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James L. Minter III was at the center of it all, one of three men accused of orchestrating the “Local 17 Criminal Enterprise,” a union leader known for his anonymous letter threatening the wife of a contractor.

But Minter changed sides soon after his arrest, becoming the government’s first prize witness, a role that earned him leniency and, it turns out, $9,000 in cash from the FBI.

Minter’s involvement in the union’s wrongdoing and his subsequent role as a government informant were front and center Thursday as the Local 17 racketeering and extortion trial unfolded in Buffalo federal court.

The former organizer for the union testified about his involvement in a wide range of activities designed to intimidate construction companies into hiring union workers over a 10-year period ending in 2007.

“Try to delay work as much as possible,” he said of Local 17’s strategy toward non-union contractors. “Try to slow down the trucks.”

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony M. Bruce, Minter told of the time he handed out stars – sharp metal objects designed to flatten truck tires – at a picket line on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.

And he spoke of the day he took part in the sanding – pouring a destructive abrasive into the engine of a truck or piece of heavy equipment – of an excavator at another work site.

The goal, Minter said, was always the same – make life miserable for construction contractors who refused to hire members of Local 17, Operating Engineers.

Minter also acknowledged being the author of a threatening letter sent to the wife of a contractor the union was trying to organize.

The anonymous “Dear Tara” letter makes no mention of Local 17 or its campaign against her husband’s company but does make several references to her marriage and her husband’s well being.

“We would like for the job to run as smoothly as your wedding day at The Apple Inn,” the letter said.

Minter said he wrote the letter with the intention of intimidating the couple.

“Your purpose was to scare this woman you had never met?” defense lawyer Rodney O. Personius asked him.

“Yes,” Minter said.

“And to scare her husband?” Personius asked.

“Yes,” Minter said.

The former union organizer also found himself facing questions about his cooperation with the FBI.

Arrested in April of 2008, Minter was the first defendant in the case to plead guilty and agree to testify against his fellow union members.

His motivation, he told the jury, was the possibility for leniency in a sentence that could have sent him to prison for up to 20 years.

Minter also acknowledged receiving $9,000 in cash from the FBI in 2010 so he and his wife could relocate to New York City or North Carolina.

Personius, at one point, showed Minter the FBI receipt documenting the $9,000 payment and asked him if he had reported the money as income on his tax returns as required by the receipt.

Minter said he had not.

“You didn’t report it on any return?” Personius asked.

“No,” he said.

Personius then reminded Minter that tax evasion is a criminal offense and asked him whether he had reported the income in any subsequent year.

“You still haven’t taken that step?” he asked. “No,” Minter said.

Minter is the third defendant turned cooperating witness to testify in the trial, but, unlike the other two, he is viewed by prosecutors as one of the three leaders of Local 17’s 10-year criminal conspiracy.

The other two are Carl A. Larson, who will testify soon, and local president and business manager Mark N. Kirsch.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com