Taken for a Ride

Transit Union Leaders Find an Old Real Estate Deal Smells

Since Toussaint's election, Hall and Toussaint have been bitter opponents, with Toussaint blaming Hall for a decline in the union's economic fortunes and for having failed to fight aggressively for improved working conditions for members. In turn, Hall has accused Toussaint of misleading the membership. But in the case of the old real estate deal, Hall said the local union is correct to pursue it. He had never been told that the union's old building had been immediately flipped to ABC for a higher price, Hall said, nor about any of the other alleged conflicts of interest unearthed by Toussaint's investigators. The union, he said, is right to sue.

"I had no knowledge of that; none of that was ever told to the executive board," Hall said. "Assuming this is all accurate, that in itself needs to be investigated to see if anything improper was done."

In court papers, lawyers for the defendants asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, calling it a rehash of old matters being brought forth now only to embarrass the union's former leadership.

"Mr. Ross has been unfairly dragged into this because the union views him as having deep pockets," said Mark Walfish, an attorney for the developer. "All of this was disclosed to them 15 years ago."

In court filings, attorneys for Sylvan Lawrence did not acknowledge that their firm had represented Ross on his subsequent sale to ABC, and Schwartz's lawyers said the union's new claims have been "stale for a decade and a half."

In his response, O'Hara said Lawe and other leaders of the union at the time approved of his taking a cut of the brokerage commission as a means of reducing the union's legal expenses for the transaction. He added that he had no idea ABC was prepared to pay far more for the property.

In a decision issued last month, Judge Charles Ramos allowed the suit against O'Hara to go forward but has yet to rule on the other motions to dismiss.

The lawsuit comes at a time when Toussaint and Watt are being challenged for re-election by a slate headed by the union's current recording secretary, Noel Acevedo, a onetime ally who later broke with them over contract issues. Ballots for the election are being mailed to members next week and votes will be counted on December 10.

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