By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
McLaughlin's own council salary rose to $145,000 a year, but when another former council aide said he needed a raise, McLaughlin ordered him fired, and then refused to appear in person to explain why. The aide delayed cleaning out his desk, figuring McLaughlin would have to show up eventually. Instead, the aide received a visit from a pair of burly Local 3 members, both of them foremen in the streetlighting division. "We've been told we have to get you out of here, even if we have to throw you out, which we don't want to do," threatened one of the foremen, although the dispute was settled peaceably.
One steady council hanger-on was Pete Manno, the roly-poly chairman of the local's streetlighting division who served as McLaughlin's right-hand man. Another was Charles Washington, a cigar-chomping African American who was listed as a foreman for streetlighting contractors but whose time was allegedly consumed attending to constant personal errands for McLaughlin, ranging from picking up prescriptions for McLaughlin's family to taking McLaughlin's Jeep Cherokee to the car wash, even delivering envelopes and gifts to McLaughlin's girlfriends. Washington, discreetly referred to as "Officer 2" in the indictment, is described as having served as the labor chief's "personal assistant and valet."
Another J-division regular was McLaughlin's cousin, a man named Tommy Schuette (pronounced shoot-ay). In addition to working as a foreman for a streetlighting contractorpurportedly a full-time job in itselfSchuette was a practicing chiropractor with offices in Suffolk County and Manhattan. The two men were extremely close. "I think Brian is closer to Tommy than he is to his brother," said one person who knows the family. On occasion, Schuette would give back rubs to people meeting in the council's conference room, and he often signed up visitors as clients for his practice.
He had other jobs as well. In late 2002, McLaughlin had the council hire Schuette as a $5,000-a-month consultant for chores like hauling and setting up sound equipment for rallies. This was work that had long been done for free by J-division volunteers, but McLaughlin allegedly insisted his cousin be paid for the tasks. That wasn't all. McLaughlin also had the labor council retain Schuette as a fundraising consultant, allowing him to collect a percentage of whatever contributions he collected for the new golf tournament that the labor leader had initiated.
Finally, in August 2005, McLaughlin ordered Schuette placed on the council's payroll as the director of its immigration project, the Commission on the Dignity of Immigrants, a group that had been launched in tandem with the New York Catholic Archdiocese and McLaughlin's admiring friend, the late Cardinal O'Connor.
Under its first director, José Peralta, the commission had played a helpful role, uniting immigrant groups around the city. But after Peralta was elected to an assembly seat, the organization faltered, with immigrant activists wondering what had happened. By the time McLaughlin appointed Schuette to head it, the group was essentially inactive. But that didn't affect his pay scale. Schuette's initial salary was $81,000, a level that made him the third-highest-paid employee at the council. A couple of months later, McLaughlin had it hiked to $94,000.
For Ted Jacobson, a quiet former teachers' union official who has long served as the council's secretary, an elected position, this was too much. According to council sources, the usually mild-mannered Jacobson tried to tell McLaughlin that it would be a big mistake to hire his cousin for the immigration job. The confrontation took place over the telephone and witnesses heard McLaughlin's end of the conversation. "Fuck you, I am the president. Don't tell me what I can't do," McLaughlin yelled and then slammed down the phone.
According to the federal charges, each one of the labor chieftain's dealings with his multitasking cousin was a scam, with most of the money passed back to McLaughlin. Nor was that all of it. State records show that the same month that McLaughlin had Schuette hired at the labor council, he also added him to his assembly payroll as a part-time "community liaison"another scam, according to the feds.
In one more elaborate scheme, McLaughlin allegedly helped Schuette launch a film- processing business in Manhattan, ordering a crew of Local 3 streetlighting workers to spend the summer of 2002 building the new film labwhile they were on the clock for a city contractor. As part of McLaughlin's end of the deal, he allegedly had Schuette's new company make payments on a brand-new $80,000 luxury car that he registered in his wife Eva's name. The vehicle was an interesting choice for one of the top labor leaders in the country, where the auto- and steelworkers unions have long pleaded with members to show support for their ever dwindling jobs by buying American-made cars. It was a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz.
Outside of the little cliquefrom Local 3 and a handful of other McLaughlin intimates, those escapades stayed mainly behind the closed doors of his council office. In public, Brian McLaughlin remained labor's face and leading voice, an affable man whom most people liked, even admired. That status was something he was determined to capitalize on.
He had first talked about a mayoral candidacy in the late '90s, an idea that failed to gain traction. But the notion gained new life after new mayor Michael Bloomberg hiked property taxes, evoking anger among middle-class families. In early 2003, polls showed any Democrat could beat Bloomberg nearly 2-1.