Carpenters' Union Exec Nailed in Bribe Probe

"Turned a blind eye on contractors' schemes to cheat the rank-and-file"

The leader of a powerful labor union that recently endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his re-election campaign was charged Wednesday with taking bribes from contractors who were scheming to cut labor costs.

Michael Forde, executive secretary-treasurer of the New York City District Council of Carpenters and Joiners, surrendered to the FBI Wednesday to face racketeering, conspiracy and other charges.

Nine other men — seven lower-ranking union officials, a construction contractor and a trade group representative — also were named in an indictment in federal court in Manhattan. There was no immediate response to a telephone message left Wednesday with Forde's attorney.

Prosecutors said that in exchange for about $1 million in bribes, the union leadership let contractors pay workers with cash at below-union rate wages and employ nonunion and undocumented laborers. The defendants concealed the conspiracy by falsifying and destroying paperwork meant to keep the jobs honest, authorities said.

The men "turned a blind eye on contractors' schemes to cheat the rank-and-file," said Joseph Demarest, head of the FBI's New York office. "Motivated by self-interest, they sold out the interests of their members."

In June, the Bloomberg campaign announced it had received an endorsement from the 21,000-member carpenters' union, saying it "is known to have one of the best get-out-the-vote operations in organized labor, and on Election Day they will be putting their manpower to use on behalf of the mayor." A video posted on Bloomberg's campaign Web site shows Forde giving the mayor a hug after introducing him at a union rally.

Bloomberg said Wednesday he was surprised by the arrests, but he insisted the case had not tainted the endorsement.
"It's sad, and I don't know whether it's true," he said when asked about the allegations. "But you know, it's the men and women of the carpenters' union that have endorsed me, and I'm thrilled to have it."

The union has been under scrutiny since 1994, when the government claimed it had been infiltrated by the mob. A court decree obtained at that time barred officials from associating with mobsters.

The new indictment alleges that the trade group representative lied in a deposition when he denied meeting a member of the Genovese organized crime family.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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