BY EUGENE H. METHVIN
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
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."
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
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
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.
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
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
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.