Friday, March 07, 2008

School Bus Company Owner Disputes Ties to the Mob

Upset over online columns linking him to the mafia, a school bus company owner is considering a libel suit against a veteran reporter, but wants the details kept secret, attorneys said Wednesday.

The face-off is between Domenic F. Gatto, chief executive of the Staten Island-based Atlantic Express Transportation Corporation, and Jerry Capeci, mafia expert and author of the weekly ganglandnews.com.

In a column last December, Capeci cited sealed court documents for the assertion that law enforcement officials in 1989 "pegged the current owner of New York City's largest school bus company as a labor racketeer with ties to the mob and a corrupt bus drivers union executive."

The column said "Domenic F. Gatto, whose company now earns more than $200 million a year busing city school kids, was linked to bid-rigging and illegal activities with Julius (Spike) Bernstein, the late secretary-treasurer of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, according to the documents."

Peter R. Silverman, Gatto's attorney, said his client is "absolutely not" linked to the mafia and the sealed court documents contained "lies and fabrications made up by a convicted felon."

Mr. Silverman said, "If we choose to litigate this, we do not want the sealed court documents to be open to the public again."

Capeci's attorney, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, argued that the First Amendment protects his client and that any libel suit must be entirely public.

"Jerry Capeci meticulously reported on documented alleged ties between Mr. Gatto, the mafia and price fixing in the school bus industry," said Margulis-Ohnuma. "Mr. Gatto has the right to respond to these allegations but if he wants to sue, he has to do it in public."

A Staten Island judge rejected Gatto's request to temporarily seal the court documents at issue, but the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn took the case on appeal and will again consider the matter next week.

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