School Bus Union Big is Busted Again

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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