Ex-Michigan Carpenters Secretary-Treasurer Probed in Casino Pension Deal

Ralph Mabry’s career as a union leader ended more than two years ago when he was convicted of obtaining an illegal discount on the construction of his home. Now another questionable arrangement from bygone days is coming back to haunt the former executive secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters. Late in November, Mabry’s lawyer, James K. Robinson, confirmed in a court filing that his client was under federal investigation for his role in an alleged kickback scheme involving the investment of union funds in a Biloxi, Mississippi casino. Mabry remains free on bond while he appeals his earlier conviction and sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Mabry, now 63, had served in his position with the Michigan regional council since 1997. Two years later, the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department began a joint probe of financial irregularities involving his new $803,000 residence in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Park. In 2004, he and Council President Anthony Michael were indicted for conspiring to obtain a $127,800 discount from a half-dozen contractors under false pretenses. In return, the union sought to represent the contractors’ employees. Mabry in September 2006 was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $50,000. Michael, Mabry executive administrative secretary Sandra Williamson, husband David Williamson, former Warren, Mich. City Councilman William Barnwell, and several contractors have pleaded guilty or were convicted by jury.   


It turns out that another skeleton is lurking in Ralph Mabry’s closet. The U.S. Justice Department this past July disclosed that an unnamed executive of the Carpenters pension plan during 2002-03 funneled funds to a Chicago investment firm, AA Capital Partners, and a consultant, Joseph R. Jewett, 72, in order to build a casino in Biloxi. In return for receiving the pension money, the official directed AA Capital to hire Jewett.  According to U.S. Attorney Philip Ross, Mabry paid Jewett at least $750,000 and received a kickback from that sum. 


Jewett’s Detroit-based attorney, David Steingold, maintains that Mabry was the unnamed union official. He recently said the DOJ is investigating Mabry, Jewett and AA Capital President John Orecchio. “The government theorizes that Mr. Jewett was hired as a consultant on a casino investment, solely to kick back money to Mr. Mabry, and that (Orecchio) used a bank account in Las Vegas, opened along with Mr. Jewett, to filter funds. Mr. Orecchio embezzled from AA Capital,” Steingold said in court papers. Like Mabry, Orecchio hasn’t been formally accused of criminal wrongdoing. But he has been accused in civil suits filed by the Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission of misappropriating nearly $11 million in Carpenters pension funds with AA Capital. Steingold says Orecchio is the primary source of the government’s information. It’s hard to see Mabry avoiding an indictment.