BY ROBERT P. MADER Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
MINNEAPOLIS — A federal grand jury has indicted the former business manager of United Association Plumbers Local 15 here and a Minneapolis City Council member on charges of extortion, embezzlement and mail fraud.
The grand jury charged that Thomas Martin, the former business manager, stole money from the union and used part of it to pay for plumbing work at the home of City Council Member Joseph P. Biernat, who is president of the council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Board. Biernat’s board appointed Martin to the Plumbers Examining Board of the city of Minneapolis.
Martin’s brother, Joseph W. Martin, was charged with aiding and abetting the theft of union funds.
Biernat was charged with two counts of violating the Hobbs Act and one count each of false statement, aiding and abetting a theft from a labor organization and mail fraud. Thomas Martin was charged with one count of violating the Hobbs Act, three counts of theft from a labor organization and one count of mail fraud.
The three defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Earl Cudd and pleaded not guilty.
Biernat and Thomas Martin were charged with violating the part of the Hobbs Act that prohibits anyone from receiving money or property “under color of official right.” The grand jury alleged that Biernat affected interstate commerce by extortion when he received $2,700 worth of labor, materials and improvements to his home. Thomas Martin allegedly paid the bill while he had business pending before Biernat’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee.
According to the indictment, Martin arranged for an estimate for plumbing work at Biernat’s home on or before March 17, 1999. On or before the same date, Biernat chaired the committee meeting that approved Martin’s appointment to the Plumbers Examining Board. On March 26, 1999, the full City Council approved Martin’s appointment. On or about March 30, 1999, Martin arranged for additional plumbing work at Biernat’s residence. On or about May 19, 1999, Martin took $2,700 in Local 15 funds and used it to pay for the work, the indictment says.
Martin is accused of mail fraud because he mailed the check to the plumbing contractor who performed the work. The indictment also charges Martin with stealing additional sums of $6,000 and $9,177 from the union.
The indictment alleges that Biernat lied to the FBI while it was investigating the incident during August 2001.
“We do not believe there is any act of public corruption involved in the matters that are covered by the indictment,” Jan Symchych, Biernat’s lawyer, told CONTRACTOR. “We do not believe that the things alleged in the indictment have anything to do with Joe Biernat’s intentions or with how he carried out his public duties, and we believe that all those remain uncorrupted and proper. For those reasons, Joe has unequivocally denied the charges in the indictment and we believe we have no choice but to proceed for a trial.”
“All I can say is that we are investigating the charges and dealing with them appropriately,” said Gerald Yost, attorney for Joseph Martin. Yost noted that Joseph Martin is not a member of the plumbers union and has the fewest number of charges against him. Yost said the government is alleging that Joseph Martin aided and abetted theft of union funds because his brother Thomas allegedly stole market recovery funds from the union and used them to pay for construction work at the homes of Joseph and others who have not been indicted.
Robert Malone, the attorney for Thomas Martin, declined comment other than to say his client pleaded not guilty. An attorney for Local 15 could not be reached for comment. Local 15 is under trusteeship.
If convicted, Biernat and Thomas Martin face maximum potential penalties of 20 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine for violating the Hobbs Act and up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine for mail fraud. All three defendants face a maximum of five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine for each count of aiding and abetting theft from a labor organization. In addition, Biernat faces five years and/or a $250,000 fine for making a false statement. A judge would determine the sentences based on federal sentencing guideline.