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07_Latest News - February 2010

07_February 4, 2010
Former union organizer pleads guilty in labor racketeering case
The Buffalo News by Dan Herbeck


A former organizer for Operating Engineers Local 17 on Wednesday became the first person pleading guilty in connection with a labor racketeering case filed against construction union leaders almost two years ago.

James L. Minter III admitted that he engaged in a decade-long conspiracy, using threats, harassment and extortion against non-union construction workers and companies throughout Western New York.

The 38-year-old Buffalo man pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to a felony charge of racketeering conspiracy, appearing before U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny.

Illegal hardball tactics by Local 17 added millions of dollars to the costs of construction projects in the region over a 10-year period, according to federal prosecutors and agents.

Over the years, members of the local have been involved in disputes with non-union contractors at many major construction sites in the region, including Ralph Wilson Stadium, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Buffalo State College.

Under advisory sentencing guidelines, Minter faces a possible prison term of at least four years and three months.

Minter admitted that he engaged in vandalism and intimidation against officials of five companies — Zoladz Construction, Environmental Strategies, Ontario Specialty Contracting, Ecology & Environment and Earth Tech — on several occasions between 2002 and 2005.

Minter's plea deal is the first major development in the case since April 2008, when federal prosecutors charged Minter and 11 other union members and leaders with labor racketeering crimes.

The alleged crimes ranged from death threats and stabbings to pouring sand into the gas tanks of trucks owned by non-union construction workers.

"He's pretty much taken responsibility for his actions since the day he was charged," Minter's attorney, Andrew C. LoTempio, told The Buffalo News after Wednesday's court session.

"The amount of time he was facing — about 20 years — if the case went to trial and he lost, made this an easier decision for him."

LoTempio said he is aware that several other men charged in the case are also contemplating taking guilty pleas.

"In every case, we're open to reasonable dispositions, if they take into account the seriousness of the crimes and the rights of the victims," Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles B. Wydysh said.

Wydysh and LoTempio declined to comment on whether Minter will testify against other union officials if other defendants go to trial.

Local 17 was investigated for years by agents from the Buffalo offices of the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department.




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