BUFFALO - The United States Attorney's Office announced Friday that three members of Local 17 of the International Union of Operating Engineers pleaded guilty before United States District Judge William M. Skretny to violations of the federal Hobbs Act Extortion statute and agreed to testify in the upcoming trial of their seven co-defendants.
Pleading guilty were: Michael Eddy, 44, of Gowanda, a member of Local 17; George DeWald, 50, of Springville, a member of Local 17; and Carl A. Larson, 50, of Boston, who formerly worked as an organizer for Local 17.
Each defendant faces a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced in May of 2014. In pleading guilty, each of the defendants admitted that he participated in a campaign of threats, violence and property destruction against non-union contractors in an effort to force those contractors to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with Local 17.
Eddy pled guilty to being part of a campaign of violence and intimidation against a Latham, New York contractor while the contractor was removing soil contaminated with coal tar from under the Waterfront School in downtown Buffalo during the summer of 2005. Eddy admitted to being present when members of Local 17 damaged a pickup truck being driven by the contractor's project manager as he tried to enter the worksite and then "belly bumping" the project manager when he got out of his truck to investigate.
During this campaign, a Local 17 organizer obtained the project manager's home address and his wife's name and sent his wife a letter saying "We would like for the job to run as smoothly as your wedding day did at [your wedding venue] and as smooth as [your husband's] nights are in the Western New York region.
Dewald pled guilty to being a part of a campaign designed to force a Frankfort, New York contractor which was the low bidder on the 2003 expansion of the Chaffee Landfill in Chaffee, New York, to sign a collective bargaining agreement with Local 17. DEWALD admitted that May 7 or 8 of 2002, he and several other Local 17 members went to the Chaffee Landfill under the cover of darkness where they put sand used for sandblasting into the engines and hydraulic lines of nine separate pieces of heavy equipment causing significant delays in finishing the job and over $240,000 in damage to the equipment.
Larson pled guilty to trying to force an Orchard Park contractor and its owner to sign with Local 17 by both threatening the owner personally and after the contractor's owner was stabbed by another Local 17 member and, on Feb. 5, 2003, asked Larson, "What are the positives [to signing with the union]? You guys slash my tires, stab me in the neck, try to beat me up in a bar. What are the positives to signing? There are only negatives." Larson responded by telling the owner that "The positives are that the negatives you are complaining about would go away."
All three defendants agreed to testify in the trial of seven remaining defendants, including former business manager and president Mark Kirsch, former business agents Jeffrey Peterson, Gerald Bove and Thomas Freedenberg, and Local 17 members Michael Caggiano, Jeffrey Lennon and Kenneth Edbauer. The trial is scheduled to commence on Jan. 7, before Judge Skretny. The trial will be handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Anthony M. Bruce and Edward H. "Ned" White and Department of Justice Attorney Robert Tully.
The investigation of this case is being handled by the United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Department of Labor Inspector General Scott Dahl and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Brian P. Boetig.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 7 for Larson; May 8 for Eddy and May 9 for Dewald.