By Jennifer McGinnis
The Laborers' International Union of North
America wants a trustee to supervise its Pittsburgh-based local
because of its officers' alleged ties to organized crime.
Attorney Robert D. Luskin, who represents
the national union, filed a trusteeship complaint requesting that
the union's independent hearing officer determine whether officers
of Local 1058 of the Construction, General Laborers and Material
Handlers Union should be removed.
"This is nothing unique, just a further
step in a long running practice aimed at nationwide eradication
of the organized crime influence from the labor union," Luskin
No officers or executive board members of
Local 1058 face criminal or union disciplinary charges.
The national union has imposed trusteeships
and supervisions on more than 20 locals and district councils
representing about 60,000 union members, Luskin said.
The complaint, dated March 21, states the
leaders of Local 1058 have had personal, family and business connections
with Pittsburgh's La Cosa Nostra for 30 years. Local 1058 has
about 3,500 members.
In a written statement, Local 1058 denied
the allegations and accused Luskin of "...attempting to override
the will of the union membership by removing Local 1058's duly
Former U.S. Attorney Frederick W. Thieman
and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman, the lawyers
retained by Local 1058 to fight for self-governance, declined
to comment further.
The 800,000-strong Laborers' Union has been
working under a tense relationship with the federal government
In 1994, the Justice Department considered
filing a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Practices case against
the union, but chose to allow the union to reform itself under
Since then, former union president Arthur
Coia retired. He later was charged with tax evasion in a deal
involving more than $1 million in automobiles.
The complaint states every local official
in Pittsburgh since the 1960s has been appointed by people with
ties to the mob and all appointees have run for re-election unopposed.
The complaint states Joseph Laquatra, Local
1058's business manager, was hand-picked by his predecessor, Thomas
Pecora, and John S. Larocca Sr., the late La Cosa Nostra boss.
The report contends Laquatra and other union
officials including local President L. Dennis Martire and Recording
Secretary Gerald Pecora Jr. - often met with Larocca at his car
wash on Pittsburgh's North Side.
Those visits continued to Larocca's widow
after he died in 1984. John Larocca Jr., the crime boss' son,
has been vice president of the local since 1983.
The report states Laquatra has been responsible
for appointing most current union officials.
Peter Vaira, a Philadelphia attorney who
will serve as independent hearing officer, said he will likely
decide within two months if a trustee should be appointed.
While the national union said it has made
"extraordinary strides in eliminating the influence of organized
crime and corruption" and pushed at least 100 officials out
of the organization, some critics believe the crime connection
The Laborers' Union "has always been
considered one of the most corrupt unions. It has been repeatedly
identified by the federal government as a union dominated by organized
crime," said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and
Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
The National Legal and Policy Center is partly
funded by the Sarah Scaife Foundation.
Boehm suggested the clean-up process is flawed,
especially because the effort is led by the union's attorney.
"Critics point out this is unprecedented,"
he said. "You don't have a mob-infested union clean itself
up. It's as if John Gotti had an appeals process and he had John
Gotti Jr. as the appeals judge."
Vaira said the union's self-monitoring system
has evolved from a closely scrutinized "gentleman's agreement"
forged by the union and Justice Department into a sophisticated
The Justice Department was impressed enough
with efforts so far that it agreed to extend the internal review
process until October 2006.
The Justice Department has pointed to changes,
such as election reform, as reasons for not initiating a takeover
of the union. It said major reform efforts have been made by the
union in Chicago, Buffalo, New Jersey and New York.
In 1991, Theodore "Teddy" Cozza,
longtime president of Local 211 of the Teamsters union in Pittsburgh,
which represents drivers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was removed
from office following a trusteeship. The trustee said Cozza allegedly
had associated with area organized crime figures.
Leaders of the Construction General Laborers
and Material Handlers Local 1058 who are suspected of having personal,
family and business connections to members of organized crime
in the Pittsburgh area:
- Joseph Laquatra, the union's business manager
since 1985, was appointed by John LaRocca Sr., boss of the La
Cosa Nostra mob from the late 1930s until his death in 1984.
Laquatra, like other executive board leaders,
has been uncontested in every election since his appointment.
He also serves as president and business manager of the Laborers'
District Council of Western Pennsylvania. Until recently, his
combined salary from the two positions was $250,000 to $300,000
a year, according to the complaint filed by the Laborers' International
Union of North America. When his dual salaries were challenged,
he agreed to stop taking payments from Local 1058.
- L. Dennis Martire has been president of
the local union since 1985. In 1986, Laquatra also appointed Martire
assistant business manager. Recently, Laquatra appointed Martire
"acting business manager" of Local 1058 and gave him
an annual salary of more than $130,000, plus expenses and allowances.
That's the salary Laquatra would have earned if he was still
allowed to accept payment for his position at the local union,
the complaint states.
- John S. LaRocca Jr., vice president since
1983, is the only son of the late mob boss. According to the complaint,
LaRocca was appointed in 1979 as business representative even
though he had almost no active involvement with the union. His
yearly salary, including allowances, is more than $100,000.
- Gerald J. Pecora Jr. has been the union's
recording secretary since 1975. In 1998, Laquatra also appointed
him acting assistant business manager. Including allowances, his
salary is about $125,000 a year.
- Joseph Frydrych was appointed by Laquatra
and has been the Local 1058 secretary and treasurer since 1994.
His yearly salary is about $100,000.
- Philip Ameris was appointed by Laquatra
and has been an executive board member since 1996. A year earlier,
he was nominated for the position, but election judges discovered
he was not eligible. Laquatra appointed someone else to that position,
and shortly after Ameris became eligible, another executive board
position "opened up" for Ameris, according to the complaint.
The complaint also states that Ameris is
a son of the late Jimmy "The Greek" Ameris Jr., who
reportedly was a longtime La Cosa Nostra associate.
- Michael Laquatra, 23, was appointed by
his father, Joseph Laquatra, to the executive board in January
1999. His position, as well as Ameris', is not salaried.
writers David Conti and Rick Teaff contributed to this report.