Beating or murdering anyone in their way, racketeers are plundering the hard-earned funds of America's laborers


Reader's Digest Senior Editor Eugene H. Methvin was a member of the President's Commission Crime.

In January 1982, Ben Medina announced his reform candidacy for a top job in the Laborers' International Union (LIU) Local 332 in Philadelphia. One night soon after, five armed men wearing Halloween masks entered his home, bound and gagged his wife and beat Medina to death.

In Baltimore, Bobby Love, the business manager of Laborers' Local 194, planned to run for president on a reform ticket. Two days after Medina's murder, he, too, was assassinated.

No one was ever prosecuted, yet there is little mystery about the murders. Both men were part of a restless stirring among the LIU's 466,000 members against the crime syndicate La Cosa Nostra (LCN) which, according to the President's Commission on Organized Crime, has long dominated the union. Few workers are in greater need of honest, vigorous union protection. From Florida's construction sites to Alaska's arctic oil fields, LIU members perform some of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in America. They work in tunnels far below the earth's surface and atop the tallest buildings. They do blasting, excavation, demolition. They are garbage collectors, mail handlers, hospital workers and government blue-collar employees. Three-fourths are black or Hispanic.

Court proceedings and legislative hearings disclose a scandalous record of exploitation, intimidation and terror. Union officials pocket huge salaries, plunder the members' welfare funds and shake down their employers. Rank-and-filers who protest have been blacklisted, beaten, stabbed and murdered.

Even when the Justice Department convicts Mafia figures, the mob regimes continue. Examples: In Cleveland, when Mafia member Anthony Liberatore came out of prison after serving 20 years for killing two police officers, he was made business manager of LIU Local 860. Liberatore then executed a rival racketeer by a car bomb and paid a $16,000 bribe to an FBI clerk for the names of informants in the mob. Liberatore was returned to prison for both crimes. Federal authorities say, however, that he still controls Local 860 from prison.

In Chicago, Local 1 is run by Vincent Solano, who is also an LCN boss. He uses the union hall to run gambling, extortion and prostitution rackets, according to the sworn testimony of one of his minions, Ken Eto. After Eto was convicted on a gambling charge in 1983, Solano apparently suspected he might squeal in return for leniency. Two hit men fired three bullets into the back of Eto's head, leaving him for dead. But Eto survived-and told all to the FBI. Five months later, the two bungling hit men were found tortured, stabbed and then strangled-a warning to other mobsters not to flub their assignments.* *No one was ever charged in any of these cases.

In St. Louis, mobster Paul Leisure seized control of a key LIU local by ordering the bombing murder of its boss. When FBI agents planted a bug in Leisure's headquarters, they heard him plotting the murder of gangland rivals. In 1985 prosecutors sent Leisure and four of his men, all on the union payroll, to prison. But the local was taken over by LCN boss Matthew Trupiano, who last year went to prison for four years on a bookmaking conviction.

The situation is neatly summarized in a conversation (picked up by an FBI bug) between Ronnie Scaccia, the Mafia-connected boss of an upstate New York LIU local, and a fellow mobster: "No matter what happens nobody can take over control of this union on us. If they get me, you're here. If they get you, I'm here. If they get both of us, my brother's here. If we go to jail, we got something waiting when we come out."

Lone Dentist. Such corruption provides a setting in which mob pirates can plunder union pension and welfare funds of millions of dollars. In Chicago, for example, mob associate John Serpico, president of Local 8 and an LIU vice president, established a dental plan for some 16,000 union members in the Midwest. He put Robert J. Cantazaro, a mob-connected bail bondsman with no experience in medical-benefits programs, in charge.

Cantazaro hired a dentist, opened a single clinic and siphoned off 68 cents of every dollar of the $5.1 million collected from union members by Serpico. Only 32 cents went to provide dental care for union members and families.

In New York, Ralph Scopo, president of LIU's District Council, drew $$311,600 in yearly salary and expenses in 1984 He was also a soldier in the Mafia's Persico family, whose thugs assured him total control over 19,000 union laborers in 21 locals.

Scopo and his Mafia combine monopolized New York's construction industry through threats of murder and "labor troubles," inflating building costs as much as 40 percent. The LCN Commission and seven large concrete firms rigged bids and allocated major construction jobs, with winners kicking back a share of their profits to the Mob. Contractors who bought "labor peace" could hire nonunion workers, disregard safety rules and omit payments to union pension and welfare funds. Last November a jury convicted Scopo, three LCN Commission members, and other ranking ganglords for racketeering. Scopo and the bosses got 100-year sentences.

Twice-Paid Lawyer. Insulating such bosses from the law is Robert J. Connerton, LIU's general counsel and chief lobbyist. Connerton has spent over three decades in Washington, D.C., lobbying against anti-racketeering laws and enforcement. He helped knock the teeth out of the Landrum-Griffin Act, "the union man's bill of rights," in 1959. And he directed the lobbying that killed a Reagan Administration request for more investigators in the Labor Department's Office of Labor Racketeering.

Meantime, Connerton's union connection has made him a millionaire His biggest coup was the creation of a "one case" law firm to represent mail handlers in a claim against the U.S. Postal Service for back pay and overtime. Through LIU publications, Connerton got 90,000 union members to send in consent forms so that he could represent them in a private capacity. He then negotiated a multi-million-dollar settlement with the Postal Service and pocketed a $1 million "fee" for representing these "private clients"-union members whose dues were already paying his salary, which in 1986 was $122,559.

Masked Gunman. In 1972, Joe Caleb, bright and popular young president of Miami Local 478, made the mistake of asking questions about the administration of multimillion-dollar LIU trust funds-money controlled by District Council president Bernard Rubin, a secret ally of the Chicago syndicate. Caleb soon was murdered.

His death touched off investigations, prosecutions and gangland killings that continue to this day. Hugo Menendez, a Labor Department investigator, began looking into Rubin's operations-and uncovered the tip of a vast conspiracy to loot LIU welfare funds from Massachusetts to Arizona. Rubin and his lawyer skimmed off more than $6 million from the LIU. They went to prison-but there the trail stopped, temporarily.

Then, under heavy pressure by Senate and FBI investigators, two key middlemen became government witnesses. Insurance-fraud artist Joe Hauser testified that he and his Mob friends had collected $180 million one year from the Laborers, Teamsters, and Hotel & Restaurant Employees, exacting "between 20 and 30 percent" in kickbacks for union and Mafia racketeers. The combine left 20 union trust funds foundering in eight states. Mob associate Dan Milano, Jr., testified about cash kickbacks to Chicago Mafia chief Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, LIU president Angelo Fosco and a flock of Florida LIU officials.

Just months after Connerton, Fosco and other LIU officials delivered a $$25,000 campaign contribution to Vice President Mondale at the White House and another $125,000 to the Democratic National Committee, Justice Department lawyers were indicting Fosco, Accardo, Tampa LCN boss Santo Trafficante and 13 others from Chicago and Florida on racketeering charges.

Among the defendants was Chicago Local 5 president Al Pilotto, who doubled as an Accardo LCN capo. Seven weeks after the indictment, as Pilotto was playing golf in suburban Chicago, a ski-masked gunman shot him five times. Incredibly, Pilotto survived. But soon one of the golf partners was discovered with his throat cut, and another associate was found tortured and burned to death.

At this point the hit man in the Pilotto shooting turned himself in to the FBI. He revealed that the two dead men had been his bosses and had informed him that Accardo had ordered the Pilotto hit to keep the Local 5 president quiet.

None of this evidence of Mafia involvement was deemed relevant to the racketeering trial. Twelve were convicted, but jurors acquitted Fosco and Accardo.

Subsequently Hauser, the top Mafia specialist on looting union pension funds, told Congress that Accardo had "handpicked" Fosco as LIU president in 1975. Another Mob associate testified he had personally delivered payoffs to Fosco. When the President's Commission on Organized Crime sought to question Fosco, the union president fled behind the Fifth Amendment.

Brave Rebels. As the Florida prosecutions unfolded, Fosco and his allies faced insurrection from within. A scattering of rank-and-file rebels from Fairbanks to Miami formed "Laborers for a Democratic Union" and challenged Fosco's re-election to the presidency of the LIU. But when Dennis Ryan, an LDU delegate, tried to nominate an opponent at the 1981 convention in Hollywood, Fla., he was beaten savagely by approximately 20 delegates and sergeants-at-arms. From an underworld informant the FBI learned the attack was ordered by Ralph Scopo in New York. .

A month later, Ryan and eight fellow Laborers filed a suit accusing Fosco and other top LIU officers of racketeering asking that a court-appointed trustee take over the union. But the of attorneys, paid out of the LIU treasury, stalled for time, withholding crucial documents, conducting endless depositions and filing a frivolous countersuit.

The LIU dissenters' hopes focused on Robert E. Powell, LIU senior vice president and the ranking black in the hierarchy. Powell, whose reputation for integrity was good, was urged by many rank-and-filers to challenge Fosco for the presidency.

Powell became the target of a campaign of intimidation. In an affidavit, he described a death threat delivered personally by Fosco. Midnight phone calls threatened Powell's wife and daughter. Dead pigeons and rats were placed on his car. He moved his family out of Washington and began wearing a bulletproof vest and packing a pistol. Finally, in 1984, Powell retired in despair.

With him went the last hope of rank-and-filers for a cleanup from within. Their war chest exhausted by LIU counsel Connerton's blizzard of legal paper, the dissidents' lawsuit was dismissed last year.

SEVENTY-SEVEN LIU officers, members and service providers have been convicted since 1980, yet killers and thugs still dot the union payrolls. Of the nation's "50 biggest Mafia bosses" named by Fortune magazine, four were LIU officers and five more have been prosecuted in racketeering schemes involving the union.

Since 1970, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act has made it possible to remove corrupt union and corporate officials. But under four presidents and nine attorneys general of both parties, civil RICO suits have been filed against unions only three times. One was against Ralph Scopo's LIU District Council and one local in New York; last March a judge placed both under federal trusteeship, removing 16 of the 25 of officers; he banned 13 for life from holding union office, and expelled 7 from the LIU altogether.

Such vigorous Justice Department intervention must be repeated with the LIU and wherever the mobsters influence its components. As Robert Powell testified before the President's Commission on Organized Crime: "As soon as you put one in jail, another one steps in his place. Until the U.S. government places these groups under trusteeship and gets someone in there to turn these organizations back to their members, you will never clean out the corruption."

Until that day, America's 466,000 Laborers will be in bondage.

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