Glenn Blicht sold out his union for a price. Now he’s on the verge of paying a different kind of price. On October 16, Justice Department officials announced that Blicht, former president of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 164, had pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court two days earlier to demanding and accepting about $150,000 in bribes over several years from a representative of an employer in exchange for the union backing away from filing arbitration complaints against the company. He had been arrested and charged in July. As part of the plea deal, Blicht must forfeit $150,000 and pay restitution. He faces up to five years in prison. The employer representative already had pleaded guilty. The actions follow a joint probe by the FBI, the IRS and U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General and Employee Benefits Security Administration.
Union Corruption Update had reported on this story last summer. Glenn Blicht, now 57, a resident of Wilton, Conn., served as an officer of the Ridgefield Park (Bergen County), N.J.-based ILA Local 164 in some capacity since 2009. It didn’t take him long to enrich himself illegally. According to prosecutors, in that very year Blicht began demanding cash payments in increments (“tickets”) of at least $1,000, and often higher, from an unnamed area employer indicated in charging documents as a “cooperating witness.” The employer at the time was facing a deluge of complaints from union members to the National Labor Relations Board. Blicht told him that he could make this problem go away in exchange for cash. In short order, the employer paid, and Blicht, true to his word, declined to file complaints. This sort of quid pro quo is illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.
Sometime by early 2017, federal investigators had gotten word of what had been happening. They began secretly recording phone calls and text messages between the pair. The employer’s payments now had stopped, much to Blicht’s dismay. An increasingly impatient Blicht communicated his anxiety and eventually demanded that the employer either resume the payments or face NLRB action. By summer, the feds believed they had enough evidence to move in. On July 26, they arrested Blicht outside a New York City restaurant where he had just received a $10,000 payment from the employer. Blicht then would be charged with one count each of honest services fraud and receipt of bribes. His case looked especially weak because unlike most Taft-Hartley pay-for-play schemes, this was one in which the union official, not the employer, made the offer, and moreover with a clear threat. The inevitable guilty plea occurred less than three months later.
Sentencing is set for February 12. Prosecutors are confident they have the right man. “As the president of a labor union, Glenn Blicht’s duty was to fight for his union members,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. “Instead, for many years, he demanded and accepted bribes – and in return, he sold out his union members. Our Office is committed to prosecuting those who abuse positions of trust for their own gain.”