By John O'Brien
Tribune Staff Writer
February 10, 1998
Describing the Chicago lodge as a
front for criminal activity and its officials as mob members or
their associates, the Laborers International
Union of North America moved forward Monday in its attempt to
seize control of the local unit and oust its leaders.
The union is trying to safeguard the
$1.5 billion in pension and health and welfare funds of its beleaguered
Chicago District Council. And on Monday it gained the support
of a hearing officer, who in a 91-page ruling agreed that the
laborers district council is closely linked to organized crime
The district council, which represents
21 local unions in the Chicago area, is led by Bruno Caruso, whose
dual salaries as council chief and head of Local 1001 total $172,000-a-year.
He is the son of the late Frank Caruso, a reputed mob boss in
Chicago's Chinatown area.
Caruso has steadfastly denied allegations
of being a puppet of mobsters, instead blaming union President
Arthur Coia for fabricating charges to consolidate power. Caruso
had opposed Coia's re-election in 1996, pledging higher wages
and safer working conditions.
Within hours of the takeover decision
by hearing officer Peter Vaira, there were these developments
in an unprecedented tug of war between factions of the 450,000-member
Officials of the Schaumburg-based
investigative firm of Quest Consultants International, acting
as union inspectors, appeared at the Northwest Side office of
the district council demanding the surrender of door keys and
financial records. They were denied admission following a brief
confrontation outside the office at 6121 W. Diversey Ave.
Lawyers for the international went
into U.S. District Court seeking an order of enforcement to place
the Chicago District Council under trusteeship, headed by labor
lawyer Robert Bloch. A hearing on their request is expected Tuesday.
The district's 19,000 laborers--including
some City of Chicago employees--haul trash, sweep
streets, dig sewers and perform dozens of other gritty construction jobs.
The release of Vaira's takeover decision,
coupled with eviction efforts by the international, follows 19
days of closed-door hearings last year into charges by Robert
Luskin, the union's general executive board attorney, that the
Chicago council is mob dominated and serves as a hiring hall for
Luskin, a Washington lawyer, was named
to the post in an agreement between the union and the U.S. Justice
Department that calls for the union to clean house or face a government
In Chicago on Monday, Luskin aide
and attorney Dwight Bostwick issued a statement denouncing the
Chicago District Council, branding it as corrupt
and contending its leaders are chosen in "little more than
a game of mob musical chairs."
Legal papers filed in federal court
identified Caruso as "at least an associate" of mobsters
while portraying several district delegates as either pals of
or, in one instance, as a "made member" of the Chicago
"The day has long passed when
unions can regard investigations . . . by the government or the
media as `us against them' or as attacks against the solidarity
of the labor movement," Vaira, a former federal prosecutor,
said in his decision. "If labor is to remain a viable force
in the marketplace today, it cannot rely on government . . . to
effect a cleanup. The labor movement can no longer close its eyes
Transcripts of the internal union
hearings obtained by the Tribune show questionable alliances between Chicago District Council officials
and people identified as mob figures. The witnesses at these hearings
included former federal agents, police investigators and turncoat
Chief among them were Michael Corbitt,
a former police chief in suburban Willow Springs, and Robert Cooley,
a former criminal defense lawyer. They told of witnessing Bruno
Caruso and others meeting with crime figures away from union job sites,
in restaurants and nightclubs or at suburban parking lots and
Corbitt is serving a 20-year sentence
for bribery, extortion and racketeering. Among the crimes for which he remains behind bars was his
role in the cover-up of the 1982 murder of Dianne Masters, a suburban
college trustee. Cooley helped expose judicial corruption in Cook
County Circuit Court a decade ago.
Corbitt recounted how one-time Chicago
mob chieftain Sam Giancana put in the word that enabled him to become a police officer in Willow
Springs. "He just told me one thing," Corbitt said of
his benefactor, Giancana, whom he got to know while servicing
slot machines. "Just remember your friends," he quoted
the mobster as telling him. "Just remember who put you in
As a money courier for the mob, Corbitt
said he had access to top mob bosses and officials of the laborers
union such as Al Pilotto of Local 5 in Chicago Heights and Vincent
Solano of Local 1 in Chicago.
He told of seeing Bruno Caruso and
Bruno's brother, Frank, a power in the union's health and welfare
fund, in the company of the late Pat Marcy, a 1st Ward political
fixer and known associate of rackets bosses. He said he saw Bruno
Caruso give Marcy an envelope that investigators say contained
mob street tax.
It's unclear whether Corbitt and Cooley
will be summoned by the federal judge to whom the trusteeship
bid now goes for review. But three union inspectors from the staff
of Quest Consultants--former FBI agents Joseph Griffin, Robert Scigalski and
Jack O'Rourke--are listed as available to testify if Caruso's
lawyers wage a fight at Tuesday's scheduled court hearing.