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
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
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.