Detroit Operating Engineers Boss Sentenced for Extortion

A decade ago, John Hamilton was a powerful labor leader. Now he’s about to experience the power of incarceration. Last Wednesday, March 14, Hamilton, former business manager and general vice president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to two years in prison for conspiring to commit extortion with at least two other Local 324 officials. He also was ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution to the people he shook down. Hamilton had been convicted last August after being indicted on nine counts for extortion, embezzlement and other offenses. The actions follow an investigation by the FBI, the IRS and the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General and Employee Benefits Security Administration.

According to federal prosecutors, Hamilton, now 63, for the last few years a resident of Ocala, Fla., had demanded that business agents and members of the 18,000-member IUOE Local 324 each pay him kickbacks of at least $5,000 from their annual salaries into a “Team Hamilton Slate Fund.” To compound the offense, he embezzled a portion of these funds for his own personal use. If anyone complained, he threatened that person with termination. The scheme unraveled after Hamilton pocketed over $70,000 from the slate fund and distributed roughly another $70,000 evenly to two local officials, David Hart and Steven Minella. The pair pleaded guilty in 2015 to concealing Hamilton’s shakedowns; Hart and Minella are scheduled for sentencing, respectively, on March 27 and April 11. U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider summed things up this way: “This union official [Hamilton] created a climate of fear and retaliation against the hard-working men and women of the union, all for his personal gain. The court’s sentence today sends a strong message that union officials who abuse their position of trust to personally profit will face significant punishment.”