An ongoing investigation of corruption at a Brooklyn, New York, local branch of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has led to the federal indictments of several high ranking union officials, according to a January 29 crime enforcement report by the U.S. Department of Labor. The indictments, which were filed on January 9, 2018, have rocked the UFCW again with accusations of scandal and corruption. According to the report, two UFCW secretary-treasurers being investigated are accused of racketeering conspiracy, bribery, embezzlement, and fraud – and, if found guilty, could face prison time of up to 126 years.
If true, these charges continue a troubling trend of fraud at the UFCW that reaches back to the 1990s and exposes the unbroken presence of organized crime in New York City.
Within the past two decades the UFCW has seen a string a crimes by former union leaders: Joseph C. Talarico was sent to prison for embezzling nearly $1 million from the organization, and Mickey Kasparian was sacked by the AFL-CIO (which UFCW is a member of) for sexual discrimination and harassment. In 2011, federal law enforcement exposed financial corruption when members of the union-linked Fazio family were charged and convicted on numerous counts of crimes related to labor racketeering. Three members of the Fazio family were sentenced to a combined sentence of 25 years.
The Labor Department’s January 29th report details a number of alleged crimes:
On January 9, 2018, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, five individuals were indicted for Racketeering Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. 1962): Frank Cognetta, Secretary-Treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1D (located in Brooklyn, N.Y.), Vincent D’Acunto, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of UFCW Local 2D (located in Brooklyn, N.Y.), as well as Vincent Esposito, Steven Arena, and Frank Giovinco. Cognetta was also charged with Bribery in Connection with Employee Benefit Plans (18 U.S.C. 1954) and Honest Services Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1346). D’Acunto, Jr., Esposito, and Arena were also charged with Extortion Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. 1951).
“Racketeering Conspiracy” under (18 U.S.C. 1962) is better known as a portion of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or “RICO.” An indictment on RICO charges is a serious offense and is used only when justice officials have significant reason to believe that a union has been corrupted by organized crime.
Local media familiar with the union and organized crime in New York City report to Bloomberg that,
Reputed mob figures are alleged to have committed a range of crimes from 2000 to 2017, including conspiring to extort an official of UFCW Local 1D for annual cash payments to keep his post. The charges are the latest sign of the persistence of allegations of organized crime control over various unions in the city, despite decades of anti-corruption prosecutions and civil actions.
The accused mob figures are also believed to have provided kickbacks of up to nearly $500,000 to steer the secretary-treasurers to invest their union benefit funds into a mob linked investment adviser’s account.
Edwin Stier, a partner at the law firm Stier Anderson & Malone LLC, which oversees court-ordered trusteeships for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, says that “union benefit funds continue to offer mobsters a piggy bank they find hard to resist.” He goes on to argue that organized crime will continue to “gravitate toward these low-risk, high-profit activities unless law enforcement keeps up constant, active vigilance.” The greatest danger to these benefit funds is allowing watch dog organizations to look the other way.
All five defendants in this case have pleaded innocent.