By John O'Brien, Tribune Staff Writer.

October 21, 1993


In a move reminiscent of the government's highly successful effort to purge the Teamsters Union of mob influence, the Justice Department is preparing legal action to achieve the same effect on the Laborers International Union of North America.

Federal and labor officials have declined public comment on the pending action against a union that at times has resembled a power base for organized crime.

But sources in the Justice Department and organized labor said a lawsuit being drafted by aides to U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno declares the union is beset with pockets of corruption and asks that outside controls be imposed on its management, financial affairs and elections.

In addition, the suit, expected to be filed in the next few months, will seek court-appointed administrators with independent authority to root out corrupt officers.

Word of the government inquiry of the LIU has spread in recent weeks in labor circles.

"There is an extensive investigation going on of the Laborers, but how it will play out remains to be seen," said Susan Jennik, executive director of the New York-based Association for Union Democracy, a watchdog group.

Much of the LIU's strength is in the Midwest, where many of the union's 650,000 members are employed. Their jobs range from asbestos removal and digging tunnels to handling mail bags and resurfacing highways.

Chicago has been an integral part of the union's power for nearly 60 years, with Peter Fosco; his son, Angelo Fosco; and other family members holding high LIU office during much of that time, seemingly as a family birthright.

To what extent the union may challenge a government suit remains to be seen, labor sources said.

Furthermore, they said any attempt at reform may be difficult. There is no recognizable reform movement among the Laborers, they said, and dissidents are few and scattered.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, hauled into court on similar charges, acknowledged the influence of mobsters in a 1989 consent decree with the Justice Department. Since then, 200 Teamster officials have been removed from office or accused of wrongdoing by a federal judge and a three-member review board.

While that number is small in comparison to the 4,200 Teamster officials nationwide, the financial burden of implementing the consent decree has been staggering. Since 1989, the Teamsters have shelled out $32 million in legal fees and other administrative and investigative costs incurred by a court-appointed review panel.

While most Teamster activity has remained unchanged under court supervision, such as negotiating contracts and resolving member grievances, the intrusion has had an impact on how local unions handle their finances, as well as on the delegate-selection process for union elections.

As in the Teamster case, sources said, the legal initiative against the Laborers is intended to stop extortion schemes, embezzlement of union funds and fraud in contracts involving millions of dollars in health and pension benefits.

Of a dozen LIU locals in the Chicago area, several have been linked to organized crime by U.S. Senate hearings, grand jury investigations and federal convictions of officials for labor racketeering. Among them:

- Chicago Local 1, whose veteran president, the late Vincent Solano, was frequently identified by law-enforcement authorities as a North Side mob boss. His successor, Frank Colaianni, has pledged reforms.

- Chicago Local 1006, whose president, Frank "Tootsie" Caruso, is the son of the late Frank "Skids" Caruso, a reputed gambling boss in Chinatown. Tootsie Caruso's uncle is former 1st Ward Ald. Fred Roti, tagged by some investigators as the mob's connection to the City Council. Roti was convicted this year of federal racketeering and bribery charges.

- Chicago Local 1001, whose president, Ernest Kumerow of Barrington Hills, was subpoenaed before a federal grand jury in Chicago last year that investigated suspected mob involvement in several car bombings.

- Chicago Heights Local 5, where three officials have gone to prison. Dominick Palermo and Nick Guzzino, former field representatives, are serving terms for extorting money from bookmakers.

Alfred Pilotto, former Local 5 president, was identified as a mob boss in southern Cook and northern Will Counties before going to prison in 1982. He served 10 years for conspiracy to defraud the union of $2 million.

Others convicted in the Pilotto case were James Corporale, secretary-treasurer of the Laborers' Chicago district council; Salvatore Tricario, recording secretary of Local 767 in Palm Beach, Fla.; and John Giardiello, president of Local 767.

According to sources familiar with the upcoming suit, the government intends to use the testimony of federal investigators, mob informants and disgruntled insiders and evidence from a series of criminal prosecutions of union officials.

Eleven people, including several members of the Genovese crime family in New York City, were indicted in 1990 on numerous charges, including trying to control the LIU's New York locals.

Findings in a 1986 report on labor racketeering in the Chicago area by the President's Commission on Organized Crime accused the Laborers of being "a union with clear ties to organized crime."

The report singled out John Serpico, then Chicago regional vice president and now a member of the Laborers' executive board, as a "friend" of powerful mob bosses, including imprisoned Joseph Aiuppa and the late Anthony Accardo, but it stopped short of alleging wrongdoing.

Serpico has acknowledged social contacts with some individuals identified by authorities as organized crime figures, but he maintains that such association was merely an outgrowth from boyhood days.

Long regarded by law-enforcement officials as a haven for reputed mobsters and former convicts, the LIU in recent years has taken steps, albeit cautiously, to improve its image and the safety of members.

Each year, a modern LIU center in Carol Stream trains 1,400 rank-and-file members in the use of machinery and occupational-safety procedures "at a tremendous reduction in health insurance costs," said Hugh Arnold, a Chicago lawyer who represents the Chicago district council.

He said he was unaware of any inquiry involving the union in Chicago.

Copyright 1998, The Tribune Company.

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