Three years ago Michael Forde was one lucky man. As president of one of the nation’s most powerful construction labor organizations, the 25,000-member New York District Council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenter and Joiners, Forde had been convicted in April 2004 for taking payoffs from a mob-linked contractor, part of a larger web of criminal activity involving the union. He and District Council Business Agent Martin Devereaux each were facing up to 25 years in prison. But their lawyers successfully persuaded Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Atlas to throw out the convictions on grounds of juror misconduct. Now, after numerous delays, Forde and Devereaux are set to stand trial again starting November 26.
The pair had been among 38 persons, nearly a dozen of them union officials, indicted in September 2000 by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. One of those individuals, reputed Lucchese crime family boss Steven Crea, eventually pleaded guilty to price fixing, labor racketeering, bid rigging and constraint of trade. In April 2004, Forde was convicted of taking a bribe from a New Jersey-based contractor six years earlier, back when he was president of Carpenters Local 608. Forde has maintained his innocence throughout, but court testimony of the contractor, Sean Richard, suggested something else. Richard is a former son-in-law of John Riggi, boss of Newark’s DeCavalcante crime family. Sometime in March of 1998, he and a fellow contractor, Anthony Rucereto, met with Forde and Devereaux for lunch to discuss the possibility of using nonunion workers on a Manhattan project, the renovation of the Park Central Hotel. Rucereto stated at the 2004 trial that he’d been instructed by Richard to offer Forde $50,000 to ignore labor contract violations at the site. Ironically, in 2000, Forde, campaigning to hire more union workers, was elected head of the district council; his predecessor, Frederick Devine, had been convicted in 1998 of misappropriating more than $200,000 in union funds.
The new trial looms especially significant in light of the council’s recent closed-door presidential endorsement on October 25 of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., even though the Carpenters’ national leadership is backing John Edwards. Mrs. Clinton is a longtime friend of council, having secured its endorsement for her Senate 2000 run, several months the indictments came down. The council’s latest endorsement of Clinton comes at a bad time, given the recent arrest of ex-Clinton fundraiser Norman Hsu, a mainland Chinese national who was accused in Manhattan federal court in September of running a Ponzi-style scheme over the years that fleeced hundreds of investors out of at least $60 million. Mrs. Clinton has never been to shy away from headlines, but these are not the kind she has in mind. (Village Voice, 5/4/04; New York Daily News, 10/26/07; other sources).