Ousted Chicago Boss Still Politicking for Democrats

Thousands of members of Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am. Local  2 began receiving letters in late Feb. urging them to support Democrat Lisa Madigan for Ill. Atty. General in the Mar. 19 primary, but the name attached to the mailings was surprising. The letters were signed, “Fraternally, Richard S. Caravetta, business manager.” They asked members to take part in Ill. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s “Friends and Family” political network on behalf of his daughter. But only weeks before, Caravetta had resigned from his union post in an agreement with LIUNA officials investigating his alleged ties to organized crime.

Aides to Michael Madigan, who is also the Ill. Democratic Party chairman, and Lisa Madigan, a state senator from Chicago, said they had never heard of Caravetta. The letters bearing his name were sent out on union stationary but were paid for by the Ill. Democratic Party. “Obviously, we don’t want people with questionable backgrounds” involved in Lisa Madigan’s campaign, said Steve Brown, a spokesman for the Speaker.  Brown confessed that the mailing was organized by the Chicago Laborers’ Dist. Council,  which, along with Local 2, has a history of union corruption. In 1994 the federal government intervened to root out mob influence. As part of a consent decree between LIUNA and the government, federal courts have selected outside monitors to oversee the local. The most recent monitor is a partner in the same Chicago law firm in which Lisa Madigan works.

LIUNA’s “in house prosecutor,” the ethically-challenged Robert Luskin, said Caravetta resigned his post Feb. 19 as part of a settlement that also brought to an end an “investigation” into Caravetta’s “possible association with organized crime.” Matthew Paul, a “prosecutor” under Luskin, said LIUNA agreed to drop its “investigation” if Caravetta stepped down from all leadership and employment duties. The only exception, Paul said, is Caravetta’s right to remain a member of LIUNA. In this capacity, he could continue to work as a laborer and participate in LIUNA’s pension and welfare funds, said Paul, an attorney with the Washington, D.C. firm of Patton Boggs LLP. Illustrating the inadequacies of LIUNA’s “internal reform effort,” not only is Caravetta still a part of the union, but has not been charged by any state or federal prosecutors.

Caravetta’s tenure at Local 2 was brief. He won election as business manager in March 2001. His election marked the first elections at the local after it was brought out of trusteeship for allegedly being under the control and influence of organized crime. Jim McGough, who runs the dissident organization Laborers For Justice,  worked with a reform slate of candidates against Caravetta. He said local law enforcement does not view Caravetta as a member of organized crime, but as an associate of organized crime. “Caravetta was a mob puppet,” McGough said. “He was essentially under the influence and control of organized crime. Organized crime employed dirty tricks to win his election as business manager. The Caravetta slate, as I said during the election, was a mob slate.”

LFJ has demanded a probe of Caravetta and his letter. McGough also has filed charges with LIUNA alleging the local’s membership list was given to the Ill. Democratic Party in violation of the union’s ethics code. Luskin said LIUNA would look into the charges.

Through “Friends and Family,” Madigan loyalists have created an elaborate campaign chain letter to elicit names of potential supporters and donors. Madigan has used wedding invitation and Christmas card lists as well as union membership rosters to contact people for support. Once contacted, those people are urged to provide their own lists of friends and family members.  [Chi. Trib., BNA 3/6/02]