Nearly six years after federal prosecutors announced a major racketeering case against 12 members of a local construction union, three defendants pleaded guilty Friday to one count each of attempted extortion for trying to intimidate private companies into hiring union members.
Carl A. Larson, 48, of Boston, George DeWald, 56, of Springville, and Michael Eddy, 44, of Gowanda, admitted their guilt and are scheduled to testify at the upcoming trial of seven of their colleagues from Operating Engineers Local 17, based in Hamburg.
The original group of 12 Local 17 members was charged in April 2008, accused of running a racketeering scheme that over 10 years beginning in 1997 added millions of dollars to the cost of construction projects, including expansion of a landfill in Chaffee and soil remediation work at Waterfront School.
“It’s a very serious offense that we pleaded here today,” lawyer Patrick J. Brown, who represented DeWald, said following the pleas. While the motivation was to further the union cause, the methods got out of hand, Brown said.
“We’re accepting responsibility for that,” he said.
The three defendants, who had slightly different plea agreements and no prior criminal histories, are scheduled to be sentenced in separate appearances in early May. Racketeering charges are expected to be dismissed at sentencing, according to lawyers for the prosecution and defense.
The maximum sentence for the three defendants, all of whom pleaded guilty to attempted extortion under the Hobbs Act, a felony, is 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, a $100 fee and up to three years of supervised release.
U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny told the defendants that he hasn’t made up his mind on the sentences, but said the guidelines show between 33 and 41 months in prison and a fine of $7,500 to $75,000 for Larson and between 27 and 33 months in prison and fines of between $6,000 and $60,000 for DeWald and Eddy. The guidelines also show a period of supervised release of one to three years for all three defendants.
The defendants also are required to pay restitution of varying amounts.
Their cooperation in the trial for seven other defendants, which begins Jan. 7, could reduce their sentences.
Two other defendants in the case pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy nearly four years ago.
James L. Minter III, pleaded guilty in February 2010, and George H. Franz Jr., pleaded guilty in April 2010.
In a 90-minute appearance in Skretny’s courtroom on Friday, the three defendants, seated at separate tables, entered pleas to attempted extortion. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony M. Bruce read portions of the plea agreements that described the facts of the cases against each defendant.
Larson confirmed for the court that the facts outlined in his plea were correct, specifically that he made threats against Timothy Such, owner of STS Construction Co. of Western New York, to persuade him to sign a collective bargaining agreement with Local 17.
In a conversation in an STS facility in February 2003, Larson told Such that signing the agreement would bring STS positive things. Such questioned that, telling Larson: “You guys slash my tires, stab me in the neck, try to beat me up in a bar. What are the positives to signing?”
Larson replied: “The positives are that the negatives you are complaining about would go away.”
DeWald vandalized equipment in an attempt to extort Marcy Excavation and Waste Management while the Chaffee Landfill was being expanded, according to his plea agreement.
Marcy specialized in constructing landfills and landfill additions, and hired and trained its own employees.
When Marcy refused the union’s demands that all the labor be Local 17 workers, DeWald and others were recruited to go to the Chaffee Landfill and vandalize Marcy’s machinery in an effort to get the company to sign a collective bargaining agreement with Local 17.
DeWald and others put sand into hydraulic systems, fuel tanks and engines in at least nine pieces of heavy equipment, eight of which belonged to Marcy and a ninth that belonged to Waste Management.
Repairs to Marcy’s equipment cost about $220,000, and the company spent another $100,000 on security personnel, construction of fenced-in storage for equipment and extra wages for its employees for time spent securing the equipment. Waste Management spent $20,000 in repairs.
The facts surrounding the case of the third defendant, Eddy, are similar in that they involve Local 17’s attempts to convince a reluctant private company to hire union labor.
Earth Tech, based in Latham, had won a contract to perform soil remediation at Waterfront School, on Fourth Street, in 2005. The company had its own trained workers and was not interested in hiring Local 17 members.
On a picket line in front of the job site, Eddy made physical contact, described in court as a body bump, with Earth Tech’s site superintendent, in an attempt to intimidate him, according to his plea.