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Laborers’ Union Hearings Reveal Endless Mob Saga

IPSN, August 10, 1997

THE LABORERS’ INTERNATIONAL Union of North America (LIUNA) has been holding trusteeship hearings at Chicago’s Midland Hotel for the past couple of weeks in an effort to purge seven Chicago locals and the Chicago District Council of Mob influence that goes back to the days of Al Capone.

And, based on the testimony of several highly credentialed Mob authorities, the Chicago Laborers’ officials who are under the gun in these trusteeship hearings are a band of Mafia trunk-stuffers of the first order.

INTERESTINGLY, the Laborers’ International guys, who are staging this internal house-cleaning of Chicago Mob figures, are themselves inextricably tied to several East Coast Mafia families. Laborers’ International President Arthur Coia, for example, is himself alleged to be a long-time running mate of the Patriarca, Luchese and Gambino families of Boston and New York.

But nevertheless, Coia has assembled an impressive team of squeaky-clean ex-FBI agents and former government prosecutors who have, during the opening days of trusteeship testimony, painted a picture of the Chicago Laborers’ power structure as a gang of political hustlers, greed-driven thieves and blood-soaked killers.

COIA’S OVERALL MOTIVE for hitting his Chicago affiliates with the Trusteeship Complaint, which led to the Midland Hotel hearings and will eventually result in the purging of a couple of dozen ranking Mob figures, has to do with the fact that the Justice Department is holding a Consent Decree that allows the Feds to clean up the Laborers’ Union if the union people don’t do it themselves.

The Consent Decree, which can be enforced by the Justice Department at any time it appears that Coia and others on the LIUNA Executive Board are slowing down in their efforts to dump the Mob, makes Arthur Coia himself the Federal Government’s main Mob-buster. Nevermind the fact that less than three years ago, in November of 1994, the Justice Department named Coia as a major conspirator with Buffalo, New York‘s Todaro crime family in a scheme to loot training funds from several Laborers’ locals. Also, that same ‘94 Justice complaint listed Coia as being up to his neck in racketeering, bribery and insurance swindles with Boston’s major Mafia boss, Raymond Patriarca.

IN THE MIDLAND Hotel hearings, Peter Vaira is the Hearing Officer who oversees a quasi-judicial proceeding that looks and sounds much like a Criminal Court trial, but allows hearsay evidence and is nowhere near as rigid as the Criminal Court requirement that evidence be beyond a reasonable doubt. But otherwise, the Laborers’ Trusteeship Hearings have all the trappings of a Criminal Court case including a couple of prosecuting attorneys, a defense attorney team that’s been showing up at Mob trials for decades, and a court reporter who doesn’t miss a word.

Hearing Officer Vaira has a distinguished career in criminal prosecutions, including a stint as head of the Justice Department’s now-disbanded Chicago Strike Force. In 1982, Vaira labeled the Chicago District Council of the Laborers’ Union as being a “captive” of organized crime. Now, 15 years later, he finds himself sitting in judgment on charges that the very same group of union officials are tied to the Mob.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY Sherman Carmell, who has also been around Mob-tied union guys forever, or at least since Jimmy Hoffa ran the Teamsters, made a workmanlike stab at getting Vaira to recuse himself as Hearing Officer be-cause of the apparent conflict of interest that stems from Vaira’s prosecutorial background.

HOWEVER, “I will deny the motion,” Vaira said, and the show was on.

DWIGHT BOSTWICK, a key prosecutor from the LIUNA General Executive Board Attorney’s Office, stated the theme of the trusteeship proceedings with his charge that “the leadership of the Chicago District Council is corrupt. Currently, for the past 25 years, this entity has been filled with Mob members, Mob associates, and relatives of top Mob bosses,” Bostwick alleged.

In the opening shots of the hearings, Bostwick promised that his witnesses would give testimony based on surveillance of Mob figures, tapes of secretly recorded conversations, and statements of Mob figures who, for one reason or another, felt the need to inform on their buddies.

As the parade of witnesses ambled through the historic old Midland Hotel, Bostwick’s promised testimony covered everything from rigged union elections, theft of union funds, no-show jobs, ties to corrupt politicians, judicial fixes, extortion, death threats and, as if there could be no limit to the excess, a compelling account of how Chicago Laborers’ Union officials swung the bats and wielded the shovels that meant death in 1986 for the Mafia’s Las Vegas overseer Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael.

EX-FBI AGENT W. Douglas Gow, Inspector General for the LIUNA, led the parade of testimony with an account of how, when he began his investigation of the Chicago Laborers’ in March of 1995, a threatening phone call was recorded on his voice mail at the Chicago Hilton and Towers Hotel:

“Douglas, you ----- piece of -----, who do you think you’re ------! with? A bunch of kids from Waco? I’ll ----- your family in the face. I’ll ----- your mother -in her ------. You ----- piece of ------.”

Threatening phone calls aside, Gow’s testimony included everything from the bizarre to the analytical, like his view that, “The scope of activities involving the Syndicate or the Mob or the Outfit in Chicago is truly pervasive. Organized crime in Chicago touches practically everyone’s life or livelihood. The evidence shows that tentacles of Mob activity in this city reach into Government, law enforcement, unions and other legitimate political, social and economic functions,” Gow declared.

Gow also cited the work of another former FBI agent, the late Bill Roemer who, in addition to making a name for himself as an expert on the Chicago Mob, gained some measure of fame as an author of widely-read crime books. According to Gow, Roemer developed a list of Chicago Laborers’ officials who are either made Mafia guys or associates of the Mob. That list included the late Vincent Solano, Frank Caruso, Dominick Palermo, Frank DeMonte, the late Sal Gruttaduro and James Caporale.

Then, citing a Presidential report on organized crime, Gow listed several other Laborers’ officials as Mob guys including the late Al Pilotto, former head of Laborers’ Local 5 in Chicago Heights and John Serpico, one-time boss of Laborers’ Local 8. Serpico was, until just two years ago, one of the best politically-connected Laborers’ Union Mob guys in the Chicago area, counting former Illinois Governor James Thompson and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley among his cronies. However, Serpico was dumped from his Laborers’ post in an earlier round of purging of Mob guys.

ALSO, IT WAS THE Serpico connection that prompted LIUNA President Arthur Coia to originally admit that there might be something to the age-old rumors that organized crime figures dominate the affairs of the Laborers’ Union. In May of 1995, Coia told an internal union investigating panel—created under threat of Justice Department sanctions—of a meeting he had at O’Hare Airport with Vince Solano and John Serpico.

Coia said he was told by Serpico to fly into O’Hare for the meeting. Once there, Solano told Serpico to take a walk and then, in a matter of minutes, Solano told Coia that the Mob had determined that Serpico was to become the next LIUNA President, period.

“I understood that. The scenario that developed, again, the demeanor, the emphasis that was placed on the words, the rumor of the Organized Crime Committee report, the whole thing became a reality,” Coia testified.

“It was something—I don’t know—like out of the movies,” Coia said as he described his coming to terms with the fact that his union was controlled by members of organized crime.

BUT COIA, as stated above, is personally only as clean as he needs to be to be the Justice Department’s designated clean-up hitter in the ongoing Laborers’ Union saga.

AMONG THE PARADE of witnesses in the current Laborers’ Union Trusteeship Hearings was John O’Rourke, an ex-FBI agent and currently on the staff of the LIUNA Inspector General’s office. O’Rourke’s testimony was very much a who’s who of the Chicago Mob, with upwards of two dozen Laborers’ Union officials holding major positions in the Mob.

FOR EXAMPLE, according to O’Rourke, Laborers’ official Vincent Solano was the boss of the Mob’s Rush Street Crew, which included most of the north side of the City and the close-in suburbs. Solano was tied to Tony Accardo and was one of the union’s main contact men with Joey Lombardo, boss of the Grand Avenue Crew and father of Joe Lombardo, Jr., who is Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Laborers’ District Council. The Laborers’ Lombardo is a major target of the current Trusteeship Hearings.

O’Rourke, who is deeply involved in the murky inner workings of the Laborers’ Union, is also a law enforcement guy with a sense of history. On the Chinatown Crew, also known as the 26th Street Crew of the Chicago Mob, O’Rourke states:

“The Chinatown Crew of the Chicago organized crime Syndicate has been in existence since the days of Al Capone. The original boss of the crew was a man named Bruno ”The Bomber” Roti. He had a lieutenant, Frank Tony Caruso, also known as “Skids” Caruso. When Mr. Roti gave up his power, it was assumed by “Skids” Caruso who ran the crew for many years.”

“Mr. “Skids” Caruso passed away in approximately 1983. He was then replaced by Angelo LaPietra until he was convicted of racketeering in Kansas City, Missouri in connection with the Las Vegas skim case and was sentenced to prison. He was replaced by his brother Jimmy LaPietra until he died of cancer a few years ago.”

“The current boss of the 26th Street Crew is John Monteleone, who is also the boss of the South Side of Chicago. The 26th Street Chinatown Crew historically was aligned with the First Ward which was operated and controlled under organized crime auspices by Pat Marcy, John D’Arco and Gus Alex, and historically has had influence with the Streets and Sanitation Department, city contracts for hauling, trucking companies and so on. “

”They also have had political influence in naming of judges and in police corruption cases historically. This was brought out in Pat Marcy’s indictment and resulting eventually in the conviction of Fred Roti, the alderman of the First Ward, a resident of the 26th Street area and the son of Bruno Roti, the original boss from the days of Al Capone,” O’Rourke testified.

AND, IT SHOULD BE noted from the O’Rourke testimony, the late “Skids” Caruso, who was a power in the Laborers’ Union, is related to the current Laborers’ officials, Frank, Bruno and Leo Caruso, who are targets of the Trusteeship Hearings. Frank Caruso, according to Trusteeship testimony, is a made Mafia member, while Bruno and Leo are associate members.

IN OTHER testimony on the virtually endless ties between the Laborers’ and the Mob, Thomas Pecoraro, another ex-FBI agent, described how after Chicago Heights Mob boss Al Pilotto died, his union and Outfit interests were taken over by Albert Tocco. Closely involved with Tocco were Laborers’ officials Nicholas Guzzino and Dominick Palermo, who are both named in the current Trusteeship action.

According to Pecoraro, Tocco’s wife Betty split with her husband and became a fount of information about Mob activities, including the 1986 murders of Tony “The Ant” Spilotro and his brother Michael. Tony Spilotro had long been the Mob’s man in Las Vegas and his brother ran a Chicago restaurant before they were killed.

After Tony Spilotro fell out of favor with his Mob bosses over a notorious skimming trial, in which Joey Lombardo (father of the Laborers’ Joe Lombardo, Jr.) was convicted and sentenced, the Spilotros were murdered.

BETTY TOCCO maintains they were killed by her husband Albert, Laborers’ officials Nick Guzzino and Dominick Palermo and a fourth Mob guy, Albert “Chickie” Roviere. The Spilotros were brutally beaten nearly to death with baseball bats, then thrown into a shallow grave off Route 41 in Northwest Indiana, where they died as their assailants buried them. Then, Betty Tocco says, the killers split up, leaving Albert Tocco without a getaway car.

HER HUSBAND called her from a phone booth about a mile from the farm field where the Spilotros were buried. Then, almost before Tocco could ditch the dirty blue work clothes that he wore for the killings and burial, the farmer who owned the field found the grave and alerted police.

Tocco was subsequently convicted of other racketeering charges and was sentenced to 200 years in prison. Although the Betty Tocco version of the Spilotro murders has become fairly well known in law enforcement circles, no charges have ever been filed in connection with the deaths of the Spilotro brothers.

THE LABORERS’ Union Trusteeship Hearings are only about half-finished, with the formal sessions set to resume at the Midland Hotel in mid-August. Although the sessions are closed to both the public and the press, they are open to Laborers’ Union members.

Robert Luskin, the LIUNA General Executive Board Attorney who is overseeing the Hearings, told Illinois Police and Sheriff’s News that a reading room in or near the Midland Hotel will soon be opened so that union members can read copies of the daily transcripts—from which much of the material for this article has been obtained. Reformer Jim McGough made the request for a hearing room and will be providing expert commentary to IPSN.

Also, the Combined Counties Police Association has expressed its intention to post text of the Laborers’ Union disclosures on this internet website.

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