Fairfield County


Road Wars

Mob allegations explode as unions enter battle for $5 billion booty

The Mob, the unions, and the state's plan to rebuild highways and bridges

By Rick Hornung

March 28, 1984

Tom Rossetti is not after small change, nor is Dominick Lopreato. At stake is a huge piece of Gov. William O'Neill's monstrous $5-billion program to rebuild the state's roads and bridges. As members of the task force that developed the exorbitant plan and as leaders of key construction union locals in Fairfield and Hartford counties, Rossetti and Lopreato understand the opportunities presented by the governor.

This is a big game and some of the Northeast's biggest players are standing near Rossetti and Lopreato, eager to seize the winnings if the General Assembly goes through with a large scale road improvement plan as demanded by O'Neill.

Rossetti and Lopreato are under the scrutiny of federal authorities who suspect their union locals are tainted with corruption ranging from misuse of health and dental insurance funds to extortion and beatings, stemming from leadership challenges. With an estimated $5 billion worth of road and bridge construction expected to be dished out across the state, union coffers will be overflowing with dues, employer contributions to benefit funds and other revenues.

As business agent for the Bridgeport- based Local 191 of the Teamsters Union. Rossetti considers himself an important man, driving around in a a late model Cadillac paid for by his rank and file. As a member of the city's school board, Rossetti is privy to much of the backroom dealing that surrounds Bridgeport's Democrats. His years in the Teamsters union and with the party have won him many friends. During the 1982 gubernatorial campaign, Rossetti opened his house for a fundraiser to help out Gov William O'Neill

As secretary-treasurer of the Hartford based Local 230 of the Laborers' International Union, Lopreato also considers himself an important man. His position entitles him to a union-bought late-model luxury car. As labor representative for thousands of construction workers, Lopreato works closely with developers and roadbuilders who give generously to the Democratic Party. When a construction magnate needs a crowd to stack a public hearing, Lopreato is willing to oblige, cranking rank and file to shout down those opposed to office towers, highways or shopping centers.

Last year, when O'Neill needed construction union representatives to serve on his task force to study rebuilding the state's roads and bridges, Rossetti and Lopreato came to the governor's attention as ideal candidates Apparently, no one in O'Neill's office knew of their separate roles in allegations of labor racketeering and extortion that is part of what authorities believe to be 'turf wars" throughout the Northeast.

Though Rossetti and Lopreato work in different unions that are not related authorities said each is caught up in the attempts of New York and Providence based hoodlums to take advantage of Connecticut's gargantuan road-building plans.

According to records filed in Bridgeport's federal court, Rossetti's Local 191 is the larger of an ongoing investigation by the U S. Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force, which suspects the business agent and others siphoned union funds to members of the Genovese crime family out of New York. Though Rossetti's office said he is unavailable for comment court records show Local 191 and the statewide umbrella organization of Teamsters, Joint Council 64, throughout last year unsuccessfully moved to quash grand jury subpoenas for checks, ledgers, account books, insurance policies, premium payments, benefit payments and office memos for the five-year period of May 1977 through December 1982.

While U.S. Attorney Alan Nevas declined comment on the investigation, the Teamsters' motions to quash subpoenas show that prosecutors are concentrating on Rossetti's handling of his local's disbursement of denial benefits and his role as trustee of the Teamsters' Tri-State Health Plan, a multi-million dollar fund involving 12 locals stretching across Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The prosecutors are now presenting evidence to a grand jury sitting in New Haven.

Court records show prosecutors and the Teamsters' lawyers skirmished over the dental plan, which is run out of the same building that houses the offices of Rossetti's Local 191. This is also the location of the offices of another Bridgeport-based Teamsters group, Local 145. According to the U.S. Labor Department, Local 191 told authorities that the dental plan is administered by an independently owned entity called Teamsters Dental Office Co. Incorporation papers for that company are not on On file with the Secretary of State's office.

Prosecutors subpoenaed the dental plan's administrator Carol Rizzieri, who successfully invoked her Fifth Amendmend privilege against self-incrimination in a dispule over financial documents pertaining to the dental plan, according to court records. Though the prosecutors eventually received more than 200,000 checks. ledgers, memos and other office records pertaining to the operation of Local 191, the denial plan and Rossetti's involvement in the Tri-State Health Plan, the probe centers on the relationship between Local 191's operations in Bridgeport and John "Buster" Ardilo. identified as a high-ranking member of the Genovese family. Ardito could not be reached for comment.

Besides his relationship to the Teamsters in southwestern Connecticut, Ardito has drawn the attention of prosecutors investigating gambling, extortion and loansharking in Fairfield County. Acting on information gathered through wiretaps and informants, the FBI in December conducted a number of raids throughout Bridgeport, Derby, Shelton and Trumbull that netted detailed gambling records, a cache of weapons and cash believed to be part of a Genovese controlled network of illegal activities.

The Teamsters' health and denial plans offer a constant flow of cash that authorities suspect was diverted from the payments of benefits. While the Tri-State Health Plan is run out of its own building in Milford and is accountable to a board of trustees that include at least two members from each of the 12 participating unions, the operations of the dental plan are much less stringent.

According to defense lawyers familiar with the probe, Local 191 in 1982 successfully negotiated an additional 50-cent per member, per-month contribution from employers to the dental plan. That hike was retroactive to November 1981 and brought in additional thousands of dollars to the Teamsters Dental Office Co. located in the same building as Rossetti's local. When prosecutors subpoenaed records of how those funds were received and spent, the Teamsters resisted, claiming disclosure would involve turning over medical information that was privileged.

Teamsters' lawyer William Barnes declined to discuss the investigation of Local 191 and its related health and dental plans. Though his motion to quash the subpoena was available in court files available to the public, Barnes said the secrecy of grand jury proceedings prevents him from discussing the probe that is questioning Rossetti's relationship to organized crime figures such as Ardito, defense lawyers said.

"Most of the records are under seal because they pertain directly lo the grand jury investigation," Barnes said. Asked about allegations that union funds controlled by Rossetti were misspent or diverted to people outside of Local 191, the lawyer replied, "I don't think it is proper for me to make any statement at this time."

Barnes insisted that government claims about Rossetti's relationship with organized crime figures like Ardito are erroneous. The Teamsters' lawyer charged that prosecutors are exaggerating and, in some instances, fabricating information that gives the appearance of impropriety in Local 191's affairs "Just because government and its agents put something in a report doesn't mean it's true. It is often done to give legitimacy to charges that frequently turn out to be false," Barnes said

Despite the confidential nature of grand jury proceedings, a partial picture of the Teamsters' operation emerges from testimony before the National Labor Relations Board, where opponents of Rossetti and his allies are challenging the autocratic rule of the union. According to NLRB testimony, Teamsters who challenge Rossetti or his slate for union of office often find themselves out of a job. In another Teamsters unit-Local 145, situated in the same building as Rossetti's outfit, dissidents also found that shop stewards openly run gambling operations at Dresser Industries, according to testimony before the NLRB.

The Teamsters' relationship to Dresser management is quite cozy since the Tri-State Health Plan loaned the firm close to $250,000 000, according to financial statements provided by Teamsters to the U.S. Labor Department. As a trustee of the plan, Rossetti approved the loan.

The union's close relationship with Dresser management extends to the Connecticut Bakery-Milk Industry Teamsters Health Services and Insurance plan, which lists Local 145 president William Kuba and Dresser executive Thomas Hockenga as trustees. As business agent for Local 145, Kuba negotiates contracts and arbitrates grievances on behalf of Dresser employees working under Hoekenga A staunch ally of Rossetti, Kuba appoints the shop stewards' who run the gambling activities at Dresser's plant in Stratford

Last year, when Gov. O'Neill needed construction union representatives to serve on his task force to study rebuilding the state's roads and bridges, Rossetti and Lopreato came to the governor's attention as ideal candidates. Apparently, no one in O'Neill's office knew of their separate roles in allegations of labor racketeering that is part of what authorities believe to be "turf wars" throughout the Northeast.

Bridgeport-based Teamsters are not alone in drawing the attention of federal authorities. according IO local police reports and FBI memoranda obtained by the Advocate. In April 1983, less than three weeks after the Organized Crime Strike Force served a critical subpoena in their probe of Rossetti, Hartford-area Teamsters leader Richard Robidoux, secretary-treasurer of Local 671, was beaten in the parking lot of Fast Hartford's Marco Polo restaurant. Robidoux's attackers, described as three men, cracked him over the head with a baseball bat and fractured his legs. The $1,000 cash in Robidoux's pockets remained untouched.

While the police reports and the FBI memoranda do not directly connect the Robidoux attack to the strike force probe of Rosseitti's relationship to the Genovese family, those documents link the East Hartford assault to three similar incidence involving known gambler Nicholas "Bonesy" Grano-owner of Brother Bones Cafe on Franklin Avenue in Hartford-and Laborers' union officials Leonard "Butch" Granell and Lopreato. Neither Robidoux, Grano, nor Granell could be reached for comment.

The police reports note the similarity between the Robidoux assault and a late 1982 beating of Granell. vice-president of Laborers' Local 230. Police said Granell was jumped by three men wielding a baseball bat and his legs were broken, like Robidoux's. Local police reports also highlighted the similarity between the Robidoux incident and the January 1983 attack on Nicholas Grano outside the Piper Brook Cafe in West Hartford. A known gambler, Grano was beaten and left on the sidewalk until police arrived. According to federal court records, Grano's bar-Brother Bones' Cafe-figured in several cocaine-related prosecutions, where undercover agents scored the drug inside the establishment. The authorities never charged Grano with a crime, but his bartender was convicted of drug-relaled charges.

As for the third incident that police link to the Robidoux attack, detectives' reports cite the February 1983 mauling of Lopreato outside the Casa Loma restaurant on Welhersfield Avenue in Hartford. According to one report Lopreato was punched in the mouth by William "Billy" Grasso, a New Haven-based hood who is trying to muscle into the Hartford area. Grasso could not be reached for comment.

Detectives' reports of the Lopreato incident include a Jan. 10, 1983 memo prepared out of the FBI office in New Haven describing a tip that Grasso is trying to muscle Lopreato's union and share its widespread contracts throughout the Hartford area construction industry. The FBI memo claims that Lopreato appealed to Providence-based Laborers' union official Arthur Coia for help in fighting off Grasso.

Coia is currently under indictment with Providence-based Mafia kingpin Raymond Patriarca and two others for their alleged skimming from Laborers' union insurance funds. Coia could not be reached for comment. A Jan. 20, 1983 memo prepared in the New Haven office described Coia's relationship with the wife of a known bookmaker who at one time held a job on the payroll of Robidoux's Local 671.

Asked about his connection to the activities described in the reports of local detectives and the FBI memos, Lopreato insisted he knew nothing about the people involved or the reported wrongdoing. He said the incident outside the Casa Loma was a minor scuffle. "I had an argument with a guy about a job. It was that simple," he said. "I don't know anybody named Billy Grasso. All I do is keep reading about him in the papers. Pressed on the attack and his meetings with Coia, Lopreato began to contradict himself, saying "I don't know how the police even found out about all that." As for his relationship with Coia, Lopreato said he knows the Providence based union officials through their work on Laborers' business, insisting that there is no wrongdoing in their frequent meetings. "I plan to see him tomorrow and we are going to talk about a negotiation," Lopreato said.

The Laborers' union officials said that authorities attempt to link him to organized crime figures are erroneous and misleading. Lopreato claimed that he is only a union leader actively standing up for his rank-and-file. "They're talking about things that I have no knowledge about," he said of the police and FBI.

Picking up on his activities as a key member of the state's construction industry Lopreato talked about his role on the governor's task force, which laid the foundation for the $5 billion road and bridge program sitting before the General Assembly. Lopreato immedialdy spoke of the work it will create for the construction industry and members of his union, let alone the employer contributions to pension, health and welfare funds controlled by leaders like himself

"It's an important job that has to be done and it should be done before the work gets too expensive," Lopreato said of the plan to fix highways and bridges. Asked how he came to serve on the task force, Lopreato said he did not seek O'Ncill's appointment, but was recommended for the slot by either officials of other building trades unions or the state AFL-CIO.

O'Ncill's press secretary Larrye deBear said the governor solicited the advice of statewide labor leaders when looking for union members to be represented on the task force. As for the appointment of Rossetti and Lopreato to the task force, deBear said the governors' office had no knowledge of the information gathered by law enforcement officials concerning Teamsters' and Laborers' alleged links to organized crime figures

"We asked for some names of union leaders because rebuiding the infrastructure involves labor, management, capital as well as state officials," deBear said. We were given some names and made the appointments because we felt the building trades should be represented."

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