Sunday, October 2, 1994
MARK PAZNIOKAS and EDMUND MAHONY; Courant
A federal grand jury says that Dominick Lopreato
took $345,000 in bribes from Colonial Realty Co. in return for
risky investments that may have cost his Connecticut Laborers'
union pension fund $5 million.
One might assume that would make Lopreato
a pariah among the Laborers, who work particularly hard for their
money -- doing some of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in
After all, there is no dispute that in his
role as a pension fund trustee he helped make the Colonial investments
that lost millions. And his best friend of 30 years, a colorful
character named Ronald J. Welch, is ready to testify that Lopreato
profited handsomely from the union's losses.
Welch, the son of one prominent union member,
Johnny LeConche, and the cousin of another, Charles LeConche,
is the government's star witness. Welch says he personally delivered
the bribes from Colonial to Lopreato.
But the union stands by Lopreato, its
leader for a quarter century.
It announced Thursday' a week after his indictment,
that he is temporarily surrendering his unpaid position of pension
trustee, but he is keeping his paying union jobs.
His lawyer, Edward J. Daly Jr., was joined
Friday at Lopreato's arraignment by Anthony Traini of Providence,
R.I., who is associated with the law firm of Arthur A. Coia, the
Laborer's national leader. Lopreato, who pleaded not guilty, has
declined to be interviewed.
Lopreato's friends say their support flows
from loyalty and gratitude. Lopreato took the Laborers' dispirited, financially ruined
Hartford local years ago and built it into a political and financial
This local has $2 million in the bank and
we own our own property," said Charles LeConche, the president
of Hartford's Local 230 and business manager of the statewide
District Council. The council has $3 million in the bank."
His critics say the support is merely the
latest evidence that the Laborers are not a democratically run
union, but a place with a checkered history where no one can speak
out without risk of being forever blackballed.
We get complaints from Laborers all over
the country," said Susan Jennik, a lawyer who directs the
Association for Union Democracy. Because it's construction, union
representatives have total control over hiring. People complain
frequently about blacklisting."
A federal administrative law judge concluded
in 1988 that Lopreato had blackballed four union members who unsuccessfully
challenged him in a union election. The judge ordered the union
to pay about $250,000 in damages.
Dissidents in the union, who say they long
have waited for federal authorities to investigate the Laborers
in Connecticut, celebrated the news of Lopreato's indictment,
albeit discreetly. Lopreato is still feared.
One man said he was so excited at the news
he dropped his morning coffee.
If Lopreato is convicted, he will be barred
by federal law from union activities for 13 years. Dominick is
almost 60," said one critic. That'd be the end of game."
A comfortable life
Life in the union always has been good to
Lopreato, whose birthday is Tuesday.
He was paid $117,288 last year for his position
as secretary-treasurer of the statewide District Council and as
the business manager of Local 230, the Hartford affiliate. He
also had been manager of the council, but he gave up the title
last year to his longtime deputy, Charles LeConche.
Lopreato lives in a condo on the 24th floor
of Bushnell Tower in downtown Hartford with his bride of three
months. The marriage is his fourth. He gets a new Cadillac every
year, and he belongs to a country club in West Hartford.
His shoes are always shined, his suits are
well- tailored and his graying hair is neatly coiffed, nothing
like the jeans, boots and hard hats worn to work by most other
members of his union.
Laborers demolish buildings and they build
roads. They haul debris. They do blasting work. They dig holes.
They pour cement. They work outdoors in the heat of summer and
cold of winter.
Lopreato spent little, if any, time working
construction. Most of his labor career, according to a deposition
he once gave in a civil lawsuit relating to the Colonial investments,
has been as a union boss.
In 1964, he owned and ran a restaurant in
a deteriorating neighborhood on the northern edge of downtown
Hartford. It was a place frequently raided for narcotics, although
a retired narcotics detective, Michael D'Onofrio, says he it appeared
Lopreato tried to run a clean place."
In 1966, Lopreato became business manager
of the Connecticut Laborers' District Council. He took over Local
230 a few years later after a series of problems and scandals,
including the suicide of a former business manager.
Lopreato, the son of a former union leader,
rose in the union with the backing of Arthur E. Coia of Providence,
who held regional and then national leadership posts in the union.
His son, Arthur A. Coia, the Providence lawyer, is now general
president of the Laborers International Union of North America.
The international was identified in a 1986 report of the President's
Commission on Organized Crime as having close ties to organized
With the exception of the time that a notorious mobster, William "The Wild Guy" Grasso, slapped him in a Hartford restaurant for unknown reasons, Lopreato has been a man accustomed to displays of respect.
Backed by one of the state's richest political
action committees, Lopreato was welcomed by politicians throughout
One former state labor union official says
that in the 1980s, when construction was booming and most of his
members were working, the Laborers' PAC was so rich it could give
the maximum amount allowed by law to every candidate -- and still
have money left over.
The union once had 14,000 members, but
it is now down to 5,500.
Ronnie and Dom
One of his closest friends is the man whose
cooperation with federal prosecutors became public 10 days ago,
a fidgety 52-year-old named Ronald J. Welch, whose named used
to be Ronald J. LeConche.
He was my best friend," Welch sadly
told U.S. District Judge T.F. Gilroy Daly in response to the judge's
questions about Welch's connection to Lopreato and his involvement
in the delivery of the alleged bribes.
The occasion was Welch's guilty plea to a
charge of aiding and abetting in the payment of a bribe. At 6:30
a.m. on the same day as Welch's plea, Lopreato answered the door
to his condo to find FBI and IRS agents waiting to arrest him.
Based on statements from Welch and others,
a grand jury handed down an indictment accusing Lopreato of taking
two bribes totaling $195,000 for influencing the investments of
$3 million and $2 million by his pension fund. He also is accused
of taking another bribe of $150,000 for his assistance in arranging
the investment of $3 million by a Laborers' union in Albany N.
Welch was a reluctant witness. Federal authorities,
who had evidence that Welch acted as the deliveryman, spent months
pressuring him to cooperate, one of the few ways of winning a
lenient sentence under federal law.
I surrender. I quit," Welch told the
judge. They're bigger than me."
That's true. They're bigger than all of us,"
Judge Daly said of the government. That doesn't mean they can
prove their case."
But Welch evidently believes they can. He
shook his head and said, I'm finished.... I'm guilty. I'm guilty.
Benjamin Sisti and Jonathan Googel, the founders
of Colonial Realty, had been cooperating with federal prosecutors
for more than a year, telling of wrongdoing by others to win leniency
Welch was the connection between Lopreato
and Googel and Sisti, particularly Googel.
Ron and Jon Googel gambled together extensively.
They went to Atlantic City, went to Las Vegas," said Jeremiah
Donovan, Welch's lawyer.
Welch was raised by his stepfather, Thomas
Welch, a handsome and affable bookmaker from West Hartford who
repeatedly was arrested for gambling during the 1960s.
His natural father, John LeConche, who is
in his early 70s, still is an active member of the Laborers. He
works as a superintendent on a construction project at St. Francis
Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.
Organized crime investigators have for years
been seeking evidence documenting a relationship in New England
between the Laborers' union and the mob.
Some evidence came from members of the union
themselves. In the early 1970s, Arthur E. Coia, then a powerful
regional union executive from Providence, wrote a report charging,
among other things, that Michael Balesano, a former leader of
Local 230, instructed union stewards to act as bookmakers for
the mob and collect bets from laborers at job sites. The international
took control of the Hartford local and reorganized it.
But organized crime investigators said Coia's
memo was disingenuous; illegal gambling at construction sites
continued after the memo.
According to local, state and federal investigators,
evidence collected through state police wiretaps and by other
means in the 1970s suggested that members of the Laborers' union
were required to make weekly bets with mob bookies before they
were permitted to work on the Hartford Civic Center.
Similar demands were made of workers building
the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. Both
cases led to a handful of arrests.
Charles LeConche, the business manager of
the Laborers' District Council, said those accounts were ancient
history, stories exaggerated over time. If there was gambling
on a job, it was not the union's doing, he said.
It's a sad state of affairs that we still
get painted with that brush in 1994," said LeConche, who
complains most critics of the union and of Lopreato remain anonymous.
I respect the guy who says it to your face,
the guy who signs his name to a letter," he said. We get
anonymous letters, hang up calls all the time. I say, Speak up.
Be a man."'
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