Chicago Sun - Times


Aug 6, 1999

As long ago as 1985, longtime Chicago union boss John Serpico's extensive and acknowledged ties to local mob figures surfaced in testimony before the President's Commission on Organized Crime. In 1995, on the basis of those mob connections, the Laborers' International Union of North America ousted Serpico as a top official in order to avoid a takeover by the federal government.

Serpico, 68, moved on to take control of the Chicago-based Central States Joint Board, an umbrella organization for eight small unions, and tens of millions of dollars in union funds. This week Serpico, along with two of his longtime associates, was named in a federal indictment alleging racketeering, fraud, kickbacks and kinky loans in connection with directing union funds to favored banks.

One of those banks has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and been fined $8,000 in connection with its dealings with Serpico. Like anyone else, Serpico is entitled to a presumption of innocence until proved otherwise. But his checkered history leaves us wondering how and why Serpico ever could be appointed, and hang on for 20 years, to a top position on the Illinois International Port Authority, a state agency created to encourage shipping through Chicago ports.

Gov. James Thompson appointed him in 1979. Gov. Jim Edgar kept him on. And Serpico is still there, with Gov. Ryan weighing whether to renew the appointment. He should not. Serpico's only employment experience in the transportation industry seems to have been a long- ago stint as a city truck driver. But then, Serpico has been conspicuously generous, with union members' money, in his campaign contributions to our political leaders: at least $82,000 to Thompson in his time, $137,150 to Ryan, Edgar and funds controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) since 1994, and $86,000 to Mayor Daley.

The aroma arising from this whole Serpico situation is an assault on public trust and confidence.

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