Union Members Charged With Taking Bribes


     (CN) – A New York City labor official and three of his subordinates have been indicted on charges they accepted bribes in exchange for union memberships, the Justice Department announced.
     James Sheeran , Adam Foresta, Christopher Lupino, and Kelwyn Benjamin were arrested on the same charge — technically, conspiracy to honest services wire fraud — in November 2014.
     All four men are members of Steamfitters Local 638, which represents workers in the plumbing and pipefitting industries in New York City. At the time of the alleged events, Sheeran was an organizer for the union and in that role worked on membership recruitment.
     According to the indictment filed in Manhattan Federal Court, the conspiracy began in December 2013. It was then, prosecutors say, that an individual identified in court documents only as “applicant 1” was offered a union membership in exchange for a $35,000 bribe.
     Applicant 1 then allegedly contacted another non-party, identified as “cooperating witness,” and asked for help paying the bribe.
     Prosecutors say that over the next several months, Foresta, Lupino and Benjamin had a number of phone conversations with the cooperating witness about buying a membership, called a “union book,” for Applicant 1 and also for a second individual, Applicant 2.
     During these calls, which were recorded by the FBI, Foresta, Lupino and Benjamin allegedly explained that each union book cost $40,000 — $5,000 for the typical union application fee, and a $35,00 bribe.
     In October 2014, prosecutors say, Applicant 1 met with Sheeran, who allegedly coached the prospective member on how to answer questions from the union officials, a necessary step in gaining membership. After Applicants 1 and 2 met with those officials, Lupino allegedly told the cooperating witness that their approvals would come soon.
     Then, on November 3, 2014, the cooperating witness placed a recorded phone call to Lupino.
     “During that phone call, Lupino discussed the CW paying $40,000 in cash for each of the two Union books, and explained that … Foresta was to receive &70,000 in cash, and the union to receive $10,000 in bank checks or money orders,” the criminal complaint filed in November says.
     Lupino also allegedly arranged for Foresta to pick up the money the following day.
     The government says that on November 4, 2014, Foresta and the cooperating witness met in Manhattan, where the witness handed over $35,000 with a promise to pay the balance the next day. As the two men parted company, a team of FBI agents converged on Foresta and arrested him. His co-defendants were arrested over the next several days.
     If convicted of the charge, each of the men faces up to 20 years in prison.
     The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley, III.

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