Chicago Sun-Times

Laborers Cut Mob Ties


February 15, 1998

The Laborers International Union of North America has done what the Justice Department could not -- shatter the mob's control of the Chicago District Council, a stronghold of organized crime for decades.

Last week, a union hearing officer ruled that the district council, which represents 21 laborers' union locals and 19,000 members, is dominated by the Chicago Outfit, as the mob often is called. The international union imposed trusteeship on the council and threw out its leadership.

No one has been able to do this before," said Dwight Bostwick, an international union attorney who helped prosecute the case against the council.

The international is under pressure from the Justice Department to rid itself of organized crime. Trusteeship hearings held here last year were part that nationwide effort.

The 4,435-page transcript of the closed-door hearings was recently filed in federal court. Some testimony by witnesses was amusing, some bizarre.

For example, John Matassa Jr. -- vice president of the council, the son of a former police officer and a one-time stocker of shelves at adult bookstores -- said organized crime is a myth.

"It doesn't exist," he said. "I don't believe there is a mob in Chicago."

An attorney for the international union zeroed in. "What did Al Capone do that made him famous?" the lawyer asked Matassa.

"He had soup lines for people that couldn't eat," Matassa replied. "You know, I could care less what he did."

Witnesses identified Matassa as an enforcer and collector of payoffs, as boss of the mob's North Side Crew, and a prominent figure in the city's pornography industry.

"Matassa is a made member of the Chicago Outfit," concluded hearing officer Peter Vaira.

If the district council was corrupt, it was at least forgiving.

In 1982, James Caporale, secretary-treasurer of the district council, was charged with stealing $2 million from a union welfare fund. Shortly after his indictment, the district council promoted him. Although accused of stealing union money, he remained on the payroll for five years.

And after his release from prison in the early 1990s, he was welcomed back by his friends at the district council.

An attorney for the international union noted that Caporale attended a district council Christmas party in the early 1990s.

"No one at the Chicago District Council Christmas party asked why is this man, who has been convicted of looting $2 million from an affiliated fund, at our Christmas party after going to jail," the attorney said.

Caporale and 14 other past and present district council officials -- all identified as mob associates -- aren't welcome at next year's Christmas party.

"All of the officers are relieved immediately" of their jobs, said Bostwick, the attorney for the international union.

Bostwick outlined what will happen next: For at least 18 months, and probably three years, the district council will remain under the supervision of a trustee with broad authority.

Bostwick said auditors will examine the health, welfare, pension and political action funds the council maintains for the benefit of the membership. Together those funds total $ 1.5 billion.

Toward the end of the trusteeship, elections will be held -- the first contested district council elections in 25 years.

"There are many, many good people in the union's 19,000 members," Bostwick said.

"One of the things we want to do is empower the forces of good."