Federal prosecutors Thursday sued to break the alleged mob domination of New York's powerful carpenters' union, a move that again demonstrated the new stress federal crime-fighters have placed on eliminating mob influence in unions.
In a lengthy civil racketeering suit, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan asked for the removal of four top members of the District Council of Carpenters and Joiners, charging that the union is controlled by Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno and other bosses of the Genovese crime family.
For two decades, mob control of the 30,000-member union has forced construction contractors and other businesses to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to keep labor peace, thus driving up construction costs throughout the area, the suit contended.
The district council's leadership has "fostered a regime of corruption, extortion and intimidation at all levels of the union," the suit said. "Union members' rights have been systematically traded for payoffs."
The suit seeks to immediately block the four union leaders and six alleged Mafia chieftains from exerting further control over the union and asks for appointment of a "court liaison" to police the organization.
The heightened emphasis on battling mob racketeering was evident last February, when the U.S. Justice Department filed a similar suit against leaders of the 90,000-member International Longshoremen's Union to end what it said was a century of waterfront corruption.
Since last year, court-appointed overseers have been policing the Mafia-linked International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Federal and state prosecutors have also recently moved against the International Brotherhood of Painters in New York and Roofers Union Local 30/30b in Philadelphia.
Each of the federal actions was brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which imposes huge fines and jail terms and can allow the government to seize the assets of racketeers.
Eugene Methvin, a member of President Ronald Reagan's Commission on Organized Crime, said the study group "raised Cain about mob control of unions. Now the government is doing more and more to fight it."
Indeed, as he announced the suit against the longshoremen last February, Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh said the U.S. Justice Department assigned "top priority" to the fight against labor racketeering.
Mob experts say that control of unions is often far more profitable than such other traditional mob-dominated businesses as loan-sharking and gambling. And some contend that some of the highest profits in the business are earned by the sophisticated 1,500-member Genovese clan.
Joseph Coffey, a senior investigator for the New York State Organized Crime Task Force, has said that the Genoveses "more or less invented labor racketeering . . . they're the Ivy League."
In its suit, the government contended that, in exchange for payoffs, construction contractors would sometimes receive exemptions from collective bargaining agreements' provisions on wages or work rules.
The payoffs would thus give a contractor a significant advantage over his competitors. But they would hurt the union members who were supposed to be protected by collective bargaining, the government asserted.
The government's complaints lists dozens of cases in which New York area companies allegedly paid officers of the carpenters' union. Also listed are a number of episodes in which top union officers used violence to keep control over union members who opposed their corrupt leaders.
For example, the government cited the case of Danny Evangelista, a dissident member of the union's Local 385, who was shot to death in 1976 when sitting at his desk at the local's offices. In another case, the home of former union leader Shaun Toner was firebombed after he openly criticized the leadership of his local and the district council.
Named as defendants in the suit are Paschal McGuinness, president of the district council; Irving Zeidman, first vice president; Frederick W. Devine, second vice president, and Francis J. P. McHale, secretary-treasurer. The alleged members of the Genovese family include, in addition to Salerno, Vincent DiNapoli, Louis DiNapoli, Peter DeFeo, Alexander (Black Alex) Morelli and Liborio (Barney) Bellomo.
A man who answered the telephone at the district council's Manhattan offices said none of the union leaders would comment. The alleged members of the Genovese family could not be reached.
However, in past court cases, Salerno has denied that he is a member of the Mafia.