Illinois Police and Sheriff's News, August 10,1997, Internet Edition
Mobbed-Up LIUNA Official
Linked to 1988 Murder
James DiForti Charged With "Pallet
It is no secret within the labor movement
and law enforcement of this country that two of the largest unions,
historically, have, for many decades, been under the thumb of
In recent years, the federal government
has shifted its investigative resources from the International
Brotherhood of Teamsters to the mob-influenced Laborers' International
Union of North America (LIUNA). The 94-year-old union represents
700,000 workers at the lower rungs of the
employment spectrum - ditch diggers, seasonal road builders, waste
haulers, and in recent years food industry workers and mail handlers.
The men and women who toil in these
physically demanding and less than glamourous professions are
represented at the highest levels by union officials under mob
control. Twenty-three current or former officials within the Chicago
District Council and the affiliated pension and welfare funds
have been linked to the Chicago outfit including Joseph Lombardo,
Jr., son of the Joey "the Clown"
Lombardo, Bruno Caruso, Local 1001 president and business manager,
and James DiForti, of Chicago Heights who is the number two man
in Laborer's Local 5 drawing a salary of $90,000 a year.
In July, a Cook County Grand Jury
returned a murder indictment against DiForti, who has been described
as a lieutenant of Johnny "Apes" Monteleone, based on
testimony of retired FBI Agent and Chicago Crime Commission member
John O'Rourke, who recently appeared before the Laborers' International
Union of North America Trusteeship Hearing.
O'Rourke disclosed to the hearing
officer and attorneys present at the hearing, that DiForti became
secretary-treasurer of Local 5 after having previously served
as a business agent in Local 1006. O'Rourke learned from an informant
that DiForti's mob ties were deep and pervasive.
"Jimmy DiForti was a lieutenant
reporting to John Monteleone.... that he was in charge of gambling
and juice and street tax collections for the 26th Street Chinatown
Crew, a long-time member of that crew, and also involved with
the Cicero Crew, that both had been placed under John Monteleone
and that DiForti being a trusted lieutenant had been dispatched
on orders of John Monteleone out to Chicago Heights to take over
Local 5 and to conduct organized crime operations in the south
suburban Chicago Heights area."
Until he was arrested and charged
with the nine-year-old murder of William Benham, owner of the
B & S Pallet Company on West Root Street in Canaryville, DiForti
had never been indicted on a criminal charge in Chicago, though
he has long been identified as a "made" member of the
outfit linked to Monteleone, West Side boss Anthony Centracchio
Benham was killed in his office on
Valentine's Day, 1988. He was shot numerous times and a small
hand gun was found under the desk, which indicated that he may
have fired on his assailant before collapsing to the floor.
The "Pallet Man" case remained
an unsolved mystery until 1995 when a federal informant put the
FBI on the trail of DiForti who allegedly was trying to collect
on a $100,000 juice loan given to the victim. Benham, identified
as a horse player who knew DiForti from the racing circuit, refused
to pay back his loan and threatened to go to the feds with his
story when he was shot six times.
The FBI developed the information
on DiForti through an informant warehoused in a federal prison,
then passed it on to the Chicago Police Department. "The
FBI not only went back and re-interviewed the Chicago Police Department's
witnesses, but a third party surfaced after the murder was committed,"
explained Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Bill Dorner who
is working the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully.
Deadbeat borrowers unable to make good on their usurious loans
were often forced to join a burglary ring. This burglary ring,
according to statements made to the Hearing Board by Agent O'Rourke,
was run by DiForti, and two other men, Wally Zischke, and John
Robert Evans, who were indicted by a Florida grand jury for racketeering
and interstate transportation of stolen property.
It was Zischke who advised agents
of the FBI that Evans and DiForti were his partners in the series
of burglaries. "In fact, he bragged that Jimmy DiForti used
his union car, Laborers' Union car, to go on these scores which
were commercial burglaries - in the suburbs of Chicago," O'Rourke
stated. Evans later became a fugitive from justice and was reportedly
hiding out in Cicero until O'Rourke and his partner, Special Agent
Michael A. Cole, arrested him in 1993.
After de-briefing all witnesses, a
joint investigation involving the Chicago P.D. and the FBI - one
based on DNA testing - commenced. DiForti was arrested at 22nd
Street and Wolf Road in the south suburbs by members of the Chicago
P.D. Area 1, Organized Crime Task Force. In his pocket investigators
found $6,000 in cash.
James DiForti was detained in the
Cook County Jail and held on a $1 million bond. According to our
sources, DiForti made bail and is presently free on bond. The
case was transferred to State's Attorney Dick Devine for prosecution,
but a trial date has not yet been set.
According to Laborers for Justice
& Democracy spokesman, James McGough, DiForti was transferred
into local 5, Al Pilotto's local, in 1994 to replace Frank Zeuberis
as secretary-treasurer when Zeuberis was promoted to replace Joseph
Neroni as president upon Neroni's forced retirement. When McGough
was about to object to the retirement gift of a $19,500 union
car to Neroni via internal union grievance
procedures, he discovered that LIUNA General President Arthur
A. Coia had appointed John Serpico as the hearing officer for
such matters and McGough knew any complaints about organized crime's
control and influence in local 5 would be futile if not life threatening.
Still under investigation is whether
it was DiForti or Zeuberis that misapplied the one year's dues
paid by McGough 's employer in 1994 so as to render McGough ineligible
for office and membership in the local he has complained about
to the Inspector General's Office-Department of Labor since 1987.
McGough's 1996 complaint that members of the executive board of local 5 unconstitutionally permitted
DiForti to assume office without meeting the constitutional requirement
that one be a member in continuous good standing for two years
remains to be acted on by LIUNA's GEB Attorney. Also waiting action
by the GEB Attorney is McGough's 1996
complaint that local 5 has served as an welfare office for wives
of local 5 officers convicted of racketeering offences (The wife
of "Tootsie" Palermo still draws a salary) as well as
the wives of union officers. In 1996, Joan Zeuberis drew a salary
of $38,500 to compliment her husband's income of $137,908.
Yet to be explained to McGough is the work performed by the union's office clerk, Joan Schoenberger, that would warrant a salary of $67,700 in an office that does not have a computer and has not communicated anything to the membership in 10 years. Of course, with DiForti out using the local's car in the commissions of burglaries while not collecting juice loans or overseeing rackets in the south suburbs, maybe Joan Schoenberger served as secretary-treasurer too.