By Bill Moushey and Jim McKay-Post-Gazette
Wednesday, March 29, 2000
A lawyer appointed by the government is trying
to oust leaders of a Pittsburgh local of the Laborers International
Union of North America for what he says are long-standing ties
to organized crime that he claims have turned the 3,500 member
local into an autocratic, mob-dominated bastion.
Washington attorney Robert D. Luskin, a union-paid
prosecutor appointed under a consent decree with the U.S. Department
of Justice to ferret out corruption nationwide, charges the local
was guided down that path by Joseph Laquatra, business manager
since 1985 and president and business manager of the Laborer's
District Council of Western Pennsylvania since 1986.
In an internal complaint distributed last
weekend to its Pittsburgh-area members, Luskin told them he wants
to place Local 1058 under trusteeship until it is cleansed of
Laquatra and six others with "long-standing personal, family
and business connections" to powerful organized crime figures.
While the complaint offered very few specifics,
in general Luskin accused the union leaders of hiring ghost employees,
engaging in loan sharking and gambling and associating with known
An internal hearing will be scheduled within
60 days, with lawyer Peter Vaira, an Elizabeth native and former
U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, serving as hearing officer. If
Vaira rules the complaint is valid, the government could take
over the day-to-day operation of the union.
Others named in the complaint are
L. Dennis Martire, president of Local 1058 since 1985;The union leaders were paid between $75,000 and $300,000 each last year.
Gerald Pecora Jr., recording secretary of the local since 1975 whose great-uncle, the late Joseph "Jo Jo" Pecora, controlled gambling in the northern panhandle of West Virginia until his death in 1991;
Philip Ameris, son of Jimmy Ameris, whom the report identifies as a prominent crime figure;
Mark Machi, a federal convict who resigned from the union's executive board last year after a dispute with Laquatra;
Joseph Frydrych, secretary-treasurer of Local 1058 since 1994;
and John LaRocca Jr., the adopted son of John LaRocca, the late boss of the Pittsburgh crime family who died in 1984.
By wrongfully associating with members of
organized crime and by failing to pursue any investigation or
making any inquiry into members' involvement, the officers and
executive board members of Local 1058 have allowed the influence
of organized crime "to remain unchecked for decades,"
the complaint says.
Frederick Thieman, a former U.S. attorney
who is representing the union, said it is ready for a fight.
He said he was concerned that Luskin did
not follow the organization's constitution, which says such inquiries
should be confidential. He said he did not want to litigate the
case in the newspaper but was compelled to comment after the complaint
was mailed to union members.
Thieman said accusations of corruption, hiring
gangsters for no-show jobs and other illicit activities are mostly
vague, unspecified allegations against a group of individuals
who are being tarred with mob associations that stem from actions
of their older and often long-dead relatives.
"If you take a look at the complaint,
the alleged organized crime figures mentioned are dead or have
been in jail for a lot of years. I can tell you our defense is
going to be focused on the good things the union has done for
the electorate, not 30-year-old nostalgia," he said.
The union's constitution says barred conduct
includes racketeering, bribery, extortion, fraud, accepting kickbacks,
bookmaking and other felonies or if a union official is caught
"knowingly associating with any member or associates of
an organized crime family or syndicate."
It says that means "that the individual
knows that the other person is a member or associate of organized
crime; that the association relates directly or indirectly to
union affairs; and that the association is more than a casual
The constitution further says "it is
not considered a violation ... if an individual is merely related
by blood or marriage to a person considered a member or associate
of organized crime as long as the family relationship does not
affect the union."
"Regardless of individuals' birth rights
or family histories, their actions for and on behalf of the union
will stand on their own," Thieman said.
While Laquatra and the others refused comment,
the union issued a statement saying it "will vigorously contest
The complaint dated March 21 alleges that
"every single position" within the local has been personally
hand-picked by individuals with strong connections to organized
crime without objection or dissent from any union official or
Official positions within the local have
been filled by appointment between elections by a business manager
with approval by an executive board that was given "little
or no information" about appointees' qualifications, according
to the complaint.
Thieman said that is not true. He pointed
to a 1996 election for convention delegates where a federal monitor
oversaw the events. There were no leadership changes. He also
said Martire, one of the officers named in the complaint, recently
ran against Pecora, who also was named, for office in the union.
In its statement, the union called the charges
a "dangerous effort" by the international union and
the government to deny workers their right to free speech, association
"Local 1058 has at all times acted in
a fair and democratic manner and has aggressively and appropriately
represented the interest of its membership," the local said.
The brunt of the charges centered on the
actions of Laquatra.
Laquatra succeeded Thomas J. Pecora, who
the complaint claimed was a "loyal and close associate"
of a Pittsburgh organized-crime family until his death at the
age of 81. Pecora was the local's business manager from 1968 through
the beginning of 1985. The union's district headquarters on Eighth
Street, Downtown, is named after him.
Pecora twice was convicted of federal charges,
but both convictions were overturned on appeal. In one of the
cases, in 1971, he was charged along with Dante Martire, father
of L. Dennis Martire, with diverting union funds to buy property
owned by John LaRocca Sr. at an inflated price.
The complaint alleges Laquatra was selected
to run the local by John LaRocca Sr., who controlled organized
crime in Pittsburgh from the late 1930s until his death in 1984
at age 82.
It further contends that Laquatra has met
prominent members of what the complaint refers to as the "Pittsburgh
Family" throughout the years and has been directly involved
in organized crime including gambling and illegal loan sharking.
"Mr. Laquatra has admitted, under oath,
his association with practically all of the significant members
and associates of organized crime over the last 30 years, including
his very close relationship with John LaRocca Sr.," the complaint
The report said Laquatra, L. Dennis Martire and Gerald J. Pecora Jr. met often with the senior LaRocca at his now defunct business, the Allegheny Car Wash, and at his home.
After his death, the men continued to pay
their respects to his widow, visiting her home every Christmas.
"We anticipate a process that relies
on more than where you washed your car and visited widows at Christmas
time," Thieman said.
The move to place Local 1058 in trusteeship
is part of a six year campaign by the union to rid itself of corruption.
The union agreed to such internal probes after the government
brought racketeering charges against the union and a former general
"It's an internal union proceeding.
This is a show we've taken on the road and done in really large
scales in Chicago and New York," said Luskin.
Since 1995, more than 225 individuals have been removed from office through expulsion or forced resignations. Two dozens locals or district councils in New York, New Jersey, Buffalo and Chicago have been placed under supervision. The bill for the anti-corruption investigations thus far for the union exceeds $35 million.