News & Politics

School Bus Union Big is Busted Again

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A top official in the union representing the city’s school bus drivers has been arrested and charged with extorting payments from bus company operators who wanted to avoid costly union contracts.

Julius “Spike” Bernstein, 83, secretary-treasurer of
Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, was arrested
by the FBI on June 20, according to a complaint filed in
Manhattan Federal District Court on Thursday.

Bernstein’s arrest comes nearly a year after he and
the president of the local, Salvatore Battaglia, along with
several mob figures, were charged in a racketeering indictment with using mob influence to shake down a vendor doing business with the union. The trial on those charges is expected to start in early September.

According to a criminal complaint dated June 16 and
signed by FBI Special Agent Michael Gaeta, Bernstein
continued his shakedowns of the nonunion bus firms for
several months even after he and his cohorts were busted
last summer. The extortion continued until at least September, 2005, the agent stated in the compliant.

The new arrest also comes amidst heated contract talks
between unionized school bus operators and local 1181. The
two sides are facing a June 30 contract deadline and no
agreement is yet in sight, according to an industry
spokesperson. On Thursday, the city’s Department of
Education announced emergency transportation plans in the
event of a strike for students attending summer school.

At the same time, a growing chorus of dissidents, who
have organized themselves in a group called “Members for
Change” have called on leaders of the national union to
intervene in the local’s affairs.

“This makes a bad situation worse,” said Simon-Jean Baptiste, a bus driver who is a leader in the dissident group. “To have our representative arrested in the middle of our negotiations badly hurts our interests. Since the first indictment, we have called on these people to step aside from their jobs. If the international had stepped in, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The new complaint alleges that Bernstein, under
directions from two top figures in the Genovese crime
family, shook down nonunion bus company owners who held
contracts with the city’s Department of Education.
According to the complaint, which cites an unnamed bus
company operator who is cooperating with authorities,
Bernstein used a specific formula demanding $1,000 per bus
route “for every route over five.” The operator told the
FBI he has paid “between $200,000 and $300,000” since the
early 1980s.

In addition, the complaint cites two unnamed
cooperating federal defendants, one of whom told the FBI
that Bernstein’s alleged shakedowns of nonunion firms dates
back to the 1970s when the late Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno
ruled the family. The informant said that Salerno passed
his orders regarding the school bus union via another
longtime mobster, alleged Genovese captain Matthew “Matty
the Horse” Ianniello.

Ianniello, 85, was one of 20 defendants charged in
July, 2005 with running scams out of the union. The elderly mob capo was also rearrested earlier this month, in connection with a different case in Connecticut federal court.

Bernstein was released on $100,000 bond, but was ordered to take an leave of absence from his union post with Local 1181 pending his trial which is scheduled to begin shortly after Labor Day.
Officials at Local 1181 did not return calls for
comment.

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