July 13, 1997
BY TOM MCNAMEE STAFF REPORTER
Contributing: Francine Knowles
When reputed mobster James DiForti was charged
earlier this month with murdering a Chicago businessman, the one
fact that shocked nobody was this:DiForti is an officer in the
Laborers International Union.
The Laborers International is one of the
most mobbed-up unions in the United States, according to the U.S.
Justice Department. It is held in the grips of organized crime
by means of ``force, violence and fear.''
So entrenched is the mob's influence in the
union that when the Justice Department two years ago laid out
its entire case in a 146-page draft complaint, the union barely
peeped. Desperately seeking to avoid a federal takeover, the union
asked only for time to reform, and promised to banish the wiseguys.
The Laborers International represents a wide
range of largely low-skilled laborers, mostly in the construction
field, including concrete pourers,bricklayer assistants, trash
collectors and ditchdiggers. Some city Streets and Sanitation
workers are in the Laborers union.
A major step toward reform is scheduled for
Wednesday in the Loop, when the International begins two weeks
of hearings on a proposal to place its Chicago District Council
The outcome, many labor observers say, is
a foregone conclusion. The International must and will place the
Chicago council under trusteeship to demonstrate its commitment
The real question, experts say, is whether
cracking down on the Chicago council truly is an act of reform
or a gambit by the mob to placate federal investigators and retain
their grip on the union.
``I like to think it's a start,'' said Tom
Kirkpatrick, president of the Chicago Crime Commission. ``You
go up the stairs. First you go after a couple of locals, then
the district council and up from there. You squeeze it out of
the toothpaste tube.''
If the International concludes a trusteeship
is necessary, the Chicago council's four-man leadership would
be dismissed and an appointed trustee would take over operations
for at least 18 months. The trustee's immediate job would be to
encourage more democracy in the union and open the financial
books to the rank and file.
Organized crime has been linked to the Laborers
International Union of North America since its founding in 1907.
``Big Jim'' Colisimo, a crime boss in Chicago
in the days before Prohibition, helped establish the union by
organizing the local street cleaners. Today, the International
boasts about 450,000 dues-paying members,including about 14,000
in the Chicago council.
Joseph Moreschi, president of the International
for four decades, was indicted in 1944 on charges of embezzling
the union's money. Peter Fosco,who succeeded Moreschi, had ``ties
to organized crime'' that date back to Al Capone, according to
a 1982 Justice Department memo. And when Fosco died in
1975, his son Angelo took over in an election
engineered by Anthony Accardo,the late Chicago mob boss.
``Angelo Fosco has followed in his father's
footsteps. He is the tool of the crime syndicate,'' states the
1982 memo. ``Major decisions regarding Laborers' union contracts
are made by organized crime leaders, not Angelo Fosco.''
The Laborers International was always secretive,
famous then and now for a reluctance to engage in open political
debate. Pressured by critics, the International in 1941 held a
rare national convention. It would hold more conventions,officials
said then, but a poll of the union's members showed they preferred
The celebrated newspaper columnist Westbrook
Pegler discovered just why the union's members preferred no convention--they
would be assessed $2 each for transportation costs.
When Angelo Fosco died in 1995, Arthur A.
Coia assumed the presidency and,with the Feds bearing down, vowed
to clean up the union. But Coia is by no means above reproach
His father, Arthur E. Coia, as secretary-treasurer
of the International, was a close associate of Raymond Patriarca,
boss of the New England mob. In 1981, both Coias were indicted
for allegedly taking kickbacks, but the case was dismissed because
the statute of limitations had run out.
The Justice Department's 1995 draft complaint
describes Coia as the latest union president ``to have been associated
with, and controlled and influenced by, organized-crime figures.''
Indeed, Republican critics complain, were
it not for Laborers' generous financial contributions to President
Clinton and the Democrats, the Justice Department by now would
have placed the union under trusteeship, as it did the Teamsters,
and driven Coia from power.
From 1991 through 1996, the Laborers gave
more than $3 million to the Democratic Party, which Clinton apparently
appreciated. At a private meeting in the Oval Office in 1994,
the president gave Coia one of his personal golf clubs, a nine-iron.
When the Laborers' International gathers
at the Midland Hotel Wednesday, then, the surreal scene unfolding
will be of a notoriously crooked national union grilling a notoriously
crooked local affiliate, the Chicago council.
In another twist, the hearing officer will
be Philadelphia attorney Peter F.Vaira, who is already on record
as saying the Laborers union, including the Chicago council, is
a ``captive'' of organized crime.
As head of the Justice Department's Chicago
Strike Force in 1982, Vaira co-wrote the internal memo that spelled
out the union's mob ties.
But Vaira said Friday that it is common practice
for unions attempting to clean house to choose former judges and
prosecutors as hearing officers to give the proceedings credibility.
In going after the Chicago council, the International
goes after the larger family of organized crime in Chicago.
One of the Chicago council's four top officers,
vice president John Matassa, reputedly is a powerful captain in
the Chicago ``outfit,'' having moved up in rank after a slew of
upper-echelon mob convictions in the 1980s.
A second officer, secretary-treasurer Joseph
Lombardo Jr., carries the name of one of Chicago's most infamous
mob bosses. Joseph Sr., released from prison five years ago, keeps
a low profile in his old Grand Avenue neighborhood, but law enforcement
agents suspect he remains in the game.
Among the other princes of the mob who stand to lose if the Chicago council is turned over to a trustee are Craig Kumerow, a Local 1001 field representative and Accardo's grandson; Michael Palermo, vice president of Local 1001 and an Accardo son-in-law, and Anthony Solano, director of the
Chicago councils' Training Center in suburban
Carol Stream and son of mob captain Vincent Solano.
A trusteeship for the Chicago council, most
labor experts appear to agree, is a welcome reform--but only if
Out of trusteeships have grown some of the
``most vital'' union locals in the country, said Kate Bronfenbrenner,
director of labor education research at Cornell University.
But the trustee must rebuild the union ``from
the bottom'' before moving on, she said, or ``the mob will come
When organized crime grabs hold of a union,
it squelches dissent, siphons off every possible dollar and leaves
the average union Joe out in the cold.
Mobsters pay themselves excessive salaries.
Some schemes result in union members' paying
inflated dues. Others destroy the reputation of the union, making
legitimate businesses reluctant to offer jobs.
Still other schemes indirectly put the bite
on the average consumer and taxpayer, who must pick up the tab
for the higher price of building a road or building.
When the mob grabs hold of a union, the payroll
is padded with wiseguys who do no work but need to show the Internal
Revenue Service a legitimate source of income.
They extort kickbacks from businesses, usually
by threatening physical harm.
They ignore union contract provisions, such
as a strict adherence to overtime pay, in return for secret cash
They force legitimate businesses to hire
mob associates as ghost employees.
They farm out lucrative union contracts at
inflated prices to mob-owned businesses.
A few examples, all cited in the Justice
Department's 1995 draft complaint:
In 1975, high-ranking officials of the Laborers
International Union of North America used threats of assault to
extort cash kickbacks from a company providing group life insurance.
The kickbacks inflated the price of the insurance, forcing union
members to pay higher dues.
In the mid-'70s, officers of a Chicago local
of the Laborers union extorted kickbacks from a Near West Side
dental clinic hired to serve union members.
In the early 1980s, the Columbo crime family
in New York City routinely extorted money from construction employers,
especially concrete contractors,by threatening work slowdowns
In the early 1980s, La Cosa Nostra commission
in the New York area--a board of directors of all the New York
crime families--established a ``Two Percent Club'' for concrete
pouring contractors. On any construction job exceeding $2 million,
the commission designated which contractor would be permitted
to make the successful bid. The winning bidder paid the commission
In 1989, officers of a Laborers union local
in Brooklyn spent pension funds to purchase six buildings at ``grossly
inflated prices'' in a scheme to siphon off the money to themselves
and their underworld associates.
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The executive officers of the Chicago District
Council of the Laborers Union International of North America:
Bruno Caruso, president and business manager.
Gross salary: $171,641.
Both his father, Frank ``Skid'' Caruso, and his brother, Frank Jr., are described by the U.S. Justice Department as formally initiated members of the Chicago mob. Bruno Caruso's predecessor as president was Ernest Kumerow, a son-in-law of the late Anthony Accardo, the Chicago mob's top boss. Caruso also is paid $100,218 as president and business manager of Local 1001.
Joseph Lombardo Jr., secretary-treasurer.
Gross salary: $155,314.
Lombardo is the son of Joseph ``Joey the Clown'' Lombardo, a convicted racketeer who once was--and still may be-- among two or three most powerful mob bosses in Chicago.
John Matassa Jr., vice president. Gross salary:
Described by the Justice Department as ``an associate and suspected member of the Chicago La Cosa Nostra family.'' Matassa is a reputed North Side lieutenant of mob boss Joseph Andriacchi. Matassa also is paid $119,852 as president of Local 2.
Leo Caruso, sergeant at arms. Gross salary:
Cousin of Bruno Caruso. Leo Caruso was named sergeant at arms two years after his cousin Frank Caruso--Bruno's brother--was dismissed from the job because he was a known mobster. Caruso also is paid in excess of $33,000 as president of Local 1006.