ILA, government settle part of racketeering suit


NEW YORK -- The top leaders of the International Longshoremen's Association are claiming "complete" victory in a settlement of part of a civil racketeering suit that had accused them of being tools of organized crime.

As part of the settlement, the federal government dropped its effort to oust the ILA's president, John Bowers. However, two union leaders whose names were mentioned in the criminal case against New York's Westies organized crime gang agreed to relinquish their positions.

"For more than a year, I said I would be vindicated," Mr. Bowers said in a written statement. "This settlement has vindicated me, and I am pleased that the case against me and the locals with which I'm associated has now come to an end."

The Justice Department, in a case that had been scheduled to go to trial Monday, originally had sought to have government trustees supervise six New York union locals and to have 32 present and future union officers, including Mr. Bowers, banned from participating in union activities. The union represents some 62,000 longshoremen and other workers in ports from Maine to Texas, including Baltimore.

"It's a complete victory for the union," said Ernest Matthews, an ILA attorney for two New York ILA locals. "John Bowers stays as president of the union."

"I'm not sure how they can claim victory when two officers were forced to retire," responded Chad A. Vignola, the assistant U.S. attorney leading the government's case. He was referring to John Potter and Thomas Ryan, vice president and secretary-treasurer of three locals on Manhattan's West Side.

The agreement between the government and the defendants, signed yesterday afternoon, does not settle the so-called "Brooklyn section" of the case or the case against Local 1588 of Bayonne, N.J. Both sides said a settlement was close to being signed for Local 1588.

District Court Judge Leonard B. Sand set the trial date for what he described as "this vexatious litigation" back to April 15 at the government's request yesterday. The move was intended to allow time for a settlement to be sought in the Brooklyn part of the case.

Yesterday's settlement of the case against three West Side locals and their officers doesn't call for the payment of any money by the defendants.

In this, it differs from Friday's settlement of part of the New Jersey section of the case, filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. Three New Jersey officers together agreed to pay $100,000 of their personal money into the local's treasury. The New Jersey local, 1804-1, agreed in its settlement to have a monitor oversee all its activities for three years.

In yesterday's settlement, the government failed in its goal of having government trustees appointed to oversee the business of Locals 824 and 1809.

The third West Side local, 1909, which represents about 60 ticket-takers and exhibition workers, agreed to have a government monitor appointed to oversee employment practices and procedures for its members.

The West Side settlement does contain some minor labor reforms. Mr. Bowers agreed to either relinquish his management duties over the members of Local 1809, which represents office employees of ILA fringe benefit funds, or step down as president of that local.

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