U.S. Agrees to End Oversight Of Hotel-Restaurant Union

Ties to mob severed, federal monitor finds

Steven Greenhouse
December 3, 2000

The Justice Department has signed an agreement to end five years of intensive oversight of the nation's largest union of hotel workers.

Justice Department officials signed the agreement Friday after a court-appointed federal monitor found that the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union has been largely purged of its ties to organized crime. In the agreement, Justice Department officials and a federal judge in New Jersey praised the cleanup and said they will look to the union's internal ethical practices board to play a strong watchdog role.

John W. Wilhelm, president of the 260,000-member union, hailed the government's decision. "I'm exhilarated," Wilhelm said in a telephone interview. "It's an important step forward for our union and a vindication of our union. This means the objectives of the original consent decree have been achieved."

In 1995, the union entered into a consent decree with the government allowing a former head of the Justice Department's organized crime and racketeering section to monitor the union by investigating accusations of corruption and dealings with organized crime.

The consent decree came after repeated investigations found that the union was a bastion of organized crime and after the government put two large union locals in Atlantic City and New York City into trusteeship because of their mob ties.

Seeking to make sure the union keeps out corrupt elements, the agreement calls on the union to maintain its ethics board permanently and authorizes the federal government for six years to nominate and veto any candidate to that board.

The agreement also states that union officials will be in contempt of court if they knowingly associate with any member of organized crime or permit any organized crime figure to control or influence union affairs.

As the union's monitor, Kurt Muellenberg investigated accusations of organized crime, embezzlement and self dealing. He expelled 17 officials of the union, and he pressed its president, Edward T. Hanley, now dead, to resign after finding that he had bought a union-leased Cadillac, worth at least $60,000, at an improperly low price.

Muellenberg also found that Hanley had received $31,000 from the union's Chicago local though he did no work for that local, which one of his sons ran.

Muellenberg has given a clean bill of health to Wilhelm, a Yale University graduate, who took the union's helm in August 1998. Wilhelm is often mentioned as a possible successor to John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, and has won wide respect for making his union one of the most aggressive in organizing new members.

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