"I'm no angel, don't say I'm some angel or nobody'll believe the rest," says Mario Montuoro, whose big eyes bulge wider when he discusses the secretary of labor. "Ray Donovan was there at the table when the $2,000 was passed," he says. "What do you think, I went to sleep and dreamed it?"
Montuoro first made headlines with his accusation against Donovan and he says it brought him four years of hell as he talked about that $2,000 to federal investigators. He lost his union job after rebelling at the union. He went on unemployment. He sat home, broken and angry, while his stepchildren asked him why he wasn't going to work. The secretary of labor called him a "damnable, contemptible liar" and denied the charges. A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate. Montuoro has told his story to the special prosecutor and a grand jury.
On April 24 Montuoro, 49, made the headlines again, hitting the winning numbers in the New York State Lottery. He won $2.5 million. Of the 7 million stories every day in the big city, this is the one that would have brought Damon Runyon back to life.
"Sometimes I think somebody up there likes me. Things were getting too quiet with Donovan, nobody was watching after a while, and then I won, and it made me get on my feet and the Donovan story came alive again. It was like, people seemed to say, if you were lying, God would never let you win . . .
"I don't want to put no more money in my pocket," says Montuoro. "I want to work for it. You know, I'm going to pay back all the people who loaned me money first. I owe a lot of people a lot. I felt guilty that whole time I wasn't working, and this lottery--it's about what, $117,000 a year for the rest of my life? Winning it kind of satisfied my guilt somehow. Like people thought I'd been wrong with what I'd been saying, and now everybody knew I was right . . . for the first time in my life I felt like I had prestige, like I was somebody.
"But," says Montuoro, "don't let 'em say I'm some angel."
Mario Montuoro is no angel. He once hurled a man who he says was trying to compromise him down a 40-foot pit. He has, he points out right away, a narcotics conviction (he was driving another guy on a heroin pickup in the early '60s for a $400 fee and got nailed) and a weapons possession conviction. "I was pinched," he says. "Louis Sanzo hid his gun in my car. I got pinched." Mario Montuoro is no angel.
Nor is he an orator: When he speaks, unless you're from his neighborhood (Bronx, Tremont Avenue), you need a translator on the spot. You yearn for the clear diction of Tugboat Annie or Rocky Graziano, elocutionists compared to Montuoro. Montuoro came out of an orphanage and a probation school. "I never really went to school," he says. "I don't know the words."
He has been a rebel since he was shining shoes and setting up pins in a Bronx bowling alley. When he was 15, he committed a burglary and his record began. He went into the Marines shortly after and six months later, when they found out about his crime, they released him with an "undesirable discharge."
"I want you to know all this first," he says, sitting at his lawyer's office. "I don't want you to make no knight of shining armor. You want coffee?" He calls down for it. It comes. Montuoro reaches into his pocket and pays the $1.19.
"I got a bad stomach," he says. "I'm not allowed to smoke." He lights up a thin cigarette. He is short, well-groomed, wearing a brown short-sleeved shirt, cream pants and shiny shoes. His short brown hair is combed up in a centurion's brush cut. His big eyes seem to barely fit behind the lenses of his gold aviator glasses. He talks with his hands.
"First I went to work driving in Teamsters Local 282, driving a Pechter's Bakery truck," he says, "then I worked in Local 553. Then I joined 29. I was a dynamite blaster's assistant, you know b-b-b-ooom! I lost part of my hearing, plus I also got my leg crushed by a falling beam. They had to put a steel rod in when I went into the hospital, then they took it out. And I still have it.
"I looked around me, and I saw things going wrong all over. Union officials taking money and putting it in their pocket while other guys weren't working, you know? It wasn't the mob. I think if the mob was running things it would be all right. It was these middle guys and officials taking money, having the union pay for their car. I saw that, and that's when I ran for office. Me and Louis Sanzo. It just got me angry. So I ran against the leadership and I won. I got to be vice president."
Hide-Out in the Hills
With his friend and fellow rebel Sanzo, Montuoro ran against the entrenched powers of Blasters, Drillrunners, and Miners Union Local 29. After a bitter race, during which Montuoro made noise about racketeering and alleged union fund theft, the business agent of the union, Jimmy Iaquinto, sought out Montuoro at his work site at the Bronx Zoo. He put his arm around him and told him, "Now we can work together." Montuoro threw Iaquinto into a 40-foot-deep excavation hole, and broke Iaquinto's collarbone.
"Then I went to hide out in the hills," Montuoro says. "My family said they heard they were gonna kill me so I stayed away for six months. When I came back I got called for by Big Sam Cavalieri, the boss of Local 29. He wanted to know why I threw Jimmy Iaquinto in the hole. I told him about the stealing and corruption in the union . Big Sam said, 'If you're lying, I'm going to paint the wall with your blood. But if you're right, he's out.' I kept my job."
"I just want you to know," says Montuoro's lawyer, Arthur Schwartz--a young labor attorney with brown, curly hair and a reasoned respect for his client--"that this is not a perfect man. But he has always told me the truth, and I've explored each thing he's told me. I haven't run into one discrepancy yet."
In 1977, Montuoro says, he was brought to a luncheon at Prudenti's, where he, Sanzo and other officials of Local 29 were meeting to celebrate the completion of a job with officials of the Schiavone Construction Co., of which Ray Donovan was a part owner and executive vice president in charge of labor relations. Montuoro says he remembers all the men eating together, and the order in which they sat. He says he remembers being introduced to Ray Donovan. He says that at the lunch Joey DiCarolis, another Schiavone vice president, handed Louis Sanzo an envelope, and Montuoro remembers DiCarolis saying, "This is in appreciation for good work."
He says that in the car on the way home from lunch, Louis Sanzo opened the envelope and took out $2,000, all in one-hundred dollar bills.
"What do you think," Montuoro says, "I went to sleep and dreamed it, that I met Ray Donovan, heard his name and saw his face?"
Donovan denies ever having been at the lunch or having met any of the men.
In 1978, after having been named in a Nassau County wiretap transcript in connection with another case, Montuoro began telling investigators about the $2,000 and alleging other corruptions. He lost his position as secretary-treasurer of the union. He continued to talk. A price reportedly went out on his head. "My wife began getting calls at home, saying I wasn't coming home tonight," he says, "but you know you can't throw out your, what's that word? You know, your, the level of what you got your--I don't know."
He turns to his attorney. "What is it you got and you know, it's kind of the thing, the level, you've got to, you can't give up, you-- " Arthur Schwartz says he doesn't know and goes back to his brief.
"Well, whatever," Montuoro says, "You can't give it up just like that. Anyhow, the stuff about Donovan didn't become important until last year."
Waiting for the Call
When Ray Donovan was named secretary of labor, Montuoro waited, with Schwartz, sure that he would be called to testify--after having talked to federal investigators--at Donovan's nomination hearings. He wasn't called.
"I don't know why," he says. "I'd been talking. But we didn't hear anything.
"All that time I was talking, everybody said get out of the country, but I said no--if I'm going to die I want to die here. And there I was, I didn't want to testify against organized crime, just the officers in my union taking money out of other workers' pockets, while guys weren't working, and putting it in their own. Unions are great, we need them but don't ruin them by putting money in your pockets. Not while so many guys can't even work at all.
"You don't know what it is not to work if you've never been out of work. I mean you don't feel like a man anymore. You look in the refrigerator and there's nothing in there. My stepdaughter asks me, 'Daddy, why are you not going to work?' and there I was, sitting home every day, only going out to go to unemployment. I got a lot to make up to my family for seeing me through, and my friends. I tell you, that's why I want my job and my salary and my back pay back, even with the lottery. The NLRB has ordered Local 29 to reinstate Montuoro with back pay. I want what's coming to me. I want to work. I'm no millionaire, I want to work. That's the important thing.
"I'm taking part of this money $25,000 and starting a fund for other guys who get in trouble with their unions and don't get any legal advice. I tell you, you're nobody without a lawyer. So I'm gonna make sure that other guys with no money can have a lawyer. And I'm going to take my money and pay back the government for all the welfare money I got when I wasn't working. They need it more than I do. The most important thing is, though, I want to get back to work for my, you know--hey, Arthur, what is that word?"
Schwartz shakes his head that he doesn't know and goes back to his brief. He looks up for a moment to say somebody from CBS is coming over to talk about a project.
"Now I'm going to set up this fund," says Montuoro. "You know how many people are getting beat in the world? Marone! I took the pinch for somebody once before when I took it on that gun charge. But I'm not going to go to jail for anybody ever again, and I'm not going to let anybody else. It's, like, you can't let them destroy your--dignity! That's the goddam word I've been looking for. Dignity!"
Montuoro, with $2.5 million coming in the mail, stands up to his full length and stretches. "I'm going for a walk," he says, and picks up the two empty coffee cups, the cardboard box and napkins, the receipt for $1.19 and wipes the rings off of Arthur Schwartz's desk carefully. He breathes hard and, looking for nobody's permission, goes out into the hall for a drink of water.