John Matassa Jr. says he’s being sentenced for his reputation, not his deeds. Evidence points toward the latter. Last Monday, July 22, Matassa, former secretary-treasurer of Independent Union of Amalgamated Workers Local 711, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to six months in prison plus six months of home confinement for embezzling funds from the Chicago-area union related to putting his wife on the union payroll for a no-show job. He had been indicted in May 2017 on 10 counts of embezzlement, fraud and other offenses, pleading guilty to a reduced embezzlement charge this February. 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.
As Union Corruption Update has reported more than once (for example, here and here), John “Pudgy” Matassa, now in his late-60s, a resident of Arlington Heights, Ill., has a history. About 20 years ago, he was removed as head of a Laborers local by the parent union after the feds determined that he was a “made man” in the Chicago mob, known to all as the Outfit. He went on to form Independent Union of Amalgamated Workers Local 711, apparently maintaining mob activity. A decade ago, he was cited at trial as a courier for a corrupt U.S. marshal, John Ambrose, eventually convicted of leaking information about a mob hitman who was under FBI witness protection. The trial also led to an additional conviction of then-imprisoned Chicago crime boss James Marcello.
The downfall of John Matassa would come years later. According to prosecutors, starting in 2013 he placed his wife 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 conceal the scam, he signed his wife’s paychecks and falsified local meeting minutes. The arrangement lasted for four years until the SSA and the Labor Department launched an investigation that concluded Matassa had stolen $33,513 from the union and $75,108 from the government. He would be convicted on one count of embezzling $738 from the union, a pittance compared to his total take. As part of his sentence, however, Matassa must pay full restitution to the union, $22,948 to the Social Security Administration on top of the $52,160 he has paid, and a $100 assessment.
Despite receiving a sentence considerably less than the 15 to 21 months worked out in the plea deal, Matassa insists he got shafted. At sentencing, he told U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly, “The only reason I’m standing here today is because my name is John Matassa.” Judge Kennelly didn’t see things that way. “You pled guilty to a felony to avoid going to trial,” he said. “That’s why you’re here right now. Not because your name is John Matassa.” The judge added that Local 711 was “the weirdest union that I’ve ever seen,” repeatedly mentioning the fact that it barely collected enough dues to pay for Matassa’s salary and expenses. One wonders how many members this union actually had – or who paid their salaries and expenses.