Mark N. Kirch, president and business manager of Operating Engineers Local 17, and nine others associated with that Hamburg-based construction union are named in a new federal racketeering indictment, prosecutors said Tuesday.
It is the latest development in a 6-year-old extortion investigation of Local 17, which earlier saw several guilty pleas.
The 10 were among those indicted in 2008 on similar charges. The latest, superseding indictment accuses them of participating in a criminal enterprise that forced local and out-of-town employers to hire workers selected by the defendants and of threatening -- and in some cases, committing -- bodily harm, destruction of property and workplace sabotage at construction sites and against innocent bystanders, the prosecutors said.
As was the case in the first indictment, the second one accuses the union members of engaging in a violent scheme to extort jobs and compensation from employers during a 10-year period that ended in December 2007.
Those actions added millions of dollars to construction projects throughout the region, prosecutors maintain.
Named in the indictment, along with Kirch, 52, are union organizer Carl A. Larson, 46; business representative Jeffrey A. Peterson, 49; retired business representative Gerald E. Bove, 66; and business representative Thomas Freedenberg, 55.
Also indicted were Local 17 members Michael J. Caggiano, 42; Jeffrey C. Lennon, 57; Kenneth Edbauer, 66; George Dewald, 54; and Michael J. Eddy, 42.
The indictment charges the 10 with conspiracy to commit racketeering, extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion, prosecutors Charles B. Wydysh and Anthony M. Bruce said.
A superseding indictment generally provides more information, charges and allegations, and often is used by prosecutors to put more pressure on defendants to accept a plea bargain. In the original indictment, all the defendants were charged with extortion, and all except Caggiano and Freedenberg were charged with racketeering conspiracy.
The charges in the latest indictment carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.
In addition, if a defendant were convicted of the racketeering charge, his interest in Local 17 would be subject to forfeiture. That would include managers accused in the case, prosecutors said.
Neither the defendants nor their attorneys could be reached to comment late Tuesday, but labor lawyers told The Buffalo News last summer that the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that labor unions seeking improved terms and conditions of employment cannot be charged with extortion even if their efforts are accompanied by violence, property damage or similar coercive actions.
A federal judge in September denied the AFL-CIO's request to file a friend-of-the-court brief making that argument in the Local 17 case.
The newest indictment is a result of the continuing investigation by the U.S. Labor Department, Office of the Inspector General, the FBI and State Police.