September, 2nd week of 1986
by Susan Sachs
The Laborers International Union of North
America opens its convention on Miami Beach today, and the gathering
is once again expected to affirm the power of the union's scandal-plagued
By most accounts, 61-year-old president Angelo
Fosco remains in firm control of the 550,000-member union, despite
continuing allegations that he and other Laborers leaders are
under the thumb of organized crime.
The gathering is the first since 1981 for
the union, which represents unskilled construction workers throughout
the U.S. and Canada. Fosco has led the group since 1975, replacing
his father who was president before him.
Despite government contentions that he is
linked to Mafia bosses in Florida and Chicago, Fosco has been
challenged from within the union only once-five years ago-and
then only by a tiny band of opposition candidates who were harassed
and beaten in front of more than 2,000 union delegates.
An FBI affidavit obtained last by The Herald
states that the beating was ordered by New York and Chicago union
officials, one of whom is an alleged captain in the Colombo organized
crime family facing federal extortion and racketeering charges.
Other allegations, disclosed in recently
released government documents and by former union officials, contend
that Fosco has maintained his grip over the Laborers through intimidation
and the threat of violence by the mob.
One such incident related by former first
vice president Robert Powell who was privately considering a bid
for the union presidency five years ago.
"You're dead," Powell said Fosco
told him, upon learning of the possible election challenge. "Powell,
Powell, now retired, testified last year
before the President's Commission on Organized Crime. He said
he took the threats seriously and began to wear a bullet-proof
vest. He was convinced not to run after finding "messages"-a
dead rat and a pair of dead pigeons-in his car.
Fosco and other Laborers officers were called
to testify at the April 1985 hearings in Chicago. but Fosco refused
to answer questions, repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege
to avoid self- incrimination.
In its report to President Reagan five months
ago, the commission studying labor racketeering and organized
crime highlighted Powell's s experience as an example of the Laborers'
"corrupt" leadership and described the union as one
of the "Big Four" that work with the Mafia to manipulate
"There is little chance that the ...
membership will be able to eliminate organized crime's influence,
or control their union, if the current leadership or governance
structure remains intact," the commission's report said.
Fosco was not available for comment, but
union spokesman Al Silverman said that the commission report
and other allegations are not likely to be part of the convention
discussions this week at the Fontainebleu Hilton.
"There's never been a president of this
union who's been found guilty of anything or gone to jail for
anything " said Silverman The Laborers are "unfairly
accused of organized crime connections, he said.
When the Laborers last convened, Fosco was
under federal indictment, charged with splitting $2 million in
kickbacks on union insurance contracts with reputed mobsters such
as alleged Tampa mob boss, Santo Trafficante.
Fosco was subsequently acquitted by a Miami
federal jury, as was Anthony Accardo, the alleged Mafia chief
from Chicago. Eight others, including Fort Lauderdale union leaders
and businessmen, were convicted in the 1982 trial.
Trafficante's trial was postponed because
of his poor health.. He and four, other men indicted in the same
case, including Fosco's son Paul, will be tried in Miami on Oct.
27 in connect/on with the same union on kickback scheme.
Fosco acknowledged his indictment at the
1981 convention at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, lashing out
at prosecutors as union-busters and labeling his opponents "radicals"
Convention delegates and security men a
acknowledged the few dissidents at that gathering more directly.
As he tried to reach a microphone on the convent/on floor, the
mavericks' candidate for president, a delegate named Dennis Ryan
of Iowa City, was cursed, punched and kicked before being dragged
off the convention floor by burly security men.
Fosco won reelection by a landslide vote
of 2,342 to 5.
A 1982 affidavit by New York FBI agent John
P. Joyce, obtained last week, states the Ryan beating was ordered
by Carlo DiSilvio, a leader of a Laborers local in Chicago, and
Ralph Scopo, head of the union's New York district Council of
The purpose was to "eliminate any competition
to Angelo Fosco" who controls the union in Chicago and the
Midwest for the Mafia, stated the FBI affidavit.
The document, based on information from informants
considered reliable by the FBI, was used in support of a government
request for a wiretap in an investigation of union racketeering
in New York.
A receptionist at the Chicago Laborer's local
said no one could comment on the allegation concerning DeSilvio.
Scopo also couldn't be reached. He is scheduled to go on trial
in New York today in the first of two major federal cases in which
he is charged with participating in mob-directed schemes to extort
payoffs from contractors.
The dissident who tried to run an opposition
slate of candidates at the 1981 Laborers Convention are sitting
out this week's convention.
"I suspect there won't be any real serious
go-for-the-jugular dissent" said Chris White, an Alaska union
member who has filed a civil suit in Washington that seeks to
place the international union in the hands of court-appointed
Two weeks ago, faced with dismissal of the
suit because he has no attorney to file pleadings, White asked
the U.S. Justice Department to join him in the action. A justice
spokeswoman said Friday that white's letter hasn't been received
While there is no large organized opposition
Laborers movement, as in unions like the Teamsters, "there
is a network of laborers out there who are putting up as much
resistance as they can," White said last week. He said he
ran for election as one of his local's delegates to this week's
convention and lost. He got 26 votes, nine too few.