By Anna Merlan
By Albert Samaha
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
By Carolyn Hughes
By Chuck Strouse
By Albert Samaha
Morgenthau's labor racketeering unit pulled off embarrassing public raids in 1992 at the Post, the Daily News, Metropolitan, and other wholesalers (the Times itself was spared). The raids turned up guns, gambling records, and evidence of management complicity at the Daily News and Post in distribution schemes.
The three-year probe resulted in a score of convictions that included Galante, D'Angelo, Nobile, DiCostanzo, and Embarrato. Bobby Perrino disappeared following his indictment. In the Post delivery manager's Huntington, Long Island, home, cops found a stunning arsenal of weapons, including some with erased serial numbers, plus $105,000 in cash. Months later, America's Most Wanted broadcast Perrino's picture on television, but the show elicited no tips. Law enforcement officials and most NMDU members assume Perrino was killed, a victim of his brash talk captured on the D.A.'s bugs.
The big fish who swam away was Doug LaChance.
Morgenthau's wiretap and video surveillance revealed LaChance to be a constant player at every loading dock. In one encounter, as LaChance walked into Perrino's office at the Post, Perrino hailed the union president as "Jesus Christ Superstar!" The fear and bravado are palpable in the words of John Nobile, member of a rival mob faction, as he discusses LaChance. "I says, 'Oh, slow down, you fucking bum,' I says. 'You're only the president of this full-of-shit union. They didn't make you a tough guy yet.' "
Investigators also turned up a dope dealer, who initially told them he was doing coke deals with LaChance but then backed off his testimony, saying through his lawyer he'd been threatened. Indeed, the Post bug caught LaChance discussing the dealer with Perrino, saying, "I put the fear of God in the guy."
"It's unprecedented to have the union's lawyer represent the officer in a criminal case. It creates all the wrong impressions for the union."
The D.A.'s Get LaChance team also won special access to one of the FBI's prize informants, former Luchese acting boss Alphonse D'Arco, who detailed his crime family's ties to the union leader. LaChance, D'Arco said, was considered such a lucrative asset that Luchese soldiers competed to control him. LaChance was initially handled by Luchese soldier Peter "Petey Beck" DiPalermo, but D'Arco later assigned him to Anthony "Torty" Tortorello.
D'Arco described LaChance as a "problem" associate who often cut his own side deals, extorting people on his own without permission from his Luchese masters. LaChance was so "crazy," D'Arco said, that Luchese leaders figured they would eventually have to kill him. He claimed LaChance had Luchese approval, however, to steer papers to a mob-tied, nonunion wholesaler called Pelham News Service. That's the case the D.A. eventually brought against the union president, charging him with extorting the Post to send papers to Pelham, where they alleged he had a hidden interest.
"They tried to frame me," says LaChance today. "My lawyer walked up to the jury, put a penny down on the rail, and said, 'Where is the money? There is no money in this case.' " The jury agreed, acquitting LaChance on all counts.
LaChance contemptuously dismisses D'Arco's allegations. He makes no bones about knowing Tortorello and DiPalermo ("I'm glad I had him as a friend, he never used me," says LaChance, who remains friendly with DiPalermo's nephew who drives for the Daily News). He never met D'Arco, he says. "Someone once told me he wanted to see me. I made a good decision. I didn't go."
The winning defense lawyer with a penny for the jury's thoughts was J. Kenneth O'Connor, a veteran labor attorney who remains the NMDU's general counsel. Many members were concerned about O'Connor playing the dual roles since LaChance's crimes were alleged to have hurt the union, and he'd been convicted of similar acts before.
"It's unprecedented to have the union's lawyer represent the officer in a criminal case. It creates all the wrong impressions for the union," said one labor lawyer.
O'Connor, who represents several unions, denies it. "It wasn't a conflict. The only reason LaChance was indicted was because he was performing his union duties."
The problems cited in the racketeering case against the union are "prehistoric history," says O'Connor. "We've had hotly contested elections. The union was a victim of those crimes, not a part of it."
But critics say the atmosphere within the NMDU has changed little over the years. LaChance was succeeded by one of his former business agents, Frank Sparacino. Many of those convicted in the Morgenthau probe went back to work, some elevated to management positions. An elderly Al Embarrato was even recruited as a potential partner by former Post owner Steve Hoffenberg. DiCostanzo went out on disability leave, but his allies retained influence when the Daily News moved its plant to Jersey City, where a close friend of LaChance was named circulation manager.
O'Connor argues that democracy has flourished in the union, pointing to Sparacino's victory in two contested elections. Sparacino, who earns $173,000 a year including a hefty expense account, has now told members he's retiring. Vice president Pat Lagan and executive board member Ron O'Keefe, both LaChance allies who work for the Times, have announced their candidacies, as have Charles Lemma, a Daily News driver, and Gary Drum, of the Times.