Burnt 'Hot Dogs': The Mob's Set-Up Man

A not-so-bright wiseguy faces the music in the school-bus scandal

There are enough heart-rending letters in the court file from Battaglia's allies—all of whom are distraught at his looming departure—to convince even his toughest critics that he was a caring father, concerned neighbor, and devoted friend. One neighbor, an ex-NYPD detective, wrote Judge Wood to tell how he ran into Battaglia at church during a novena service: "He stated to me his friend's wife had cancer and he was asking God's help for him."

Under his plea agreement, Battaglia faces from 57 to 71 months. Warren Zaugg, who has been driving a school bus for 30 years, says he hopes his ex-president gets the max. "He was Mr. Greedy, Mr. Arrogant," says Zaugg, who recalls Battaglia's words when he complained that his boss was refusing to pay overtime after 40 hours. "Sal says to me, 'That's the way it is. You don't like it, go to the labor board.' "

Zaugg and other drivers say they're less interested in Battaglia's fate than their union's. Zaugg belongs to Members for Change, a rank-and-file group that helped force a takeover by the local's national parent. So far, they say, it hasn't done much good. "Battaglia is gone, the international is here, but all the Sal Battaglia agents are still in charge," says Simon Jean-Baptiste, another driver. "These are the people, when we demanded reform, they said everything is fine."

Also undisturbed, now that the legal dust has settled, are the bus industry's employers. The government has taken the position that the operators were the victims here, and only paid off the wiseguys out of fear of economic retaliation. If so, they made good investments. The ones that paid to stay nonunion remain that way. Others have grown to become national corporations.

Meanwhile, of the 16 defendants who have been sentenced so far in the original case filed in 2005, Sal Battaglia is poised to take the heaviest hit of anyone if Judge Wood throws the book at him. Which may be how the real tough guys figured it would play out all along.

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