"Here we go again," Guido Iozzi said. "Whenever you guys come around, I know you're gonna be digging up the past. You got your ax out? You ready to go? They put that poison pen in you peoples' hands."
I hadn't said a word but hello. I hadn't spoken to Guido Iozzi in 13 years, which was the last time his name was in the news. By then, he had been out of jail for nearly five years and he was looking to make a comeback as a labor boss in Baltimore.
"Why don't you write with a pen that spreads a word of comfort?" Iozzi said on the phone yesterday afternoon. "The past is the past. I paid the price. I got a wife. I got a family. I gotta live. But we gotta keep rolling it over, don't we?"
What's the beef?
And who is Guido Iozzi anyway?
There was a time when he was a big man in Baltimore. He was president of the Building and Construction Trades Council. Came up the hard way. Tough guy. A fierce union leader in a Chesterfield overcoat, a Viceroy smoking in his fingers. He lived the labor boss life -- full of tumbles and tumult.
Then, in 1969, Iozzi was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of labor racketeering. He was accused of shaking down contractors in Baltimore for bribes. (So brazen was Iozzi, the government charged, he even tried to shake down a contractor who happened to be the father-in-law of then-Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro 3rd.) In return for cash payoffs, the contractors were assured of labor peace. They would hear no threats. They would not arrive at a construction site and find their heavy equipment destroyed. They would not be harassed with work shutdowns. In at least one case, a contractor got permission to hire non-union workers during construction of the Women's Detention Unit at Baltimore City Jail.
Iozzi went on trial. The federal prosecutor at the time was Stephen Sachs, who went on from there to an honorable legal career that included two terms as Maryland attorney general.
Iozzi was convicted. He went on from there to federal prison and a fast friendship with Teamsters legend Jimmy Hoffa. Iozzi and Hoffa had a lot in common. One felt he had been hounded and persecuted by Steve Sachs, the other felt he had been hounded and persecuted by Bobby Kennedy. They both cried foul play, all the way to Lewisberg, Pa.
"It was very unfair," Iozzi said in a 1978 interview. "And all the Italians got it the worse. The Mafia thing was a joke. I was a native Baltimorean. But Sachs labeled me OC [organized crime] and that's what they stamped on my prison file -- OC."
The conviction ruined, at least for a time, Iozzi's promising career as a labor boss. His reputation had been growing nationally and, of course, locally. Around Baltimore he was known as the man contractors had to see if they wanted labor peace on job sites.
"I pleaded not guilty to all that," Iozzi said. "I paid my price. When we gonna say it's over? Why don't you deal in today's news, not something that happened 20-something years ago? Why don't you write that he was a veteran of the Korean War, that he served his country, that he gave a lot of money to the Israel people, why don't you write that and leave what I paid society back for out of this?"
Good question. Easy to answer.
Guido Iozzi did time in federal prison for being a labor racketeer. He shook down contractors, he undercut unions. He violated federal law and arguably the trust of workers he represented.
But now he's back. In a development that might be quintessentially American -- nation of second and third chances -- Guido Iozzi was recently elected business manager of Ironworkers Local 16.
He gets a salary and a car. He sits on the boards of the local's multimillion-dollar pension and annuity funds; he's even a trustee of the local's apprenticeship program. He's a national convention delegate as well.
When Iozzi was paroled from federal prison, he was restricted from holding union office for five years. By the spring of 1979, he was running for business manager of Local 16. He lost that election. But, 12 years later, he's set to assume the post he long coveted. He takes office in mid-July.
The 303 members who elected Iozzi knew about his past. There was a lot of talk about it. His opponents were not forgiving; they wanted Iozzi nowhere near a union office ever again.
"I guess they talked about it," Iozzi said. "I didn't pay much attention."
Why did Guido Iozzi persist in seeking office in his old local?
"They needed leadership, a good union leader. . . . And I'm the best."