A politically connected Teamsters union boss was indicted Wednesday on federal charges alleging he extorted $100,000 in cash from a local business.
John Coli Sr., considered one the union’s most powerful figures nationally, was charged with threatening work stoppages and other labor unrest unless he was given cash payoffs of $25,000 every three months by the undisclosed business.
The alleged extortion occurred when Coli was president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, a labor organization that represents more than 100,000 workers in the Chicago area and northwest Indiana.
Coli, 57, an early backer of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was charged with one count of attempted extortion and five counts of demanding and accepting prohibited payment as a union official.
Coli could not be reached for comment, but a statement posted Wednesday on the Teamsters Local 727 website announced he planned to retire at the end of the month after 46 years in the union.
In the statement, Coli said he had decided it was time “to begin a new chapter” and that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
The Coli family has been active in politics for years and is well-known for spreading around union cash to various candidates. Coli and his relatives have also been accused in civil lawsuits in both state and federal court of running the union like a racket — accusations they have vehemently denied.
In a 2011 deposition stemming from one suit, Coli was asked under oath why so many of his relatives were allowed to control the union’s lucrative pension funds. “For the record, go f— yourself,” Coli answered, according to a transcript in court records.
“So I take it you’re refusing to answer that question?” the plaintiff’s attorney asked. “I think the answer speaks for itself,” the transcript quoted Coli as saying.
Coli backed Emanuel in his first run for mayor at a time when Emanuel, viewed as a centrist Democrat, had very little union backing.
The Teamsters contributed $35,000 to Emanuel’s 2011 campaign, including $15,000 for polling. The union stepped up even more to back the mayor’s bid for a second term, contributing $134,700, state campaign finance records show.
Once Emanuel was elected, a representative from the union was appointed to the mayoral transition team, and Coli was named to the exclusive group of campaign donors and community leaders in charge of planning the mayor’s first inaugural.
Two months after Emanuel first took office, the Chicago Tribune detailed how the newly elected mayor had demanded greater accountability and financial sacrifice from Chicago’s labor unions — except for the Teamsters.
In 2003, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Coli to the Illinois Tollway board, only to have Coli quickly withdraw his name amid questions about $100,000 in Teamsters campaign contributions to Blagojevich and potential conflicts of interest.
Within a few months, Blagojevich quietly named Coli to two other state boards with less direct impact on Teamsters affairs, the Tribune reported.
In 2005, the Tribune reported the FBI was investigating whether the Coli-led Teamsters siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars from a union benefit plan that provided dental care to Chicago-area undertakers and valets. That probe had been sparked by an internal union report raising concerns about payments from the plan going to organized crime figures.
No charges were ever filed.
Illinois Governors in Prison
Former governor Rod Blagojevich is now in prison for a 14-year sentence.
He was found guilty of 18 counts of corruption, including attempting to sell or trade an appointment to a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate.
He faces another eight years in prison after an appeals court upheld the sentence in April of this year.
The way Chicago “works” is the same way Illinois “works”. Corrupt politicians get in bed with corrupt union leaders and screw the taxpayers and businesses as much as they can.
Sometimes they get caught.
Teamster boss Coli just got caught after all these years of extortion. His deals with Mayor Emanuel screwed Chicago taxpayers. Emanuel promised reforms and transparency but reforms and transparency stop once campaign donations are sufficient enough.
Coli said he is retiring to spend more time with “family”. Unless he gets off the hooks, that family must mean his mafia brothers and sisters in prison.
The City That Works
I was wondering how it got that name. It took some doing, not by me but rather by the Straight Dope for the answer.
The April 5, 1971 issue of Newsweek featured Richard J. Daley on the cover, and inside, spread across two pages, a photo of Daley and his entourage marching eleven abreast on St. Patrick’s Day. Admittedly the headline below this read, “Chicago’s Daley: How to Run a City.” Adjacent to the headline, immediately beneath the photo, the text of the article read as follows:
“This is not to suggest, reports Newsweek correspondent Frank Maier, that Daley’s Chicago enraptures every resident or inspires every visitor to leave his heart behind. But it is a demonstrable fact that Chicago is that most wondrous of exceptions — a major American city that actually works.”
The last bit was repeated in an editor’s note at the front of the magazine. Beyond a doubt this article was the vehicle by which “the city that [actually] works” entered common currency. The phrase began turning up in Chicago newspapers by 1972, first appeared in the Washington Post in 1974 and in the New York Times in 1975, and figured in the lead of obituaries nationwide following Daley’s death in 1976.
If by some chance you previously did not know how Chicago and the entire state “works”, now you do.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock