Rare closed-door endorsement goes to Clintons

Meet Hillary Clinton's latest backers: New York's carpenters union, whose boss, Michael Forde, faces a bribery trial next month in a mob-linked corruption scandal. Forde, the head of one of the most powerful construction unions in the state, threw his 25,000-member New York District Council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners behind Clinton's White House run Thursday.

The eyebrow-raising, closed-door endorsement broke ranks with the national union. "Hillary is a friend of the carpenters - always has been," said a union member leaving the endorsement. "She's a friend of labor," said another. The national carpenters union has backed John Edwards.

Forde and union business agent Martin Devereaux are set for trial Nov. 26 on charges they took bribes from contractors to allow nonunion, off-the-books labor on job sites.

Forde was originally indicted in a massive 2000 probe of mob influence in the construction industry. Among the 38 people charged was alleged Luchese crime family acting boss Steven (Stevie Wonder) Crea, who pleaded guilty to price fixing, labor racketeering, bid rigging and constraint of trade.

Forde and Devereaux were convicted in 2004 - facing up to 25 years in prison - but got their cases tossed after a judge ruled jurors improperly discussed the case before deliberating.

Forde, whose union is subject to federal anti-corruption monitoring, also has gotten in hot water more recently. A Manhattan judge fined him $10,000 last month, saying he rigged a union job referral system for a buddy.

Clinton first hooked up with Forde during her 2000 Senate run, when his union backed her that May. He was indicted four months later.

Clinton's acceptance of the new endorsement comes just as she's getting out from under headlines generated by the arrest of Norman Hsu, her disgraced mega-fund-raiser who turned out to have fled justice in 1992 and is now accused of running a $60 million Ponzi scheme.


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