May 5, 2009: A federal jury May 1 in Chicago handed down guilty verdicts against the former president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 743 and two former officers charged with labor fraud and theft in connection with a union election rigging scheme (United States v. Lopez, N.D. Ill., No. 07-580, jury verdict 5/1/09).
The trial began April 6 and the jury deliberated for three days before convicting Richard Lopez and Thaddeus Bania on criminal charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, multiple counts of mail fraud, and theft of union property.
David Rodriguez was convicted of mail fraud and theft of union property and acquitted of the conspiracy charges. Judge Charles Kocoras of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is scheduled to sentence the men Aug. 27.
Charges Stemmed From Election-Rigging Scheme
Rodriguez's attorney, Robert A. Habib of Chicago, told BNA May 4 that he was pleased that Rodriguez was acquitted of six of the 11 counts he was charged with and said he plans to appeal the guilty verdict.
“Quite frankly, it seems to us that if [Rodriguez] was not guilty on the first count of conspiracy, then it gives us good grounds to challenge the verdict on the other counts,” Habib said. He said it is uncertain what sentence Rodriguez will receive because the sentencing guidelines give the judge wide discretion.
According to the Justice Department, each count of mail fraud carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, the theft and conspiracy counts each carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, and all charges carry a maximum fine of $250,000 on each count.
The charges stemmed from attempts to rig elections of union officers in 2004 in favor of the incumbents.
Hundreds of Mail Ballot Packages Diverted to Cohorts
The Justice Department said in a statement that the three men diverted to family and friends hundreds of official mail ballot packages intended for delivery to Local 743 members and then had the ballots cast in favor of the incumbent slate of officers.
The scheme involved misdirecting official ballot packages by mail; theft of undeliverable ballots; obtaining false replacement ballots; using counterfeit envelopes; and supplying false addresses to the election officer, according to the government's indictment.
The conspiracy allowed the “Unity Slate” of officers to defeat the “743 New Leadership” slate of candidates, who were aligned with Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
Richard Berg, who led the challenger's slate, demanded a Labor Department investigation which culminated in the agency filing a lawsuit to void the election.
Berg and the “743 New Leadership” officers took control of the local after the court ordered a second rerun election to be administered in October 2007 by the Labor Department (Chao v. Local 743, N.D. Ill., No. 05-4642, 7/17/2007).
Former Local President Testified for Government
The government filed its initial indictment in the criminal case in September 2007 alleging the defendants conspired to maximize the likelihood that all of the incumbent Unity Slate officers would win the election regardless of how many votes they received (174 DLR A-13, 9/10/07).
It filed a superseding indictment in March 2008 charging additional defendants, including former local president Robert Walston and Mark Jones (46 DLR A-14, 3/10/08).
Walston, president of Local 743 from 2001 until he retired in 2007, and Jones, a union business agent from 2003 to 2006, both pleaded guilty and testified as government witnesses in the criminal case according to a Justice Department statement.
One of Largest Teamsters Locals
Lopez served briefly as the president of Local 743 in 2007 and held other offices with the local from 1995 to 2007. Bania was the union's comptroller from 2001 to 2007 and Rodriguez was an organizer for the local from 2003 to 2007.
The union represents more than 12,000 members who work in warehouse, office, medical, service, and other industries in Chicago and is one of the largest Teamsters locals in the country, according to a Justice Department statement.
“Fair and honest officer elections are the cornerstone of our democratic union movement. [This] verdict demonstrates the Department of Labor's commitment to enforce the right of union members to open and fair elections,” Andrew Auerbach, deputy director of the Office of Labor-Management Standards said in a statement May 1.
Lopez and Bania's attorneys were not available for comment, and BNA was unable to reach Local 743 representatives for comment May 4.
The government was represented by David Buvinger, Nathalina Hudson, and Vincent J. Falvo Jr. of the Justice Department.
Rodriguez was represented by Robert A. Habib of Chicago. Lopez was represented by Keith A. Spielfogel of Chicago. Bania was represented by Donald V. Young of Donald V. Young & Associates and George E. Becker, both of Chicago.