Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Former Prosecutor Appointed to Investigate Corruption in Crane Operators’ Union

A federal judge has appointed a former prosecutor to investigate corruption and mob influence in the powerful union that represents most tower crane and heavy equipment operators in New York City, a move prompted by numerous convictions of union officials and organized crime figures.
The appointment, made last week, came more than a year after federal prosecutors and the union signed a consent decree providing for it. It grew out of two separate labor racketeering cases brought in 2003, and marked an important step toward the first election since 2001 at the union, Local 14-14B of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The appointment also presents a broader opportunity, according to some industry and labor experts and law enforcement officials, to begin to root out what they say has been decades of corruption in the construction industry, stemming from persistent organized crime infiltration and ingrained labor bribery.
Much, however, remains uncertain for the troubled 1,600-member union, which has traditionally drawn its power from the ability of tower crane operators — who control the movement of men and materials — to shut down high-rise construction projects.
In addition to the racketeering cases, two tower crane accidents last year that left a total of nine people dead have brought greater scrutiny to crane operations and licensing. That led to the disclosure of allegations that union officials helped unqualified organized crime figures get lower-level crane licenses.
Indeed, the union’s political director, who began teaching a 30-hour safety course the city required after the accidents, admitted to investigators years earlier that he had helped unqualified people, including organized crime figures, get into the union, and in some instances helped them secure licenses to operate smaller cranes.
In recent months, some observers say, tensions between the union and some of the construction companies that hire its members, and between Local 14-14B and other trade unions, have increased as the industry has awaited the appointment.
During that time — 15 months have elapsed since prosecutors and the union signed the consent decree — other trades have made concessions in the face of the steep national economic downturn and the end of the city’s building boom. But the current leadership of Local 14-14B, whose members are among the highest paid in the construction trades, has refused to do so.
And despite the convictions that led to the consent decree, some union dissidents and law enforcement officials still contend that members of two of the city’s crime families — the Genoveses and the Colombos — influence the management of the union, something union officials have denied.
Moreover, some union members, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their leadership, also said that the union’s president, Edwin L. Christian, ran it like a personal fief, doling out lucrative jobs and membership in the union to friends of the realm.
Mr. Christian, whose salary last year was $296,460, did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment and several attempts to contact him and the union’s lawyers through its lobbying firm.
The new monitor is George A. Stamboulidis, whose experience includes 13 years as a federal prosecutor handling public corruption cases, as well as those involving bank, business and labor fraud, and organized crime.
Mr. Stamboulidis, the managing partner for the New York office of the legal firm Baker Hostetler, was appointed to the post of “ethical practices attorney” for Local 14-14B two days before Thanksgiving by Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. of United States District Court in Brooklyn. The brief order naming him also appointed another lawyer, Steven C. Bennett, to be a hearing officer who will adjudicate the actions brought by Mr. Stamboulidis.
The consent decree that gives Mr. Stamboulidis and Mr. Bennett their broad authority settled a civil racketeering lawsuit brought by federal prosecutors that charged that the Genovese and Colombo families had “exercised corrupt influence within Local 14” for nearly three decades.
The decree was signed in July 2008. The government said at the time that the two criminal cases, which led to the conviction of 26 union officials and members and more than a dozen accused mob figures, had established that the crime families wielded sufficient control over the union to secure no-show jobs for mob associates. Prosecutors said money from those jobs was kicked back to the crime families. Union officials and members also received payments for the no-show jobs and bribes from construction contractors to ignore the collective bargaining agreement, prosecutors charged in the civil lawsuit.
The consent decree acknowledged that the union, after the indictments, had taken some steps to address the mob influence and corruption, including retesting backhoe operators, and revising its job-referral process. But it said that the union and prosecutors had agreed that additional steps needed to be taken.
The consent decree gives Mr. Stamboulidis considerable powers to take those steps. They include a sweeping mandate to investigate union officials and members and rule on their fitness to hold office, as well as examine the labor organization’s practices and finances, test the skills of union members, commence disciplinary proceedings, and monitor collective bargaining agreements and elections.
But in a brief telephone interview, Mr. Stamboulidis declined to comment on his plans for the monitorship, or to discuss how he views its scope. Mr. Bennett, the hearing officer, also declined to comment.



Post a Comment