Feature Articles

December 2010

Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless

Part Four: New York's Activist Clergy

By J. R. de Szigethy

     A Catholic Priest who became a national hero on 9/11 has shaken up the Labor Union movement in New York City by denouncing the city's top labor Union official. In a letter to Jack Ahern, the President of the New York City Central Labor Council, Father Brian Jordan demanded Ahern's resignation after he accepted a 100% increase in his salary during a time when many rank-and-file Workers are unemployed. The Central Labor Council is an organization most of New York City's Local Unions belong to in addition to their respective International Unions. When the New York Daily News obtained a copy of Jordan's letter, working people and their families in the Metropolitan area were treated with yet another Union scandal, this during the 2010 Christmas Holiday season. The Daily News noted that in addition to Ahern's salary increase from $40,000 to $80,000 for his job as CLC President - a job which is part-time, Ahern also received $247,000 last year for his work as President of Local 30 of the Operating Engineers Union. "Shame on you!" Father Jordan is quoted in the letter. A spokesperson for the Central Labor Council insisted that Ahern did not ask for the raise, and that he would not resign his position. The Daily News also pointed out that Ahern's predecessor - Gary LaBarbara, a Teamsters' Union official, served as President of the Labor Council for 2 years without pay.(1)

     LaBarbara's predecessor was Brian McLaughlin, the subject of parts One, Two, and Three of this series. McLaughlin is currently serving a 10-year sentence for stealing over $2 million dollars from the Central Labor Council, his Electrical Workers' Union, and the State of New York via his job as an elected Assemblyman, as well as his taking bribes to allow the hiring of illegal aliens at illegal wages. McLaughlin also stole $100,000 from kids on a Little League baseball team, all as part of his lavish lifestyle for himself, his wife, and his girlfriends. At his sentencing, McLaughlin tried to blame his crimes on alcoholism. 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!'"

     That same group of Prosecutors also recently nailed Michael Forde, the leader of New York City's Carpenters Union, on similar charges to those Mclaughlin pleaded guilty to. Seven corrupt associates of Forde have also pleaded guilty, including a reputed Associate of the Luchese Mafia Family. A reputed soldier in the Genovese Mafia Family is still facing charges. Forde was a cocaine addict and placed his drug dealer on the Union payroll, and used Union funds to pay for trips for himself and his drug dealer to resorts including those in Las Vegas, Hawaii, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Palm Beach, Florida. Union Dissidents are now engaged in a legal campaign to recover the $500,000 in legal fees Forde charged to the Union. Forde's salary last year was $273,000, and although Forde is now a convicted felon, no one, including the Union, can touch his Pension of over $125,000 a year. (2)

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

     * Convictions of several leaders of DC 37, New York City's largest Union of Public employees. In announcing the charges, Prosecutors revealed that some male Union leaders had used Union members Dues to pay for male prostitutes. 30 DC 37 officials have since 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 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. As would be the case of Brian McLaughlin, Hughes' lawyer argued that Hughes suffered from "Pick's Disease," a neurological disorder that impairs judgment, and thus he was a victim, rather than the working people and their families from whom Hughes stole Union funds.

     *Red Scollo, the President of Local 1814 of the International Longshoremen's Association, was indicted by the Feds, 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. 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. Michael Forde also served as a Vice-President under the tenure of Brian McLaughlin, representing his Workers in the Operating Engineers Union.

     *The International Union of Operating Engineers has come under scrutiny in New York City in the past few years due to several high-profile accidents involving construction cranes, which resulted in the deaths of 9 people in 2008. Investigations led to the conviction of Buildings Department Inspector James Delayo, who pleaded guilty this year to taking bribes to falsely certify cranes as being safe. Delayo was sentenced to a prison term of 2 to 6 years. Delayo's lawyer noted to the Court that his client had suffered permanent lung damage as a result of working in the toxic environment at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Also convicted was Michael Sackaris, the owner of a Crane company, who pleaded guilty to bribing Delayo. Rose Gill Hearn, who was part of the investigation, stated: "This prison sentence, along with the felony conviction of the crane owner, is a potent reminder of where bribery leads!" (3)

     An investigation by the New York Times revealed that crane safety in New York City in recent years has been compromised by the Mafia, according to an official of the International Union of Operating Engineers. That official, who was not charged with a crime, detailed how strippers from topless clubs, as well as members of the Mafia, were recruited to join the Union's construction safety program. (4)

     With all of these recent and egregious Union corruption scandals still fresh in the minds of the hundred of thousands of Union members of New York City area, the outrage expressed by Father Brian Jordan in his letter resonated with many. Adding more weight to Father Jordan's action is the fact that Jordan is one of the few activists in the Labor Union Movement that is regarded as a true hero by the rank-and-file Workers in the New York City area. Father Jordan became an acclaimed Union activist overnight due to his gutsy display on a September evening in 2000 outside Lincoln Center, the home of the Metropolitan Opera. A year earlier, 31 Union activists were arrested for violating a Court Order that prevented them from picketing in the Plaza of Lincoln Center on behalf of Workers in the Center's restaurants. These workers, many of whom were paid less than $10.00 an hour, were seeking Union representation from Local 100 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. A year later the protesters were back, but with Father Jordan on hand along with a half-dozen of his fellow Priests. The NYPD had cordoned off a small area to contain the protesters and warned that anyone who crossed the line onto the Plaza would be arrested, as had happened the year before. "Come on, guys!," Father Jordan barked to his fellow Priests, as the Priests crossed the line and marched across the Plaza.

     Many in attendance were praying the Priests would get arrested. For the photographers on hand, a photo of Catholic Priests in handcuffs with Lincoln Center in the background would be worth over $1,000, and would likely appear on the front page of the New York Post or New York Daily News. Such coverage would be invaluable publicity for the Union, so the activities of the police officers was watched with great anticipation. Suddenly, a police van came racing down the street to a screeching halt, as if the event on hand was some true emergency. Out of the van jumped a dozen of New York's Finest - in complete riot gear - a stark contrast to the simple Monk's hooded habit and sandals Father Jordan and the other Priests were wearing.

     At some point, those NYPD officials in charge at the scene realized they were being set up for some very bad publicity, so the order was given that no arrests be made until authorized by higher-ups at Police Headquarters. Phone calls were made, where cooler - and wiser - heads prevailed, and, to the disappointment of many, Father Jordan and his Priests were not arrested. Some other story would make it to the front page of the next days' newspapers. Despite this lost opportunity, word quickly spread amongst New York's Union movement about their new, unlikely hero. Jordan quickly became the hottest property for any Union or organization that advocated for working people - including, ironically, those Unions and organizations that represented Workers in law enforcement.

     On 9/11, Jordan's colleague Father Mychal Judge, a Fire Department Chaplain, would be designated the first official victim on the ground at what would become known the next day as "Ground Zero." Thousands of New Yorkers, many of them Union members, descended upon the site to participate in the rescue and recovery. Many, (including this reporter), were turned away because there were already more volunteers than were needed. Those Workers at Ground Zero rarely found someone alive, and many of those volunteers have since died or are ill due to the exposure to the toxins at the site. Among those who worked there was Father Jordan, who knew many who died there, including his close friend Father Judge.

     Out of the chaos and despair one day emerged a symbol of Hope, when two steel beams were discovered that had, during the collapse of one of the Towers, forged together to form a perfect Cross. When Father Jordan was alerted to this discovery, Jordan blessed the Cross with Holy Water and proclaimed it a sign for people of all Faiths that God had not abandoned them at a site of unprecedented Evil. (5) Thus, the world learned of Father Brian Jordan, and his presence would be requested by many in need from outside the New York area, taking the Priest many places, from Ireland to the Fifth Ward of New Orleans. In November, 2008, Father Jordan ran the New York City Marathon, running on behalf of construction workers killed on the job, including those who died in the two Crane accidents that year. (6)


     Members of the Clergy in New York have a rich history of advocating for working people and their families. Long before Father Jordan moved to New York, New Yorkers were inspired by clergy such as Father John Corridan, a Catholic Priest who in 1949 began approaching rank-and-file members of the Longshoremen's Unions along the Waterfront to challenge them to initiate a Union Reform Movement by standing up against the corrupt Mob bosses that ran their Unions. Among those Father Corridan challenged in this regard were Workers at the Domino Sugar plant, who belonged to Local 1814 of the ILA, a Union dominated for decades by what is today called the Gambino Mafia Family.

     Malcolm Johnson, an investigative reporter for the New York Sun newspaper, soon championed Father Corridan's brave initiative. Johnson began publishing an on-going series on the Mafia and the Longshoremen's Union entitled "Crime on the Waterfront." Johnson's riveting series depicted in stark detail the American Mafia's use of violence - and the threat of violence - to enslave the Workers in the Waterfront Unions. This series created a sensation throughout America and for this series Malcolm Johnson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Johnson later turned this series into a book, "Crime on the Labor Front." This book and series set the stage for the televised hearings on the American Mafia in 1951 led by U. S. Senator Estes Kefauver. Senator Kefauver's Committee took their investigation into this plight on American Workers across the country in highly publicized hearings in most large American cities. By the millions, average American Workers flocked to bars, department stores, private homes and public facilities, - wherever they could find that rare, new invention, a television, - to follow the unfolding drama of the growing menace to working people and their families by organized crime.

     Johnson's book was then adapted by Screenwriter Budd Schulberg, entitled "On the Waterfront." The film premiered in October 1954 and was a sensational hit, resonating with working people across America. The film won 8 Oscars, including those for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. Karl Malden portrayed the Catholic Priest based upon the campaign led by Father Corridan.

     In the 1960s another activist member of the Clergy, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became a leader in the labor union movement in New York City, that movement being parallel to the civil rights movement. Reverend King spent significant time working with various Unions in New York, primarily those that represented Workers in the Hospital and Retail industries. Reverend King was murdered in Memphis in 1968, where he had traveled to support striking sanitation workers. To this day, many of those in the Labor Union movement believe that the American Mafia was involved in the Martyrdom of Dr. King.

     The Manhattan community of Harlem has, since it's inception, been the breeding ground of activist members of the Clergy, going back to the days of the "Underground Railroad," an international coalition of people who, often at personal risk, smuggled African-American Slaves from the Southern States to Freedom up North. Following in this tradition in the present day are two such activists, one an African-American female from South Carolina, the Reverend Betty Neal, and the other a Caucasian male, the Reverend Robert Castle.

     Reverend Castle was the subject of the 1992 film "Cousin Bobby," directed by his cousin, Jonathan Demme. The movie depicted Castle's activism within the Labor Union movement, notably his work with the United Farm Workers. Castle has also taken on the Mafia, notably those Mob associates who for decades have dealt drugs in the Harlem community, many from their stronghold in and around Pleasant Avenue.

     Reverend Betty Neal is the Executive Director of Ministers of Harlem, USA, a non-profit organization that brings together Harlem residents with the police officers and firefighters who work in that community. As such, Reverend Neal has worked closely with the Unions that represent these workers. Neal has also demonstrated outside Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre on behalf of the house band, Ray Chew and the Crew, when the band was demanding Union representation. Like Father Jordan, Reverend Neal was a close friend of many of those who died at the World Trade Center, and thus provided spiritual guidance and counseling for their families and loved ones.


     In recent years, the Clergy profession in America, as worldwide, has been rocked by unprecedented scandal. Members of the Clergy being humans, and humans, according to the Clergy, possessing Free Will, thus have a Choice when confronted by members of the American Mafia, who wish to disguise their criminal activities behind the veneer of the financial business of a Church. Reverend Neal was once approached by members of the Mafia, who offered her a bribe to launder their money through her Church. A similar offer was made during that time to another member of the Clergy, the Reverend Joseph Iati of Youngstown, Ohio.

     Reverend Neal chose to decline the Mafia's bribe offer, while Reverend Iati chose to accept the Mafia's bribes. The Mafia never approached Reverend Neal again, and her organization thrives to this very day. Reverend Iati would later die of a shotgun blast to his head, which the authorities ruled was self-inflicted.

Related Features by this author:

Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless,
Part Three: Another Disappointing Sentence

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

Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless, Part One:


* * *


1. "Rev. Brian Jordan rips Central Labor Council President Jack Ahern on salary, demands resignation," New York Daily News, November 27, 2010.

2. "Coke head, former union big Michael Forde gave his drug dealer union job, lavish trips and meals," New York Daily News, November 19, 2010

3. "City's Former Chief Crane Inspector Goes to Prison for Taking Bribes," the New York Times, June 16, 2010.

4. "Union Crane-Safety Teacher Admitted to Oversight Lapses," New York Times, February 25, 2009.

5. "Cast Iron 'cross' Found in World Trade Center Rubble Gives Rescue Workers Hope," Associated Press, October 4, 2001.

6. "Priest dedicates 20th marathon run to fallen construction workers," New York Daily News, October 29, 2008.


James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:

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