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Ex-Teamsters boss John Coli appears in court on extortion charges

Former longtime Chicago Teamsters boss John Coli Sr. leaving the Dirksen Federal Building in July 2017. | Max Herman / Sun-Times

Wearing a somber charcoal suit and an expression to match, John T. Coli Sr. — the recently retired Teamsters boss and a major player in city and state politics — entered a not guilty plea in federal court Friday to extortion charges.

The appearance, which lasted about 15 minutes, was Coli’s first since the indictment came down earlier this month, accusing him of trying to extort $100,000 from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, the clout-heavy studio that has received millions of dollars in state grants.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer reviewed Coli’s trial rights and asked the 57-year-old if he understood the charges against him.

“Yes, I do,” Coli said, flanked by his two attorneys.

Among other things, Coli was ordered to surrender his passport and any firearms.

RELATED: Chicago Teamsters leader John T. Coli charged in extortion scheme

Coli and his attorneys declined to comment a short while later, as they left the courtroom.

Coli led the Teamsters Joint Council 25 for more than 15 years. He got his start with the union in 1971, when he landed a job as a parking lot attendant. Earlier this month — and before the indictment came down — Coli announced his retirement, saying he wanted to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren.

He was also a powerful backer of Rahm Emanuel in the 2011 mayoral election. Gov. Bruce Rauner had appointed him to the state’s labor advisory board. As word of the indictment spread, a spokesman for the governor’s office said Coli would be removed from the board.

Coli is due back in court Aug. 17.