Mob-linked union aide faces huge bond
By James Hill and John O'Brien
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
Web-posted: Thursday, July 3, 1997
11:17 pm CST
Laborers union official and reputed
mobster James DiForti was being held in Cook County Jail on a
$1 million bond Thursday after Chicago police and FBI agents arrested
him in what they said was the solution of a nine-year-old mysterious
DiForti, 52, of 1113 Boeger Ct., Westchester,
is alleged to have killed William Benham, the owner of B&S
Pallet Co., in February 1988, after Benham refused to repay a
$100,000 juice loan. Benham had also threatened to tell federal
agents about DiForti's alleged mob ties and loan-sharking
activities, said Assistant State's Atty. Bill Dorner.
With little evidence, except a blood
trail leading from Benham's office in the 500 block of Root Street,
the case became known as ``The Pallet Man Murder Investigation''
to those trying to solve it.
Their efforts went unrewarded until
an FBI informant implicated DiForti during an unrelated investigation
``Nothing had tied the murder to anyone
until that time,'' Dorner said. ``During the investigation, the
informant tells the FBI about the Benham murder and tells them
DiForti's name and details of the murder.''
The FBI promptly relayed the information
to Chicago police, and the two agencies began a joint investigation,
Dorner said. They soon used a grand jury subpoena to obtain a
blood sample from DiForti, secretary/treasurer for the International
Laborers Union Local 5, based in Chicago Heights.
Although DNA testing of the blood
at the crime scene was soon linked to DiForti, it was not until
Wednesday that police and FBI officials arrested him, Dorner said.
DiForti was seized without incident as he left his home with $6,000
in his pockets, Dorner said.
Investigators said they suspect scars
over his right eyebrow and on his right side were the result of
bullet wounds suffered during a shootout with Benham.
``DiForti was handling juice loans
on the street back then,'' Dorner said. ``Apparently, (Benham)
knew DiForti from the racetrack circuit. He borrowed the money
from DiForti and then didn't pay it back.''
According to the prosecutor, when
DiForti went to Benham's office to demand the money, ``DiForti
said that Benham told him that he wasn't going to pay and then
threatened to go to the feds.''
When the quarrel turned violent, Dorner
said, Benham was shot six times. His body being found later on
the floor behind his desk. Because of the trail of blood leading
from the office and the discovery of a small caliber gun next
to his body, investigators suspected that his assailant had not
Although street rumors that DiForti
had been tied to the 1988 shooting first began to surface last
summer, authorities apparently delayed charging him until now
because of a separate federal probe of the laborers union.
Within the last 10 days, International
Laborers Union leaders in Washington targeted DiForti and about
a dozen other Chicago area officials for ouster from their posts.
The corruption fighters recently filed
a petition seeking to place the entire Chicago District Council of the union in receivership,
because of allegations that it was nothing more than a mob piggybank
The district council's health and
welfare pension fund alone totals some $900 million.
A hearing on that petition by an independent
union judge is set to begin later this month.
The move to purge mob influence from
its ranks stems from a 1995 agreement between the union leadership
and federal prosecutors. The agreement gave the union three years
to oust unsavory characters from positions of control or face
government intervention to get the job done.
DiForti, who has no previous record
of arrests, despite his alleged mob ties, popped up as secretary/treasurer of Local 5 after
working for another laborers local that was being investigated
for mob ties. Union documents on file with the U.S. Labor Department
identified DiForti as currently being the No. 2 man in Local 5,
receiving an annual salary of about $90,000.
``It's pretty well known among law enforcement that that is a mob-controlled union,'' one investigator said.