The Washington Post

Crime Panel Told of Threat To Union Aide

Commission Probing Labor-Mafia Links

Kenneth (Tokyo Joe) Eto takes oath before testiftying

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 Longshoremen's Association.

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 decades.

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.


Return to

(c) All orginal work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved..