Toronto Star

Union Head Badly Beaten In Bold Attack Outside Office

By Jim Rankin

Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Feb. 5, 1999

A prominent union figure was jumped and beaten as he arrived at work by four to five men armed with metal bars in a daylight attack that left him with a broken arm and a gash to his head. John Stefanini, executive director of the Residential Alliance of Building Trade Unions and former business manager of the largest construction trade union local in the country, was confronted by the men outside his Vaughan office last Friday at 10:40 a.m.

Office workers on Director Court - a series of a business plazas near Steeles Ave. W. and Weston Rd. where Stefanini was beaten - watched four to five men flee to a waiting, burgundy station wagon, which was parked illegally and facing the nearest exit. ``We just saw five guys getting off the victim, and then they were running very slow . . . and got into a burgundy-coloured station wagon with wood panelling,'' said one witness, who asked not to be named. At least three of the men appeared to be armed with metal pipes, said the witness.

Police say it is too early to talk about motive, but they are looking into labour-related issues. ``The victim is in a business related to labour unions, so obviously that would be something that we would explore,'' York Region Constable Kevin Bowen said. ``It's vigilantism at its best and we would like to have it stopped, and we would also like to find the individuals who did this,'' said Detective Sergeant Gary Miner.

Sabastian Vili, who works in a collection agency above Stefanini's office, ran outside when the moaning outside his window turned into cries for help. ``We basically just helped the guy. His head was cracked right open,'' Vili said. Stefanini, who lost consciousness after the beating and was rushed to York Finch Memorial Hospital, has been interviewed by police and is now home recuperating.

Reached by The Star, Stefanini said he was ``not having the best of times'' and didn't want to speculate on reasons why he was attacked or who might be responsible. ``I prefer not to make any comment. There's a police investigation and I'll leave it to them,'' Stefanini said.

Stefanini, a former business manager of Local 183 of the Labourers International Union of North America, has been the subject of violence before. In 1990, a man the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Buffalo described as a long-time organized-crime figure and son of a mob chieftain, told The Star about an American Mafia plan to have Stefanini ``dumped'' - mob talk for killed.

Ronald M. Fino, who became a top FBI informer, described how top Mafia chiefs had debated in the late 1980s over whether Stefanini should be killed. At one point, a hunt for a contract killer was embarked upon, Fino said. ``Holy cow! There's no question we had extremely big rivalries in the 1980s (over) union philosophies,'' Stefanini told The Star's Peter Edwards in 1990 when news of the planned hit surfaced. Mobsters connected to the union decided after a couple of years that Stefanini should live, Fino said.

South of the border, top leaders of the powerful Labourers International Union were then - and still are embroiled in allegations of ties to organized crime. In 1990, Stefanini said Local 183 resisted mob pressures in Toronto. ``We as a union fought these people and we cleaned the union out . . . We're extremely proud of our high standard,'' said Stefanini, who retired as the local's business manager in 1992.

Last year he came out of retirement to head the Residential Alliance, a new partnership of eight building trade unions. The alliance was set up to promote harmony among construction trade unions and do away with membership raiding of trade workers by various construction unions. The Labourers are not part of the alliance.

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