Feature Articles

May 2009

Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless

Part Three: Another Disappointing Sentence

By J. R. de Szigethy

     New York City�s corrupt labor union king Brian McLaughlin has now been sentenced to just 10 years in prison for his brazen theft of over $2 million dollars from working people and their families, and even from kids on a Little League baseball team.  The relatively light sentence - McLaughlin faced a staggering potential sentence of 500 years in prison when charges were first brought against him in October, 2006 - was met with disappointment by many rank-and-file workers throughout New York who are angered by the Union corruption that has been endemic in the city for decades.  Even the Judge in the case, Richard Sullivan, expressed his reluctance to grant the request of Federal Prosecutors that McLaughlin receive the 10-year sentence as a reward for his alleged cooperation with the authorities.

     When McLaughlin pleaded guilty to the charges in March, 2008, many observers believed that McLaughlin would offer evidence of corruption on the part of many of the leaders of the 400 labor Unions McLaughlin worked with during his Presidency of the Central Labor Council.  Also, as a politician - McLaughlin, a Democrat, served in the State Assembly - McLaughlin had interactions with numerous politicians, leading to speculation he could bring down some of them as well.  Instead, to date McLaughlin�s cooperation has only resulted in the indictments of 2 men, a State Assemblyman and an electrical contractor, both of whom have pleaded �Not Guilty.�   

     As the sentencing date was approaching, 47 of McLaughlin�s supporters wrote letters to Judge Sullivan, including a State Senator, Frank Padavan, who, ironically, is the author of a �Career Criminal� bill that would substantially increase the prison sentences of people who commit the types of crimes McLaughlin has pleaded guilty to.  Padavan is a Republican from Queens who was re-elected in 2008 by the margin of only 480 votes.  Predictably, Senator Padavan�s letter set off a storm of protest. 

     John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, was among those who wrote the Judge begging for leniency, a stunning revelation that was only reported by one of New York�s major newspapers, the New York Times.  Some of the people who wrote to Judge Sullivan reinforced McLaughlin�s claim that the crimes he committed was the result of his being an alcoholic, a disease McLaughlin only discovered he had as the authorities were closing in on him.  McLaughlin�s claim of being impaired by alcohol could have been corroborated - or debunked - by secret tape recordings made of McLaughlin during the commission of some of his crimes, but these tapes were never played in Court, due to his Guilty Plea, which precluded a trial.  Thus, only the transcripts have been made available to the Media, which only reveal the words McLaughlin spoke, without any indication of insobriety.  For example, on one tape, McLaughlin is heard angrily belaboring the fact that funds for a Little League baseball team were used to pay for baseball equipment, instead of being diverted into bank accounts McLaughlin used to provide for his wife and mistresses.  McLaughlin complained:  �All that f---ing money he�s f---ing spending on other stuff.  That ain�t his money - that�s mine!�   The Little League team in question, the Electchester Athletic Association, which is funded by McLaughlin�s electrician�s union, is suing McLaughlin in an attempt to recover $95,000 McLaughlin stole from the kids.

     Greed, not alcohol, was the term prosecutors attributed to McLaughlin when his indictment was announced, with Rose Gill Hearn of the NYC Department of Investigation claiming that McLaughlin stole the money so that he could �support his own version of �Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous!��  In addition to providing a lavish lifestyle for himself, his wife, children, and girlfriends, McLaughlin forced Union members to perform chores at his horse farm located in one of the most expensive zip codes in America. 

     The fall of Brian McLaughlin is just the latest in a long string of corruption scandals to rock New York City Unions during the past 10 years.  Those cases include:

     *Indictments in 1999 against labor leaders of DC 37, New York City�s largest Union of Public employees.  In announcing the charges, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau claimed that some male Union leaders had used Union members Dues to pay for male prostitutes.  30 DC 37 officials have now been convicted of crimes ranging from Union election fraud to the disappearance of $19 million in Union dues money, to a scam involving the purchase of Thanksgiving turkeys for Union members.  The turkey scam involved "Wild Bill" Cutolo, a hitman for the Colombo Mafia Family and "Turkey Joe" DeCanio, the former driver for DC 37 boss Vinnie Parisi.  In 2007, Alphonse Persico, the son of imprisoned Colombo Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico, was convicted for the murder of Cutolo, who was Vice-President of Local 400 of the Production Workers Union.  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. 

     *Charles Hughes, who for 30 years headed Local 372 of DC - 37, pleaded guilty in 2000 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.  Hughes� lawyer argued that Hughes suffered from �Pick�s Disease,� a neurological disorder that impairs judgment. 

     *Red Scollo, the President of Local 1814 of the International Longshoremen�s Association, was indicted by the Feds in 2002, along with Peter Gotti, Richard Gotti, and other members of the Gambino Family, on charges including racketeering, extortion, loan sharking, money laundering, misuse of Union Health Care funds, a kickback scheme regarding the Union�s Prescription Drug Plan, and illegal gambling operations.  Scollo accepted a plea bargain and testified against Peter Gotti, the brother of former Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti.  Actor Steven Seagal also testified for the Feds in that trial in regards to a Gambino extortion plot against the Hollywood actor.  Red Scollo served as a Vice-President of the Central Labor Council during the tenure of Brian McLaughlin, as did Al Diop of DC -37, who was convicted of stealing more than $2 million in union funds.

     Corrupt Union officials who receive what some perceive to be light sentences has emerged as a campaign issue in the race to elect the successor to Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney who has achieved one of the best records of prosecution of the American Mafia.  The New York Post has revealed that Cyrus Vance Jr., who has Morgenthau�s endorsement, negotiated a plea bargain with a corrupt Union leader which resulted in the criminal receiving no prison time.  Vance secured this as the criminal lawyer for James Vetrano, the President of Local 305 of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Stores Union.  Vetrano was among 32 people indicted by the Feds in Manhattan in March, 2005, the principle Defendant being Arnold Squitieri, alleged to be the acting Godfather of the Gambino Mafia Family.  The indictments, which included charges of assault, extortion of businesses and individuals, loan sharking, embezzlement of Union funds, illegal gambling, mail fraud, and trafficking of stolen property and counterfeit goods, also named Robert Persico, owner of a construction firm, and Gregory DePalma, as Defendants.  DePalma, an alleged capo in the Gambino Family, was charged with, among other crimes, assaulting a man with a crystal candlestick in the Tabletop section of a New York Department Store. 

     James Vetrano faced a potential sentence of 30 years in prison on 5 Counts of Conspiracy, 5 Counts of embezzlement of Union funds, and 2 Counts of Mail Fraud.  Instead of going to prison, however, Cyrus Vance Jr. was able to secure Probation for Vetrano, and Vetrano was not forced to resign as President of Local 305 of the RWDSU. 

     (Author�s note: for the purposes of this narrative, Local 305 RWDSU should not be confused with Local 3 RWDSU, a Union of Department store employees whose President was the Treasurer of the Central Labor Council during the time Brian McLaughlin embezzled Union money from that organization.)


     At his sentencing, Brian McLaughlin was scolded by Judge Sullivan, who compared him to �Boss Tweed,� who pulled similar scams in New York City back in the mid-1800s.  7 decades after Boss Tweed, the American people were alerted to the dangers of Union corruption in the motion picture classic ON THE WATERFRONT.  Now, 5 decades after that awakening, the case of Brian McLaughlin proves that little has changed in the last Century and a half, that on a daily basis, working people and their families in large cities are subject to human predators.  However, in this case, Brian McLaughlin added his own, perverse twist; in addition to stealing from working men and women, Brian McLaughlin also stole money from children. 

Related Features by this author:

Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless,
Part Two: �Boss Hog� Pleads Guilty

Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless, Part One:


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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