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R.I.P. Guido Iozzi, a Baltimore original

[caption id="attachment_21095" align="alignleft" width="300"]Guido Iozzi, right, in Sun photo dated February, 11 1969 Guido Iozzi, right, in Sun photo dated February, 11 1969[/caption]There are two different stories about Guido Iozzi's hit on Kenneth Hatfield. A source sent one version last week after noticing that Iozzi, former union boss of bosses as President of the Baltimore Building Trades Council, had died in Dundalk on March 23 at the age of 83  and "the Sun didn't notice."*

In that version, Iozzi sent a goon to shoot Hatfield in the leg after Hatfield, who ran the bricklayer's union, had his men cross a picket line Iozzi had ordered at Johns Hopkins. This happened in August, 1965.

"The strikebreaker was a big, scary guy," the source , who doesn't want to be named because "Guido would probably come back from the grave and shoot me," writes. "The goon got scared, panicked, and killed the guy. The dead man left a bunch of kids. Guido was mad about the goon leaving a bunch of orphaned kids. Someone shot the goon and dumped his body behind the PhilMar Inn on Pulaski Highway. The shooter defecated on the corpse. [This was before DNA.] The case remains unsolved."

In the other version of this story, the goon's name is Phil Fiorino. John Keller, a 22-year-old lackey for Iozzi, knew Fiorino was a drug addict who would do anything for $500, so he hired him to "do away" with Hatfield. After Fiorino shot Hatfield he started partying in bars and bragging about what he'd done and for whom (which, presumably, would not be the way a terrified goon who'd screwed up a job carried it). Enraged by Fiorino's lack of discretion, Iozzi told Keller to get another guy to kill Fiorino. Which he did. For another $500. Which was the going rate at the time.

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But the other guy—Eddie Shannon—got caught. He fingered Keller and then Keller worked out a complicated immunity deal for giving up Iozzi.

He was put before a grand jury.

And Keller clammed right up.

This version is recounted in a book, "The Baltimore Briefs," by John Lewin.

Lewin is a lawyer who was thrown into the middle of the case. The book is self-published. I called him up to check the story; he hasn't yet returned the call.

A version combining the two is told on this Facebook page, purportedly part of a book project by reporter Stephen Janis (currently an investigative producer at WBFF) and Stephen Tabeling, a retired city cop who worked the case. In this version (which includes the inevitable zapped-out stripper spilling the beans), Fiorino's killer is named Mallon, not Shannon. And the police informant told the sad story that Fiorino was only supposed to "scare" Hatfield with the .22 he used to shoot him three or four times. (Keller was later convicted based on his initial confession, then his conviction was overturned).

Either way, it seems Baltimore lost a real character in Iozzi.

Iozzi once had a disagreement with a union dissident named O'Toole, the source says. He threw O'Toole through a door and down a flight of stairs, but O'Toole, being a badass, got up, took a breath, and started back up the stairs to continue the fight. Iozzi heard him coming, picked up a full sized refrigerator, carried it to the landing and threw it at O'Toole.

"He hit O'Toole squarely with it and threw the fridge and O'Toole down the steps," says our source. "O'Toole didn't get back up that time. He was in a body cast at trial. The assault charge was nol prossed after preliminary discussions. It was deemed to be an internal union matter. In those days, ironworkers were rough on the furniture."

The source goes on to recount Iozzi's downfall at the hands of Stephen Sachs, the former U.S. Attorney and Maryland Attorney General who prosecuted him for extortion: "Sachs charged him with taking payoffs from contractors in exchange for union peace. This was like prosecuting a cop for eating donuts."

Well, yeah. But.

For a different perspective you could look in a book written by Samuel Cook. It's called "Freedom in the Workplace: The Untold Story of Merit Shop Construction's Crusade Against Compulsory Trade Unionism."

In it Cook, who was a lawyer for the non-union construction companies, recounts many 1960s and early ‘70s instances of arson, beatings, bombings and other destruction visited by construction unionists—many times Iozzi's people—on companies and company owners who declined to pay Iozzi's shakedown fee.

Iozzi was convicted on six counts of violating the Hobbs Act and went to federal prison for about five years of his 15-year sentence before he was released in 1974 for good behavior. His cell mate was James Hoffa, the famous Teamster mobster/martyr. Says the source: "He was one of the last people to talk to Hoffa on the phone. 'I told him not to go to lunch with those guys,' he told me."

It was reported that Iozzi was "mobbed up," but our source (like Iozzi himself always did) insists that this was not true (indeed, as any local cop or politician will tell you, there is not now, nor ever was there, any "organized crime" in the City of Baltimore). Our source says Iozzi's affiliation with mobsters came only after his conviction, through the genteel game of tennis. Apparently, the stubby-fingered, rock-muscled extortionist had an excellent backhand.

"He told me that he got a two-line letter from his wife one day," the source recounts. "She told him that she didn't have time to write, but that their son had been cut in his eye and she had to take him to the ER. He told me that when one is locked up, unresolved news like that can make a man crazy. He went out for recreation and lost a tennis match. It was the first match he ever lost while in jail. Hoffa came up to him afterwards and said, 'You trying to get yourself killed?' The Mafia guys had been betting on Guido and thought he had thrown the match. Hoffa and Guido explained the situation to them. They were family men. They gave him a pass because of his son."

As part of his felony sentence, Iozzi was banned from the union for five years after his release from prison. By 1979 he was back, running for union office. He lost. But he persevered, and in 1991 was elected business manager of Iron Workers Local 16. The Sun's Dan Rodricks called him up, and Iozzi, according to Rodricks's column, played the victim:

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This was the flip-side of Iozzi's hard case legend. Rodricks:

There was one other unpleasant matter, back in the day: the death of a federal witness against Iozzi named Walter Skopp. He was an Electrical Union leader by day and allegedly Iozzi's bag man by night. Our source says the witness went duck-hunting with a couple of FBI guys, all of them drunk. "When the ducks flew in one direction, the feds spun around to shoot. The protected witness spun in the other direction and they killed the guy with an accidental head shot," the source explains. "That added to the urgency of their prosecution of Guido. They had to send someone to jail, because it is hard to explain the death of a protected witness."

Such a madcap place was Baltimore in the 1960s.

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That story checks out. The two federal agents were cleared of any wrongdoing for shooting Skopp point-blank in the back of the head. Still, I wondered if maybe Sachs' "urgent" prosecution of Iozzi in 1969 for the penny-ante crime of shaking-down builders and developers for multi-thousand-dollar payoffs was not inspired, perhaps if only slightly, by the 1965 shooting death of Ken Hatfield.

Or the murder of the guy that killed him.

"Put it this way," Sachs says. "The fact that he had been responsible for a murder—I don't recall if it was the guy who crossed the picket line—we argued to Judge Harvey, that he should be denied bail. In those days it was relatively rare.

"We presented to the judge grand jury testimony in which people had sworn…or there were old affidavits in which people swore to his involvement in it."

Sachs says he can't, off the top of his head, attest to every detail as recounted in Lewin's book. But at base, he says, Iozzi contracted a murder in 1965. And he got away with it.

And in case it isn't obvious, Sachs also adds that what Iozzi got convicted for was the opposite of unionism: "What Iozzi was doing was selling out his union guys—who were paying dues for union representation. He was making deals . . . for no wage hikes, no picket lines."

This is not to say that Guido Iozzi should be remembered only for thuggery and shakedowns. We are all complicated people with many foibles and talents. Iozzi was a Korean War veteran. He had a giant German Shepherd who loved him and would, our source recounts, roll over at his command and sing lustily while Iozzi pet her belly. He loved his two sons and his late wife Dolores. He even once hired a lawyer to take care of the son of the man he had crushed with a refrigerator all those years before.

And it does say something about Baltimore (The Zero Organized Crime City) that Iozzi's death passed relatively unheralded. Five decades ago he commanded 15,000 fearless men and could shut down any construction site in the city with no warning. After his indictment he reportedly threw a Christmas party with an orchestra for 400 of his closest friends, which included some of the city's political elite.

As of Friday only three people had signed his online guestbook.

"He wasn't a bad guy, just a product of his environment," our source says. "Nowadays, he'd have gone to Towson U and become a mortgage broker."

Given what the nation has endured from mortgage brokers over the past decade or two, that sounds just about right.

 *Technically, the Sun did notice.  And that's absolutely all it did.

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