Promising union membership, two carpenters accepted huge bribes: indictment

They were arrested Thursday morning
By Kathryn Brenzel | June 27, 2019 12:57PM

Southern District of New York at 500 Pearl Street (Credit: Google Maps and iStock)

Southern District of New York at 500 Pearl Street (Credit: Google Maps and iStock)

Two carpenters’ union leaders are accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for membership at one of the union’s local chapters.

Salvatore “Sal” Tagliaferro, 54, and John “Cigars” DeFalco, 51, allegedly solicited bribes from individuals who weren’t eligible for union membership but secured them admission anyway, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Tagliaferro, as president of Brooklyn-based Local 926, a chapter of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, accepted these individuals’ applications, after they were referred by DeFalco — an official with Local 157, according to the indictment. The individuals were allegedly referred after providing DeFalco with cash payments, often in the amount of $1,500. According to the indictment, officials found $140,000 in a sealed Ziploc bag in DeFalco’s vacation home, hidden in the attic.

Since October 1, 2017, Local 926 added 990 new members, according to the indictment. During the same time period, Local 45 increased by 200 members.

The two were arrested Thursday morning at their homes and face charges of honest services wire fraud, conversion of union assets and conspiracy. DeFalco also faces one count each of witness tampering and obstruction of justice, in connection with his attempts to interfere with the investigation of the scheme, according to officials.

After learning that they were being investigated, DeFalco allegedly tried to cover their tracks. In one instance, he told an unnamed co-conspirator to tell investigators that he was delivering Yankees tickets from DeFalco to Tagliaferro, when in fact he was handing over cash bribes, the indictment states.

Tagliaferro and DeFalco couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

DeFalco was part of a slate of three candidates who challenged the District Council’s December 2017 elections, which saw the re-election of Joseph Geiger, Steve McInnis and Michael Cavanaugh. Both slates accused the other of various election law violations. McInnis subsequently stepped down over allegations of misconduct (allegedly in relation to sexual harassment), and his replacement, Graham McHugh, resigned earlier this month after admitting that he worked off-the-books while he was a rank and file member of the union.

Decades ago, the District Council grappled with similar allegations to those against Tagliaferro and DeFalco. At the time, it was members of organized crime who’d infiltrated the District Council who provided membership to specific individuals who weren’t eligible. Following years of accusations of corruption, the District Council was placed under the supervision of an independent monitor in 1994. According to the indictment, the monitor and the District Council’s independent monitor referred the case to federal authorities.

“The District Council has cooperated fully with the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and applauds that office’s efforts,” a spokesperson for the District Council said in a statement.