Peter Perl, Al Kamen
April 23, 1985
CHICAGO, April 22
-- Robert E. Powell, vice president for 23 years of the Laborers'
International Union, testified today that union President Angelo
Fosco threatened four years ago to kill him if he opposed Fosco
for the top job of the 625,000-member construction workers' union.
Powell, who retired last August, told the
President's Commission on Organized Crime that he declined a bid
for the presidency in 1981 because "I didn't want anyone's
blood shed over me."
Powell said he contacted the FBI, moved his
family from Washington and began carrying a gun and wearing a
bulletproof vest because of Fosco's threat and other harassment,
which he said included threatening telephone calls and a dead
rat and a dead pigeon planted in his car.
Fosco sat impassively through Powell's testimony
at the start of a three-day hearing as the commission investigates
alleged links between organized crime and four major unions: the
Laborers, Teamsters, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, and International
Fosco testified under subpoena but invoked
the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions about activities
of top union officials reputed to be associated with or members
of the Mafia. He later declined to comment on Powell's charge.
Fosco, a member of the AFL-CIO executive council, was acquitted
of racketeering charges after being indicted in 1981. He was one
of 156 Laborers officials indicted in the last five years, according
to commission data.
Powell testified that Fosco's threat was
made at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington shortly before the 1981
union election. According to Powell, Fosco said he had heard that
Powell planned a challenge and told him, "Powell, you're
dead. You're dead. You're dead."
Powell said he took the threat seriously
because other Laborers officials had been murdered in recent years
in Philadelphia and Baltimore and because he had long heard reports
that Fosco was "connected with 'the family,' " meaning
organized-crime figures in Chicago.
Powell, the highest-ranking black official
in a predominantly black union, said ranking union officials had
told him that Italian-Americans organized the union in the 1930s
and would not allow non-Italians to take over.
The Washington-based union said in a statement
today that the commission hearings follow 10 years of "a
massive campaign of governmental harassment . . and a vicious
display of anti-Italian bias and prejudice."
The commission, which previously has investigated
drug trafficking and Asian crime gangs, said in its opening statement
today that organized crime has retained its grip on segments of
the construction industry and on various firms and unions for
The commission said the Justice and Labor
departments have concluded that organized crime "controls
to a substantial degree" the four unions. The four have been
subjects of lengthy federal investigations.
The 19-member commission, created by President
Reagan in 1983, said it would disclose information this week demonstrating
how Mafia influence results in kickbacks, extortion, misuse of
pension funds and other crimes.
The commission said today that Robert J.
Connerton, Laborers general counsel and a top Fosco aide, had
refused to testify under subpoena, citing attorney-client privilege.
Later today, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frank McGarr ordered
Connerton to appear Tuesday.
The panel also heard testimony that Vincent
Solano, 65, president of Laborers Local 1, the major Chicago local,
is a ranking Mafia member. Testimony about him came from a protected
federal witness identified as Kenneth (Tokyo Joe) Eto, who testified
wearing a black robe and hood.
Another hooded witness, who was not named,
testified that he received more than $250,000 in payoffs over
10 years as a construction union official in New York City.