Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

U.S. Trying To Oust Union's Leaders

Laborers Local 1058 Tied To Mob, Lawyer Says

By Bill Moushey and Jim McKay-Post-Gazette Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 29, 2000

A lawyer appointed by the government is trying to oust leaders of a Pittsburgh local of the Laborers International Union of North America for what he says are long-standing ties to organized crime that he claims have turned the 3,500 member local into an autocratic, mob-dominated bastion.

Washington attorney Robert D. Luskin, a union-paid prosecutor appointed under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to ferret out corruption nationwide, charges the local was guided down that path by Joseph Laquatra, business manager since 1985 and president and business manager of the Laborer's District Council of Western Pennsylvania since 1986.

In an internal complaint distributed last weekend to its Pittsburgh-area members, Luskin told them he wants to place Local 1058 under trusteeship until it is cleansed of Laquatra and six others with "long-standing personal, family and business connections" to powerful organized crime figures.

While the complaint offered very few specifics, in general Luskin accused the union leaders of hiring ghost employees, engaging in loan sharking and gambling and associating with known crime figures.

An internal hearing will be scheduled within 60 days, with lawyer Peter Vaira, an Elizabeth native and former U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, serving as hearing officer. If Vaira rules the complaint is valid, the government could take over the day-to-day operation of the union.

Others named in the complaint are

L. Dennis Martire, president of Local 1058 since 1985;

Gerald Pecora Jr., recording secretary of the local since 1975 whose great-uncle, the late Joseph "Jo Jo" Pecora, controlled gambling in the northern panhandle of West Virginia until his death in 1991;

Philip Ameris, son of Jimmy Ameris, whom the report identifies as a prominent crime figure;

Mark Machi, a federal convict who resigned from the union's executive board last year after a dispute with Laquatra;

Joseph Frydrych, secretary-treasurer of Local 1058 since 1994;

and John LaRocca Jr., the adopted son of John LaRocca, the late boss of the Pittsburgh crime family who died in 1984.

The union leaders were paid between $75,000 and $300,000 each last year.

By wrongfully associating with members of organized crime and by failing to pursue any investigation or making any inquiry into members' involvement, the officers and executive board members of Local 1058 have allowed the influence of organized crime "to remain unchecked for decades," the complaint says.

Frederick Thieman, a former U.S. attorney who is representing the union, said it is ready for a fight.

He said he was concerned that Luskin did not follow the organization's constitution, which says such inquiries should be confidential. He said he did not want to litigate the case in the newspaper but was compelled to comment after the complaint was mailed to union members.

Thieman said accusations of corruption, hiring gangsters for no-show jobs and other illicit activities are mostly vague, unspecified allegations against a group of individuals who are being tarred with mob associations that stem from actions of their older and often long-dead relatives.

"If you take a look at the complaint, the alleged organized crime figures mentioned are dead or have been in jail for a lot of years. I can tell you our defense is going to be focused on the good things the union has done for the electorate, not 30-year-old nostalgia," he said.

The union's constitution says barred conduct includes racketeering, bribery, extortion, fraud, accepting kickbacks, bookmaking and other felonies or if a union official is caught "knowingly associating with any member or associates of an organized crime family or syndicate."

It says that means "that the individual knows that the other person is a member or associate of organized crime; that the association relates directly or indirectly to union affairs; and that the association is more than a casual relationship."

The constitution further says "it is not considered a violation ... if an individual is merely related by blood or marriage to a person considered a member or associate of organized crime as long as the family relationship does not affect the union."

"Regardless of individuals' birth rights or family histories, their actions for and on behalf of the union will stand on their own," Thieman said.

While Laquatra and the others refused comment, the union issued a statement saying it "will vigorously contest the allegations."

The complaint dated March 21 alleges that "every single position" within the local has been personally hand-picked by individuals with strong connections to organized crime without objection or dissent from any union official or member.

Official positions within the local have been filled by appointment between elections by a business manager with approval by an executive board that was given "little or no information" about appointees' qualifications, according to the complaint.

Thieman said that is not true. He pointed to a 1996 election for convention delegates where a federal monitor oversaw the events. There were no leadership changes. He also said Martire, one of the officers named in the complaint, recently ran against Pecora, who also was named, for office in the union.

In its statement, the union called the charges a "dangerous effort" by the international union and the government to deny workers their right to free speech, association and representation.

"Local 1058 has at all times acted in a fair and democratic manner and has aggressively and appropriately represented the interest of its membership," the local said.

The brunt of the charges centered on the actions of Laquatra.

Laquatra succeeded Thomas J. Pecora, who the complaint claimed was a "loyal and close associate" of a Pittsburgh organized-crime family until his death at the age of 81. Pecora was the local's business manager from 1968 through the beginning of 1985. The union's district headquarters on Eighth Street, Downtown, is named after him.

Pecora twice was convicted of federal charges, but both convictions were overturned on appeal. In one of the cases, in 1971, he was charged along with Dante Martire, father of L. Dennis Martire, with diverting union funds to buy property owned by John LaRocca Sr. at an inflated price.

The complaint alleges Laquatra was selected to run the local by John LaRocca Sr., who controlled organized crime in Pittsburgh from the late 1930s until his death in 1984 at age 82.

It further contends that Laquatra has met prominent members of what the complaint refers to as the "Pittsburgh Family" throughout the years and has been directly involved in organized crime including gambling and illegal loan sharking.

"Mr. Laquatra has admitted, under oath, his association with practically all of the significant members and associates of organized crime over the last 30 years, including his very close relationship with John LaRocca Sr.," the complaint alleged.

The report said Laquatra, L. Dennis Martire and Gerald J. Pecora Jr. met often with the senior LaRocca at his now defunct business, the Allegheny Car Wash, and at his home.

After his death, the men continued to pay their respects to his widow, visiting her home every Christmas.

"We anticipate a process that relies on more than where you washed your car and visited widows at Christmas time," Thieman said.

The move to place Local 1058 in trusteeship is part of a six year campaign by the union to rid itself of corruption. The union agreed to such internal probes after the government brought racketeering charges against the union and a former general president.

"It's an internal union proceeding. This is a show we've taken on the road and done in really large scales in Chicago and New York," said Luskin.

Since 1995, more than 225 individuals have been removed from office through expulsion or forced resignations. Two dozens locals or district councils in New York, New Jersey, Buffalo and Chicago have been placed under supervision. The bill for the anti-corruption investigations thus far for the union exceeds $35 million.


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