The Columbus Dispatch


September 25, 1999

A union member who wants his union's executive board expelled for allowing a felon to run for office said the fines imposed recently by a government-appointed hearing officer are too lenient.

Darrell Smoot is appealing last month's $ 800 and $ 400 fines against five current and former officers of Laborers' International Union of North America Local 423, which represents more than 1,400 central Ohio construction workers.

Controversy is nothing new to Local 423 and its 750,000 member international union.

The Laborers' union had been under government scrutiny since 1995, after a Justice Department probe uncovered corruption and racketeering. An independent hearing officer was appointed to help settle internal disputes -- ranging from election matters to charges of wrongdoing.

In December, Smoot filed charges with that hearing officer against the union's top officials after the U.S. Department of Labor determined that the local's newly elected vice president was ineligible to hold office.

Pat Murphy had been convicted of second-degree robbery in New York 14 years earlier and, under federal law, was ineligible to hold office until at least this year.

But Local 423 members elected Murphy in June 1998 to the No. 2 position at the union and also voted him a delegate to the Laborers' District Council, a body of union representatives.

In January, the labor department supervised a rerun of both races.

Smoot said before and during the campaign, he repeatedly told union officials about Murphy's conviction.

Murphy spent two years in prison.

Last month, the hearing officer, Peter Vaira, found that five current and former officers of Local 423 had notice about Murphy's conviction but failed to act.

He fined Murphy and Business Agent Robert McCaskill $ 800 each; three other members, including the secretary-treasurer, James Green, each were fined $ 400.

Union officials declined to comment.

Smoot said the fines were slaps on the wrists and is appealing the penalty portion of the decision. "My goal was to have them kicked out of office,'' he said.

Several of those fined also have appealed.

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