New York City Labor Leader-Politician Prepares for Trial

For someone who might wind up doing a long prison stretch, Brian McLaughlin for the past several months has been leading a normal life, working as a full-time electrician in Midtown Manhattan.  But appearances are deceiving.  McLaughlin, a Queens, N.Y., Democratic State Assemblyman and head of the New York City Central Labor Council until a year ago, is set to go on trial on federal charges that he embezzled or otherwise took without authorization a combined $2.2 million from unions, contractors, taxpayers and even a baseball Little League over the years.  The jury selection process in Manhattan federal court is now in the beginning stages.  If convicted, McLaughlin, 55, could get life in prison.


Union Corruption Update regularly has followed the scandal surrounding Brian McLaughlin, a major figure in both New York political and labor affairs.  Beginning as an electrician and member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 (where he remains a member and a business representative), he rose to become president of the local and then, in 1995, president of the Central Labor Council.  In 1992, he won the first of seven two-year terms as a State Assemblyman representing his Queens district.  By 2003, some Democrats were speaking of him as the city’s next mayor, a challenger to incumbent Republican Michael Bloomberg.  But before long, his career would begin to unravel.  The feds had been investigating possible bid-rigging and bribery in the awarding of City contracts, and increasingly McLaughlin appeared to be a central figure.  The flashpoint came in March 2006, when FBI agents raided his offices and seized boxes of materials as potential court evidence, though they did not arrest him at that time.  An arrest would come that October, with McLaughlin turning himself in and pleading not guilty to various offenses listed in a 44-count criminal RICO indictment.

This past June, the Central Labor Council, an AFL-CIO-affiliated umbrella group for some 400 unions representing about a million workers, elected Gary La Barbera to replace McLaughlin.  La Barbera already had earned a reputation as a reformer, leading the cleanup of Teamsters Local 282, long under the thumb of the Mafia, especially the Gambino crime family.  New York politics could use a few more reformers.  In the last couple years, former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges; ex-Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman was convicted by jury; and Bronx State Senator Efrain Gonzalez Jr. and Brooklyn State Assemblywoman Diane Gordon are facing corruption charges of their own.  Labor and political observers may have been startled when McLaughlin’s RICO indictment was handed down, but it’s hard to deny he’s in good company.  (New York Sun, 10/8/07).