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JURY ACQUITS UNION MEMBER IN '98 ATTACK

Federal prosecutors failed Wednesday in the first of three labor racketeering trials aimed at Laborers Local 91 in Niagara Falls.

A jury acquitted union member Mark LoStracco, 34, of taking part in a 1998 picket line attack that injured a truck driver who had just made a food delivery to the Clarion Hotel in downtown Niagara Falls.

A brick was thrown through the truck window into the driver's face, breaking his nose in three places.

Defense attorney Damon A. DeCastro said LoStracco was not the man who threw it.

"The government attempted to make a case of guilt by association," DeCastro said after the verdict. "I kept asking the jury to separate what Mark did from what was done by other union members and union leaders."

Authorities had alleged that LoStracco was involved in one incident that was part of labor racketeering activities that intimidated developers, business people and members of other unions in Niagara County.

Two more trials are scheduled over the next three months for 10 former union leaders who are accused of assaults, threats and other intimidation tactics, including a firebombing at a workman's home.

"We're not going to comment on the verdict, but we're going ahead with the other two Local 91 cases," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter.

LoStracco did not testify at his two-day trial, but his attorney argued that there was no proof that he was involved in the April 1998 attack that injured truck driver John Spiller.

Spiller, 45, suffered a broken nose and facial cuts when a group of about seven pickets surrounded his truck, breaking mirrors and causing other damage to the vehicle. One of the pickets threw a brick through the driver's window that hit Spiller in the face.

Prosecutors William J. Hochul Jr. and Brett Harvey said there was more than sufficient proof that LoStracco jumped up onto the running board of the truck while it was under attack.

The government attorneys never alleged that LoStracco threw the brick. Spiller never identified him as one of the attackers.

"They knew he never threw the brick and they knew he didn't jump onto the truck, but they went after him anyway," DeCastro said.

Witnesses said Local 91 was picketing to protest the hiring of non-union workers, some of whom received as little as $6 an hour to renovate the hotel.

For more than a month, hotel officials said, pickets threatened people entering and leaving the hotel.

Fourteen leaders and members of Local 91 were indicted in May 2002, after an investigation by the FBI and U.S. Labor Department. Another was indicted in June 2003. So far, one of the defendants has died, and two others have taken plea deals. Eleven more face trials before District Judge Richard J. Arcara.

After the indictments, the Laborers International Union of North America changed leadership in the Niagara Falls local.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com