When it comes to corruption in New York City-area unions, Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners long has been a leader. Last Tuesday, July 6, federal prosecutors realized a major step in its cleanup program at that organization. Michael Brennan, a former local shop steward, pleaded guilty to taking bribes from a contractor in return for allowing that contractor to hire illegal immigrants off the books. Brennan was one of several defendants, including soon-to-be-ousted New York City District Council of Carpenters Executive Secretary-Treasurer (and former Local 608 President) Michael Forde, charged last August in Manhattan federal court with offenses in a larger racketeering probe.
Federal prosecutors had charged that Brennan, 54, pocketed about $100,000 in bribes from On Par Contracting so that the firm could hire illegal aliens. In addition, say the feds, he embezzled union funds and destroyed documents that had been subpoenaed by a court-appointed investigator probing corruption at the district council; Brennan has admitted to taking part in the latter activities as well. He was one of six shop stewards and four other persons, including Forde, indicted for acts stemming principally from a fraudulent scheme in which Carpenters union officials, in return for bribes, allowed construction contractors to avoid paying full wages and benefits at construction sites across New York City. All defendants pleaded not guilty, but internal damage control was swift. Carpenters boss Forde, who during the last decade had won a reversal of a conviction and then an acquittal in a separate bribery case, was fired by the District Council executive board on August 10, 2009, five days after the unsealing of the indictments. Accused of taking some $1 million in contractor bribes, the 29-count indictment against him remains in force.
Brennan faces up to 87 months in prison and is free on bail pending October sentencing. He’s already agreed to pay back the $100,000 in proceeds from On Par Contracting, whose owner, James Murray, is cooperating with federal authorities. The probe has proven somewhat embarrassing to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The latter’s successful 2009 re-election campaign website posted a video of the mayor hugging Forde after gaining his endorsement. Should Bloomberg run in 2013, he’ll probably be more careful in his solicitation of endorsements.