Chicago Sun-Times




Union Officials Guilty of Taking Kickbacks




July 17, 2001


Two labor officials, once dubbed the "king and queen" of a union umbrella group by federal prosecutors, were found guilty Monday of running a kickback scheme that turned union funds into lucrative personal loans.


John Serpico, the former head of the Chicago-based Central States Joint Board, and Maria Busillo, the group's current president, used their influence to get $5 million in personal and business loans at favorable terms in return for depositing union funds with certain banks, prosecutors said.


A jury of seven women and five men found Serpico guilty of five of six counts in connection with the scheme.


Busillo and consultant Gilbert Cataldo, the city's housing director under Mayor Jane Byrne, were found guilty of three counts each.


"[Serpico] was a corrupt union official, as was Ms. Busillo, and they misused union assets for their personal benefit," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Glockner.


Glockner was not certain how much time the defendants could serve, but he stressed that Serpico and Busillo would be "out of the labor union business for life, as they should be."


Serpico, 70, president emeritus of the joint board, and Busillo misused their power as leaders in the Central States Joint Board, a union umbrella group, according to prosceutors.


Serpico has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in union campaign contributions to former governors James R. Thompson and Jim Edgar as well as Gov. Ryan and Mayor Daley. He was a Laborers' International official until he was ousted because of alleged mob ties.


Cataldo was charged with scheming with Serpico to obtain $33,850 in kickbacks in exchange for a $6.5 million loan commitment made by a pension plan that Serpico controlled.


Sentencing for all three defendants, who left the Dirksen Federal Building without comment, is set for Nov. 1. Attorneys for the defendants said they would appeal the verdict.


Last week, U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning dismissed charges that Serpico took part in a scheme to use a $100,000 kickback from a real estate developer getting a union loan to buy a $900,000 Glenview house for Busillo.


One of two charges Busillo faced in connection with the deal also was dropped. And while the other charges stood against Busillo, Manning ruled the jury couldn't consider whether Cataldo passed along any cash kickbacks to Serpico.


"Obviously, we disagreed with the judge's ruling, but we respect it," said Glockner, noting that prosecutors were able to get convictions on all but one of the remaining counts.

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