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Bad tidings always carry an added sting when delivered during the holiday season, which is one reason there's not much of a festive spirit right now over at the offices of Carpenters Local 157 on East 25th Street.
A few days after Thanksgiving, the local's 4,500 members learned through the grapevine that most of their top elected officers had suddenly been oustedfor reasons that were not immediately clear. Rumor was that the local was also being taken over by the national union, but this too was hard to nail down. What was known was that the monthly membership meeting was abruptly canceled, as was the annual Christmas partya move that really added insult to injury.
"Nobody knows what the hell is going on," griped a veteran carpenter who called this newspaper in a vain attempt to find something out.
A couple of phone calls quickly established that yes, the city's carpenters union was again embroiled in a corruption scandal, and yes, the parent union had stepped in, and yes, heads had already rolled.
You'd think that in the age of computers and mobile phones (which I can confirm are possessed by the vast majority of the city's rank-and-file carpenters), the details of this coup would have already been shared with the membership. But here it is, three weeks later, and the key information has yet to be imparted by the New York City District Council of Carpenters to these hardworking New Yorkers.
For details, members had to turn to a new, and very unofficial, website (local157.blogspot.com). There, carpenter John Musumeci posted a press release from the district council that shed only the faintest light on the situation: "Some representatives assigned to work in Local 157 were not performing their jobs in the manner expected of them by the District Council," it stated with all the clarity of mud. Here then, based on discussions with several sources, are the facts of the matter as assembled by the Voice:
The first official out the door was William Hanley, 55, the $140,000-a-year president and business manager of Local 157, who resigned his position shortly before Thanksgiving. Hanley's sudden retirement came after he was confronted with evidence gathered by William Callahan, the union's court-appointed independent investigator. The evidence was in the form of cell-phone records that suggested the union leader had spent many weekday afternoons roaming Long Island, where his family happens to have a splendid waterfront home, instead of working the streets of Manhattan's East Side, where his members are employed.
Similar evidence was presented against Hanley's second-in-command, financial secretary Fred Kennedy, who made the same quick career choice. Local business representative Daniel DeMorato was suspended from his post and reassigned. But another target, local vice president George DiLacio, told his interrogators to get lost. DiLacio refused to give up his elected post at the local but was summarily fired from his $127,000-a-year job as a union representative.
Callahan's report on his findings has yet to be made public, but excerpts from it were quoted in a letter to the local from national carpenters union president Douglas McCarron. In it, McCarron quotes Callahan describing Local 157 as "a mismanaged mess where [business agents] come and go as they please, following few, if any, rules."
The ousted officials couldn't be reached, but a friend of Hanley's said the carpenter had simply decided to throw in the towel. "He was at a point where he didn't care any more," said the friend. "He just wanted to go."
As well he might. Even though its ranks are filled with bright and active blue-collar workers, the carpenters union has been unable to climb out of a 30-year-long quagmire of corruption. Several recent heads of the union's 25,000-member district council have faced corruption charges: Teddy Maritas disappeared and was presumed murdered in 1982 after he was indicted in a mob-bribery scheme; Paschal McGuinness was acquitted of corruption charges, but was forced to retire when federal prosecutors hit the union with a 1990 civil-racketeering case; Fred Devine was convicted of stealing more than $175,000 in union funds.
The current council leader, Michael Forde, was convicted in 2004 of taking a $50,000 bribe from a mobster's son-in-law while seated in a Hooter's restaurant on West 56th Street. The money was alleged to have sealed a promise that Forde would look the other way while nonunion workers renovated the old Park Central hotel. The conviction, however, was set aside after the judge determined that members of the jury had spoken disparagingly of union officials during the trial, and had read an account of the affair in the Voice. Forde's retrial has been put off repeatedly. It is currently scheduled for January.
Before his sudden retirement, Hanley was viewed as a strong contender to lead the union should Forde finally be forced from office. Considered popular with the members, Hanley was a third-generation carpenter. Both his father and grandfather ran the local before him. Gene Hanley, William's dad, ran into his own problems back in 1987, when investigators managed to plant a bug in his office in the local's headquarters. The device picked up conversations between the elder Hanley and contractors seeking relief from having to pay full union wages and benefits to workers.
"You could hear the desk drawer open and close as he put the envelopes inside," said an investigator who worked on the case. Gene Hanley was ultimately sentenced to a four-year term for taking bribes.
No specific allegations were ever lodged against the son, but William Hanley was made well aware that prosecutors were taking a hard look at him as well. Over the past year, federal prosecutors won indictments of two shop stewards with close ties to Hanley and who had been assigned to oversee a massive renovation of the old Met Life buildings on Madison Avenue. The stewards, both of whom were local officers, were charged with defrauding the union by submitting phony reports that omitted the names of dozens of union members.
One of the stewards, Frank Proscia, pled guilty in late October. The other, Michael "Mickey" Annucci, is due to go to trial next month. When Annucci was arrested last year, investigators suggested that he help himself by telling what he knew about corruption. Like what? asked Annucci. Like about Bill Hanley, the investigators answered, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
Carpenters are pretty well inured to these goings-on by now, but the members of Local 157 have been burning up their cell-phone minutes over the last month complaining about how they're kept in the dark. Although no official notice has gone out yet, a day-long hearing is expected to be held on December 18. It will be attended by top leaders of the national union in Washington, who can expect an earful from rank-and-file discontents.
One of the questions that members are likely to raise is why only Local 157's officers were scrutinized about their attendance records. While no one I spoke to could vouch for the whereabouts of the ousted officers all day long, several said they could always rely on finding Hanley and Kennedy at the local's offices before 6 a.m. every morning, handling inquiries and making calls to contractors. Asks one disgruntled nail-driver: "Did they check any other locals to see where their officers are all day?"
The probe also follows criticism by the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office that, prior to the Hanley probe, investigator Callahan had been largely ineffective in his role. Members have also protested that the investigator has focused more on Local 157 than Forde's home base, which covers Manhattan's West Side. Callahan's supporters, however, say he has just been following the evidence. The Hanley probe, they say, was spurred by an anonymous tip to his "corruption hotline." If so, carpenters' cell phones are likely to start humming.