The Toronto Star

Laborers' President Acquitted Of Fraud

Jack Lakey

June 13, 1996

The president of a powerful Metro construction union has been acquitted of charges of offering a secret commission and defrauding the federal government.

Tony Dionisio, president of Local 183 of the Laborers International Union, was mobbed by supporters yesterday in a North York courtroom that erupted in cheers when the verdict was read.

John Colacci, former administrator of the union's training centre, had been charged with the same two offences but was also acquitted in Ontario court, provincial division.

Judge Charles Vallaincourt, who heard the evidence in April and delivered his ruling yesterday, was highly critical of the preparation of the charges and the way the case was presented.

He noted that the crown asked to amend the "informations" the paperwork that explains the charges - on four separate occasions after the charges were laid.

"This case is an example of the ever-increasing tendency to put forth sloppy informations before the court," Vallaincourt said, pointing out that lawyers must prepare their defences based on the informations.

"An information is the touchstone of a criminal prosecution," he said, adding that the crown had failed to prove its case, even without problems with the informations.

"I'm quite pleased with the decision, and that's all I have to say," Dionisio said outside the court.

"Sure I'm happy with the verdict . . .," said Colacci, who was surrounded by relieved family members and friends. "I never thought we could be convicted for something we didn't do."

The acquittals could not have come at a better time for Dionisio, who is running for business manager of Local 183 in elections to be held this weekend.

Colacci is also standing for election to the union's executive board, as part of a slate of candidates aligned with Dionisio.

The charges were laid against Dionisio and Colacci in February, 1995, after stories in The Star detailed how a senior federal bureaucrat had approved $1.6 million in grants to Local 183's training centre.

The stories outlined how some Local 183 employees were sent to the King City-area home of the bureaucrat, Eric Ferguson, to do renovations after the training centre received the grant money.

The Metro police fraud squad investigated and laid the charges against Dionisio and Colacci, as well as charging Ferguson with accepting a secret commission and defrauding the government.

Ferguson pleaded guilty last fall and has since been fired from his job as a manager with Human Resources Development Canada.

He was called as a crown witness to testify against Dionisio and Colacci. Ferguson told court he had asked several times to be invoiced for the renovations, and always intended to pay, but the union never sent him a bill.

The acquittals are the final twist in Dionsio's return to the good graces of Local 183.

He remained as union president after the charges were laid, but his power was stripped by Joe Mancinelli, the international union's eastern Canada director.

Mancinelli removed Local 183's entire executive board after the charges were laid and has since operated it on a supervisory basis.

He fired Dionisio as president last February, but reinstated him after Dionisio and a small group of his supporters began picketing the laneway of Local 183's headquarters, on Wilson Ave., hoping to force an election that would return him to the union.