By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"He should be arrested . . . these conditions here," said one woman, waiting in line in the basement management office last week to askfor the third time, she saidto have a broken toilet in her apartment fixed.
Despite its lofty name, Vanderveer Estates has been a euphemism for urban ailments in Brooklyn for years. It has 2500 apartments in 59 six-story buildings made of worn red brick, strung along Foster and New York avenues and facing empty courtyards of overgrown grass glinting with broken bottles.
The size of a small city, the complex houses more than 12,000 people, most of them African Americans and Caribbean immigrants, who wage a daily battle against rodent infestation and declining conditions and a nightly barrage of gang shootings and drug dealing.
The complex has 13,532 housing-code violations, report city officials, who have instituted 11 court cases against Weider for failure to make repairs and eight lawsuits for not providing heat and hot water this past winter. Weider owes $22,000 in fines and another $24,854 to reimburse the city for emergency repairs it was forced to make.
"[Weider's] just destroyed the place," said Marietta Small, a Vanderveer resident who is active in local politics.
But it wasn't his failure to maintain Vanderveer that got Abe Weider locked up.
"Oh no. He was with the mob, that's what I heard," said the woman with the broken toilet.
She heard correctly. Buried amid a massive racketeering indictment announced on April 25 by U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch against some of the city's biggest alleged gangsters, with nicknames like "Sammy Meatballs" and "Boobie" and "Baldie Alan," was Weider, 43, a Hasidic Jew who also operates a pharmacy in Borough Park. The indictments place his alleged crime amid a hodgepodge of felonies allegedly committed by 45 gangsters and their associates, ranging from bank robbery, gambling, and loan-sharking schemes to murder, stock market manipulation, and business extortion.
Most of the crimes were brought to light by a former mobster who had a change of faith after authorities accused him of wrongdoing. For the next three years, the informant agreed to wear a wire against his erstwhile gangland allies in a performance that is now being heralded by federal prosecutors as the best in decades.
Abe Weider fell into the case after he allegedly made a request to the mob to help him solve a thorny union problem that has dogged him since he bought Vanderveer in 1998. Weider reputedly asked Salvatore "Sammy Meatballs" Aparo, a capo in the Genovese crime family, to help him get the building service workers' union off his back so he could replace their members with lower-paid nonunion help.
This was no simple task, the indictment indicates.
Aparo allegedly was forced to solicit help from other organized crime clans, including John Gotti's Gambino gang, and the Bonanno family. In all, eight gangsters and a crooked ex-cop were employed to find a compliant union official who would sell out his members, the indictment states.
That official was a delegate of Building Service Workers Local 32 B-J, Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO. Ismet Kukic, 36, of Tuckahoe, New York, (who, in his union capacity, spells his name "Kukaj") was charged with a bribery scheme that carries a potential five-year term if he is found guilty.
Kukic's arrest was a setback to the union, which has been trying to steer a new course since ousting longtime former president Gus Bevona from the local in 1999. Bevona was infamous for his huge salary ($450,000), the sumptuous penthouse he built for himself atop his high-priced new headquarters on lower Sixth Avenue, and the intensely secretive sovereignty with which he ruled the union.
Since Bevona's removal, Local 32 B-J has launched new organizing drives in New York and New Jersey and begun training a cadre of new rank-and-file members to carry them out. What was once a moribund union with a fearful and declining membership has been revived as a new force in the city's labor movement.
But the local's new officers spent little time scrutinizing the Bevona era and those in the union who prospered under him. Most of the officials appointed by Bevona were left in place, along with the union's lawyer, Ronald Raab, who handled most of the local's legal affairs under Bevona. New president Mike Fishman, who was brought in as a trustee by the national union, and was elected to head the local last year, has insisted he wants to look to the future, not the past.
"They don't seem to want to know the truth; they have their own goals," said Paul Pamias, a shop steward who is a critic of the new officials.
One inheritance from the Bevona regime was a massive defeat for the union at Vanderveer Estates.
In a cost-cutting move after taking over the complex in June 1998, Weider locked out 51 members of Local 32 B-J and replaced them with several nonunion firms. The union workers struck, picketing the complex for several weeks. The union also took Weider to court, where it won the workers' reinstatement and an award of $350,000 in benefit-fund contributions it was owed. This became a pyrrhic victory, however, when Weider refused to pay the benefits or recognize the contract, which called for wages averaging $13 per hour.
Last year, in the midst of the court battle with the union, Weider turned to the mob, according to the indictment. In April, he sought out Aparo, who in turn allegedly contacted Gambino capo Louis Vallario and Bonanno family soldier John "Johnny Green" Faraci. On May 10, a delegation of gangsters sat down with Kukic in a Manhattan Wendy's restaurant to discuss the problem. In June, Aparo's brother, Vincent, also a Genovese soldier, and an ex-NYPD detective named Michael Norrito were said to have held two meetings with Weider in Weider's Brooklyn office.
Just what Kukic agreed to do for Weider is left unclear by the indictment. Whatever his involvement, Vanderveer was far from his regular area of responsibility for the union, which is lower Manhattan. The Brooklyn district in which Vanderveer is located is overseen by another official named Frank Scavone, who, like Kukic, was selected under the Bevona regime.
Kukic was immediately suspended from his position without pay after his arrest. But the union refuses to discuss the case, saying that to do so would interfere with the U.S. attorney's investigation. Local 32 B-J has decided not to conduct its own investigation, a spokesman said.
"We are going to leave it up to the U.S. attorney's office. We will cooperate with them in any way we can," said Bill Meyerson. Kukic has pleaded not guilty. "It is very early, and I am waiting to see what the government claims he did," said his attorney, Michael Marinaccio.
Weider and his attorney both failed to return messages, but Weider's arrest was characterized as "not a big thing" by a management aide.
"I am sure it will go away quickly. It's a mistake," said Nathan Berger, who runs Vanderveer for Weider.