A federal jury convicted Albin Brenkus of obstructing justice on March 5, but acquitted him of arson, along with 2 other members of Local 110 of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees (IATSE). During the trial, Brenkus’ lawyer conceded that as Local 110’s bus. mgr., Brenkus orchestrated the planting of smoke bombs in AMC, Cinemark and Loews theatres in 10 states. The multi-state vandalism was apparently aimed at forcing the theatres’ corporate owners into using Local 110 projectionists in their Chicago theatres.
His lawyer insisted that Brenkus did not know that the combination of chlorine and brake fluid could burst into flames if left unattended. The bombs almost always went off in crowded theatres. Brenkus, however, could not refute a taped conversation with Local 110 member Joseph Marjan, who was cooperating with federal investigators. When Marjan asked Brenkus about the grand jury probe in 2001, Brenkus said, “You don’t know nothing,” even though Marjan had helped plant some of the bombs.
Local 110’s effort to gain job payments from the theatres through vandalism might well be considered extortion. But union officials are protected from fed. anti-extortion law by the U.S. Sup. Ct., which ruled in U.S. v. Enmons that such misconduct did not qualify as extortion under the Hobbs Act so long as the conduct was in the pursuit of “legitimate union objectives,” such as jobs and wage increases. [Chicago Tribune, 3/6/2004]