Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Carpenters Terminate Federal Monitor

May 11, 2005 Delegate Body Meeting—President Peter Thomassen informed the delegate body that Judge Charles Haight of Federal Court for the Southern District of New York agreed to end federal monitor, Walter Mack, as Independent Investigator of New York City's carpenters' union, saying that his two-year tenure was up.

On December 2, the district council sent a letter to Mr. Mack stating that under the court order appointing Mr. Mack, the district council can issue a sixty day notice of termination at the end of the twenty four month term.

In response to the district council’s notice of termination, the government filed a motion with Judge Haight to extend Mr. Mack’s role for another eighteen months.
Judge Haight conducted a hearing in early April and after three days of testimony between the district council and the government, Judge Haight agreed with the council to end Mr. Mack's term.

President Thomassen told the delegates that when they agreed to hire Mr. Mack in 2003, Mr. Mack was charging the council $20,000 a month, however Mr. Mack fees soon escalated to over $80,000 a month.

President Thomassen said the council was unhappy with the “run away cost and the abuse” from Mr. Mack. “You don’t know what we went through, It’s been a rough two years of abuse to our members and business agents.” 

Mr. Mack was like a “run away train” spending over $85,000 a month of our member’s money. Spending was “out of control” and it’s costing us too much money, “we had to get the spending under control,” Thomassen said.

Thomassen cited an example of Mr. Mack billing the council $100 per hour, $300,000 total for a girl to answer the Hot Line from 6am to 5pm.

Thomassen also chastised the frivolous anonymous callers to the Hot Line, “if a member has corruption to report he should leave his name”. In the two years that Walter Mack has been investigating "he did not find one business agent doing anything wrong". 

There was no mention to the delegates, of Mr. Mack’s May 2, report, finding that Boom Construction Enterprises, a Queens construction company paid thousands of dollars to union officials so it could hire carpenters for far below the union pay rate.

According to the report, each day at various job sites, over a five-year period, Boom made payoffs to carpenters' shop stewards. The shop stewards, Mr. Mack wrote, then let Boom hire carpenters at less than the union wage and without union benefits.

In the report, Mr. Mack criticized the District Council of Carpenters for not reacting more vigorously after suspicious were first raised.

Mr. Mack will continue as Independent Investigator and operate the Hot Line until a new company is hired, pending government approval. The council has interviewed five other qualified companies to take over the role as Independent Investigator.

“Anti-Irish” Bias Acquits Carpenter Union Leader

By Debbie McGoldrick--IRISH VOICE

Citing what he termed a “troubling” case of jury misconduct, New York State Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Atlas last Friday overturned a 2004 bribery conviction against Mike Forde, the executive secretary/treasurer of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, and Carpenters Local 608 business agent Martin Devereaux.

Brian O’Dwyer of the law firm O’Dwyer and Bernstien, the firm which handles council’s legal affairs, also accused the jurors of an “anti-Irish bias” which made a fair deliberation of the evidence against the union leaders virtually impossible.

In a 25-page verdict in which he quashed the conviction, Atlas wrote that post-trial juror interviews showed that several members of the jury viewed his instructions not to discuss the case while it was going on as “something of a joke.”

The jurors, Atlas discovered, held many pre-conceived notions about the case, comparing it to the mob TV show The Sopranos and dismissing the defendants as smirking criminals who spent lunch recesses consuming alcohol.

The notion that the defendants were drinkers, O’Dwyer says, shows that the jury was ill equipped to deal with the serious nature of the case.

“One of the most offensive things was that the jurors basically said that Mike and Martin would come back to the case red-faced and drunk in the afternoons,” O’Dwyer told the Irish Voice during a victory party for the defendants at his downtown offices on Friday morning.

“It’s such an anti-Irish bias. The jurors were deliberately prejudiced and the judge gave a fantastic verdict,” he added.

In April of last year, Forde and Devereaux were convicted of accepting a $10,000 cash bribe from a mob-connected construction firm seeking to utilize non-union workers for a large renovation at the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan which took place in 1998.

The evidence presented was circumstantial, Atlas wrote. The prosecution’s two chief witnesses gave conflicting testimony and were unable to definitively say that money had actually exchanged hands.

Criminal attorneys Mike Dowd and Dino Lombardi, enlisted by O’Dwyer and Bernstien as co-counsel on the case, soon filed two motions to set the verdict aside based on correspondence they received from an alternate juror who revealed that jury members openly discussed the case and all connected with it while testimony was ongoing, in direct contradiction of Atlas’s persistent instructions to the contrary.

Once this information came to light, Atlas conducted a series of interviews with each of the jurors, some of whom acknowledged ignoring the judge’s orders to leave the case inside the courtroom until its conclusion.

“Negative comments about the defense attorneys and defendants were made regularly by several jurors, especially by Juror 5 who stated that the defendants were drinking at lunch and that Hooters restaurant was the perfect place for furthering their conspiracy,” Atlas wrote. The meeting at which it was alleged the $10,000 was given to the defendants took place at a Hooters location across from the Park Central Hotel.

“Juror 5 stated that the defendants had been drinking during the luncheon recess, and that one of the defendants was not paying attention and was falling asleep in court,” Atlas continued.

The jurors were also charged with “anti-union bias,” “unequivocal favor for the prosecutor’s performance,” and “the view that the case resembled a Sopranos’ episode.”

According to several members of the jury, Juror 8 described himself as a former police officer and felt authorized to explain and define certain terms such as “shop steward” and “racketeering” used during the course of the trial.

“Juror 8 is, in fact, an accountant for a security company whose job, as he put it, is to ‘count the beans,’” Atlas wrote.

The judge concluded, “I am deeply troubled by the distinct likelihood that, given the unauthorized pre-deliberation discussion of the evidence and the open expression of opinions about guilt and bias about unions, these jurors may well have failed to appreciate the delicacy and difficulty of their task and overlooked the standard proof to which the prosecutor was held.”

After hearing that their convictions were dismissed, the defendants and their supporters walked the short distance to the law offices of O’Dwyer and Bernstien for a celebration. Forde, active in many Irish American organizations, was visibly relieved.

“I didn’t know what to expect today. This should have never happened to begin with,” Forde told the Irish Voice. “It has been an awful time for my family.

“I was mortified, devastated when the allegations first came out,” added Forde, a union man for 25 years who started out with Carpenters Local 608 before being elected to the New York District Council which oversees the city’s carpenter’s unions.

Forde, a resident of Woodside, is married with two grown children and is active in St. Sebastian’s church. His elderly parents, also Queens residents and natives of Castlebar, Co. Mayo, were especially worried about the charges against their son, he said.

“I called them right away this morning and they’re so relieved,” Forde said.

Forde, who stood for re-election to his post during the trial and was retained by a member vote margin of 3-1, plans to run again in December. “I’m totally focused on helping our membership now,” he said. “I’ve had tremendous support from our members and I thank them so much for that.”

Forde was president of the nearly 8,000 member Carpenters Local 608 before being elected to the top executive secretary/treasurer post at the New York District Council of Carpenters, which oversees 10 unions, five years ago. Membership is heavily Irish American, and Forde estimates that at least 1/3 of the District Council’s 25,000 members are Irish.

Friday, May 6, 2005

Queens Construction Firm Accused of Bribery


The federal monitor of New York City's carpenters' union issued a report yesterday finding that a Queens construction company paid thousands of dollars to union officials so it could hire carpenters for far below the union pay rate.

The monitor, Walter Mack, a former federal prosecutor, found that the company, Boom Construction Enterprises of Long Island City, made payoffs to carpenters' shop stewards at construction projects at Jacobi Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital and other sites. The shop stewards, Mr. Mack wrote, then let Boom hire carpenters at less than the union wage and without union benefits.

Mr. Mack's report tells how a bartender at O'Shea's Emerald Bar in the Bronx helped hand envelopes of cash to the carpenters who had been hired improperly.

Mr. Mack wrote that Boom's owner, Derek McKenna, paid various shop stewards $200 to $800 a week - more than $80,000 in all - so they would hire carpenters below the union rate. Wages and benefits for union carpenters often total $65 an hour; those not paid the union rate can earn less than half that amount.

In a telephone interview, Mr. McKenna said that union officials often pushed for such an arrangement. "There are a lot of companies that have done the same thing," he said.

Mr. Mack wrote that Mr. McKenna and a union shop steward, Delroy Haughton, had accused each other of initiating the payoff scheme.

The United States attorney for the Southern District has indicted Mr. Haughton for taking bribes. Mr. Haughton's lawyer, James M. Roth, said his client insists he is not guilty.

Mr. Mack wrote that Mr. McKenna at first stated that he was not involved in a bribery scheme, but that after more evidence was produced, Mr. McKenna hired a criminal lawyer and revised his statement.

According to the report, each day at the Jacobi site, the shop stewards omitted two to six workers from their report of the number of carpenters working. After a union business agent told Mr. Mack's office of receiving an anonymous tip about payoffs, investigators examined Boom's payroll records and discovered that the company was paying more workers than were listed on the stewards' daily employee reports.

Mr. Mack wrote that many carpenters had denied being paid in cash below the union rate, but that they later admitted they had been, after learning that Mr. McKenna had admitted to the scheme.

Mr. Mack criticized New York City's District Council of Carpenters for not reacting more vigorously after suspicious were first raised.

Gary Rothman, a lawyer for the union, asserted that the union had taken "all appropriate steps to investigate this matter." He noted that a union official had originally brought the matter to Mr. Mack's attention and that the union had alerted state construction authorities about the problems with Boom.

Michael Forde, the president of the District Council of Carpenters, was convicted last year of taking payoffs to allow the use of nonunion labor. But last week a Manhattan judge threw out the conviction because of juror misconduct. Mr. Forde's predecessor, Frederick Devine, was convicted of stealing more than $50,000 from the union.

Last week, Judge Charles Haight of Federal Court for the Southern District of New York agreed to end Mr. Mack's role as union investigator, after the carpenters insisted on it, saying that his two-year tenure was up.

Monday, May 2, 2005