Friday, August 7, 2009

Position Is Uncertain for Indicted Leader of Carpenters’ Union


On Thursday, a day after his indictment on federal racketeering and bribery charges, Michael J. Forde, the head of the carpenters’ union in New York City, went to work.

Mr. Forde, who was indicted on state bribery charges in 2000 and tried twice, has never relinquished his position in the union. (The first trial ended in a conviction that was later overturned, and the second in a mistrial.)

Now a lawyer for the union, the New York City District Council of Carpenters and Joiners, which represents 20,000 carpenters, said it was weighing what to do about Mr. Forde’s continued stewardship.

“The matter is under review,” said the lawyer, Gary P. Rothman of O’Dwyer & Bernstein. “Right now he’s not out.”

Mr. Rothman could not say when the union would make a decision on whether Mr. Forde should be suspended, take a leave of absence or remain in his position.Mr. Forde’s lawyer, Andrew M. Lankler, declined to comment.

The union represents one of the largest construction trades in the city, a work force that has long struggled with leadership that prosecutors say has been tainted by mob influence and corruption.

Mr. Forde, who was at a union conference in Nova Scotia on Wednesday when a 29-count indictment was unsealed, flew back to New York to surrender to agents of the F.B.I. and the Department of Labor Inspector General’s Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

Mr. Forde was charged with, among other crimes, taking bribes and helping contractors avoid paying fees to the union’s various funds, which finance pensions, health care, vacations and other benefits for union members.

At his arraignment on Wednesday afternoon in United States District Court in Manhattan, Mr. Forde, along with nine other defendants, pleaded not guilty.

The assistant United States attorney prosecuting the case, Lisa Zornberg, said that Mr. Forde, 54, tested positive for cocaine and marijuana use. (Of the nine other defendants, seven either tested positive for drugs or admitted using them; two refused the tests, she said.)

The lawyer for the union, Mr. Rothman, said, “I’m sure that Mr. Forde still enjoys a broad base of support from his membership and that people have empathy and sympathy for someone who might have a personal problem.”

The District Council, an umbrella organization comprising 11 carpenter unions in the New York City area, will consult with its parent union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, about how to proceed with Mr. Forde, Mr. Rothman said. “We shouldn’t rush into something without careful consideration,” he added.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters has a storied place in the history of organized labor. But the New York City District Council has for several decades been tainted by corruption and mob influence, with leaders who routinely sold out their work force for their own gain.

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