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Alleged Fraud Seen as Mob's Link to Union Benefit Funds

December 18, 1988|DAN MORAIN | Times Staff Writer

It is clear from the documents that Commito's business did not take off, at least not in California, as he had hoped. The indictment, news reports about what then was a pending investigation early this year, and other events killed many deals. But Commito was nothing if not ambitious.

He set his sights on Southern California's vast aerospace industry. Ray Majerus was to be pivotal. Until his death last Dec. 16, Majerus was second in command of the United Auto Workers, in charge of its aerospace division, with locals at Rockwell International and McDonnell Douglas.

In a Dec. 17, 1987, phone call to his wife that was intercepted on FBI wiretaps, Commito lamented that just two days before Majerus' death, he had "made the EyeCare-UAW deal," according to an affidavit by FBI Agent Louis George of Oakland in connection with a search warrant for Commito's home and business. When his wife asked whether the deal was on paper, Commito replied, "Of course not."

George predicted Majerus' death would not kill the deal. With thousands of dollars in "illegal profits" at stake, "other UAW officials are currently involved or will be recruited . . . to fill the void."

Within a month, Robert Greenfield, the Illinois lawyer who helped Commito on the UAW deal, and who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, called to say: "The UAW guy that's going to be in charge of pension negotiations is very friendly to us," George reported.

'Legitimate Work'

In an interview, Greenfield, 79, said news reports of the investigation in February killed the deal. He insisted, however, that Commito was "doing very progressive legitimate work," offering replacement contact lenses for under $30, and that "a guy like Ray Majerus is as clean as they come."

In San Diego, Commito's co-defendant, Elliott Kusel, a vice president of EyeCare USA, was trying to persuade a machinist local that represents General Dynamics workers to buy into his vision care plan. (EyeCare itself is not accused of wrongdoing.) Jeff McCumber recalled that Kusel's style did not impress union negotiators.

"He seemed like a real wheeler-dealer kind of guy," said McCumber, a San Diego insurance broker who was hired to help find a company to administer an eye care plan for the local. "He seemed like he came in from New York last week."

Still, Kusel's office was "impressive," McCumber said. From appearances, most companies with which Commito dealt were legitimate. United HealthCare Inc., of Baltimore, administered plans in 42 states. The company was indicted with Commito, as was a vice president. The president of another large company, J.D. King Associates of Monterey, also was indicted with Commito.

But while companies that provided the actual health care services seemed reputable, Commito long had been of interest to law enforcement. A 1981 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report on health care fraud contains photos of Commito meeting with reputed Mafia members in his attempt to market his plans in Pennsylvania.

Making Contact

"Commito's usual procedure for gaining health contracts in various states was to first make contact with the local organized crime family. In the world of La Cosa Nostra, this contact is necessary protocol for anyone who wishes to do business in another's territory," the report said.

In the mid-1970s in California, Commito met with reputed Los Angeles Mafia family member Michael Rizzitello, Aladena (Jimmy the Weasel) Fratianno, the long-time mobster turned informant, told authorities.

Fratianno told the Pennsylvania Crime Commission that Rizzitello introduced Commito to Fratianno in about 1977, with instructions that Fratianno provide names of labor officials who would buy Commito's medical plans. Fratianno put Commito together with ex-San Francisco Teamster leader Michael Rudy Tham, who in 1980 was convicted of embezzling $3,000 from his union.

More recently, in New York, Commito's agent was John J. Allu, named in a 1983 U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee report as a soldier in New York's Gambino crime family. Commito's Labor Health Plans Inc., used the same address in Queens as Allu. According to monitored conversations, Allu, a former Teamsters officer, promised to line up 20 Teamster and Longshoreman locals for Commito on the East Coast.

In Chicago, where Commito began his business career in 1970, he spoke and met with with several members and associates of the Chicago "outfit," FBI affidavits on file here allege.

Moves in Illinois

He claimed in a monitored conversation to have 100,000 workers in Illinois on his programs, and is listed as a consultant on a health care contract for several thousand government workers, the FBI says.

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