Chicago Tribune


By Matt O'Connor


A civil racketeering lawsuit unsealed by federal authorities Thursday alleges the Laborers Union's Chicago District Council has been dominated for three decades by the Chicago Outfit and lists a veritable who's who of mobsters--Tony Accardo, Joey Aiuppa and Joey Lombardo Sr. among them--who corrupted the union.

The filing lays out in unusual detail the roles played by nearly two dozen organized crime members, their associates and close relatives who served as officers of the district council or who supervised some of the union's $1.5 billion in pension and benefit funds. The council is an umbrella group of 21 Chicago-area laborers locals, with members ranging from construction workers to stonecutters to asbestos

Among the revelations was an allegation that Fred Roti, a former Chicago alderman who was convicted of racketeering and extortion in 1993, is a full-fledged member of the mob.

On the same day the lawsuit was publicly unveiled, union and government officials disclosed they have agreed to settle it under a consent decree that calls for the appointment of a court-approved monitor with expanded powers to continue the effort to rid the organization of mob influence. A federal judge must still approve the arrangement.

U.S. Atty. Scott Lassar called the agreement an unprecedented cooperative effort between the government and one of the nation's largest unions.

Delegates representing the 21 locals and 19,000 members in the Chicago district council voted by a 3-to-1 ratio Wednesday to approve the consent decree, joining the Laborers' International Union of North America and the Justice Department in the mob-busting efforts, Lassar said.

Robert Bloch, trustee of the district council and a Chicago labor lawyer, applauded the vote and said it showed the district council's "commitment to democratic practices."

The announcement came in a conference room in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in the midst of an electrical power shutdown. As a result of the union's long-term, endemic mob influence, officials said the rights of rank-and-file union members were subverted, democratic practices were ignored and charges of organized crime control went uninvestigated.

Since 1995, the Justice Department has been overseeing internal efforts by the international union to ferret out mob power. A year and a half ago, as part of that effort, the international took over control of the district council. But under federal law, that trusteeship could have faced a legal challenge. To avoid a possible legal morass, government and union officials agreed to the consent decree to extend the trusteeship under court authority.

The cleanup of the laborers union has dragged on longer than expected, but officials said it is important to make sure mob influence is eradicated from the union's leadership. "When we started this process five years ago, we probably hoped that we were going to be fighting the Persian Gulf War, and instead we're fighting World War I," said Robert Luskin, a Washington attorney who is overseeing reform efforts within the laborers union. "Progress is slow." "The people who have controlled elements of this union for a long time have not given up and walked away without a fight," Luskin told reporters. But "the object here is to guarantee long-term change."

The civil racketeering lawsuit alleges that reform efforts largely have removed mob influence from the district council but that the Outfit still controls key positions in several of the union's locals. Under the consent decree, the court-appointed monitor would be given expanded powers to investigate mob influence and corruption in the union, including authority to subpoena records and compel testimony from witnesses. In addition, the FBI would be free to share confidential information about mobsters and suspected criminal activities with the monitor. Currently, grand jury secrecy rules and privacy prohibitions bar the FBI from releasing such sensitive details, officials said.

At hearings held by the laborers union in 1997, evidence clearly established that for at least 30 years leaders of the Chicago district council had "strong, pervasive ties" to mob bosses, according to the lawsuit. The district council "was proven to be a `safe haven' for the employment of organized crime figures, associates and their relatives," the lawsuit said.

Since the mid-1970s, not a single contested election of officers has been held, authorities said, and all principal officers of the district council have been members or associates of the Chicago Outfit or their relatives. The lawsuit describes in detail the roles of 21 Outfit members or associates over the years in the affairs of the international union and the district council. It refers to them as "co-conspirators," and none was charged in the suit with criminal activity.

Among them, the lawsuit states, are four alleged mobsters who held district council offices when the trusteeship took effect last year: vice president John Matassa Jr., reputed boss of the Outfit's North Side Crew; president Bruno Caruso, son of the late Frank Caruso, boss of the mob's 26th Street crew; secretary-treasurer Joseph A. Lombardo Jr., son of Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo Sr., a former mob street crew boss; and sergeant-at-arms Leo Caruso, an alleged mob associate and Bruno Caruso's cousin. Also listed as influential in the union were Accardo and Aiuppa, both longtime bosses of the Chicago Outfit, and Lombardo Sr.

In Roti's 1993 trial, prosecutors had alleged the 1st Ward alderman worked closely with Pat Marcy, a mob powerbroker who died before he could be brought to trial. But no one accused Roti of being a "made" member of the mob--until this week in the lawsuit. Roti was sentenced to 4 years in prison. He was released from prison in 1997.

According to the lawsuit, Roti was a key patronage boss and a "fixer" for the Chicago Outfit. Roti could not be reached Thursday. It also alleged that John Serpico, a former powerful figure in the laborers union who was indicted last week in federal court on racketeering and fraud charges, was a longtime organized crime associate.

Near the end of his union duties, Thursday's suit alleged, Serpico, president of Local 8 in Chicago, "transferred" 85 percent of the local's membership to Central States Joint Board, which authorities described as organized-crime influenced.

Since taking over as trustee of the Chicago district council in February 1998, Bloch has removed all of the council's former officers, worked closely with locals to institute reform policies and, for the first time with the direct participation of all the locals, negotiated a three-year labor contract for the 21 locals, authorities said.

The union has adopted an ethics and disciplinary code, instituted reforms in how it assigns members to work and changed its contracting procedures. The union also has placed locals in Chicago, Buffalo and New York City under trusteeship, and a number of local and international union officers have been hit with internal misconduct charges. "We feel the international has made great strides in reforming itself," Lassar said. But the lawyers brought in to help carry out the reforms emphasized that the key to success is winning the cooperation of the union leadership in the effort to rid it of mob influence.

The consent decree is a key step in that direction, they said. "In the end you can prosecute as many people as you want but that does not change the culture of an organization," Bloch said.

Article forwarded by: jim howard

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