Mob influence puts union in trusteeship
BY ROBERT C. HERGUTH AND STEVE WARMBIR Staff Reporters
March 4, 2004
One of Chicago's most powerful labor unions, once run by the son-in-law of a top mobster, "continues to be infiltrated by organized crime," a union hearing officer ruled this week in a move that could lead to a purge of the leadership.
"This will hurt the mob big time," said former FBI agent Jack O'Rourke, an organized crime expert who investigated Laborers Local 1001, which represents hundreds of city employees, many Streets and Sanitation workers. It's "been influenced by the mob for 50 years."
But alleged mob influence wasn't the only reason hearing officer Peter Vaira ordered the 2,800-member local into trusteeship -- with the international union appointing a monitor to clean it up.
The union also was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension and health contributions "for 33 individuals who were not salaried employees and had no right to pensions or welfare benefits," Vaira, a former federal prosecutor, wrote in his 87-page ruling.
Some of those people also may have had organized crime ties, although that apparently wasn't a direct factor in the decision, obtained Wednesday by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Trusteeship previously has been forced on the umbrella organization for Laborers unions throughout the region.
Jim McGough, director of a reform group of Laborers unions, praised the ruling. "It's long overdue. It's 25 years too late. A lot depends on who they appoint as trustee."
That's Steve Hammond, a Laborers international vice president who has held similar posts in New York and Buffalo, said Robert Luskin, who served as a prosecutor in the Local 1001 case.
Matthias Lydon, an attorney for Local 1001, blasted Vaira's decision and vowed to fight it. "We don't think very much of the order," Lydon said. The union local will go before a federal judge this morning to try to get a preliminary injunction to block the trusteeship, he said.
Lydon said the union's current leadership was properly elected, and the leaders stopped the pension and health contributions in question once they found out they were inappropriate. He also complained it was unfair to tar current leadership with the past, and noted the hearing officer did not point to one organized crime member or associate currently within the union leadership.
But Vaira did identify two former officers, Ernest Kumerow and Bruno Caruso, as "recognized organized crime associates."
And he said one of the current union leaders, Nicholas Gironda, "was brought to power and promoted by Mr. Kumerow and Bruno Caruso after being suspended by the City of Chicago for failure to supervise personnel in a no-show work incident."
Kumerow is a son-in-law of late mobster Anthony "Big Tuna" Accardo.
Caruso, who is related to Gironda, was removed from the Laborers several years ago because of alleged mob ties.
"Once organized crime has infiltrated a union it does not disappear upon the removal of a suspect officer," Vaira wrote.
The original complaint against the union claimed 13 of the 33 people improperly receiving pension and health contributions were associates of organized crime. Vaira, however, did not go that far in his ruling, although he did say the union's actions on this front could constitute "possible federal criminal violations."
He also found serious problems with the union's auditor, James Capasso, who "was not and is not qualified to hold the position," and in effect was trying to get a second pension out of the union while running a city pension fund.
Luskin anticipated there would be disciplinary action against union officials. But he acknowledged the job of reformers is far from done.
"Our experience in Chicago has been that the wiseguys don't fold up their tents and steal away. They will continue to make efforts to try to exert influence over the Laborers, and that's going to require continued efforts on our part," Luskin said.