Chicago Sun-Times

Union Exec Knew Mob Boss


October 22, 1997

A top Laborer's union official testified Tuesday at a closed door hearing that he knew mob boss Vince Solano -- perhaps no surprise, since the two men worked together at the union.

John Matassa Jr., vice president of the Laborer's Chicago District Council, was questioned by lawyers for the Laborer's International Union, which wants to put the council into trusteeship. The international is trying to rid the district of individuals it says are under the influence of organized crime.

At one point Matassa was asked if he knew Solano, president of Laborer's Local 1 from 1970 until his death in 1992. Solano was a known mob crew captain who oversaw North Side gambling operations. Matassa replied that he did.

"How could he not know him?" said one person familiar with the proceedings. He worked with him." Matassa and Solano's offices were opposite each other on West Diversey.

In June, the Laborer's International accused Matassa and other officials of allowing James Caporale, then secretary treasurer of the council, to retain his position for five years after his conviction for taking kickbacks from the council's welfare fund. Caporale went to prison in 1987.

Among those present Tuesday was Joseph Lombardo Jr., secretary-treasurer of the district council. He is the son of convicted racketeer Joseph Lombardo Sr., reputed to be among the top three mob figures in Chicago.

Like Matassa, the international has accused the younger Lombardo of allowing Caporale to hold three union jobs at one time and collect a total of $500,000 in salary while waiting to serve his term in prison.

After Caporale left the union, Lombardo took over his position at the district council.

Lombardo, appearing tense, spent the day speaking on a cell phone and pacing in the hallway outside the hearing room. He is to testify this week.

The Laborer's union represents 19,000 workers here, including many city employees. It has long been regarded as one of the most corrupt unions in the nation.

No contested election for district council office has been held for 25 years and power is concentrated in the hands of a few people.

For example, the four leaders of the council hold a total of eight salaried union jobs plus seven trustee positions on various welfare and pension funds.