By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It wasn't until after the indictment that McLaughlin's labor colleagues learned how well the city's top union official had done for himself. Out on the north shore of Long Island, in the hamlet of Nissequogue, just north of Smithtown, McLaughlin had been building a dream house, a sprawling 13-room colonial with two fireplaces, a wraparound porch, wine cellar, wet bar, and a two-horse stable in the back. The tabloids ran photos of the place, but the pictures didn't do it justice. The big house is nestled in the woods, set back from a rural road behind a post-and-rail fence, in a neighborhood of horse farms, a mile from the beaches. Much of the money McLaughlin is alleged to have taken from his various victimsthe labor council, the J division's picnic fund, the Little League, his campaign committeewent into the house, according to the government.
Other money went to girlfriends, at least three of whom were cited in the indictment. In New York's labor world, that was about the only thing that people could agree on when asked if they'd ever gotten a hint that McLaughlin had a secret life. "I knew he liked the broads," said one veteran unionist. "We'd be out after meetings and he'd be at the bar working it. He didn't have any trouble, either, a good-looking guy like that."
Other than his not-guilty plea at his October arraignment, McLaughlin hasn't said a public word about his troubles. Even people who count him as a friend say they haven't heard from him. Two weeks ago, he and his wife put the new house in Nissequogue on the market at an asking price of $1,699,000. The government already has a lien on the property, so he'll have to fight it for the money. The first to spot the real estate listing were members of Local 3, who put the link to the offering, with its 360- degree color panorama photos of the interior, on a website where union gossip and gripes are posted. "Look at all those high-hats!!" commented one poster, referring to the expensive recessed lights in every room.
Most unions keep mum after their leaders are accused of crimes, insisting that the accused is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Not so Local 3. In an almost unprecedented article in the November issue of the local's newspaper, its leadership issued a withering blast on the editorial page. "He has betrayed us," the editorial stated. "We are embarrassed. We are shocked."
Last week, a visit to the Nissequogue house found an inflated Santa, a snowman, and other happy-looking Christmas decorations on the lawn, with the only sound that of chittering sparrows in the tall pines. Eva McLaughlin was just pulling out of the driveway, and she paused to see what the visitor wanted. Yes, this was 1 Hawks Nest Lane, she confirmed, a hopeful tone in her voice. When the visitor introduced himself as a reporter, however, she stomped on the gas and roared away in the shiny black Mercedes-Benz her husband had bought.