Head of NY construction union accused of leading bribery scheme

James Cahill among 11 union officials indicted; alleged scheme benefited non-union workers

New York State Building and Construction Trades Council president James Cahill (NY Building Trades)
New York State Building and Construction Trades Council president James Cahill (NY Building Trades)

The head of a powerful construction union group allegedly doubled as the leader of a bribery scheme that benefited non-union workers and rigged union elections.

James Cahill, president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council,  was among nine construction union officials indicted Thursday on charges of racketeering, bribery and fraud. Two other union officials were charged with fraud and bribery.

Cahill is accused of orchestrating an “enterprise” that involved officials of Local 638, a steamfitters union headquartered in Long Island City. According to the indictment, he and Local 638 officials accepted bribes from an employer at a non-union plumbing business in exchange for “protection and assistance” from the local steamfitters union. Cahill also allegedly ensured those who were loyal to him got official positions with the union.

The indictment included portions of discussions between the union officials, which were secretly recorded.

“What I love about Jimmy — what I fucking love about Jimmy, and I say this to everybody. He takes care of his friends,” Kevin McCarron, a Brooklyn and Staten Island business agent with Local 638, told the non-union plumber, according to the indictment.

Representatives for the BCTC and Local 638 could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cahill also enlisted Patrick Hill, a business agent with Local 638 in Nassau County, according to the indictment. Cahill allegedly instructed Hill to meet with the non-union plumber, who provided each with a $2,500 bribe. During a subsequent phone call, secretly intercepted by federal authorities, Cahill told Hill “welcome to the real world.”

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Hill was one of the “loyal associates” installed at the union, according to the indictment. Cahill allegedly told the non-union plumber, identified only as Employer-1, that “with Paddy Hill, I did everything to get him elected.”

Employer-1 gave money to union officials, who in turn allowed him to pose as a union employer in order to secure certain subcontracts, according to the indictment. These arrangements, according to prosecutors, resulted in union officials accepting dozens of bribes totalling more than $100,000. As a result, the steamfitters union potentially lost out on work, prosecutors allege.

In fact, Cahill advised Employer-1 against joining a union, because “if you become union, you’ll have 12 fucking guys on your back,” according to the indictment.

Not all bribes were in cash form. According to prosecutors, officials accepted meals, drinks, free labor and home appliances. At one point, Cahill allegedly demanded that Employer-1 buy an ice machine and install it in his home.

Cahill, who also serves on the executive council for the state chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, is a powerful figure in New York. His organization led the push for prevailing wage requirements on certain projects that receive public funds. Cahill helped negotiate the project labor agreement for his members at the $4 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project, and more recently, was tapped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to serve on a state board organized to advise on reopening strategies during the pandemic.

The indictment also suggests that Cahill, who previously served as a business agent for Local 638, believed he had considerable sway over the local steamfitters.

“I don’t know the reason why they’re all so petrified. I never gave them a reason to be petrified,” he told Employer-1, according to the indictment. “But didn’t they shit their pants when you told them you’re friends with me?”