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By David Staba

While the newly elected leadership of Laborers Local 91 faces the challenge of finding work, any work, in an economy that aspires to stagnancy -- unless you're on Seneca Nation property in downtown Niagara Falls -- the old regime braces for its long-awaited day in court.

Anello Opposes
Seneca Court
Democratic 'Leaders'
State Plans
Publisher Letter
Hanchette: Mt. Views
Staba: Citycide
Bradberry: Menagerie
Local History

The former officers and members of Local 91 indicted on a range of federal counts including extortion and racketeering have been waiting for Judgment Day for more than two years, ever since they were rounded up in a predawn sweep in May 2002. After a hearing in federal court Friday morning, Judgment Day finally has a date.

Several of them, actually.

Judge Richard Arcara will preside over three separate trials. Jury selection for the first begins Nov. 4, with opening arguments slated to start on Nov. 18. James McEwen and Mark LoStracco are each slated to be tried on a single felony count stemming from an alleged attack on a delivery truck at a job site.

Jury selection for the second scheduled trial begins Dec. 7, again with two defendants -- Anthony Cerrone and Steven Markel -- facing a single count. In this case, the defendants are charged in the attack on members of the tilesetters union after a dispute over jurisdiction over sweeping and bucket-emptying duties at the Wegman's construction project on Sept. 16, 1998.

After those two preliminaries, the main event starts on Feb. 15. That's when the rest of the Local 91 defendants -- former union presidents Mark Congi and Dominick Dellaccio, ex-vice president Salvatore Bertino, Albert Celeste, Andrew Shomers, Salvatore Spatorico, Andrew Tomascik Jr., Paul Bellreng and Joel Cicero -- face multiple counts, including a conspiracy charge that doesn't involve the first four union members to go to trial.

Longtime union kingpin Michael "Butch" Quarcini died last year, while another defendant, Brian Perry, agreed to a plea deal in June.

Separating the trials and scheduling trials for the four less-indicted union members first could also be part of a prosecution strategy to encourage more plea deals in exchange for testimony against the bigger fish. Each of the charges carry potential sentences of up to 20 years in prison. Those facing conspiracy charges in the final trial also face forfeiture of any ill-gotten assets if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hochul returned to the Local 91 case after securing guilty pleas from each defendant in the case of six Lackawanna men who admitted to attending a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks. Hochul used similar tactics in a massive prosecution in the 1990s that broke up one of Buffalo's largest drug rings and again in destroying a cigarette-smuggling ring last year.

So State Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte and Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello are miffed because they say they weren't invited to last week's press conference announcing a new proposal for splitting up Niagara Falls' share of revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino. Boo hoo.

As usual, the issue isn't substance -- the plan devised by Niagara Falls Schools Superintendent Carmen Granto and Memorial Medical Center CEO Joseph Ruffolo and backed by state Sen. George Maziarz seems like a pretty fair way to end the annual wrangling over casino cash for more than a decade -- but who gets credit, and whose feelings got hurt.

For one thing, Maziarz says the plan was presented to Del Monte and Anello well before it became public, and that Anello was invited to the press conference. For his part, the mayor insists he never got the invite. Given the chaos wrought at City Hall by his yell-first, ask-questions-never management style, that's not hard to believe.

Of course, obsessing on such trivial matters as who got invited to what press conference typify the political climate around here. Del Monte's objection to allegedly being left out of the process is pretty funny, if you find hypocrisy amusing, given her complete failure to discuss the nation's strictest smoking ban with any of the affected businesses before voting for it.

While not perfect -- particularly because it would allow City Hall to spend 75 percent of the city's share as it damn well pleases -- it does direct needed funding to the city's schools and hospital.

The guaranteed revenue streams would serve as the basis for bonding that would allow city schools to achieve full compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and the hospital to update a woefully outdated psychiatric ward that serves the entire county.

Unlike Anello's "pledge" to spend $1 million at the airport, so long as someone else devotes as least as much, this plan would commit money that does something other than collect interest. Another million would go to the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., which will need to accelerate marketing of the area's non-casino attractions in order to come close to keeping up with Niagara Fallsview and the rest of the multiplying attractions across the river.

And Anello, who has reportedly flip-flopped on the plan several times, would still get 75 percent of the city's share of the revenue -- more than enough to continue funding his Friends, Family and Flunkies Plan for larding up the city's payroll.

That money might also pay for a few of the fanciful proposals in Irene Elia's, I mean, Anello's wishful Master Plan. In case you missed the grand unveiling of this bold vision, it's currently being profiled in a 93-part series in The Other Paper that should be entitled, "A Bunch of Stuff We Can't Afford."

But lost in the sniping about who got invited where and who gets control of what is a bigger issue. What happened to the rest of the casino revenue, the part state officials from Maziarz to Gov. George Pataki said would go to helping revitalize Niagara Falls?

Albany bagged nearly $30 million from Seneca Niagara last year. Where's Del Monte's fierce advocacy of the city when it comes to bringing some of that cash back home? Neither she, Maziarz nor anyone else has offered a good explanation for that one yet.

If you're reading this on Tuesday (or Monday, for you alert Web readers), a reminder that tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 21, that is) is Aquarium of Niagara's Winds, Waves and Wines V.

Fifteen wineries from New York and Ontario will offer their wares, with desserts, hors d'oeuvres and plenty of other fancy stuff to be enjoyed, along with live music by The Rod Nickson Project and prize giveaways.

Tickets are $45 and available at the door.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 21 2004