Minority construction union leaders plead not guilty to corruption

The leaders of a minority labor coalition pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of enterprise corruption and related grand larceny charges in connection with construction sites across Manhattan and the Bronx, the New York Times reported.

Thomas Mooney, an assistant Manhattan district attorney, said there was video evidence of violence and intimidation that he said was perpetrated by the two defendants, David Rodriguez, president of United Hispanic Construction Workers, and his chief lieutenant, Darryl Jennings.

“The whole enterprise, Your Honor, is based on the bottom line of physical extortion,” Mooney told Justice Lewis Stone in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Mooney said Jennings frequently drove around in vans with up to 50 coalition members, “engendering great fear at construction sites” with scare tactics that included the use of bats and other weapons.

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As a result, contractors did not report the extortion to the police but instead gave coalition members construction jobs and frequently paid so-called no-show fees to Jennings to keep coalition members off their sites. Jennings collected weekly paychecks from 10 companies, Mooney said.

Murray Richman, the defendants’ lawyer, said that the labor organization had an extensive job-creation record over the last 25 years and defended members’ right to seek construction work. “If white guys do it, they call it a union,” Richman said. “If people of color do it, they call it a crime.”

The organization, which was indicted as well, first ran into legal troubles in 1993, when some of its members were among 31 indicted on extortion charges. Four of the coalition’s members were acquitted — including Rodriguez — and a fifth, who was acquitted on all but two counts.

Richman said coalition members, who surrounded him and applauded the defendants, were hardworking people who had been forced to become “self-defensive on occasion.”

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