Chicago Tribune









By Maurice Possley

Tribune Staff Writer


January 12, 2001


The rough-and-tumble Laborers International Union of North America, which represents 800,000 workers nationwide, has ordered the ouster of three men whose family has held sway over Chicago's nearly 20,000 members for more than a decade, citing their ties to organized crime.


The men--brothers Frank and Bruno Caruso and their cousin Leo--were under the control of organized crime bosses who used them to manipulate union affairs, an independent hearing officer for the union concluded in a 122-page order released Thursday.


The decision permanently revoked the memberships of Bruno Caruso, business manager of Local 1001; Leo Caruso, business manager of Local 1006; and Frank Caruso, a member of Local 1006. Hearing officer Peter Vaira declared that all three have been "deeply involved with organized crime figures in a substantial manner" and that evidence showed the mob had influenced the union for more than three decades.


The three, along with organized crime figures, rigged union elections to put control in their hands and in the hands of mob figures, according to the decision, which was signed Wednesday.


The ruling, which will be stayed pending an appeal by the three men, is the latest in a seven-year, double-barreled crackdown by the union and the U.S. Justice Department on allegations of mob influence.


Vaira, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who is now an attorney in Philadelphia, said the three men were "trusted associates" of organized crime who followed the dictates of mob bosses.


Allan Ackerman, attorney for Bruno Caruso, said: "Bruno Caruso is an outstanding citizen in our labor community. He is respected by both union members and management, and he is not nor has he ever been a member or associate of organized crime.


"I think [Vaira's] decision was decidedly unfair. It's our intention to appeal the order because we find it totally conflicts with the facts that were produced during the lengthy hearings."


Frank Caruso, who did not attend the hearing that resulted in Vaira's decision, declined through his attorney to comment on the ruling. Efforts to reach Stanley Kravit, a labor arbitrator who represented Leo Caruso, were unsuccessful.


For years, the name Caruso has garnered respect among some members of the laborers union, which began in Chicago in 1903. Members work mostly in construction, environmental cleanup and maintenance industries.


Bruno Caruso at one time headed the Chicago District Council, which represents 21 local labor unions in the Chicago area such as locals that represent garbage haulers—including workers with the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation--and street pavers.


A year ago, the Justice Department agreed to loosen its oversight of Laborers International and in return the union agreed to continue federally mandated anti-corruption reforms for at least six years. That agreement averted the threat of a federal takeover of the international.


At the same time, the Chicago District Council was put under the control of a federal trustee for two years. Vaira's ruling was the result of a lengthy inquiry into charges brought against the Carusos as well as former union official James DiForti, who died last year while awaiting trial on a charge of murder. DiForti had been secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Heights-based Local 5 before stepping down when he was arrested and accused of killing a man who refused to repay a $100,000 loan.


Bruno Caruso testified before Vaira and denied he associated with organized crime members, an assertion that Vaira, in his decision, found "incredible."


Vaira pointed to testimony that Bruno Caruso had dined at an Oak Lawn restaurant with his brother, Frank, and two reputed mobsters, John Monteleone and Joseph "Shorty" Lamantia. Bruno Caruso testified the dinner was close to St. Joseph's Day—a day of festive activities in the Italian community--and they were probably planning activities for the Italian-American club to which they all belonged.


"Mob leaders do not hold such dinners casually or without issuing specific invitations," Vaira's decision said. "It is incredible that ... the Chicago mob would invite a major union leader to dine with him for three hours to discuss the St. Joseph's Day festival."


During Vaira's hearing, which was conducted intermittently over a period of months, a wide range of witnesses testified, including Robert Cooley, a former mob lawyer who became an undercover operative for the FBI. Cooley ultimately provided crucial evidence leading to dozens of convictions of top mob figures, including former 1st Ward Ald. Fred Roti and former Democratic state Sen. John D'Arco Jr.


Also testifying was Michael Corbitt, a former Willow Springs police chief, who has admitted to a longtime involvement with the mob, dating as far back as the 1970s when Sam "Momo" Giancana was in power. Bruno and Frank Caruso are sons of the late Frank "Skids" Caruso, a reputed gambling boss in Chinatown, and nephews of Roti, who was convicted of racketeering and bribery charges in a scheme that prosecutors said involved the fixing of a murder case. Frank Caruso is also the father of Frank Caruso Jr., who was sentenced to 8 years in prison for the racially-motivated beating of Lenard Clark in Armour Square.


Other witnesses included former mobsters and law enforcement officials, including former FBI agent John O'Rourke, who detailed dozens of meetings and activities--including juice loan shakedowns, dice games and other gambling activities that Vaira said tied the Carusos to the "Chicago Outfit."


Vaira found the Carusos were associated with the division of the mob known as the 26th Street Crew, a group of organized crime members who controlled the rackets along 26th Street near Chinatown.


"Frank Caruso, Bruno Caruso and Leo Caruso were involved in the illegal gambling activities of organized crime in Chicago," the ruling states.


Frank Caruso's association, Vaira declared, "is of a long duration and it is that association that accounts for his position of leadership in the Laborers Union organization." Bruno Caruso's mob ties "led him through the ranks of the Laborers Union in increasing positions of power," and Leo Caruso's mob associations "promoted his rise through the ranks and protected him ..." the ruling states.

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