Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein: Profile
By Richard Poe
Founder Jack English was a lifelong Democrat operative, prominent both in national and Long Island politics, serving as national Democratic committeeman and chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee.
English was a close advisor to John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He counseled Robert Kennedy to run for the Senate in New York in 1964. He served both JFK and RFK as a strategist on their presidential campaigns.
When English died of liver cancer on November 8, 1987, at age 61, Senator Ted Kennedy praised him as “a hero” to the Kennedy family. "There were two Jacks in my life and now both of them are gone," said Kennedy.
Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein is a full-service law firm with headquarters in Mineola, New York. It employs more than 55 attorneys and maintains branches in New York City, Albany and Washington, DC. Meyer Suozzi’s labor practice – which Harold Ickes ran from 1983 to 1993 – has brought controversy to the firm, through its long history of representing corrupt unions under Mob control. Many New York attorneys have bestowed upon Meyer Suozzi the irreverent nickname “The Firm” – a reference to the 1993 film by that name, starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman as attorneys trapped in a white-shoe law firm serving Mafia dons.Meyer Suozzi’s longstanding habit of hiring former judges, politicians and other powerbrokers testifies to the firm’s well-known appetite for political power. The firm trades in power and influence. Clients retain Meyer Suozzi’s services as much to gain political clout as to obtain legal services. The firm parlays its close relationship with the Democratic Party, labor unions and organized crime into a law practice that enriches its partners not only through legal fees but through political influence.Meyer Suozzi founder Jack English met Harold Ickes in 1968 and reportedly admired Ickes’ work on the McCarthy campaign. No doubt, English was equally impressed by Ickes’ pedigree as a Washington insider, Ickes’ father having served as Secretary of Interior for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, from 1933 until 1946.Even so, English waited nearly ten years before inviting Ickes to join Meyer Suozzi, which he did in 1977. Ickes started as an associate, became a partner in 1980 and headed the firm’s labor practice from 1982 to December 1993, overseeing a staff of nine lawyers serving nearly 200 union clients.
Many unions at that time were controlled in whole or in part by New York’s “five families” – the Gambino, Colombo, Lucchese, Genovese and Bonanno crime syndicates. Union bosses were often hand-picked by the Mob. These Mafia-picked bosses embezzled union dues; robbed pension funds; planted friends and associates in lucrative “ghost jobs” on union payrolls; rigged bids on work contracts; and extorted pay-offs from businesses by threatening strikes.
The biggest losers in the labor racket were the rank-and-file union members. Mob-run union bosses grew rich on kickbacks and payoffs. But the cozy deals they cut with employers left workers out in the cold. Union members who protested mob corruption were threatened, beaten and sometimes killed.
In many ways, today’s labor movement remains as corrupt as Ickes found it in the 1970s. Organized crime and its union rackets took a drubbing from the Reagan Justice Department during the 1980s. However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the Mob’s decline have been greatly exaggerated. Federal prosecutors jailed many crime bosses, but others replaced them. During the Clinton years, a new generation of 21st-century racketeers spread its tentacles from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
One of Ickes’ clients was Arthur Armand Coia, who became president of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) in February 1993. In a 1994 civil racketeering complaint, Justice Department investigators accused Coia of having “associated with, and been controlled and influenced by, organized crime figures.” In fact, the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island had long controlled LIUNA.
Coia ruled LIUNA with an iron fist. The federal complaint charges that he “employed actual and threatened force, violence and fear of physical and economic injury...” to keep his troops in line. At Coia’s command, LIUNA locals throughout upstate New York were ordered to pay tribute to Mob bosses in Buffalo.”
Ickes also represented Local 100 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE), identified by federal investigators as a mob fiefdom under joint control of the Colombo and Gambino crime families. Before Gambino boss Paul Castellano was gunned down in 1985, investigators taped Castellano stating that Local 100 was “my union and I don’t want anything happening to it.”
Ickes represented a number of Teamsters locals long viewed by federal prosecutors as hotbeds of mob racketeering.One was Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, New Jersey, long reputed to be dominated by the Genovese crime family. Local 560 plays a dark role in the Teamsters saga. When former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa attempted to regain control of the union in 1975, the Mob resisted him. Seeking allies, Hoffa arranged a meeting in Detroit to make peace with one of his chief rivals, Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, who had headed Local 560 since the 1950s. In the words of a senior official of the Newark U.S. Attorney’s office, Provenzano was “one of the most notorious, high-ranking members of the Genovese [organized-crime] family.”
When Hoffa arrived at the Detroit meeting place, Provenzano was not there. He was home in New Jersey. Hoffa disappeared, never to be seen again. Prosecutors never succeeded in pinning Provenzano with involvement in Hoffa’s disappearance. However, they eventually managed to convict him of extortion, labor racketeering and of ordering Teamsters rival Anthony Castellito strangled to death with piano wire. Incarcerated for these crimes on November 18, 1980, Provenzano died in prison on December 12, 1988.
The fall of Provenzano did not end mob domination of Teamsters Local 560. The Genovese crime family remained in control throughout the period that Harold Ickes and Meyer Suozzi represented it.
Other Ickes clients have included Teamsters Locals 295 and 851, which represent air freight workers at New York City airports. Both have been under mob control for decades, according to federal investigators. After Local 295 boss Anthony Calagna – an associate of the Lucchese crime family – was convicted of extortion in 1992, a federal judge placed Local 295 under the supervision of trustees Thomas P. Puccio (a former federal prosecutor) and Michael J. Moroney (a former Labor Department investigator).
Puccio and Moroney quickly identified Harold Ickes and his law firm Meyer Suozzi as obstacles in their efforts to clean up Local 295. They told the court that Meyer Suozzi had shown “hostility to the trusteeship” and demanded that the firm cease representing Locals 295 and 851, citing Meyer Suozzi’s “past practices” and the firm’s “lack of independence” from the Mob.
Ronald Reagan waged unrelenting war on union corruption. His Task Force on Organized Crime pummeled Mob bosses and labor racketeers with an onslaught of federal RICO suits. In 1985, James Harmon of the President’s Commission on Organized Crime was able to announce, “Approximately 10 percent of the Mafia's overall strength is under indictment.” George Bush Sr. continued the assault.
Unfortunately, the forces of corruption would soon launch a counterattack. And when they did, no Ronald Reagan stood in the breach to stop them. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton took a far different approach to labor racketeering than any of their White House predecessors. In exchange for record-breaking campaign contributions from union treasuries, Clinton effectively killed the federal effort to clean up unions. Michael Moroney, the former Labor Department investigator who accused Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein of mob complicity, wrote in 1999, “Reagan's Organized Crime Commission wanted Justice to use civil racketeering laws to clean up the national Teamsters unions. George Bush's Justice Department launched the case. But the Clinton administration sees anti-labor rackets laws as a political profit center…”
Under Clinton, the mobsters returned in force. So did leftwing militants of a sort whose influence had not been seen in organized labor since the 1940s. A marriage of convenience arose between union radicals and Mafia bosses whose corrosive effects have reduced the labor movement to little more than a gigantic ATM machine dispensing limitless quantities of dirty money to Democrat fundraisers.
The radicals siezed power over the labor movement in 1995, when John Sweeney ousted AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland, in what has come to be called a “palace coup.” Kirkland was a giant in the labor movement, a tireless crusader for the working man who understood that the greatest threat to organized labor came from the crooks and communists who undermined the movement from within. When Polish shipyard workers led by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa ignited a wave of strikes against Communist oppression in 1980, Kirkland put the AFL-CIO’s formidable resources squarely behind Walesa, pouring money into his movement and arguably doing more than any other private individual to bring down the Soviet empire.
The Left hated Kirkland for his anti-Communist stand. Likewise, the Mob never forgave him for cooperating with Reagan’s Organized Crime Task Force. Therein lay the seeds of the dark coalition that would one day end Kirkland’s reign.
The anti-Kirkland forces made their move in January 1994. Planted stories in the press cited anonymous sources within the AFL-CIO blaming Kirkland for declining union membership. The proportion of union members in the U.S. labor force had declined from 31 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 1994.
In fact, the long-term decline of union membership largely resulted from labor’s success at winning U.S. industrial workers the highest wages in the world – higher on average than most white-collar workers in America. Prosperity had taken the fight out of America’s working class. In addition, many states had passed right-to-work laws that ended the practice common in many unionized businesses of forcing workers to join the union as a condition of employment.
Blaming Kirkland for these macro-economic events was dismally unfair. But the insurgents needed a scapegoat, and Kirkland – nearing retirement at age 73 and lacking the will for a fight – provided an easy target. Militant union leaders pressured Kirkland to resign, airing their complaints in a public manner calculated to humiliate the grand old man of labor.
In an effort to outwit his opponents, Kirkland agreed to step down in favor of his right-hand man Thomas R. Donahue, whom Kirkland trusted to carry on his policies. But Donahue lacked Kirkland’s clout. When he stood for election on October 31, 1995, John J. Sweeney beat Donahue handily, becoming president of the 13-million-member AFL-CIO.
Sweeney and his radical insurgents have dominated organized labor ever since. The identity of Sweeney’s co-conspirators reveals everything about their agenda. It also makes clear why – only one year after taking power – they promptly plunged organized labor into its deepest crisis since the assassination of Jimmy Hoffa.Sweeney’s “New Voice” movement drew its name from a campaign manifesto released by United Mine Workers president Richard Trumka in June 1995. In it, Trumka called for “a new leadership” that would “make the AFL-CIO a strong, new voice for working Americans.” What Trumka meant by a “new voice” was apparent from his extreme leftist views and from the number of former Students for a Democratic Society radicals he had placed on the UMW payroll. However, few on Sweeney’s team evinced the ideological purity of Richard Trumka. Sweeney’s “New Voice” movement is a diverse coalition, uniting leftwing militants, old-style mob bosses, and those – like Sweeney himself – who seem a cross between the two.Presidents of the three largest unions in the AFL-CIO led the Dump Kirkland insurgency. They were Ron Carey of the 2.3-million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Gerald W. McEntee, president of the 1.2 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and Sweeney himself, who, before ascending to the AFL-CIO presidency, had led the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) with 1.1 million members. Combined with a number of smaller unions, the insurgents controlled more than half of the AFL-CIO’s 13.3 million members.
Much has been made of Sweeney’s political radicalism. A card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Sweeney opened the AFL-CIO’s door to Communist Party organizers for the first time since the 1950s, allowing Communists to distribute literature at his conventions and recruit workers to their cause.Sweeney has all but abandoned the private sector, whose shrinking industrial base offers little room for growth. The new AFL-CIO targets government workers, through public-sector unions such as AFSCME and SEIU. Their business model relies upon a perverse feedback loop which rewards government unions financially the farther left they drift.Because AFSCME and SEIU represent government workers, they have a vested interest in financially supporting Democrat politicians who promise to raise taxes and put more people on the government payroll. The more people Uncle Sam hires, the more members AFSCME and SEIU can acquire, and the more taxpayer money they can garnish from those union members’ government paychecks in the form of mandatory dues. The formula is working, for the time being. Because the public sector is currently the only part of the U.S. economy whose payrolls are growing, government unions such as AFSCME and SEIU are the only unions increasing their membership. Their success exerts a leftward pressure on the labor movement as a whole.When rioters shut down Seattle at the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization, leftists swooned in ecstasy at the sight of Sweeney and his union followers marching in solidarity with anarchists, eco-terrorists and Ruckus Society vandals, amid the smoke of burning storefronts and the stench of tear gas.
Enraptured by Sweeney’s militancy and the promise of a “blue-green coalition” of unions and eco-activists, liberal journalists neglected to scrutinize the business side of Sweeney’s “New Voice” operation. This was a serious oversight. For behind the façade of street marches and “Kumbaya” sing-alongs, organized crime has regained its choke hold over American labor.
Sweeney’s tolerance for mob activity carries a strong element of self-interest. His old local, SEIU 32-BJ, was founded by Lucky Luciano. FBI investigators have fingered the local as a hotbed of Genovese crime family activity.
Years after leaving Local 32-BJ to become SEIU president, Sweeney continued drawing a salary from the local – a second salary, that is, in addition to his salary as president. Gus Bevona, Sweeney’s hand-picked successor to head Local 32-BJ, made sure that Sweeny got his cut. Such “double-dipping” is a time-honored tradition among unions – but not one that inspires confidence in Sweeney’s ethics.
Adding to an already sordid picture is the fact that known mob cronies such as Teamsters president Ron Carey and LIUNA president Arthur Armand Coia have played significant roles in Sweeney’s “New Voice” movement from the beginning.
As one insider explained to the Weekly Standard in 1996, “Picking Sweeney is a signal. The fact that he lived with Bevona and had his hand in the cookie jar makes it clear to people like Coia that, hey – we may be talking revolution in the streets, but we ain’t talking about cleaning up unions.”
Following Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, Harold Ickes was widely expected to get the job of deputy White House chief of staff. He had managed Clinton’s New York campaign, run the Democratic Convention, and overseen the Clinton transition team. However, shortly before Clinton announced his White House appointments, unknown sources began leaking reports of his mob connections to the press – sources widely believed to be connected with Ickes’ enemies within the Democratic Party. Ickes was too hot to handle. Clinton declined to name him to any White House post, pending the results of further investigation.
In a pattern that was to become all too familiar during the Clinton years, Ickes and his law firm were soon “cleared” of all allegations, based upon an “investigation” whose thoroughness was open to some question.
Court officer Mary Shannon Little was assigned to investigate. “Based on the evidence available to date, there is no evidence of criminal misconduct on the part of Harold Ickes or Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein,” she wrote in a November 1993 memorandum. However, the 57-page Little report was sealed. When the Long Island newspaper Newsday sued to unseal it, a federal appeals court ruled against Newsday.
While acknowledging that the report contained “various accusations” against Ickes, the court pointed out that much of the text had been redacted or blacked out and that it “would circulate accusations that cannot be tested by the interested public because the sources and much of the subject matter are shrouded by the redactions…”
Meyer Suozzi managing partner William Cunningham III – who would later serve as treasurer for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign – announced on November 18, 1993 that Ickes had been cleared of all charges.
On January 4, 1994, a very happy Harold M. Ickes began his first day of work at the White House, as deputy chief of staff.
Now the stage had been set for the one of the least publicized, yet most revealing, of all Clinton scandals: Teamstergate.
Even before Bill Clinton’s election, mobsters and labor racketeers had begun courting Bill and Hillary. Ickes served as the Clintons’ go-between with crooked unions such as LIUNA and the Teamsters.
With a Justice Department RICO suit hanging over his head, LIUNA boss Arthur Armand Coia was particularly eager to curry favor with Bill Clinton. He donated over $1 million in union funds to the Democrats in 1994. More importantly, he backed John Sweeney’s takeover of the AFL-CIO – a move that would put tens of millions of dollars more within the Clintons’ reach. Coia and Clinton became quite friendly, exchanging costly gifts such as customized golf clubs. In the end, Coia got what he wanted. In 1995 – after investigating Coia and LIUNA for three years – the Justice Department suddenly decided not to press any charges against him.
Teamsters president Ron Carey also needed a helping hand. He was up for reelection in 1996 and James P. Hoffa – son of the legendary Jimmy Hoffa – was challenging him. Carey needed money and lots of it. The union treasury was full, but the law forbade using members’ dues to campaign for union office. What to do?
The answer was Teamstergate – an elaborate scheme to launder union funds through Democrat-friendly organizations, then siphon them back into Carey’s campaign. In 1996, Carey laundered nearly $1 million through a daisy chain of leftwing non-profit groups that included Citizen Action; the National Council of Senior Citizens; Teamsters for a Corruption Free Union; Project Vote (an ACORN front group) – not to mention the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party itself. Kickbacks and barter arrangements made it worth everyone’s while. Everyone was happy, and Carey won the election.
The Teamstergate conspirators might have gotten away with it, but for one rank-and-file union member who resented the misuse of his dues and decided to blow the whistle.
In the end, seven conspirators were convicted in federal court, but almost all were low-level players. Teamstergate trial testimony directly implicated Teamsters president Ron Carey; AFL-CIO president John Sweeney; AFSCME president Gerald McEntee; SEIU president Andrew Stern; UMW president Richard Trumka and 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection manager Terry McAuliffe. Of these, only Ron Carey would be indicted. The rest got off scot-free.
As for Harold Ickes, he left the White House on January 20, 1997, amid growing controversy over his shady fundraising tactics. Despite pressure from within her own Justice Department, Janet Reno refused to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Ickes.
He went back to work for Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein and today runs the firm’s Washington office.
Ickes oversaw Hillary Clinton’s successful 2000 Senate race and today acts as unofficial CEO of George Soros’ Shadow Party. Ickes is currently campaigning to fill the post from which fellow Teamstergate conspirator Terry McAuliffe is resigning – chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
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