John Matassa Jr.’s biggest mistake was trying to qualify for an early retirement. He now is qualified for incarceration. On February 26, Matassa, secretary-treasurer of Independent Union of Amalgamated Workers Local 711, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to one count of embezzling $738 in union funds, far below what he actually had stolen from the union and the government. He had been indicted in May 2017 on 10 counts related to his creating a no-show union job for his wife and collecting Social Security benefits for himself. Matassa for decades has been a reputed “made man” in the Chicago mob. The plea deal calls for 15 to 21 months in prison, plus $66,500 in restitution. The actions follow a probe by the Social Security Administration and the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
John “Pudgy” Matassa Jr., now 67, a resident of Arlington Heights, Ill., has been in this spot before. Back in the late Nineties, Laborers International Union of North America headquarters kicked him out of the local he headed after federal authorities determined that he was close to the Chicago criminal underworld, commonly known as the Outfit. “The guy’s hanging on to the carpet like a cat,” one union member said at the time. “He’s just not cooperating at all. I just can’t wait until he’s gone.” His departure from LIUNA would happen soon enough, but his career in the Outfit would continue. In 2009, in fact, he was cited as a go-between at the trial of a deputy U.S. marshal, John Ambrose, who would be convicted of leaking sensitive information exposing a protected witness to mob retaliation. The case helped put away Chicago crime boss James Marcello.
Matassa’s career as a labor leader also continued. He founded and ran Local 711 of the International Union of Amalgamated Workers, representing various workers in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. He also had an unusual income enhancement strategy that would be his undoing. According to federal prosecutors, Matassa put his wife, Lynn, on the union payroll for a ghost job, and then reduced his own salary by the same amount so that he could qualify for benefits under the Social Security Administration’s Old Age Insurance program. To disguise the scheme, Matassa personally signed his wife’s paychecks and falsified the minutes of a local board meeting. This arrangement continued for four years, until Social Security Administration and Labor Department officials realized something was wrong and conducted a joint investigation. The probe concluded that John Matassa had ripped off the union and the government, respectively, by $33,513 and $75,108. That led to a 10-count indictment for fraud, theft, embezzlement and false record-keeping on May 25, 2017.