Local 825 of the International Union of Operating Engineers has been a prime target of federal prosecutors as of late. Last spring, more than two dozen officials, members and associates of the Springfield, N.J.-based union were arrested for a wide range of criminal acts. Two more persons now can be added to the dragnet, Kenneth Campbell and Peter Strannemar, respectively, the union’s current business manager and former president. On Tuesday, March 11, special agents with the FBI, IRS and Department of Labor unsealed a four-count indictment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Esther Salas charging the pair with receiving bribes in connection with two major construction projects in Jersey City. The case, indirectly, is mob-connected.
Union Corruption Update previously had reported that the FBI, aided by state and local law enforcement authorities, arrested 25 persons last May for racketeering and other offenses. The biggest fish in the catch was Andrew Merola, a reputed Gambino crime family soldier. Merola allegedly ran a ghost-worker scheme from underneath the Goethals Bridge (where an upgrading project had begun), after gaining control over Operating Engineers Local 825 and Laborers Local 1153. The scheme was made possible through the cooperation of Local 825 organizer John Cataldo and Local 1153 business agent Joseph Manzella. One of Merola’s enforcers was Martin Taccetta, a reported Lucchese family member. Two months later, federal prosecutors charged two men, Craig Wask and Francis Impeciati, with putting the daughter of an IUOE Local 825 member on the payroll for no-show work on an unnamed office tower project in Jersey City.
In the current case, Campbell, 56, and Strannemar, 60, allegedly received more than $200,000 in kickbacks over several years to buy labor “peace” at two projects. During construction of the 42-story Goldman, Sachs office tower, the indictment notes, Campbell and Strannemar, in exchange for bribes, allowed a steel contractor to use fewer crane operators than union rules required and allowed a plumbing contractor to use nonunion labor for certain jobs. And at a golf course-residential development near Liberty State Park, Campbell allegedly received at least $100,000 in monthly installments of $2,000 to $4,000 for allowing the general contractor and several subcontractors to use nonunion labor. Additionally, Strannemar reportedly accepted household appliances from a contractor for use in his cabin in upstate New York, while Campbell accepted $6,000 in cash payments to allow three relatives of the general contractor on one of the projects to join the union without ascertaining whether they could operate heavy equipment.
The indictment also named two unindicted co-conspirators: “C.W.,” a former Local 825 business agent, and “A.M.,” a former Local 825 lead engineer. Each allegedly had served as a conduit for illegal payments. Federal agents are confident they’ve got enough evidence to make the case stick. “Today’s arrests demonstrate my office’s commitment to work with our law enforcement partners as we carry out our statutory mandate to investigate racketeering within our nation’s labor unions,” said U.S. Department of Labor Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell. “We will continue to aggressively pursue those union officials who abuse their positions of trust for personal gain at the expense of the membership they are supposed to serve.” One suspects that if New Jersey were a Right to Work state, unions would have had less power to dictate the terms of onsite work rules – and their officials less opportunity to violate member trust. (nj.com, 3/11/08; U.S. Department of Justice, 3/11/08).