Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Laborer's Union Complaint Cites Crime Ties

Trustee Sought To Supervise 3,500-Member Local 1058

By Jennifer McGinnis

The Laborers' International Union of North America wants a trustee to supervise its Pittsburgh-based local because of its officers' alleged ties to organized crime.

Attorney Robert D. Luskin, who represents the national union, filed a trusteeship complaint requesting that the union's independent hearing officer determine whether officers of Local 1058 of the Construction, General Laborers and Material Handlers Union should be removed.

"This is nothing unique, just a further step in a long running practice aimed at nationwide eradication of the organized crime influence from the labor union," Luskin said Monday.

No officers or executive board members of Local 1058 face criminal or union disciplinary charges.

The national union has imposed trusteeships and supervisions on more than 20 locals and district councils representing about 60,000 union members, Luskin said.

The complaint, dated March 21, states the leaders of Local 1058 have had personal, family and business connections with Pittsburgh's La Cosa Nostra for 30 years. Local 1058 has about 3,500 members.

In a written statement, Local 1058 denied the allegations and accused Luskin of "...attempting to override the will of the union membership by removing Local 1058's duly elected officers.

Former U.S. Attorney Frederick W. Thieman and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman, the lawyers retained by Local 1058 to fight for self-governance, declined to comment further.

The 800,000-strong Laborers' Union has been working under a tense relationship with the federal government for years.

In 1994, the Justice Department considered filing a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Practices case against the union, but chose to allow the union to reform itself under federal guidelines.

Since then, former union president Arthur Coia retired. He later was charged with tax evasion in a deal involving more than $1 million in automobiles.

The complaint states every local official in Pittsburgh since the 1960s has been appointed by people with ties to the mob and all appointees have run for re-election unopposed.

The complaint states Joseph Laquatra, Local 1058's business manager, was hand-picked by his predecessor, Thomas Pecora, and John S. Larocca Sr., the late La Cosa Nostra boss.

The report contends Laquatra and other union officials including local President L. Dennis Martire and Recording Secretary Gerald Pecora Jr. - often met with Larocca at his car wash on Pittsburgh's North Side.

Those visits continued to Larocca's widow after he died in 1984. John Larocca Jr., the crime boss' son, has been vice president of the local since 1983.

The report states Laquatra has been responsible for appointing most current union officials.

Peter Vaira, a Philadelphia attorney who will serve as independent hearing officer, said he will likely decide within two months if a trustee should be appointed.

While the national union said it has made "extraordinary strides in eliminating the influence of organized crime and corruption" and pushed at least 100 officials out of the organization, some critics believe the crime connection remains strong.

The Laborers' Union "has always been considered one of the most corrupt unions. It has been repeatedly identified by the federal government as a union dominated by organized crime," said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

The National Legal and Policy Center is partly funded by the Sarah Scaife Foundation.

Boehm suggested the clean-up process is flawed, especially because the effort is led by the union's attorney.

"Critics point out this is unprecedented," he said. "You don't have a mob-infested union clean itself up. It's as if John Gotti had an appeals process and he had John Gotti Jr. as the appeals judge."

Vaira said the union's self-monitoring system has evolved from a closely scrutinized "gentleman's agreement" forged by the union and Justice Department into a sophisticated judicial tool.

The Justice Department was impressed enough with efforts so far that it agreed to extend the internal review process until October 2006.

The Justice Department has pointed to changes, such as election reform, as reasons for not initiating a takeover of the union. It said major reform efforts have been made by the union in Chicago, Buffalo, New Jersey and New York.

In 1991, Theodore "Teddy" Cozza, longtime president of Local 211 of the Teamsters union in Pittsburgh, which represents drivers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was removed from office following a trusteeship. The trustee said Cozza allegedly had associated with area organized crime figures.

Leaders of the Construction General Laborers and Material Handlers Local 1058 who are suspected of having personal, family and business connections to members of organized crime in the Pittsburgh area:

- Joseph Laquatra, the union's business manager since 1985, was appointed by John LaRocca Sr., boss of the La Cosa Nostra mob from the late 1930s until his death in 1984.

Laquatra, like other executive board leaders, has been uncontested in every election since his appointment. He also serves as president and business manager of the Laborers' District Council of Western Pennsylvania. Until recently, his combined salary from the two positions was $250,000 to $300,000 a year, according to the complaint filed by the Laborers' International Union of North America. When his dual salaries were challenged, he agreed to stop taking payments from Local 1058.

- L. Dennis Martire has been president of the local union since 1985. In 1986, Laquatra also appointed Martire assistant business manager. Recently, Laquatra appointed Martire "acting business manager" of Local 1058 and gave him an annual salary of more than $130,000, plus expenses and allowances. That's the salary Laquatra would have earned if he was still allowed to accept payment for his position at the local union, the complaint states.

- John S. LaRocca Jr., vice president since 1983, is the only son of the late mob boss. According to the complaint, LaRocca was appointed in 1979 as business representative even though he had almost no active involvement with the union. His yearly salary, including allowances, is more than $100,000.

- Gerald J. Pecora Jr. has been the union's recording secretary since 1975. In 1998, Laquatra also appointed him acting assistant business manager. Including allowances, his salary is about $125,000 a year.

- Joseph Frydrych was appointed by Laquatra and has been the Local 1058 secretary and treasurer since 1994. His yearly salary is about $100,000.

- Philip Ameris was appointed by Laquatra and has been an executive board member since 1996. A year earlier, he was nominated for the position, but election judges discovered he was not eligible. Laquatra appointed someone else to that position, and shortly after Ameris became eligible, another executive board position "opened up" for Ameris, according to the complaint.

The complaint also states that Ameris is a son of the late Jimmy "The Greek" Ameris Jr., who reportedly was a longtime La Cosa Nostra associate.

- Michael Laquatra, 23, was appointed by his father, Joseph Laquatra, to the executive board in January 1999. His position, as well as Ameris', is not salaried.

Staff writers David Conti and Rick Teaff contributed to this report.


Return to Laborers.org

(c) All orginal work Copyright Laborers.org 1998. All rights reserved..