Anyone who believes corruption in Detroit dissipated after the multiple convictions several years ago of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick should take a hard look at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324. On December 16, John Hamilton, business manager-general vice president of the Detroit union during 2003-12, was indicted by a federal grand jury on nine counts relating to various schemes of self-enrichment at the expense of rank and file. The indictment, the result of a multi-agency probe, accuses Hamilton of extortion, structuring, money-laundering, embezzlement and honest services fraud. The charges shed light not only on Hamilton’s relationship with Mayor Kilpatrick, but at least as importantly, his relationship with convicted financial manager John Orecchio, no stranger to these pages.
On September 2, Steven Minella, former president and business agent of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to one count of failing to report to appropriate authorities the commission of extortion by another official of the Bloomfield Hills, Mich. local. Minella had been charged in June following a joint investigation by the FBI, the IRS and the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Inspector General, and Employee Benefits Security Administration.
On June 19, Steven Minella, former president and business agent of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan with failing to report to appropriate authorities the commission of extortion by another official of the Bloomfield Hills, Mich. local. The charge follows a joint investigation by the FBI, the IRS, and the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Inspector General, and Employee Benefits Security Administration.
David Hart was an accomplice, not a mastermind. But that didn't make his acts any less illegal. On February 24, Hart, formerly financial secretary-business agent for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to concealing acts of extortion by his boss. He had been charged eleven days earlier in an information count following a joint probe by the FBI, the IRS and the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Inspector General and Employee Benefits Security Administration. The union represents more than 18,000 operators of cranes and other heavy construction equipment across Michigan.
If the year 2014 had a main theme, it was, as in 2013, the unions' pursuit of legal advantage. The results were mixed. Unions scored victories at the National Labor Relations Board, but they tasted defeat in the courts, most notably in their effort to unionize private home care providers in Illinois and overturn a Wisconsin law reining in public-sector costs. In another bitter pill, the United Auto Workers last February lost a representation election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. As for dipping their hands in tills, national union leaders generally behaved themselves, but many local bosses, office employees and business agents did not.
On March 25, Ronald Martin, former bookkeeper for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 9, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to five months of probation, and ordered to pay $30,338 in restitution and a $200 assessment, for embezzling funds from the Denver union. In addition, the court rejected his petition for an exemption from Section 504 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which bars persons convicted of certain crimes from serving as a union official or employee for at least 13 years. Martin pleaded guilty last November after being charged in October. The actions follow a probe by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
When it comes to union violence, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 17, based near Buffalo, N.Y., has to rank as among its most obnoxious practitioners. The evidence of crime proved convincing enough for a federal jury last month to convict former local president and business manager Mark Kirsch on various racketeering-related charges. Yet the same jury in the six-week trial also acquitted four other defendants. Prosecutors alleged that all five union members were involved in repeated acts of vandalism of nonunion construction sites and terror against nonunion contractors and workers. The case had sprung open in 2008 with the indictment of a dozen persons, several of whom eventually pled guilty. While union leaders and their lawyers are cheering the outcome, it is highly unlikely the local can resume its mobster style of enforcement.
Former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis readily admits it: She's a union woman. But her affinity with organized labor is more than just a matter of shared views. On February 10, the Cerritos, Calif.-based Hews Media Group revealed that Solis, now campaigning for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, had accepted thousands of dollars worth of free private jet travel more than five years ago, while still serving in Congress, from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12, but without disclosing these trips, as required by federal law. This finding is cited as a material fact in a federal civil racketeering suit filed in January by four members of the Pasadena-based local against some two dozen people.
On October 1, Ronald Martin, former bookkeeper for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 9, was charged in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado with embezzling funds of an unspecified amount from the Denver union. The charge follows an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
The National Labor Relations Board ought to be about the last place to find anyone with a history of union corruption. But Richard Griffin (see photo), an NLRB member and former general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), may be the exception. Griffin last October was named as a defendant in a federal racketeering suit filed by 10 members of IUOE Local 501 in Los Angeles. The complaint alleges Griffin, during his tenure representing the international union, was complicit in a "scheme to defraud [the local] out of revenue, cost savings and membership." Dozens of union members, the suit charges, engaged in kickbacks, bribery, threats and extortion.