific Street in Brooklyn was ruled by a clique of dapperly dressed drivers who flaunted their ability to avoid manual labor and spent most of their time in a nook off the mailroom called "the capuccino room." There, they read papers, played cards, and plotted out the basics of a complex scheme in which thousands of papers were stolen daily and routed to nonunion delivery outfits.

The leader of the "white-shoe mob," as other drivers called them, was Colombo crime family associate Armando "Chips" DiCostanzo, who carried a pistol under his camel hair coat. Wiretaps picked up a wholesaler speaking with awe about DiCostanzo's attack on a driver who interfered with his newspaper scams. "Chips went to work on the guy, gave him some beating," he said.

Morgenthau's investigators also interviewed union members who admitted they had purchased union cards through DiCostanzo and his associates, a move that short-circuited seniority rights for all other union members.

Investigators found the worst mob infestation among NMDU leaders at Metropolitan News Company, whose drivers delivered the Times and The Wall Street Journal in suburban areas. Union affairs at Metropolitan were directed by another Bonanno crime captain named Jimmy Galante, who exercised control through several associates, including former general foreman Leo D'Angelo. Called "the Mad Hatter" even by friends, the quick-tempered D'Angelo let people know he'd served a term for murder in the 1960s.

D'Angelo was fired after he was indicted for extortion in 1990, but he was succeeded by another Galante ally, John Nobile. In separate incidents, two union opponents of Galante's crew were beaten that year. One needed stitches in his face; the other had his knee shattered by a baseball bat. "These guys don't learn till they get hurt," Nobile was heard saying on a wiretap about one of the victims.

James Brennie, a former union business agent and executive committee member, supplied an affidavit to the D.A. detailing anonymous threats he received after he protested a Galante-sponsored sabotage campaign against a newspaper wholesaler. One of the callers "knew where my daughter lived, and read to me her address and telephone number," stated Brennie.

In another affidavit, driver Frank LaPenna described threats he received after leading opposition to LaChance's proposed contracts in 1992. A LaChance ally leaned into LaPenna's ear at a meeting and said, "Shut your fucking mouth; I'll bust your fucking head," LaPenna stated. Glenn LaChance also approached him, saying, "Dad said stop talking to the media or else." In the midst of the union dispute, LaPenna said two men in a car chased him on Long Island's Sunrise Parkway, firing two shots.

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