U.S. To End Watch On Laborers Union In Chicago
Oversight used to cut ties to mob
By Matt O'Connor
Tribune staff reporter
August 31, 2001
A federal judge Thursday lifted a consent decree that gave the government supervision over the Laborers Union's Chicago District Council as part of an effort to rid the labor group of mob influence.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman issued the ruling after prosecutors and lawyers for the district council said the need for strict government oversight had come to an end.
"At some point you've got to let the bird fly," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Craig Oswald, who helped enforce the consent decree. "We think it's time for the labor union to show they can run the thing free of organized crime."
With the government supervision about to end, a court-appointed monitor filed internal union charges Thursday in federal court seeking to discipline two district council leaders who are the sons of reputed mob bosses.
Attorney Edward M. Hogan, who represents the district council, said reforms have been instituted to ensure that organized crime doesn't gain control of the union again.
Since 1995, the U.S. Justice Department has been overseeing internal efforts by the Laborers' International Union of North America, the parent organization, to eliminate mob ties. In early 1998, as part of that effort, the international took over control of the Chicago District Council, an umbrella group of 21 Chicago-area laborers locals.
Then in August 1999 the Justice Department and the international union brought a civil racketeering lawsuit alleging the district council had been dominated for three decades by the Chicago Outfit.
At the same time, the district council agreed to the consent decree, which called for the appointment of a court-approved monitor with expanded powers to rid the union of mob influence.
U.S. Atty. Scott Lassar at the time called the agreement an unprecedented cooperative effort between the government and one of the nation's largest unions.
Officials said then they hoped that the supervision wouldn't last for more than two years.
Oswald said the government was satisfied that much progress had been made ridding the district council of mob influence and realized that overextending its stay could leave honest union leaders vulnerable to attack from opponents.
"We don't think the government should be running labor unions," Oswald said. "Labor unions should be running labor unions, but they shouldn't be run by organized crime."
"There are still problems that remain, but we think overall it has been very successful," Oswald said.
Oswald said the government continues to have some oversight of the international union through the next election in 2006.
"We'll be watching," he said. "But at some point it's up to the (union) members not to tolerate corruption."
Hogan, the district council lawyer, called the government's actions "a historic departure" from its usual supervision of mob-controlled unions.
"What they finally realized in Chicago was the government had no idea what it was doing running a union and in more cases screwed things up or didn't really know what was going on," Hogan said." And it hurt the rank and file."
With the consent decree set to expire Friday, attorney Steven Miller, the court-appointed monitor, brought his final disciplinary charges against Joseph Lombardo Jr., the district council's former secretary-treasurer, and Anthony Solano, head of the district council's training center in suburban Carol Stream.
Their fathers, Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo Sr. and the late Vince Solano, were identified in the charges as longtime mob bosses.
Lombardo Jr. was accused of contributing to the Outfit's influence on the district council, while the younger Solano allegedly permitted mobsters to influence the hiring of instructors at the training center.
Copyright (c) 2001, Chicago Tribune