Friday, February 20, 2009

Labor Union Drops Attorney Who Was Mentioned by Witness at Family Secrets Mob Trial

The union representing hotel and restaurant workers severed ties with a politically connected Chicago lawyer whose name surfaced at the Family Secrets Chicago mob trial.

Samuel Banks was on the payroll of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, and its successor organization, Unite Here, since at least 1989. A court-appointed union watchdog raised questions more than a decade ago about what Mr. Banks did for his salary there.

In August 2007, former mob-linked burglar Sal Romano testified at the Family Secrets trial that he had bribed police officers through Mr. Banks and another lawyer. Mr. Banks, who is also a criminal defense attorney, hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing.

Mr. Banks is the brother of Chicago Alderman William Banks (36th), father of tollway board member James Banks and father-in-law of state Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago. Mr. Banks did not return calls.

Mr. Banks and the union parted ways at the end of last year. A labor leader said the split had nothing to do with the accusation made at the trial. “It was based primarily on finances,” said Henry Tamarin, an executive vice-president of the international and president of Chicago-based Unite Here Local 1, which represents roughly 15,000 workers, including those on strike at the Congress Hotel.

U.S. Labor Department records indicate Local 1 paid Mr. Banks $48,000 for “legal counsel” in 2007. As for Mr. Banks’ role at Local 1, “he generally advised us politically,” Mr. Tamarin said.

Mr. Banks also was on the international union payroll as a lobbyist and was paid $88,000 in 2007, the most recent year federal records are available. His employment ended with the new year, a spokesman confirmed.

Unite Here groups contributed at least $25,000 over the past three years to the campaign fund of William Banks, and at least $10,000 to Mr. Fritchey, now running for Congress.

Mr. Banks was a close associate of the late Ed Hanley, who ran the international union until he was forced out in 1998 amid corruption allegations by a court-appointed monitor.

Around that time, the monitor, former U.S. Justice Department attorney Kurt Muellenberg, released a report that, among other things, questioned what Mr. Banks and other consultants did for the union since their work was not documented or itemized.

Thanks to Robert Herguth

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