Chicago Tribune



By John O'Brien,
Tribune Staff Writer.

July 14, 1997

Somewhere along its bumpy, 93-year history, an organized labor force whose dues-paying members haul trash, dig sewers, sweep streets and perform dozens of other gritty but necessary jobs got mobbed up.

On that, even the union's own international leaders agree, pointing to the experience in Chicago as a root cause of the problem confronting the Laborers International Union of North America. Instead of adequately looking after the welfare of many workers in construction, health care or municipal jobs, they say significant elements of the union often resemble hiring halls for members of organized crime. Similarly, top union officials have raised questions about who controls about $775 million in health and welfare and pension benefits in Chicago--its own members or the mob.

This week, in what is billed as a major effort to purge corrupt influence from its ranks, the union's Washington leadership, prodded by the U.S. Department of Justice, will move to take control of the 19,000-member Chicago District Council, headed by Bruno Caruso. A parade of witnesses, testifying before an independent hearing officer at a Loop hotel hearing, is expected to paint a sobering picture of hoodlum activity in Chicago, from squelching free union elections to controlling purse strings and lucrative jobs.

According to an internal document, the council for the last 25 years has been home to "a large number" of mobsters, their pals or relatives--all carried on the payroll as delegates or officers. Among two dozen names listed in the document are those of several convicted rackets figures and two relatives of the late Chicago mob boss Anthony Accardo. Also named is James DiForti, a $94,000-a-year secretary treasurer of Chicago Heights Local 5, now awaiting trial on a murder charge in the fatal shooting of a juice loan deadbeat. Half a dozen of the district council's 21 locals, including two representing Chicago city workers, are alleged by the union's general executive board attorney, Robert Luskin, to operate under mob influence.

Luskin, a Washington attorney, was hired to oversee a cleanup of the union by its international establishment, headed by Arthur Coia. Running in the union's first rank-and-file election ever last fall, Coia trounced Caruso in the race for president.

Coia has had image problems of his own. He is a self-styled reformer whose critics have portrayed him as a chum of East Coast mobsters.

Caruso contends he is the victim of a political witch hunt and is resisting the proposed takeover and appointment of an outside trustee to reform the council. He and other district officials reportedly have set aside $100,000 as a legal defense fund to battle Luskin and his aides, including former FBI agent W. Douglas Gow, the union's inspector general, and former federal prosecutors Dwight Bostwick and Robert Thomas.

Caruso is paid about $220,000 a year as head of the district council and president of Local 1001. His father, the late Frank "Skids" Caruso, was described by police and federal investigators as the mob boss in Chinatown. An uncle, Fred Roti, is a former 1st Ward alderman convicted of corruption charges. Caruso's brother, Frank, is director of the Chicago District Council's pension fund, and a cousin, Leo Caruso, is president of Local 1006, whose members include city workers.

With battle lines drawn, an extended hearing on the Chicago takeover petition is scheduled to open Wednesday in the Midland Hotel before Peter Vaira, a Philadelphia lawyer in the role of hearing officer. The hearings, which could last nearly two weeks, are part of the 1995 agreement between the union and the Justice Department that gives the union first crack at cleaning its own house.

Sprinkled among the nearly two dozen witnesses on the international's side are former federal agents, police officers and unidentified turncoat mobsters. Aside from union officers and delegates, however, the process that allows both sides to question witnesses won't be open to the public.

The imposition of a trusteeship has proven to be a useful tool of organized labor in removing entrenched officials who are either corrupt, inept or unwilling to do right for the rank and file. Two other major labor organizations against which similar allegations have been made--the Teamsters Union and the Hotel, Restaurant and Bartenders Union--are under some form of oversight.

Copyright 1998, The Tribune Company.

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