When William Denton walked a picket line, he often chatted up his fellow union members.
What they didn’t know at the time is that Denton was a paid FBI informant recording their every word.
Denton, a two-time convicted felon who infiltrated the union, testified Monday about a wide range of tactics Operating Engineers Local 17 is accused of using to damage heavy equipment as part of a 10-year criminal enterprise.
In one of his recorded conversations from 2006, he talks with defendant Kenneth Edbauer and fellow union member John Merlino about so-called stars, sharp metal objects designed to puncture truck tires.
“We call them Scooby snacks,” Merlino says.
“We call them chicken feet here,” Edbauer says.
“Ha ha. Scooby snacks,” answers Denton.
“What do you call them?” Merlino asks.
“The ones we got are chicken feet and they’re huge,” Edbauer says. “If that don’t give you a flat tire down the road … ”
Edbauer goes on to say that the union, which was picketing at a Delaware Avenue construction site, didn’t bring any chicken feet that day.
One of five union members on trial in Buffalo federal court, Edbauer is accused of taking part in a criminal conspiracy designed to extort contractors into hiring Local 17 members.
Now in its fourth week, the trial has focused on allegations of threats, violence and vandalism.
Edbauer’s lawyer countered Monday by detailing Denton’s criminal record and relationship with the FBI.
“How much did the government pay you?” defense attorney Kevin W. Spitler asked.
“Approximately $7,500,” he said.
Denton acknowledged the FBI payments were income and that he never reported them on his tax returns.
Spitler also asked about Denton’s two felony convictions for forged documents and a third conviction, this one a misdemeanor, for bounced checks.
“I bounce checks all the time,” Denton said. He also admitted selling a car and motor on eBay that he never delivered despite receiving money from the buyers. When asked if the FBI was aware of his conduct during his time as an informant, Denton said it was and that he was told to continue his undercover work.
Denton spent a good part of his time on the witness stand detailing his recorded conversations with Local 17 members.
At one point in 2006, he and Edbauer are talking about a list the union has compiled of the trucking companies that have crossed the Delaware Avenue picket line.
Denton, in his testimony, referred to it as a “hit list.”
“It’s a list,” he told the jury, “of trucks that crossed the picket line and deserved retribution.”
“And when you say retribution, what do you mean?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony M. Bruce.
“Damage to the trucks,” said Denton.
On cross examination, Spitler questioned Denton about his use of the phrase “hit list” and referred to a union flyer that makes no mention of vandalism directed at the trucking companies.
“Never once does Mr. Edbauer use the word ‘hit list,’ does he?” Spitler asks.
“No, he doesn’t,” Denton answered.
“That’s your word, isn’t it” Spitler asked.
“I suppose,” Denton said.
The trial before Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny continues today.