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Ex-leader of Local 91 sentenced to prison Congi given 15-year term as 'goon squad' organizer

The former president of Laborers Local 91 was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison Wednesday after a prosecutor identified him as the leader and organizer of a "goon squad" that terrorized Niagara County work sites.

Mark S. Congi, 46, of Youngstown, was hit with by far the longest sentence of any defendant in one of the biggest labor racketeering cases ever prosecuted in Western New York.

Congi is the 16th former leader or member of the Niagara Falls union to be sentenced since a series of arrests began in May 2002. Two men still face sentencing in the case.

Congi led a vicious group of union henchmen who were responsible for death threats, beatings, incidents of large-scale vandalism, a firebombing and other crimes, Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said.

"Mr. Congi was a knowing and willing participant," Hochul told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara. "He was a leader and organizer."

Hochul repeatedly referred to the group of henchmen as a "goon squad," a description that Congi and his attorney, Joel L. Daniels, never objected to.

"You were on top of the mountain," Arcara told Congi. "You affected the lives of hundreds of people."

Pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy earlier this year, Congi admitted his involvement in 17 incidents of violence and extortion. The government said he was behind violent attacks on members of other unions and an April 1997 firebombing that made a non-union asbestos worker deaf in one ear.

According to federal agents, such incidents were going on long before Congi took his first union office in 1993 and hampered business development in the county for decades.

In a brief court statement, Congi, a tall, imposing man wearing a dark business suit, apologized for hurting his wife, children and friends.

"The hurt I put on my family is harder than being in jail," Congi said.

In a letter to Arcara, Congi said he always took his orders from the late Michael "Butch" Quarcini, the former Local 91 business manager who for decades was considered one of the most powerful individuals in the county.

"My job was to answer to Mr. Quarcini," Congi said, adding that he "carried out [Quarcini's] directives at all times."

"If there was a problem on a job site, he would notify me and instruct me how to handle it," Congi wrote of Quarcini. "[If] he told me to do something, I did it, even if it was unlawful."

Quarcini, who was also under indictment in the racketeering case, died of cancer in 2003. Daniels insisted that he -- not Congi -- was the real driving force behind illegal actions by the union. The defense attorney described Congi as a hardworking man who started as a ditch-digger in the union and whose main goal was to provide for his family.

Hochul responded that Quarcini was a powerful man but said that Congi never objected to the violence and, in fact, seemed to take some enjoyment from it.

"You could have stopped it," Arcara told Congi.

The judge credited federal prosecutors and agents for stepping in and investigating the union. He said he could not understand why local authorities had not taken action many years sooner.

In October, Hochul, fellow prosecutor Brett Harvey and several other law enforcers who built the case received the Investigators of the Year award from the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation during a conference in New York City.

Sharing the award were FBI Agent Frank Runles, U.S. Labor Department Agents Louis Alessi and Charles Argento, Investigator Michael Messina of the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and Niagara Falls Police Detective Bill Thomson.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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