The Hartford Courant

 

Union Dissident Makes A Case

 

By MARK PAZNIOKAS

Aug 30 2001

 

NEW YORK - His enemies whisper he is a thug, an old leg breaker for the late Connecticut mob boss, William "The Wild Guy" Grasso. Gary R. Wall says he has heard all the stories. He just shakes his head.

 

"I'm no Mother Teresa," Wall said in his raspy voice. "But I haven't done everything they say I've done."

 

Exactly how he falls short of the good nun's standards, Wall doesn't say. He acknowledges a little: He was a heavy gambler in the old days. And, yes, he knew Grasso, a notoriously brutal mobster killed in 1989.

 

But that was then.

 

Wall, 55, who lives in Wethersfield with his wife of 30 plus years, stood Wednesday before the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. With no legal training, he represented himself and two friends, William Cooksey and Steve Manos, in two longshot lawsuits they filed against their old union, the Construction and General Laborers' Union, Local 230.

 

Wall and his fellow plaintiffs are self-described union dissidents. All opposed the leadership of Local 230, based in Hartford's South End. All three say they have paid a price, accusing the union of blacklisting them to squelch dissent.

 

One of their lawsuits claims the union is a racketeering enterprise, and accuses everyone from FBI agents to the political establishment of ignoring the corruption. It is based on the Justice Department's backing down from a government takeover of the union's national governing body during the Clinton administration.

 

The other lawsuit claims Wall and Cooksey were swindled out of pensions earned while working on construction sites around Hartford, beginning 30 years ago.

 

A lower court judge dismissed their complaints last year, leading to Wall's performance as an advocate Wednesday in one of the nation's most prestigious appellate courts. He argued before a three-judge panel composed of Judges Chester J. Straub, Ralph K. Winter Jr. and Thomas J. Meskill, the former governor of Connecticut.

 

"Should I start?" Wall asked.

 

"Please," Straub replied.

 

In the old days, arguments involving Wall and the others did not always begin, or end, so politely. Wall said he was frequently shouted down at the union hall when he challenged leadership. In July 1997, Manos was bodily removed from a union executive committee meeting when he questioned union expenditures.

 

The episode was captured on a tape recorder Manos carried. The transcript is part of the court case, offered as an example of how the Laborers' brook no dissent.

 

"Steve, you're about that [expletive] close for me ripping your [expletive] throat out personally," the official told him.

 

"Don't threaten me," Manos said.

 

"[Expletive] you! It ain't a threat. It's a [expletive] promise."

 

On Wednesday, Wall spoke without interruption until the end, when the judges seemed openly skeptical about his racketeering claims. They suggested that a racketeering lawsuit was beyond a layman.

 

Terence Reed, a lawyer for the national union, the Laborers International Union of North America, told the judges that the racketeering claims were "grandiose," a polite way of suggesting that he believed his courtroom opponents' claims were nuts.

 

The union fended off the government takeover by enacting its own reforms, supervised by Robert Luskin, a former Justice Department lawyer, Reed said. He complained that Wall never has articulated his accusations in sufficient detail, even though the trial judge, Janet C. Hall, gave him repeated opportunities before dismissing the suit.

 

"We respectfully say that is enough," he said.

 

In 1985, Wall and Cooksey, who at that time were represented by legal counsel, convinced an administrative law judge that the union had blacklisted them after they ran a challenge slate in a Laborers' election. The judge awarded them back pay. Their battle resumed after they decided the union had undercounted their years of service to cheat them on their pensions.

 

"I told Billy it'd take a year, maybe two, to straighten it out," Wall said.

 

One thing led to another and their battle broadened to a racketeering claim, attacking the integrity of the entire union organization.

 

"Gary is a really interesting guy, a really interesting character," said his former lawyer, Marc Mercier. "Gary is a guy who, for a [self-represented plaintiff], is remarkable in his fortitude. He is a guy who will chew through concrete."

 

The lawyer for Local 230, Robert M. Cheverie, is not as charitable. Wall included Cheverie as a defendant in the racketeering suit.

 

"In Mr. Wall's wild imagination, all of us are part of a racketeering scheme, which includes the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Attorney's office, the FBI, Attorney General Janet Reno and reaches to the head of the Democratic National Committee and former President Clinton," he said.

 

Cheverie was visibly upset Wednesday at the thought that Wall might be the subject of a newspaper article.

 

"I do not see the case as newsworthy," he said. "I believe The Hartford Courant would be better served doing a story on the hard-working men, women and officers of Local 230 and all the good they do for their members, their families and their community."


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