Seven members and two prospective members of a union local in Chicago that represents motion picture projectionists were indicted for allegedly waging a multi-state campaign of violence, vandalism and arson in retaliation against three major theater companies in the midst of collective bargaining disputes, Justice Department officials announced on Nov. 7. A 14-count federal grand jury indictment linking a series of assaults and arson incidents at 20 theaters in 10 states in 1998 and 1999 was unsealed following the arrest of four defendants — including the union local’s current business manager, Albin C. Brenkus — in the Chicago area early today, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
The indictment alleges that various defendants conspired to commit arson and conspired to travel from Illinois across state lines to commit arson, typically by activating incendiary chlorine and brake fluid devices in movie theaters from New York to Texas. The incidents – seven in Illinois and others in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin – occurred while movies were being shown, resulting in the evacuation of thousands of patrons, disruption of business, and, in some cases, property damage from smoke and fire. The defendants allegedly intended to intimidate representatives, employees and customers of the theater companies to coerce the companies into labor agreements with their union. The defendants traveled from the Chicago area to place and activate incendiary chlorine devices in theaters the companies operated in other states to avoid potential law enforcement scrutiny and adverse publicity to the union, according to the indictment.
All nine defendants were either members or prospective members of the several-hundred-member Motion Picture Projectionists, Operators and Video Technicians, Local 110 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO, (commonly known as Local 110.) The alleged crimes occurred at movie theaters owned by AMC Entertainment, Inc., of Kansas City; Cinemark U.S.A., Inc., of Plano, Tex.; and Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp., of New York, which was formed in May 1998 from the merger of Loews Theatres Exhibition Group, a unit of Sony Pictures Entertainment (Sony/Loews), and Cineplex Odeon Corp.
The defendants and the charges against each are as follows: Albin C. Brenkus, 60, of Willowbrook, currently business manager of Local 110 who at the time was secretary-treasurer and second-in-command, managing the daily affairs of Local 110 under its business manager and eight-member executive board; one count each of conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to travel interstate to commit arson and obstruction of justice, four counts of arson and seven interstate travel counts; Carl A. Covelli, Jr., 48, Westchester, a member of Local 110; one count each of arson conspiracy and interstate travel to commit arson conspiracy, four counts of arson and seven interstate travel counts; Kent B. Dickinson, 52, of Bonfield, Ill., a union member who served on the Local 110 negotiating committee; arson conspiracy and seven interstate travel counts; Keith J. Dutton, 48, of Chicago, a Local 110 member; arson conspiracy and two counts of arson; Peter C. Lipa, 48, of Wonder Lake, a Local 110 member; arson conspiracy and interstate travel conspiracy; Peter R. Macari, 41, of Plainfield, who was seeking to become a Local 110 member; interstate travel conspiracy and two interstate travel counts; Joseph L. Marjan, 29, Riverdale, a Local 110 member; arson conspiracy, interstate travel conspiracy and five interstate travel counts; Michael A. Rossi, 44, of Ingleside, who was seeking to become a Local 110 member; arson conspiracy, interstate travel conspiracy and two interstate travel counts; and Gregory J. Tortorello, age unavailable, of Fort Stewart, Ga., and formerly of Bloomingdale, a Local 110 member; arson conspiracy and interstate travel conspiracy.