When a Manhattan jury last week found carpenters union head Michael Forde and another union official guilty of receiving a bribe, it was the second corruption conviction in a row for the top official of the city’s 25,000-member carpenters union. Forde, the $216,000-a-year chief of the New York District Council of Carpenters, won election in 1999, promising to break with the bad old ways associated with his predecessor, Frederick Devine, who was found guilty of stealing union funds in 1998.
The charges against Forde and union business representative Martin Devereaux stemmed from the 1998 renovation of the Park Central Hotel on Seventh Avenue (“A Mob Soprano Sings,” Voice, April 21-27, 2004). In March of that year—the same month Devine was convicted for misappropriating more than $200,000 of union funds—Forde and Devereaux visited the hotel and met with mob-tied contractors Sean Richard and Anthony Rucereto. In testimony at the trial last month, Rucereto stated that, a few days later, he shared a “very cordial lunch” with Forde and Devereaux at a restaurant near the hotel.
“I asked Mike to step outside,” said Rucereto. There, he told Forde he’d been instructed by Richard to offer him $50,000 to ignore contract violations at the job site. “Give us some good men,” Rucereto said. Forde “didn’t say a word,” Rucereto testified. “He was stone cold.” Back inside the restaurant, however, Rucereto said that Forde told him to just make sure there were no non-union men on the job. No witness admitted actually passing cash to Forde or Devereaux, but tapes and other testimony at the trial showed they were told of widespread problems at the job site.
Cutting down on non-union construction jobs was a major part of Forde’s platform and many members were hoping he’d make good on the pledge. But the corruption charges, filed four years ago by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, hung over the district council like a cloud, and last week several rank-and-file members expressed dismay. “It doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to change,” said a carpenter who had supported Forde. “Whoever you put in there gets mixed up in that stuff.”
As of last week, Forde, 49, was still at his desk at union headquarters at 395 Hudson Street. A union spokesperson said Forde would remain in office “at least” until his sentencing on June 30. Forde and Devereaux face up to 25 years in prison.