Joseph DiFlumera must have forgotten who was paying his dues. As president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 in Dedham, Mass., he was supposed to be negotiating on behalf of supermarket workers. What he negotiated instead, over the course of 1989 to 2003, was a sweet deal worth $1.56 million to himself. He’s set to enter federal prison on January 17 to serve a 46-month sentence for mail and wire fraud. But it’s not likely that he’ll be able to make any restitution because it was the casinos who were the biggest winners of all.
DiFlumera, 71, had served his union for a long time. From 1959 through 1976 he was president of UFCW Local 1459, based in Springfield, Mass. Though it had been years since he headed Local 1445 at the time of his arrest in 2003, the union trusted him to negotiate deals. At 5’6”, 300 lbs., DiFlumera cut an imposing figure, but didn’t seem the intimidating kind to his friends. “Joe had a certain amount of (expletive) about him, but I never thought (he’d do) anything like that,” said Douglas Dority, international president of the Food and Commercial Workers until 2004. “I always considered Joe DiFlumera a friend of mine.” Victory Super Markets, a Leominster, Mass.-based grocery chain, for a different reason, also saw DiFlumera as a friend. Over dinner meetings, company officials gave him cash payments to back off from organizing store employees. The size of the payments grew as the company grew. By the time of the scheme’s unraveling, Victory was paying DiFlumera twice-annual payments of $5,000 for each of its roughly 20 stores he didn’t organize. That translated into about $200,000 a year.
Despite his riches, DiFlumera, the gambling type, wasn’t sharing them with other union members. His lawyer, Paul V. Kelly, said that he blew the payments at casinos in Foxwoods, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. “He made a serious error in judgment,” said Kelly. “He’s admitted his guilt and he’s prepared to accept the punishment.” Federal law enforcement officials, however, saw more than an “error.” They’d been tipped off in June 2003 by several individuals closely associated with Victory Super Markets. The U.S. Attorney’s Office then charged DiFlumera with Hobbs Act extortion “which consent had been induced through the wrongful use of actual and threatened force, violence and fear, including fear of economic harm.” They also charged him with four counts of interstate travel in the aid of racketeering, five counts of mail fraud by falsely stating “that he could and would influence” the local, and one count of wire fraud. In a plea bargain, the government dropped its extortion and interstate travel complaints, and in return, DiFlumera pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud. No action has been reported yet against officials of Victory Super Markets, which no longer formally exists; the Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain bought it up in 2004. (Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 1/9).