Mob-linked union aide faces huge bond

By James Hill and John O'Brien


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 homicide.

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 in 1995.

``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 escaped unscathed.

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 and front.

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.

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