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Mondo Minchia! The UFCW's Pension Nightmare Just Got Scarier

Written by Wanda Pasz Monday, 04 December 2006

A LIUNA offical who was recently seen on national television rubbing elbows with Toronto mobsters was a familiar face at a Toronto hotel in the months before its closure. Positively ID'd by staff who worked there, his presence raises even more questions about what was going on at the hotel in which a UFCW pension plan had invested - and misplaced - millions of members' pension dollars.

The Travelodge Yorkdale in the 1990's

In the spring of 2004 our former web site, Members for Democracy, was contacted by a number of workers - members of Toronto-based UFCW Local 333 - from the Travelodge Yorkdale Hotel in west-end Toronto.

Something strange was going on at their workplace and they were looking for information. Several months earlier, a cocky little man named Joe had turned up, as if from out of nowhere, and set up a condo sales center on the top floor of the hotel. Before long, large signs appeared in the lobby and draped across the outside of the buidling announcing that the "Westmount Condos" were coming soon.

Westmount Banner
How the hotel workers found out their jobs were about to disappear

Although the conversion of the hotel to a condo would surely cost all 150 of them their jobs neither their employer, a real estate investment company called Royal Host REIT nor their union was telling them what was going on. The fact their their union's massive pension plan, the Canadian Commercial Workers Industry Pension Plan (CCWIPP - pronounced "quip") had millions of dollars invested in the hotel, made the UFCW's silence on the subject all the more baffling and frustrating.

To make matters more frustrating and mysterious, Joe was frequently observed around the hotel in the company of shady looking guys.

"They looked like wise guys," one worker reported. "Sometimes they showed up alone and sometimes in groups. At those times, the garage was filled with high end cars and the bar looked like a scene from the Sopranos."

"We watched the business disintegrate," said one long term worker, "Joe would go out of his way to tell regular business customers that the place was closing soon. The Royal Host managers just stood by letting him do it. It was as if they wanted to destroy the business."

Travelodge in Disrepair
Concerned workers stood by and watched their hotel fall into disrepair

Adding insult to injury was the fact that their collective agreement had been renewed a year earlier - just before Joe's appearance on the scene. During the negotiations neither Royal Host nor the UFCW said anything about any condo conversion plan (although they must have known about it by then). Hence, the workers were deprived of a chance to press for enhanced severance pay and other layoff entitlements. As things stood in the spring of 2004, the workers knew their jobs were going to disappear sooner or later but they would only be entitled to the minimal severance provided under the Ontario Employment Standards Act. They would later discover that their own pension plan (they were not covered by the CCWIPP plan) had become stunningly insolvent in recent years.

Rather than trying to help them, the UFCW supported the job destruction scheme. Workers reported that when Local 333 business agents came to the hotel, they huddled with managers behind closed doors and hung out with Joe and his greasy associates seemingly oblivious of the worried stares of the hotel workers.

They were finally laid off, in April 2005, when Joe's condo conversion scheme went into high gear. Many continue to wonder how they could have been so badly betrayed by the UFCW. Some continue to wonder about the shady men who hung around with Joe and their union reps. Who were they? Were they "connected"?

This past week, fuel was added to the fire of their lingering suspicions. A documentary called No Solidarity aired on CTV's popular W5 program. The documentary was about a high profile battle for control of Toronto-based Local 183 of the Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA). LIUNA's well-documented ties to organized crime were discussed on the program as were connections between Local 183 officials and Toronto area mobsters. One prominent LIUNA official, Cosmo Manella, was featured prominently in the documentary.

Cosmo Manella
Cosmo Manella LIUNA official and mobster's pal

Secret meetings

To find out more, Dionisio's private investigators pointed their cameras at Cosmo Manella, the International executive who is director of the approximately $1-million Tri Fund. Right away, they captured some very disturbing pictures.

Caught on tape were meetings with known criminals, members of Italian organized crime families or those associated with them. In one meeting, Manella is seen with Dominic Musitano, Jr. He's the son of Dominic Musitano, Sr., who ruled the Musitano mob in Hamilton. Two of Musitano Jr's brothers were recently released from jail after serving a sentence for conspiracy to commit murder.

On two occasions, Manella is videotaped meeting with Cosimo Commisso, the reputed head of a Toronto-based organized crime family. Commisso was charged and convicted of conspiracy to murder three people - including a rival, Paul Volpe.

A few days later, the P.I.s hired by Dionisio and Local 183, captured another meeting. This time with Cosimo Commisso's brother, Michele Commisso, who was convicted of conspiracy to murder and arson. No Solidarity, W-Five, November 26, 2006

Manella and Commisso
Cosmo Manella and Cosimo Commisso caught on video

Other video clips show Manella conducting a meeting in a local cemetary.

In an interview, Manella claimed that the meetings with the mobsters were "chance encounters", that he was only giving them phone numbers of mutual friends for a party they were planning. He stated that he only has a personal friendship with Michele Commisso and, despite the fact that cavorting with organized criminals is a violation of the LIUNA constitution, he seemed rather non-chalant about the whole thing.

Musitano Brothers
Musitano brothers, freshly sprung from the slammer

It's not the first time that Manella has been the subject of local media reports. In the mid-1990's, when he was the administrator of Local 183's training center, a federal government investigation nailed the training center for $425,000 in "inappropriate and excessive expenditures". More recently, he has turned up as an advisor to a number of embattled municipal politicians.

News of the documentary, and a link to W-Five's online video, quickly turned up on the Mobbed Up Forum where it quickly came to the attention of the Travelodge workers. Emails began arriving at uncharted.ca in a matter of minutes:


Can everyone pause when they hear Cosimo and Michael Commisso identified. It's during the 8th minute of the first clip. The guy on the left during the two Commisso talk clips is the guy that was always at the hotel shadowing Joe. He's also the guy that we saw having a heart-to-heart chat with Joe Ieradi and Bill Gillett, our business agent. That's the guy. That's the guy we thought was the Westmount owner/director.

THE MAN AT THE MONDO AND "JOE SHADOW" IS COSMO MANELLA. 100%. He's the guy sitting down for the interview who says he's friends with Michele Commisso. Cosmo Manella. Tri Fund. Westmount. It all makes sense now.

Now what do we suppose Cosma Manella - a guy who has been videotaped hanging out with the leaders of two notorious Southern Ontario crime families - was doing "shadowing" Joe Ieradi at the soon-to-be-converted hotel? What was he doing sitting in on a staff meeting with Ieradi and a UFCW business agent and a senior executive of Royal Host REIT? We can safely assume he was there to do more than exchange phone numbers for party invitations. Given the recent revelations about his hanging out with mobsters, its fair to ask if there is a link between the mob and the condo conversion project that put these UFCW members out of work in 2005?

We can be forgiven our suspicions:

When we first heard from the Travelodge Hotel workers in 2004, the hotel at 2737 Keele Street in Toronto's west end had been of high interest to us for some time. It was here in 1992 that the trustees of the UFCW's troubled CCWIPP first began what would become a decade-long relationship with a notorious sex offender named Ron Kelly. The defrocked Catholic priest, who in 1979 pled guilty to ten counts of molesting young boys in a small Newfoundland community, borrowed $15 million from the pension plan to finance his purchase of the hotel. He would go on to borrow - and default on - hundreds of millions more as he amassed a real estate empire which, at its height, was reported to be worth some $500 million. His borrowing spree was facilitated by former UFCW Canada Director, Clifford Evans who, up to October 2005 was the Chairman of the pension fund's investment committee.

Cliff Evans
Cliff Evans: architect of UFCW pension plan's innovative investment scheme

In 2001, we published an article called about the hotel called The Haunted House of Labour. It was this article that caught the attention the Travelodge workers when they started surfing the net looking for answers that their union was not prepared to give them.

Our investigation spanned a year and a half and resulted in a 9-part online feature called The Mondo Condo Makeover series. The first installment, Mondo Condo Makeover a Looming Nightmare for UFCW asked the question, "Are Pension Gurus Backing Job Destruction Scheme?". Over the next several months, we would find out that they were indeed. We found out a lot of other things as well. Among them:

Strange things we learned:

  • In the years following his purchase of the hotel for $9 million in 1992, Kelly borrowed many more millions against the property. By the time he sold a 50% interest to Royal Host in 1998, more than $30 million dollars from the insolvent CCWIPP was registered against the property. Not only did this amount exceed the value of the property by more than double, but there was reason to doubt that much of this money had never been repaid.
  • Kelly renegged on some or all of his outstanding debts to the pension plan some time prior to Joe Ieradi's arrival on the scene, leaving the pension plan as a co-owner of the property.
  • By 2004, over $500,000 in liens were registered against the property by federal and provincial tax authorities for tax arrears on a number of Kelly's properties.
Ron Kelly
Ron Kelly, pension-fleecing pervert

We learned that Joe Ieradi himself was quite an interesting guy.

What we learned about Joe:

  • Although he presented himself in the local media as an established builder, no one seemed to know much about him. Government records showed he was the sole director of Dacapa Construction which gave his home address and a post office box as a business address.
  • Court records showed that he'd been involved in issuing bogus letters of credit, and a judgment in a lawsuit involving another company he controlled, Tacapa Land Company, contained this distressing assessment of his integrity by the presiding judge: "I find Mr. Ieradi to be an unreliable and sometimes dishonest witness who will say almost anything if it suits his purpose, irrespective of whether it is true or not." - Tacapa Land Co. v. Gould, November 15, 1995.
  • He'd been busted for operating an unauthorized waste disposal site and someone by the same name had been involved in a chilling aborted hit on a family in Ottawa.

Joe up close and personal:

As stories about the strange goings-on at the hotel and its unusual owner-in-waiting began making their way onto the Internet, Royal Host executives went into damage control mode. In July 2004, they called a staff meeting to but the meeting did little to give the workers a warm feeling.

One of the workers at the meeting captured an exchange with Greg Royer, Royal Host CEO, on tape. This excerpt pointed to Joe being a frontman for some other enterprise:

Worker: "Joe came to us three years ago, approximately, and offered to buy the whole hotel".

Royer: "That's the first time we ever heard of Joe ... and Joe was not able to buy the hotel, so he came back to us...with another idea. The other idea was to convert the hotel and this whole thing."

Worker: "Joe really wants this hotel."

Royer: "Well, I think Joe has, in fairness, I think Joe has a personal attachment to this hotel, because as you know, he was part of building it."

Worker: "Do you know if this is his first project or do you know any of his background?"

Royer: "No I don't know alot about this guy"

And when pressed about Joe's sudden appearance:

Worker: Joe Ieradi comes out of nowhere 3 years ago, you're giving me this story, he comes out of nowhere and offers to buy this hotel... Joe Ieradi, I don't think can afford to buy a car".

Royer: "We already understand that Joe Ieradi couldn't write the check. I mean I told you that."

Worker: "So somebody wants to buy this hotel, and put Joe Ieradi in this place to try and get it out of you."

Royer: "Can I get back to you... I don't have any problem dealing with anything that... wants to talk about. I don't think he's got his facts straight.. I'm happy to deal with him. I'm happy to give him answers, but I'm a little curious about how important all this is to everybody else. If you all want to sit and listen... I'll be happy to have you all sit here. But if you want to ask these other questions and get on your way, I'll be happy to deal with that too."

(You can check out a longer exchange in a discussion thread called Mondo Condo: The Game in the MFD archive.)

In 2005, Joe officially purchased the hotel from Royal Host REIT and the UFCW's CCWIPP. He paid about $18 million dollars for the empty building. Since then, over $50 million worth of mortgages have been registered against the property from Royal Host REIT, the CCWIPP pension plan, a union-connected mortgage lender in British Columbia called BCMP Mortgage Investments and a CIBC branch in Burnaby, BC.

Some Commisso's appear as buyers of condo units in the converted building and a Michael Commisso is a director of the buidling's property management firm.

Does it mean anything?

Where there's smoke there tends to be fire and when it comes to the building at 2737 Keele Street in Toronto, there's plenty of smoke.

Paul Volpe
Paul Volpe, Toronto mob boss and labour racketeer

The hotel was originally built in 1975 by a local construction company that was found by a Commission of Enquiry in 1974 to have close ties to Toronto mob boss Paul Volpe. In the decade that preceded his murder in 1983, Volpe, a made member of Buffalo's Maggadino crime family, dominated Toronto's construction unions (like the Labourers and Carpenters Unions and many smaller groups that eventually merged with Labourers Local 183). His tentacles also extended to the Teamsters and Textile Workers Unions in Toronto. According to James Neff's 1989 expose of the Teamsters Union, Mobbed Up, Volpe was "believed to have developed a close relationship with Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa's friend, Gil Davis, who later mysteriously disappeared from Toronto after laundering some American Teamsters' pension money through New York City."

Davis was a colourful local union guy who was an underling of a more sinister local labour boss, Tommy Corrigan. Corrigan ran a local of the Teamsters, the Textile Processors and the Novelty Workers unions (all unions with strong state-side mob connections). Corrigan's Textile Processors Local 351 would acquire bargaining rights at the Travelodge in 1996 and promptly merge with the hotel's financeers, the UFCW.

Tommy Corrigan
Tommy Corrigan, boss of three unions

UFCW Local 333, which came to represent the hotel's workers after the merger was also run by a Corrigan acolyte named Richard McNaughton. McNaughton was conspicuous only by his absence in the months leading up to the closure of the hotel but his business agents were observed there, on occasion, in the presence of Joe Ieradi and Cosmo Manella.

Volpe was murdered in 1983. It has been reported that he may have had his last meal at the hotel (then called the Triumph Skyline) before turning up in the trunk of his luxury car in the parking garage at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. If the Commissos whacked him, as is widely believed, it would make sense that they acquired his turf in the years that followed. And it would go a long way towards explaining the mysterious history of the hotel at 2737 Keele Street: The millions of dollars in fresh mortgages that were registered against the property in the 1980's, the bankruptcy of 1991 (which was tied to a Montreal-based business called Castor Holdings, now defunct, and believed to have perpetrated the biggest corporate fraud in Canadian history), the mysterious appearance of the new buyer, sex offender Ron Kelly in 1992 and the pension-bleeding that followed.

Manella's LIUNA is also involved in another large scale renovation of another CCWIPP-Kelly investment disaster, the bankrupt Royal Connaught hotel in Hamilton.

Royal Connaught Hotel
Royal Connaught, defunct CCWIPP-funded hotel

Manella has been positively ID'd as a guy who was "shadowing" Joe Ieradi around the hotel in the months leading up it its closure and sale. Workers have reported that he was seen meeting at the hotel with UFCW Local 333 representative Bill Gillett. This suggests that his presence at the hotel was more than just a social call or chance encounter. What was he doing there? From what we've been able to learn over the past three years, LIUNA is not involved in the sale or financing of the condo project. What then, was Manella doing there and whose interests was he representing?

UFCW leaders and CCWIPP trustees need to come out of their holes and answer the question. As co-owners of the property they must have known. As the plot thickens around them, it's only a matter of time before we find out anyway.

Westmount Condo
Westmount Condo today

More about the UFCW's looming nightmare:

All Nine Installments:
P.01: Looming Nightmare for UFCW
P.02: The Plot Thickens
P.03: When Two Tribes Go To War
P.04: Deconstruction
P.05: Cleaning Out the Closet
P.06: Cooked Turkeys
P.07: Who Jacked Your Jobs?
P.08: Pension Gurus Just Can't Get Enough
P. 09: Mondo Number 9 (includes Mondo pictorial)
The Workers Fight Back
The Travelodge past to present (2004 thread started days before the Mondo Condo bombshell articles)
The closure of the hotel is reported and discussed (thread started Feb 8, 2005)
The Joe Unplugged Interview
The famous MONDO CONDO TOUR GUIDE, printed and distributed around the hotel.
ISDU Potentate (online forum hellraiser) calls for an internet shit-disturber convention (thread started Feb 15, 2005)
The ISDU Potentate reveals THE GAME! (thread started February 20, 2005)
We almost blew up John Chretien! (story told April 8, 2005)
The Potentate loses it on Royal Host, the UFCW, their lawyers and HR staff (thread started April 14, 2005)
Joe erupts in email and audio form! (thread started May 9, 2005)
Mondo Condo #8.5 brings the scam full circle (a thread started May 11, 2005)
Joe says pension trustees should kiss his butt (thread started May 16, 2005)
Toronto taxpayers will be on the hook for millions... guaranteed. (thread started Sept 13, 2005)
Poets Corner (Mondo related poetry thread started July 13, 2005)
Mondo Condo X: Ongoing online discussion about recent Mondo happenings
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