Chicago Tribune




Judge Faults Evidence, Clears Ex-Labor Boss On 4 of 11 Counts



By Matt O'Connor Tribune staff reporter


July 10, 2001


In a blow to the government as the trial of a former union boss nears an end, a federal judge Monday acquitted John Serpico on four of 11 counts, calling the prosecution evidence too weak to go to the jury for a verdict.


The ruling by U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning in effect dismisses racketeering, conspiracy, bank fraud and false statement charges against Serpico on the eve of closing arguments scheduled for Wednesday.


Serpico, who formerly headed Central States Joint Board, a Chicago-based labor organization, still faces prison if he is convicted on the remaining seven counts of mail fraud.


The heart of the case against Serpico also remains intact. He is charged with using his influence to deposit about $20 million in union funds with several small community banks in return for receiving $5 million in personal loans he and associates received at favorable rates. He is also accused of taking kickbacks in return for lining up a $6.5 million loan for a hotel project in Champaign.


With the trial at a sensitive stage, lawyers for the government and Serpico declined to comment on the judge's ruling.


Serpico, 70, of Lincolnwood also formerly held the politically connected post of chairman of the Illinois International Port District, though the charges don't relate to those duties.


Manning also acquitted co-defendant, Maria Busillo, on three of six counts but rejected attempts by a third defendant, Gilbert Cataldo, to get any of the three mail fraud counts he faces dismissed.


Manning found the evidence insufficient to prove Serpico guilty of bank fraud and making false statements on a bank loan application.


On the bank fraud count, Manning ruled that the government failed to prove a $100,000 cash payment made by Busillo on a house in Glenview came from the hotel kickback scheme.


The dismissal of the bank fraud count had repercussions on the racketeering and conspiracy charges facing Serpico.


That cut the statute of limitations on the racketeering and conspiracy charges in half, to five years, and none of the charged conduct occurred within that time limit, forcing the judge to throw out those two counts as well.

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