Malice's Restaurant

What Rao's and a gangster-run school bus drivers' union have in common

On a separate campaign visit to the same yard, Marc Clergeau said, he also ran into Ingoglia. "He snatched my papers away. He'd say, 'Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do?' "

When Warren Zaugg went to campaign at Maggie's Paratransit on Atlantic Avenue, a woman shop steward confronted him. "She said, 'You can't do this here, it is illegal.' I said, 'You're wrong.' So she brings out a big guy, a Spanish fellow. She says, 'This guy will take care of you. He's crazy.' But he just got loud. He didn't do anything and I stood my ground."

Other threats were more sinister. At an election meeting at the union headquarters, Tommy Nero, who was nominated by the dissidents to run for president, was approached by a pair of Battaglia loyalists. Nero recalled: "One guy says, 'I don't know why you are doing this. You might not make it home tonight.' The other one says, 'Yeah, there could be some guy waiting for you on the corner.' I said, 'Well if I'm not going to make it home, tell the other guy not to waste his time.' "

illustration: Thomas Fluharty

On election day, Sunday, June 5, the dissident members confronted more mundane problems: Many members weren't listed as eligible voters and had to cast challenge ballots. Others found that their names had been signed in as having voted already, even though they had just arrived. Meanwhile, scores of Battaglia supporters, many of them from his stronghold in Staten Island, rolled up to union headquarters in buses provided by employers. Union delegates met them at the door and ushered them inside. "They would say, 'Come on, come on, let's do it,' " said Jean-Baptiste. "The rules said no one can electioneer here, but they did whatever they wanted."

The dissidents lost big, a 3-1 margin, logging some 600 votes—not including 300 more that were ruled ineligible. A few days later, the dissidents' attorney, Carl Levine, filed a series of objections with Bernstein, the election overseer, detailing the misconduct. Included were charges that some members had been told that their photographs would be taken when they came to vote, and that the union had illegally enlisted friendly employers to supply transportation.

The union agreed to hold a hearing on the charges, but when Zaugg and Jean-Baptiste showed up, they were barred from entering the union's offices. On another visit, a young man stood in the waiting room eyeballing Zaugg. When Zaugg and Jean-Baptiste drove away, they spotted the same man in an Audi convertible, following them and talking on a cell phone. When the dissidents made a sharp turn onto a side street, their pursuer paused, and then drove on.

Officially, the union insisted that none of those events had taken place. Straci wrote to Levine denying that anyone was barred from entering the union offices; Sal Ingoglia told the hearings that he'd never chased anyone from the Shore Road yards, and had never even met Jean-Baptiste. "Maybe he's got me mixed up," he said.

In the midst of the election hearings, the federal indictments came down. Battaglia, Bernstein, and Ianniello got their photos on the front page of the tabloids, the two union officials cradling their cuffed hands over their faces to ward off the cameras. Ianniello, who shuffled along with his head held high, was picked up at his home in Old Westbury, Long Island, where he had fallen asleep watching Godfather III.

Government attorneys didn't offer many specifics about their case: Ianniello, they alleged, had run Local 1181 "for many, many years," as assistant U.S. attorney Timothy Treanor said at a hearing following the arrests. The instrument of his control, prosecutors alleged, was Bernstein. Among their alleged scams was the 1997 shakedown of a medical center that rented space from the union. Bernstein was alleged to have extorted $100,000 from the center's operators, including regular cash payments.

When the feds started subpoenaing records from the union, Battaglia, Bernstein, and funds director Ann Chiarovano were caught discussing the problem at Don Peppe's, the Ozone Park restaurant where government video surveillance picked up the conversations. At one point, Treanor said, Battaglia was heard to say, "The order came from down South to stay away," a cryptic reference to Ianniello, who was in Florida, according to the prosecutors.

The government pointed out one other interesting coincidence involving the union: The FBI had recently found a list of individuals to be proposed as Genovese members. Among them was Stephen Arena, a driver for Ianniello and a $35,000-a-year union organizer on Local 1181's payroll.

Yet none of those disturbing revelations appeared to register with the union's international parent body. A few weeks after the indictments, the Members for Change group wrote Warren George, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, asking him to conduct a hearing on the local. They later followed up with 40 letters, gathered with the assistance of organizer Eddie Kay, from local politicians urging the international to step in.

"My concern is I want them to open the books so we can know what money is there and that they haven't misused it," said driver Winston Castillo. "I am counting on that money when I retire."

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