Albany A payment to labor leader ousted for alleged ties to mob figures is being examined


February 28, 1998

Samuel Fresina, a local labor leader and longtime political supporter of Mayor Jerry Jennings, has been swept into a controversy in the New York State Laborers' union over a payment of $221,000 to a former labor official accused of having organized crime ties.

The Laborers' union has been operating under Justice Department scrutiny since 1995 in the wake of a federal racketeering investigation.

Fresina, the Albany Laborers' business agent, was among four members of the union's statewide political action committee, or PAC, accused by a union attorney of making the payment to Salvatore Lanza, who was earlier ousted from a New York City union on charges he was involved in racketeering and had mob ties.

Lanza had been found by a court-appointed union monitor to have engaged in racketeering and associating with organized crime figures, including the late Anthony ``Fat Tony'' Salerno, the former head of the Genovese crime family, while Lanza was in the Mason Tenders' District Council in New York City.

Fresina faces no criminal charges.

The union, however, long has been in the glare of the Justice Department, and Fresina himself was identified in a draft 1994 Justice Department complaint against the Laborers' International as ``an associate of the LCN (La Cosa Nostra) in Buffalo.'' The lawsuit was not filed after the Laborers' International agreed to clean up the union.

Fresina's attorney, Eugene Devine, said the allegation of mob ties against his client is untrue, and noted that while several hundred Laborers' officials across the country have been ousted for racketeering and mob connections, no such charges were ever brought against Fresina. He said the term ``associate'' is loose enough to include even casual encounters that were unavoidable in the union.

``You cannot be a member of this union, be active, and not have met somebody who might have been a bad person,'' Devine said.

Fresina has been a close political ally of Jennings, who said he stood behind Fresina and was unaware of the ethics charges. Jennings said he doesn't believe the allegations.

``Absolutely no way,'' Jennings said. ``I've known him too long. I wish I had more labor leaders like him that I could work with.''

The payment accusation was made by union attorney Robert Luskin on Sept. 15. Closed-door hearings on the case before a union hearing officer concluded Feb. 9, and Devine said he expects a decision in April.

The hearing officer could decide to oust the entire union PAC board.

Fresina and the other PAC board members were accused of a ``breach of duty and loyalty and obstruction,'' according to Luskin's charges.

While acknowledging the board paid the money to Lanza in a Dec. 30, 1996, settlement, Devine and members of the PAC board facing the charges said nothing improper was done. Devine said Lanza had a three-year contract, and the board would have likely faced a lawsuit if it didn't buy out the contract. He estimated the PAC might have been liable for more than $1 million in salary, pension and attorney's fees if Lanza sued and won in court.

Devine and Charles Dolcimascolo, a PAC member and business manager of the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council in New York City, said the case boils down to whether the payment was legally necessary or a favor to Lanza in the form of severance pay.

``Believe me, Sam Fresina didn't do anything wrong and neither did anybody else,'' said Dolcimascolo. He said union officials, particularly downstate Italian-Americans, have been unfairly pegged as Mafia members. ``You come from New York, you're a gangster,'' Dolcimascolo said.

The other PAC members accused by Luskin in connection with the payment were Dario Bocarossa, business manager of Local 235 in Elmsford, and Joseph D'Amato, a field representative for Local 731 in New York City.

Fresina's union topped the mayor's list of contributors in his first mayoral bid in 1993. In Jennings' 1997 re-election campaign, Laborers' groups allied with Fresina donated more than $15,000 to the mayor's coffers.

Fresina and Jennings have worked together on a $6 million federal lead-abatement grant. The city and the union teamed up to hire and train workers to clean up lead in an estimated 500 homes in low-income neighborhoods. Jennings on Thursday cut the ribbon on the program's first house on Orange Street. Fresina, who Dolcimascolo said is vacationing in Florida, was not present.

Fresina and several relatives have also served in the Jennings administration. Fresina was a member of the mayor's transition team in 1993.

The mayor's executive assistant, Nicholas D'Antonio, is Fresina's cousin, as is Nicholas' brother, John D'Antonio, who runs the city's recreation programs and was recently tapped to be assistant commissioner. Fresina's son, Samuel A. Fresina, is the president of the Albany firefighters union.

Copyright 1998, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

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