Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Running a Union, Ruling the Alley

Friends of ours: Bruno Roti Sr., Al Capone, Bruno Caruso, Frank "Toots" Caruso, Anthony "Joe Batters" Accardo, Frank "Skid" Caruso, Fred Roti
Friends of mine: Nicholas Gironda, Leo Caruso, Charles "Guy" Bills, Ernest Kumerow


For years, the City of Chicago's garbage collectors and pothole patchers served two masters: Mayor Richard M. Daley. And the Roti family.

For decades, the Roti family has held extraordinary sway at City Hall. A key part of that clout was its control of a union that represents the city's unskilled laborers and had a long history of mob ties.

Bruno F. Caruso -- a grandson of family patriarch Bruno Roti Sr., identified by the FBI as an associate of Al Capone's -- ran Laborers' International Union Local 1001, which represented 3,500 city workers while Caruso was in power, mostly in two city departments -- Streets and Sanitation, and Transportation. They empty garbage cans, pave streets, fix potholes.

When Caruso left the union leadership, his cousin Nicholas Gironda took over. Caruso's brother Frank "Toots" Caruso headed another Laborers' local that represented city workers. When he left, his cousin Leo Caruso took over. Together, the four Roti family members controlled thousands of unionized city jobs, as well as pension funds and other union assets that once topped a billion dollars. Often, they decided who got unskilled laborers' jobs with the city and who got promoted into supervisory positions in those areas, sources said.

They had that power until they were forced out of or resigned their leadership posts over allegations of corruption and mob ties that had been pursued for years by the international union's in-house prosecutor. As part of that effort, the international union filed a complaint in 2003 that accused Gironda of taking bribes from city job-seekers "on behalf of" his cousins Bruno Caruso and "Toots" Caruso. By 2004, all were gone from the union.

"I haven't been involved in running things for many years," Bruno Caruso, forced out in 2001, said in a recent interview.

Links to the mob

The Roti family's union power goes back to two late organized-crime figures, Ald. Fred B. Roti and Chicago Outfit boss Anthony Accardo, according to union investigators.

Bruno and "Toots'' Caruso are nephews of Roti. The three were among 47 men identified by the FBI in 1999 as "made'' members of the mob. "Made'' mobsters, according to the report, pledge loyalty to the Outfit "and would carry this oath of commitment and silence to the grave.'' Bruno Caruso denies having organized-crime ties. "Toots" Caruso declined to comment.

Accardo was once a Capone bodyguard and a suspect in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. He wound up in charge of the Outfit, which he helped run for more than five decades. In a 2003 filing, union investigators said "Accardo used his influence" to ensure his son-in-law Ernest Kumerow became Chicago's top Laborers' official in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1982, Kumerow appointed Bruno Caruso secretary-treasurer of Local 1001. After Accardo died, Kumerow left, and Caruso took over Local 1001 and the Laborers' Chicago District Council, a larger consortium of 19,000 union members. He ran the council until 1998 and the local until 2001.

Bruno Caruso and "Toots" Caruso are the third generation of the Roti family linked to the mob, according to FBI reports. The allegations began with their grandfather, Bruno Roti Sr., who ran the mob's South Side operations, and continued with their father, Frank "Skid" Caruso, who took over when Roti died in 1957, according to a 1966 FBI report.

"Skid" Caruso married Roti's daughter Catherine. They raised four children -- daughter Frances and sons Peter, Bruno and "Toots" -- in a house on 23rd Street at the center of both Chinatown and Roti family life.

Political beginnings

Bruno Caruso became one of the most powerful labor bosses in Chicago. But he started out cutting hair and drumming up votes in the 1960s for Democrats in the 1st Ward, the mob's historical political power base. "I gave outstanding haircuts," Caruso boasted in a 1997 deposition.

This son of Chinatown, who now lives in Darien, soon traded his scissors for a jackhammer. Caruso, 62, went to work for the city in 1966 as an asphalt laborer. He became a steward for Laborers' Local 1001 in his first year on the job. Caruso moved from foreman to supervisor to superintendent of pavement repair. As a city superintendent, Caruso was paid $39,072 in 1982 to oversee as many as 400 workers -- who belonged to his union. He was their boss -- and their union leader.

Caruso -- who married Mary Ann Rizza, whose family owns five car dealerships -- was a Department of Streets and Sanitation superintendent when he joined the executive board of Laborers' Local 1001 in 1981. A year later, Kumerow made Caruso the union's secretary-treasurer, a full-time job, and Caruso left his city job.

A labor leader, speaking on the condition he not be named, said of Caruso: "Bruno cared about his membership, very family-orientated. But evidently other people thought different things."

Ousted by their own union

As the mob dominated the Laborers' Union nationwide into the mid-1990s, the Justice Department agreed to let the international union clean house. The union hired investigators to ferret out crime and corruption. In 1997, the Laborers' International Union went after the powerful Chicago District Council, filing a complaint that ultimately booted its officers. The international union's in-house prosecutor, Robert Luskin, later filed charges against Bruno Caruso, as well as "Toots" Caruso and Leo Caruso, who ran Laborers' Local 1006, also representing city workers. The Carusos, accused of having links to organized crime, were kicked out of the union forever in 2001.

Bruno Caruso was replaced by Gironda, his cousin. Gironda "was placed in Local 1001 to continue organized crime influence over Local 1001," according to the 2003 complaint Luskin filed. Gironda quit in 2004, agreeing to leave the union forever.

Last summer, Local 1001 held its first contested election in decades.

'A very dull person'

During the proceedings to oust Bruno Caruso, a Chicago Police detective testified he'd seen him and "Toots" Caruso with two mob bosses in 1994 -- a meeting Bruno Caruso said was to organize festivities for St. Joseph's Day, an important holiday for Italians. On other occasions, Bruno Caruso was spotted with other reputed mob bosses.

These days, Caruso owns Maxwell Street Depot, a 24-hour, fast-food joint near Sox Park.

"I go to church every morning," Caruso said during the proceedings that led to his ouster from the union. "In the circles of nightlife and that nature, I am known as a very dull person, yes."

Hoodlum-turned-informant Charles "Guy" Bills recalled once seeing Caruso at a card game. "He was walking around like a little prince," Bills said in a July 1997 deposition. "But 'Toots' was the biggest prince."

'Out of a 'B' movie'

"Toots" Caruso had nothing to say in 1995 when union investigators wanted to ask about the mob. He had plenty to say three years later, when only son Frank Jr. faced prison for beating a black teen, Lenard Clark, who'd ventured into the Carusos' neighborhood. "Toots" Caruso pleaded for leniency, telling the judge: "The area in which we live has set up standards that are so archaic, out of a 'B' movie, that I would have moved eight to 10 years ago, but did not want to leave my mother. (God, I wish I had)."

Caruso, 60, also discussed personal moments with his son, who ended up spending more than four years in prison. "I can recall watching scary movies with him," he told the judge. "We would put on all the lights in the basement because we were both frightened, then run up to our rooms. My wife would say, 'If the both of you are scared, don't watch them.' Frank would say, 'Dad is scared,' and I would say he was."

Caruso said he advised his son: "Tell me who you hang with, and I'll tell you who you are." After the trial, Caruso moved to Lemont.

'Always wanted to be a boss'

"Toots" Caruso grew up next door to his maternal grandfather, the reputed mob boss who, according to the FBI, turned over his criminal operations to his son-in-law "Skid" Caruso. The youngest son of a mob boss, "Toots" Caruso wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, according to a 1997 deposition from onetime friend Bills. "Toots always wanted to be a boss," Bills testified. "That was his goal. He told me."

"Toots" Caruso hung around with relatives and friends who were under orders to protect him, Bills said, explaining that he heard this from Caruso's cousin Leo, 62. "Leo told me, 'My uncle will kill everybody if anything happens to Toots or he gets in any kind of trouble," Bills said.

In 1982, "Toots" Caruso was arrested with his cousin Fred Bruno Barbara and two reputed mobsters, accused of trying to collect an illegal, high-interest "juice" loan from an undercover FBI agent in a bar at Lake Point Tower. Caruso told authorities he'd just been dropped off there by his uncle, Ald. Fred Roti. A jury found all four not guilty.

Nine days after his arrest, Caruso -- then a Laborers' Local 1006 business representative and delegate to the Chicago District Council -- got a promotion. He went on to become the local's top officer, a post he quit in 1995, a day after getting a subpoena from union investigators.

Caruso then got a job running a multimillion-dollar pension fund for the Laborers'. He was fired in 1998. Soon after, Caruso had another job, union records show -- driving a truck for Schadt's Inc., one of the biggest companies in the city's Hired Truck Program.

Thanks to Tim Novak and Robert C. Herguth

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