Mike Dorning, Washington Bureau
January 21, 2000
The U.S. Justice Department will loosen oversight
of the Laborers International Union, but the union will continue
federally mandated anti-corruption reforms for at least six years
under an agreement announced Thursday.
The agreement removes the threat of a federal
takeover of the union, though the Justice Department will be able
to go to court to assure compliance with the reforms through Sept.
However, the union's Chicago District Council,
allegedly an epicenter of organized crime influence, will remain
under the control of a federal trustee for at least two years.
A federal civil racketeering lawsuit against
the Chicago District Council filed last summer described alleged
connections between the union hierarchy and 21 Mafia members and
associates. On the day the government unsealed the lawsuit, the
union agreed to a consent decree that installed a federal trustee
over the district council, settling the suit.
Faced with the threat of a racketeering indictment
in 1995, the international union agreed to an out-of-court settlement
calling for direct election of union officers, anti corruption
reforms and changes in hiring hall practices. At a Justice Department
news conference, Asst. Atty. Gen. James Robinson said the reform
program removed 226 people from union posts, including 127 with
alleged organized crime ties.
Among those the Justice Department accused
of mob ties and who have since left the union is its former president,
Arthur Coia, who resigned Dec. 31.
The international union also joined the Justice
Department in its civil racketeering lawsuit against the Chicago
District Council. That, too, was settled out of court. But federal
prosecutors demanded a federal trustee take over the Chicago council.
"I think we've put a mechanism in place
to make sure the union will represent the members," said
Scott Lassar, U.S. attorney in Chicago.
The Laborers Union has more than 800,000
members nationally, mostly in the construction, environmental
cleanup and maintenance industries.