One Labor Union Officer and Three Labor Union Members Charged in Manhattan Federal Court with Accepting Bribes in Exchange for Labor Union Memberships
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Cheryl Garcia, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Regional Office of the United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations (“DOL-OIG”), and William J. Bratton, the Police Commissioner of the City of New York (“NYPD”), announced today that a federal grand jury has returned an Indictment charging ADAM FORESTA, CHRISTOPHER LUPINO, JAMES SHEERAN, and KELWYN BENJAMIN with conspiring to commit honest services wire fraud in connection with their accepting bribes in exchange for memberships in Steamfitters Local 638, a New York City labor union. The defendants were arrested in November 2014 on the same charges, pursuant to a criminal Complaint. The case is assigned to United States District Judge William H. Pauley, III, in Manhattan federal court.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, the defendants—Adam Foresta, Christopher Lupino, James Sheeran, and Kelwyn Benjamin—disgraced the idea of union membership and disserved the interests of the plumbing and pipefitting industry workers of Steamfitters Local 638 when they concocted a scheme to sell Union memberships for thousands of dollars in cash bribes to fill their personal coffers. This Office remains committed to protecting the integrity of unions from this type of alleged misconduct and ensuring that those who would engage in it face justice.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said: “For a bribe, the defendants granted membership to the highly sought-after Steamfitters union. Ironically, the defendants’ actions didn’t protect their two key constituents: union members and those with leaky pipes. The FBI continues to police this city’s labor organizations for corruption at all levels.”
NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton said: “I would like to thank the members of the NYPD’s Joint Organized Crime Task Force and our Federal partners who built this case and made these indictments possible.” According to allegations contained in the Indictment, the underlying criminal Complaint unsealed on November 5, 2014, and statements made during court proceedings:
FORESTA, LUPINO, SHEERAN, and BENJAMIN were all members of Steamfitters Local 638, a local division of a labor union that represents workers in the plumbing and pipefitting industries in New York City (the “Union”). SHEERAN was an organizer for the Union and worked on membership recruitment. In that capacity, he owed fiduciary duties to Steamfitters Local 638.
In December 2013, an individual who has not been charged (“Applicant-1”) told a cooperating witness (the “CW”) that Applicant-1 had been offered membership in the Union—what is known as a “Union book”—in exchange for a $35,000 bribe. Applicant-1 asked the CW to help him/her pay for the Union book.
Over the next several months, FORESTA, LUPINO, and BENJAMIN each had conversations, which were recorded by the FBI, with the CW about buying Union books for Applicant-1 and another individual who has not been charged (“Applicant-2”). During these calls, the CW was told that each Union book would cost $40,000—$5,000 for the typical Union application fee and a $35,000 cash bribe. In October 2014, Applicant-1 met with SHEERAN, who coached Applicant-1 to provide answers to questions from Union officials to enable him to secure approval from the interviewing officials, including by misleading the Union officials. Applicant-1 and Applicant-2 met with the Union committee later that month in connection with their applications. After that meeting, LUPINO told the CW that approvals from the Union would come soon. On November 3, 2014, a few days before Applicant-1 and Applicant-2’s memberships were to be issued, LUPINO and FORESTA arranged for FORESTA to meet with the CW to pick up the bribes for the two Union books. LUPINO told the CW to bring $70,000 in cash and that the other $10,000, which would go to the Union for application fees, should be paid for by check or money order. On November 4, 2014, FORESTA and the CW met in Manhattan. The CW gave FORESTA $35,000 in cash for one Union book—telling him he would pay for the second Union book the next day. Thereafter, the agents arrested FORESTA; LUPINO, BENJAMIN, and SHEERAN were arrested in the following days.
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FORESTA, 45, of Staten Island, New York, LUPINO, 51, of New Monmouth, New Jersey, SHEERAN, 49, of Jackson, New Jersey, and BENJAMIN, 41, of New York, New York, are each charged with one count of conspiring to commit honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, and the New York City Police Department.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Violent & Organized Crime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua A. Naftalis and Jordan Estes are in charge of the prosecution.
The allegations contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.