10/8/07

Ex-labor boss-lawmaker goes to federal court

A once prominent labor leader who was indicted on corruption charges for stealing $2.2 million from the government, his union, and a Little League baseball association, is gearing up this week for the beginning of his much-anticipated trial.

Brian McLaughlin, who served 14 years in the N.Y. state Assembly until he stepped down last year, has a pretrial conference in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Thursday. The case will start jury selection on Monday.

Mr. McLaughlin's freefall as a major powerbroker was dramatic: Four years ago he was being talked about as a possible candidate for mayor. His trial is expected to be closely watched by labor leaders and political observers in the city who were shocked when the union boss was criminally charged.

Mr. McLaughlin, a Democrat of Queens, was replaced as head of the New York City Central Labor Council after a team of FBI agents swooped into his West 15th Street office in March 2006 and left with a number of padlocked briefcases. Seven months later, Mr. McLaughlin surrendered to authorities and pleaded not guilty to 44 counts of racketeering, embezzlement, conspiracy, and fraud. At the time, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said the allegations "add new meaning to the term ‘hand-in-the-till,'" and accused the labor boss of accepting bribes from city street lighting contractors.

Neither Mr. McLaughlin nor his lawyer, Michael Armstrong, could be reached for comment yesterday. A spokeswoman for the Mr. Garcia's office, Yussill Scribner, referred questions about the case to public court documents. Via email, she declined further comment on the case, including regarding whom the prosecution would be calling to testify.

Mr. McLaughlin was one of the most influential and popular labor leaders in the city. Many politicians, including Mayor Bloomberg, who picked up the assemblyman's endorsement in his re-election bid, courted his support.

Mr. McLaughlin — who rose from a rank-and-file electrician to the helm Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers before going on to take over the Labor Council — has gone back to union electrical work since being charged in the case.

He is just one of a string of Albany elected officials who have been criminally charged in recent years. They include: a former state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, who resigned and pleaded guilty to a felony charge earlier this year; state Senator Efrain Gonzalez Jr., who is facing charges for using state money for personal endeavors; Assemblywoman Diane Gordon, who is facing bribery charges, and a former Democratic party boss in Brooklyn, Clarence Norman, who was convicted on felony charges.

In June, the New York City Central Labor Council, which is an umbrella group for 400 unions, elected Gary La Barbera, who has a reputation for cleaning up corruption, as Mr. McLaughlin's replacement. According to published reports, the council, which was not implicated in the McLaughlin case, brought in auditors last year to determine how the former labor boss got away with allegedly embezzling money. Mr. McLaughlin could face life in prison if convicted.

(nysun.com)

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