Chicago Sun-Times

Serpico Used Union Money To Get Rich

March 16, 2002

A once-powerful Chicago labor leader who hobnobbed with governors, congressmen and mobsters was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison Friday for taking a kickback and lining his pockets with sweetheart loans after depositing his workers' money at crooked banks.

John Serpico and his close friend and union colleague Maria Busillo received more than $5 million in personal loans from banks for more than 12 years.

Federal prosecutor David Glockner blasted Serpico, former head of the Chicago-based Central States Joint Board, and Busillo at sentencing.

"Union leadership doesn't get much more cynical than flying together in a union jet to frolic at Ms. Busillo's beachfront Florida condominium, a condominium financed in part with a loan by dumping workers' money into a corrupt bank," said Glockner, who prosecuted the case with Joseph Ferguson and Marsha McClellan.

Serpico, 71, and Busillo, 56, who both dominated Central States, a union umbrella group, for years, donated workers' money to politicians and charities to burnish their reputations, "all the while holding themselves out as the champion of the working man."

Busillo was sentenced to 15 months behind bars. Busillo and Serpico were each fined $100,000, and Serpico will have to pay an additional $30,000 in restitution to Central States.

Their associate Gilbert Cataldo, 61, got 21 months in prison. Cataldo, the former chief of staff to Cook County Commissioner Al Carr, got $333,850 in kickbacks for arranging a multimillion-dollar loan to a private business. The loan came from union money that Serpico controlled. Serpico took a piece of that kickback, the jury found.

Friends of Serpico wrote many letters to the judge sentencing him, but she said she wasn't swayed by their praise. She was moved by Serpico's crimes.

"It's a total abuse of trust," said U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning. "It's indicative of personal greed."

Serpico's ties to the political establishment run deep. Over the years, he worked on business deals with such figures as former U.S. Rep. Morgan Murphy and the former head of the U.S. Marshals Service in Chicago, Peter Wilkes, records show. He also had been handpicked by several Illinois governors to head the Illinois International Port District.

Serpico was ousted from his top spot in the Laborers International Union of North America in 1995 because of his alleged mob ties. Serpico has acknowledged he knows mob heavies but denied they influenced the union.

Jim McGough, director of a reform group of Laborers International members, praised Serpico's conviction but said he wished Serpico would have gotten more than 2-1/2 years behind bars.

"Eight years would be more like it," McGough said. "He was after the workers' pensions, not their welfare."

After sentencing, Serpico sat alone Friday in the second-floor cafeteria at the Dirksen Federal Building, looking out over the plaza on Dearborn and possibly trying to outwait news cameras downstairs.

"I don't want to talk to the media," he huffed, turning around in his chair when a reporter approached him.

Later, Serpico, who walked stiffly in the courtroom--he needs spinal surgery soon, his attorney said--bolted past news photographers on his way out of the building, his hands covering his face.

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