Chicago Tribune



Ex-Leader Of Probed Union Seeks Support For Madigan;

Mailing Goes Out Over His Name



By Rick Pearson, Tribune political reporter.

Tribune staff reporter John Chase contributed to this report

March 6, 2002


Thousands of union sewer and tunnel workers began receiving letters last week urging them to support Democrat Lisa Madigan for attorney general, but the name attached to the mailings was surprising.


The letters to members of Laborers Local 2 were signed, "Fraternally, Richard S. Caravetta, business manager." They asked members to take part in House Speaker Michael Madigan's "Friends and Family" political network on behalf of his daughter. But only weeks before, Caravetta had resigned from his union post in an agreement with national union officials investigating his alleged ties to organized crime.


Aides to Michael Madigan, who is also the state Democratic chairman, and Lisa Madigan, a state senator from the North Side, said they had never heard of Caravetta. The letters bearing his name were sent out on union stationary but were paid for by the state Democratic Party.


"Obviously, we don't want people with questionable backgrounds" involved in Lisa Madigan's campaign, said Steve Brown, a spokesman for the House speaker. Brown said the mailing was organized by the Chicago-area Laborers District Council, an umbrella organization.


Caravetta, a Cicero resident, did not respond to questions.


The laborers local, which represents about 20,000 workers, has had a long history of infiltration by organized crime. In 1994 the federal government intervened to root out mob influence. As part of a consent decree between the union and the government, federal courts have selected outside monitors to oversee the local. The most recent monitor is a partner in the same Loop law firm in which Lisa Madigan works.


The outside monitoring of the union ended last summer. Lisa Madigan's spokesman, David Schaper, said he did not know whether she had any involvement with oversight of the consent decree.


The "Friends and Family" mailing, sent out to union members over Caravetta's signature, is part of an aggressive campaign being orchestrated by the House speaker on behalf of his daughter. Lisa Madigan faces former U.S. Justice Department official John Schmidt in the March 19 Democratic primary.


Through "Friends and Family," Madigan loyalists have created an elaborate campaign chain letter to elicit names, addresses and phone numbers of potential supporters and donors. Madigan has used wedding invitation and Christmas card lists as well as union membership rosters to contact people for support.


Once contacted, those people are asked to provide their own lists of friends and family members.


Robert Luskin, general executive board attorney for the Laborers International Union of North America, said Caravetta resigned his post as part of a settlement that also brought to an end an investigation into Caravetta's "possible association with organized crime." As part of the settlement, Caravetta made no admission of wrongdoing.


A group of dissident union members, known as Laborers for Justice, requested the probe of Caravetta. Jim McGough, the head of the group, said he also has filed charges with Luskin's office alleging the local's membership list was given to the Democratic Party in violation of the union's ethics code.


Luskin said the union would look into the charges.

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