Carpenters union mulls ways to root out mob

Members with suspected ties to organized crime are targeted

New York City District Council of Carpenters's Monitor Glen McGorty and New York City District Council of Carpenters executive secretary-treasurer Joseph Geiger (Credit: LinkedIn and CCA Metro)
New York City District Council of Carpenters's Monitor Glen McGorty and New York City District Council of Carpenters executive secretary-treasurer Joseph Geiger (Credit: LinkedIn and CCA Metro)

Until his arrest, carpenter Michael Dolphin rented out his Queens building to a mafia social club run by mobster “Bobby Glasses.”

That’s according to a sentencing memorandum written by federal prosecutors detailing Dolphin’s years as a “servicer” to the club’s gambling machines.

Prosecutors said he was not just handy with a hammer but a member of a crew run by his tenant. Bobby Glasses — real name Bartolomeo Vernace — was a captain for the Gambino crime family, according to the government. In 2014, Dolphin was sentenced to six months in prison on gambling charges.

The New York City District Council of Carpenters moved that year to kick him out for having ties to organized crime, but he wasn’t removed until the summer of 2018.

“My affiliation is I rented a building to a guy,” Dolphin said, noting that he’d been with the union for nearly 40 years and had only pleaded guilty to avoid an expensive trial. “I worked for a living.”

Nearly three decades ago, following a string of scandals that ensnared its top leadership, the District Council agreed to supervision by a court-appointed monitor to help root out organized crime. Now, as the union works toward independence, it’s mulling whether or not to change how it removes members affiliated with the mafia.

The monitor can only remove leaders and core employees from the union on grounds that they have connections to organized crime. For rank-and-file members accused of having such affiliations, a trial committee of elected members decides their fate.

As part of his newly extended term, which lasts through Dec. 31, 2020, the monitor will look at methods used by other unions — including outsourcing such decisions to independent parties. At the same time, the monitor is handing off more investigative authority and responsibilities to the council’s inspector general, a position created in recent years as part of the union’s effort to eventually operate without a monitor.

“We are working with the inspector general’s office to evaluate new methods, including those used by other unions, to aggressively identify and more efficiently excise those with organized crime connections from the union’s membership ranks,” the monitor, Glen McGorty, said in a statement.

In the summer 2018 edition of “The Carpenter,” a magazine published by the union, the inspector general, David Pié, noted that a member was expelled from the union and barred from future membership for having organized crime associations. The same issue lists Dolphin as a recent retiree of Local 157. A log of recent disciplinary action against District Council members, however, states that he was expelled for “knowingly associating with members of La Cosa Nostra and engaging in racketeering activity.”

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Dolphin said he appealed his removal to the parent organization, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, but was denied. He maintains that he wasn’t involved with Vernace and didn’t know about illegal activity occurring on his property. He said the union quietly approached him after asking him to retire, warning that he would likely be removed through the trial committee process.

“Once you use the word mafia, I’m guilty before I could even defend myself, lawyer or no lawyer,” Dolphin said. “I was extremely upset, [after] spending 35 or 37 years [in the union]. It’s basically your whole life.”

Still, his case shows that the union’s system could stand to be improved. Not only did Dolphin remain a member for four years after being sentenced, but the District Council has welcomed members who’ve been publicly called out for supposed ties to organized crime.

Consider Joseph Firth, who early this decade was involved with a fledgling rival union, the Amalgamated Carpenters & Joiners, and made headlines in 2012 when he told the Daily News that he visited Joe Olivieri, a Genovese crime family associate, in federal prison. (Firth told the Daily News he was not aware of Olivieri’s ties to organized crime.) Records show Firth is now a member of Local 157 of the District Council of Carpenters, though he’s retired.

Firth said Monday that he knew Olivieri from when the latter was head of the Wall & Ceiling Association and a trustee of the union’s benefit funds. Firth said he visited Olivieri to “pick his brain” about contractors that were part of the association.

“It was nothing to do with organized crime. I was doing my homework,” he said. He added that he thinks union members will be happy to hear about the changes being considered by the monitor.

The District Council did not immediately comment.

In recent months, the union has faced considerable upheaval. Its president, Graham McHugh, resigned in June over past issues (he was found to have worked off the books while he was a rank-and-file member). His predecessor, Steve McInnis, stepped down in February 2018 over allegations of misconduct. A special election to replace McHugh is slated for early next year.

Leaders of two locals, 157 and 926, were arrested on conspiracy and fraud charges. The District Council’s parent organization temporarily took over Local 926 and is mulling more permanent supervision.

The parent — the United Brotherhood of Carpenters — is also facing its own issues. In September, George Laufenberg, a former retirement fund administrator, was indicted on embezzlement and other charges. A New Jersey grand jury sent subpoenas to the union and other affiliates in November.