NY union official expected Bruno favors

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2009 8:12 AM

A former union president imprisoned for racketeering testified Monday that his late boss expected "favors" in Albany from then New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno in return for investing union pension funds with the company that employed Bruno.

Mark Congi, who was also Laborers Local 91's assistant business agent until his 2002 indictment for racketeering, testified Monday at Bruno's federal corruption trial. He said that business agent Michael Quarcini ran both the union and the $50 million pension fund, though there were other fund trustees, himself among them, and an investment adviser.

"He felt to make Mr. Bruno happy, we'd invest with this company, and he'd do us favors in return," Congi said. "He felt the more money we gave to the company the more help we were going to get from Senator Bruno."

Congi, now serving a 15-year prison term, said union interests included a proposed Indian casino in Niagara Falls with union construction labor, as well as state Department of Transportation and New York Power Authority project contracts.

Union trustees initially placed $10 million with Wright Investment Service in 1999. The company paid Bruno commissions when he helped land new union accounts.

"He told Mr. Quarcini he would do anything he could to help him," Congi said, when Bruno was asked to support the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma's attempt in 2002 to establish a unionized casino in Niagara Falls.

Cross-examined by defense attorney Abbe David Lowell, Congi acknowledged that with Quarcini dead, there's no way to independently verify what he was saying. He said his plea agreement requires him to testify truthfully.

Congi also said his racketeering convictions had nothing to do with Bruno, that federal prosecutors charged him with extorting jobs from nonunion contractors. "That's not my idea of extortion. I call it union activities," he said.

Prosecutors allege Bruno received $3.2 million in commissions over 13 years from Wright and a stock brokerage that handled funds from 11 of 15 unions Bruno solicited, as well as payments from three businessmen. He is charged with eight fraud counts, accused of improperly using his state influence to get rich.

Bruno said he got paid for his sideline work as a consultant and broke no laws.

Sen. William Larkin, a Hudson Valley Republican, testified that he received a request from someone on the Senate majority staff, while Bruno was majority leader, to call Teamsters union Local 445 in his district on behalf of a Wright salesman. Larkin said he made the call and didn't know Bruno was then working for Wright or had any financial arrangement.

Larkin testified Monday that if he knew that arrangement, he's not sure he would have made the call. Asked why not, he said, "Mixing apples and oranges, I gather."

In grand jury testimony last year, Larkin was more definite. "I wouldn't have made the phone call," he said.

Larkin also noted $1 million in state training grants splits among seven building trades unions at Stewart Airport, including that local, in Senate majority initiatives in 2006-2007.

Other union officials testifying Monday about receiving solicitations from Bruno or Wright for investment business said they had a host of issues on which they were lobbying the state government, including payment of the prevailing union wages on public works projects.

One 2003 memo from a Senate counsel to Bruno, in advance of Bruno meeting some union representatives, said: "The Senate majority was successful in having the governor drop from his budget a substantial change in the prevailing rate law for public projects."