When Glenn Blicht talked about “tickets,” it wasn’t about a concert or a ball game. At least one businessman who had dealings with him learned the hard way. Last Friday, July 26, Blicht, president of Local 164 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), was arrested and then charged in Manhattan federal court with one count each of honest services fraud and receipt of bribes from an unnamed employer in return for a promise to back away from filing union arbitration complaints against the company. Following his arraignment, he was released on a $100,000 bond. He’s due back in court on August 26. The employer already has pleaded guilty. The arrest follows an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General.
Glenn Blicht, now 57, a resident of Wilton, Conn., has served as an officer of the Ridgefield Park (Bergen County), N.J.-based ILA Local 164 in some capacity since 2009. That includes his current stint as president. It didn’t take him long to turn to lawbreaking. According to prosecutors, beginning in 2009 Blicht began demanding cash payments of at least $1,000 from an area employer, listed in charging documents only as a “cooperating witness,” telling him that he could avoid being swamped with complaints with the National Labor Relations Board if he paid up. In short order, the employer paid; Blicht declined to file complaints; and nobody was the wiser. This quid pro quo arrangement was illegal under the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, better known as the Taft-Hartley Act. And it lasted about 10 years, making Blicht at least $150,000 richer.
Blicht had an expression for the payments: “tickets.” Each ticket was worth $1,000. And very often, a required payment exceeded that sum. The employer/cooperating witness told authorities that he had to pay at least one ticket to Blicht at least five times a year in amounts typically varying between $2,000 and $5,000. The complaint states: “(The cooperating witness) understood that these claims were intended to harass (him) through paperwork and legal fees into resuming paying bribes. Once (the witness) resumed paying the bribes, Blicht would dismiss the arbitration claims.” Eventually, sometime during the past year, the feds got wind of all this, and began secretly recording phone calls and text messages between the two.
The payments stopped after January, but Blicht continued his shakedown. “I don’t appreciate being avoided,” one of his texts warned. “Lose my number. It’s been going on for 2 weeks. I’m filing charges at NLRB!!!” Weeks later, on March 27, he got testier. “I don’t appreciate being ignored for arbitration tomorrow regarding NY and (NJ).” In fact, Local 164 had filed at least four arbitration claims against the employer. By this summer, Blicht was getting even antsier. In a recorded call on July 12, the employer asked for more time to pay overdue “tickets.” Blicht responded that 14 tickets had piled up since January. Later, Blicht sent him a message, “I’m not putting it off unless you get current for 5 mos. At least.” And in a recorded call on July 18, Blicht scheduled a meeting between the two, delivering this ultimatum: “Don’t screw this one up ‘cause if you do – this is not a threat, it’s a promise – you’re gonna regret it.”
At that point, FBI and Labor Department investigators believed they had enough information to move in. On the morning of July 26, Blicht was arrested. He may plead his innocence for now, but he’s got a tough sell to any jury. The unnamed employer/cooperating witness already has pleaded guilty to tax evasion and Taft-Hartley bribery violations in return for leniency at sentencing. He’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain by spilling the beans on Blicht, who faces up to 20 years in prison on the honest services fraud charge and up to five years in prison on the Taft-Hartley charge. If anything, his case looks weaker than most union officials charged with such offenses. Typically, it is the employer who offers the union officials a bribe in hopes of the union calling off a strike, dropping certain demands during contract talks or otherwise refraining from adversely affecting his (the employer’s) interests. This case seems the very reverse. Here a union official initiated the exchanges, and in language that indicated a threat rather than an inducement. Indeed, given the one-sided nature of their interactions, one has to wonder why Blicht wasn’t charged with extortion and why the cooperating witness was charged at all.
Whatever the appropriate charges, federal officials are confident they have the right man. “As alleged, Glenn Blicht abused his position as the president of a labor union to line his own pockets,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “He allegedly demanded and received bribes and, in return, he did not fight for his union members – the hard-working individuals whose interests he was duty-bound to protect.” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. put it this way: “Criminals are asked to do things all the time for money, but sometimes they’re asked not to do things for money. Glenn Blicht was supposed to be representing the best interests of hundreds of people who had faith in the fact that he was helping them, but he allegedly decided to help himself to bribes the other side was offering him.”