A series of labor racketeering trials began in federal court Friday with a truck driver's harrowing account of being attacked and hit in the face with a brick by pickets from Laborers Local 91 in Niagara Falls.
John Spiller, 45, described how his truck window was smashed and his nose was broken in three places by pickets who attacked him as he left the Clarion Hotel after making a food delivery in April 1998.
"I figured it was like a Rodney King thing going on," Spiller testified. "Pull me out of the truck and beat the hell out of me. . . . It was pretty nerve-wracking."
Spiller appeared as a prosecution witness in a trial for Mark LoStracco, 34, of Niagara Falls, who is charged with aiding and abetting a labor-racketeering conspiracy. Authorities claim LoStracco was part of a gang of Local 91 members who attacked Spiller's truck when he tried to cross a picket line outside the downtown Niagara Falls hotel.
Federal prosecutors said Spiller was one of many victims of a pattern of intimidation and violence by Local 91 members against workers, businessmen and members of other unions in Niagara Falls.
His trial is the first of three Local 91 racketeering trials scheduled before District Judge Richard J. Arcara over the next four months.
While most of Friday's testimony focused on illegal picketing activities by members of the local, there was little evidence offered of LoStracco's specific role in the attack on Spiller.
Prosecutors William Hochul and Brett Harvey did not allege that LoStracco was the picket who threw a brick that crashed through Spiller's window and struck him in the face.
But the prosecutors claim LoStracco and at least one other man jumped up onto the running boards of the truck just before Spiller was hurt.
"It's very important that you distinguish between Mark LoStracco, the union leaders and other picketers," defense attorney Damon A. DeCastro told the jury.
Thomas A. Rosati, an official of a company that formerly owned the Clarion, said Local 91 began picketing the hotel because some nonunion workers were hired for $6 an hour to do renovation work there.
For more than a month, Rosati said, the pickets threatened people entering and leaving the hotel, threw sharp devices under cars to flatten tires, tossed eggs at the hotel and caused other damage.
"The attitude of the strikers got really threatening and aggressive," Rosati said. "They'd say things like, 'We know where you live.' "
Edward "Gaz" Galeziowski, a member of the local and one of the pickets, identified LoStracco as one of at least two men who jumped onto Spiller's truck on the morning of April 17, 1998. But Galeziowski said the brick that injured Spiller was thrown by someone else, whose identity he doesn't know.
Spiller, who was badly shaken by the incident, was not asked to identify LoStracco or anyone else who took part in the attack. He said "about seven" of the pickets attacked his vehicle.
"I seen a guy throwing something . . . a chunk of brick through my window," Spiller said. "It smacked me in the face, knocked me across the cab. . . . There was a lot of blood pouring out."
LoStracco's trial will resume on Monday.
Critics of Local 91 claim that strong-arm tactics by Local 91 members have made people reluctant to develop businesses in Niagara County for decades. Following a lengthy investigation by agents from the FBI and U.S. Labor Department, 14 leaders and members of the union were indicted in May 2002.
The indictments prompted the Laborers International Union of North America to remove those who were in charge and replace them with new leadership.