NYC Carpenters Officials Charged in Union Admissions Bribery Scheme

If you wanted to get into the union, Salvatore Tagliaferro or John Defalco could help you for a price. It appears now that the two will pay more than they collected. On June 27, Tagliaferro and Defalco, respectively, president of Local 926 (Brooklyn) and vice president of Local 157 (Manhattan) of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, were arrested and indicted in Manhattan federal court on various charges related to their roles in a scheme to solicit and receive cash bribes in return for admission to the union for aspiring members. The defendants allegedly generated tens of thousands of dollars for themselves in this manner. The charges follow a probe by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General, and the New York City Department of Investigation.

According to charging documents, Salvatore “Sal” Tagliaferro, now 54, a resident of Staten Island, N.Y., and John “Cigars” Defalco, now 51, a resident of Secaucus, N.J., engineered their scheme sometime during 2017 until last month. Defalco and certain unnamed co-conspirators would identify prospective union members and solicit payments from them, $1,500 per head being the standard rate. Once having received the payments, Defalco would forward the names of the payers to Tagliaferro, who in turn would secure Local 926 membership cards for them. Many among the hundreds of payers had no union job and thus were ineligible for admission. In addition, the defendants attempted to thwart the investigation in a number of ways. Defalco allegedly pressured a co-conspirator to sign an affidavit that falsely exculpated him, Tagliaferro and others if questioned. Defalco and Tagliferro also created a false storyline for an unnamed individual to provide to the grand jury. Moreover, Defalco told a co-conspirator to delete all potentially incriminating text messages.

Union membership exploded as a result. Since October 1, 2017, Local 926 alone added 990 new members. The Department of Labor, having grown suspicious, conducted an investigation, concluding that Carpenters Locals 157 and 926 were running a bribery racket. The DOL handed the case to federal prosecutors who convened a grand jury which indicted Tagliaferro and Defalco a few weeks ago on one count each of honest services fraud, illegal conversion of assets, and conspiracy. In addition, the grand jury charged Defalco with one count each of witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Both men pleaded not guilty at their arraignment. They may have a tough time explaining to a trial jury, among other things, what a Ziploc bag containing $150,000 in cash was doing in the attic of Defalco’s New Jersey vacation home, a discovery made during a police search.

Attorneys for the defendants are insisting their clients are innocent. Tagliaferro’s lawyer, Richard Rosenberg, remarked that Tagliaferro “will achieve full exoneration and vindication as the true and devoted union man that he is.” Prosecutors are taking a different view. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman explains: “As alleged, the defendants abused their leadership positions to line their pockets at the expense of their union and its members, whose interests they were duty-bound to protect. By allegedly demanding and accepting cash bribes in return for union membership, the defendants not only betrayed their union, but personally profited off the needs of those seeking work.” In the meantime, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners headquarters has placed Local 926 under trusteeship.