Feature Articles

October 2006

Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless

By J. R. de Szigethy

     "What we have here is a story of Greed," said U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Michael Garcia, as he announced at a press conference a 44-count indictment against Brian McLaughlin, President of the New York City Central Labor Council. The charges, which Garcia termed "stunning in breadth and scope," were 2 on racketeering, 13 counts of mail fraud, 3 for money laundering, 10 for violations of the Taft-Hartley Act, 1 Travel Act violation, 12 conspiracy counts, and 2 for bank fraud. Of the charges, which could result in a prison sentence of almost 5 centuries, Rose Gill Hearn, head of New York City�s Department of Investigation, stated that the alleged crimes were perpetrated so McLaughlin could "support his own version of �lifestyle of the rich and famous!�"

     The Central Labor Council is the umbrella organization that almost all of the Local Unions in New York City belong to. Over one million New Yorkers are members of Unions and have Union Dues deducted from their paychecks, much of which is kicked up to the International Unions the Locals are affiliated with, as well as organizations such as the Central Labor Council.

     In addition to his position as President of the Central Labor Council, Brian McLaughlin has served as an elected delegate in the New York State Assembly, and also acted as business agent for a division of Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers� Union. Through his official capacity in all three organizations, McLaughlin is alleged to have stolen over $2 million in Union and taxpayer funds.

     For the purposes of this narrative, Local 3 IBEW should not be confused with Local 3 UFCW, the Union of Bloomingdale�s employees whose President is the Treasurer of the Central Labor Council and who has not been accused of a crime.

     Through his position as President of the Central Labor Council, Brian McLaughlin is alleged to have stolen $185,000 from the Council, Union money which was used to pay for his personal expenses, including rent on his Queens apartment, mortgage payments for his suburban mansion, payments for a car for one of his children, and payments to a private school that one of his children attended.

     Through his position with Local 3 IBEW, McLaughlin is alleged to have stolen over $100,000 in Union dues, which was purportedly used to pay off his personal credit cards and the dues of his membership in an exclusive Country Club. Also regarding his position with Local 3, McLaughlin was charged with accepting kickbacks from electrical contractors in the amount of $400,000, money generated in part through a scheme by which McLaughlin conspired to the hiring of non-Union workers, who typically receive lower wages and no Union benefits. As President of the Central Labor Council, McLaughlin has often participated in Demonstrations outsides locations where non-Union workers were being employed. Outside those workplaces would often be placed the "giant, inflatable rat," a symbol of company greed that is popular with many New Yorkers in the Labor Union movement.

     McLaughlin was also allegedly provided the use of three vehicles owned by electrical contractors, one of which was used by his son and another used by a woman with whom McLaughlin had a "personal relationship." McLaughlin is also described in the 186-page Indictment involved in a scheme concerning the purchase of turkeys to be provided to Union members during the Thanksgiving holiday season.

     The Indictment also alleges that McLaughlin conspired to maintain a secret interest in a company that did business with companies that hire members of Local 3, an illegal activity which brought in to McLaughlin several hundred thousands of dollars. The scam also was alleged to be part of a conspiracy that provided over $60,000 for a Mercedes-Benz for McLaughlin�s wife.

     McLaughlin also allegedly solicited bribes from members of Local 3, who turned over money to him out of fear of losing their jobs. McLaughlin is also alleged to have coerced members of Local 3 to act as servants - virtual �slaves,� some would say - at his multi-million dollar mansion, which included taking out the trash, searching for rats in the cellar, shoveling snow, cleaning out the horse barn, as well as delivering cash to persons with whom McLaughlin had a personal relationship with.

     McLaughlin is also alleged to have stolen over $35,000 from the State of New York through scams perpetrated within his State Assembly office. McLaughlin, the founder and District Leader of the William Jefferson Clinton Democratic Club, a non-profit organization named after the former President, is also alleged to have stolen over $19,000 from that club for personal expenses, which included the purchase of a wide-screen plasma television installed at the home of a person with whom the Union leader maintained a personal relationship.

     McLaughlin is also alleged to have diverted over $330,000 from his political campaign committee for personal use, including the mortgage payments on his mansion, his Country Club Initiation fee, and the expenses of his son�s Wedding.

     As if these charges were not bad enough, McLaughlin is alleged to have stolen money from children. Specifically, McLaughlin is alleged to have stolen almost $100,000 from a Little League baseball program sponsored by the Electchester Athletic Association, a non-profit organization that was part of a residential development program created to provide affordable housing to Union members. The Indictment goes into horrific detail regarding this alleged crime, noting that in June, 2004, McLaughlin demanded $6,000 from one of the financial managers of the Little League team which he indicated he would use to pay the rent of his apartment in Albany. McLaughlin expressed his fury that money from that account was being instead used by another manager of the team to pay for baseball supplies for the kids. Referring to the other manager, McLaughlin is alleged to have said: "all that f�ing money, he�s f�ing spending on other stuff, that ain�t his money . . . that�s mine!"

     At his arraignment, McLaughlin pleaded "Not Guilty" to the numerous charges and was released on a $250,000 Bond.

     If this story is shocking and outrageous to those Americans residing outside New York, for residents of the Empire State, allegations such as these are no surprise to the area�s one million rank-and-file Union members who have been similarly victimized for decades by Union leaders who steal money from working people and their families.

     The allegation that McLaughlin gave Union money to women with whom he had a personal relationship is tame when compared to what Union dues from DC-37 paid for. When, in 1999, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau indicted three Directors of the Union on a variety of charges, Morgenthau stated in his press conference: "We believe some of those expenses were for male prostitutes."

     DC 37 is New York City�s largest Union of Public employees, with over 121,000 members.

     Over 30 DC 37 officials have been convicted in recent years on crimes ranging from vote rigging to the disappearance of $19 million in Union dues money, to a scam involving the purchase of Thanksgiving turkeys for Union members.

     The Thanksgiving turkey scam involved "Wild Bill" Cutolo, a hitman for the Colombo Mafia Family and "Turkey Joe" DeCanio, the former driver for the Mafia-corrupted DC 37 boss Vinnie Parisi. Several leaders within DC 37 have been questioned by FBI agents investigating the 1999 disappearance and presumed murder of Cutolo, who was Vice-President of Local 400 of the Production Workers Union. "Allie Boy" Persico, son of imprisoned Colombo Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico, has been charged with Cutolo�s murder. Cutolo was one of the key players in the Colombo Family war that raged in the late 1980s and early 1990s that left at least 12 people dead.

     Other corrupt leaders of DC 37 have included Al Diop, who was convicted of stealing more than $2 million in union funds.

     The allegation that Brian McLaughlin used stolen Union dues to pay for his house is not unprecedented. In 2000, Charles Hughes, who for 30 years headed Local 372 of DC - 37, pleaded guilty to stealing over $2 million in Union dues. That money was used to help finance his $400,000 home in Georgia, in addition to paying off his American Express personal credit card, as well as vacations for family and friends to Paris and London, and strip club excursions of his son.

     Back in the 1990s, however, William Wynn, then-President of the United Food and Commercial Workers� Union, devised a very clever - and apparently legal - �refinancing� of a home he owned which was believed to be assessed around $330,000. Wynn then sold the house to the UFCW for $620,000, which allowed Wynn to live rent-free in the home until the deal was exposed by REAP, a group of Dissident members of the UFCW. The deal was approved by Joseph Talarico, Secretary-Treasurer of the UFCW at the time. Talarico, who was President of Local 1 UFCW in Utica, New York, would later be sentenced to 30 months in prison for stealing over $925,000 in Union dues from Local 1.

     The allegation that Brian McLaughlin used union workers as servants, some of whom cleaned out his horse barn, is similar to charges the Feds in Cleveland made in 2002 against then-Congressman James Traficant, who represented the area of Youngstown, Ohio. Traficant was convicted on a variety of charges of racketeering and bribery, including charges he forced members of his staff to perform chores on his horse farm. Traficant, an associate of the Pittsburgh Mafia Family, is currently serving a 12-year sentence at a Federal prison in Minnesota.

     An early warning of Brian McLaughlin�s true self came in 1998, when he threw the support of the Central Labor Council behind the legal woes of Gus Bevona, whose salary of $500,000 as President of Local 32 B-J, which represents thousands of building workers in New York City, made him one of America�s highest-compensated Union leaders. Bevona had been sued in Federal Court by a young Dissident in his Union, a janitor named Carlos Guzman, who claimed that Bevona�s hiring of a private investigator to spy on him violated his rights to Freedom of Speech. Corrupt Unions have a sad history of attempting to silence critics of Union corruption, and as a consequence, Congress has passed legislation to strengthen the rights of rank-and-file workers, notably the Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1947 and the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959. That Act strengthens the Constitutional rights to Freedom of Speech of Union rank-and-filers, protects members from reprisals for exposing corruption, and strengthens the ability of a Union member to sue their Union.

     In Guzman�s case, a Federal jury decided in his favor, imposing a fine of $100,000 against Bevona. Also, Federal District Court Judge Robert Patterson issued a ruling that prohibited Local 32 B-J from using Union funds to finance the Appeal by Bevona of Guzman�s legal victory. Bevona would then turn to Brian McLaughlin for help in his legal fight against Guzman. McLaughlin then ordered his Central Labor Council lawyers to assist Bevona in his fight against the Union Dissident.

     Guzman had also been critical of Bevona�s resort to nepotism, by putting several members of his family on the Union payroll, a practice that is rampant in corrupt Unions nationwide. In the current Indictment against McLaughlin, numerous allegations are made in reference to his funneling Union money, from Local 3, McLaughlin�s re-election campaign, and the Central Labor Council, to members of his family.


     The results of the Mayoral election of 2001 offer a clear example of the schism between the Union leaders in New York City and the rank-and-file workers who generate the income they so frequently misuse. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-1 in New York City. In the 2001 race for Mayor, Mark Green, a popular Democrat, received the endorsement of the leaders of every Union in New York City, with the single exception of the Corrections� Officers Union, which endorsed Green�s Republican opponent, Michael Bloomberg, a businessman with no experience in government. That the majority of Union rank-and-file members chose to ignore the unprecedented support of the Union leadership of Green by voting instead for his opponent is just one indication of the lack of support - and regard - rank-and-filers have for the leaders of their Unions.

     The new scandal regarding Brian McLaughlin is something working people and their families have endured for decades, a fact of life in New York City that was brilliantly depicted in a motion picture made a half-Century ago; ON THE WATERFRONT. The only difference with this scandal is the one allegation against McLaughlin that is without precedent; that he stole money from some kids on a Little League baseball team. If convicted on this count, Brian McLaughlin will earn a singular distinction in the American Union�s Hall of Shame as �the man who stole from kids.�

Related Features by this author:


Part Four: How Congressman Traficant and a Labor Union Found Their Way Into The Court of U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells

Additional sources and suggested reading:

How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America�s Promise

By Robert Fitch Pegasus Books Group, 2006

City Limits Magazine



James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:

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