Chicago Tribune


By Rob D. Kaiser

May 18, 1999

The international laborers union has kicked out the president of a Chicago local for his alleged extensive ties to organized crime, it was confirmed Monday.

An official representing the Laborers' International Union of North America said the ruling against Local 2 President John Matassa Jr. will let the union rid itself of one of its more notorious members. "This is a very significant and critical step in reforming this union and purging it of its organized crime ties," said Dwight Bostwick, the prosecuting attorney for the union. "Hopefully, it's also a step that will allow the good and hardworking members of Local 2 to seize their own leadership role."

Matassa's removal, which was done through a union-sponsored hearing, is part of a nationwide effort by the union to rid itself of organized crime activity. Other Chicago-area union leaders with alleged mob connections have been ousted from the organization, but Bostwick said, "(Matassa) is the person with the most direct and extensive organized crime ties."

The ruling in Matassa's case, which was issued last week following a hearing in December, said the union president met frequently with members of the mob and that those connections caused him to fail to fulfill his union duties. The parent union alleges in documents outlining its case that Matassa was a member and boss of the mob's so-called "Northside Crew," which the union claims was involved in numerous illegal activities, including gambling, extortion and operating pornographic bookstores.

Matassa's attorney couldn't be reached for comment Monday. Matassa could appeal the ruling and keep his office until the matter is settled.

The international union, which has 450,000 active members, reached an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in 1995 to try to free itself of mob corruption. In February 1998, a federal judge cleared the way for the 19,000-member Chicago District Council to be placed in trusteeship, which took the power of running the union away from Matassa and other union leaders. Eight other individuals associated with the union in Chicago also have been accused by the national organization with having ties to organized crime, including Bruno, Frank and Leo Caruso and James DiForti, according to union documents.

Many of the people accused, including Frank Caruso and DiForti, stepped down from their union positions before their hearings. Matassa, though, refused to quietly step aside, according to union members and officials. "The guy's hanging on to the carpet like a cat," said John Burke, an 11-year member of Local 2. "He's just not cooperating at all. I just can't wait until he's gone."

The 1,200 members of Local 2 work on underground projects, such as installing electrical cables, sewers and tunnels. The local is based at 6608 S. Archer Ave. Some union members said Matassa has been more of a disruptive force than a leader. "It's hurt our reputation with private industry, definitely," Burke said. "We're not all affiliated with crime. It's the men that are the ones that suffer. They are the ones that have that stigma on them."

Jim McGough, a spokesman for the union reform group Laborers for Justice, bemoaned how long it took to oust Matassa. "Sure it's progress, but it takes so long to achieve it," McGough said. "Due process takes too long. The members don't have the patience."

The Chicago District Council was placed in trusteeship following 19 days of closed hearings in 1997 that included testimony from 45 witnesses, including some former mobsters. Chicago labor lawyer Robert E. Bloch was named trustee after the hearing showed mob influence and corruption in the Chicago council, including that the district failed to hold contested elections for 25 years.

((c) 1999, Chicago Tribune

Article forwarded by: Jim Howard

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