For the third time in a decade, federal prosecutors have charged building trades officials in Western New York with racketeering and corruption. Twelve union members in upstate New York were indicted by a federal grand jury this week after a five-year investigation led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Leaders of Hamburg, N.Y.-based Operating Engineers Local 17 used violence and intimidation in dozens of separate incidents since 1997 to extort construction jobs in the Erie County region, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn. Charged are: Mark N. Kirsch, 48, Local 17 president and business manager; Carl A. Larson, 43, and James L. Minter III, 36, union organizers; Gerald H. Franz Jr., 45, and Jeffrey A. Peterson, 45, Gerald E. Bove, 62, and Thomas Freedenberg, 51, business representatives. Five other local members also were charged.
In the indictment, witnesses and alleged victims accused the defendants of a stabbing, shattering a car window, vandalism and threats of harm. The charges are punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of twenty years, a fine of $250,000, or both. Union officials also allegedly conducted surveillance and intimidation by finding home addresses and personal information through license plate numbers.
U.S. Dept. of Labor Inspector General S. Heddel says the indictment is a first step in "releasing the stranglehold" of union corruption in the Erie County region. The alleged union corruption "resulted in delayed development, unnecessary costs for contractors and a negative impact on workers in western New York State."
A spokeswoman for Local 17 says, "We have no comment."
Juries convicted officials of laborers' Locals 210, Buffalo, and Local 91, Niagara County, on racketeering and extortion charges in 2002 and 2006 respectively, after FBI investigations.