clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Feds allege ex-top Chicago labor leader took even more bribes

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

Federal prosecutors slapped former top Chicago labor leader John T. Coli Sr. with a retooled indictment Friday, more than tripling the amount the power broker is accusing of shaking down from a Chicago film studio — $325,000 in all — and portraying the bribery as stretching back further in time.

The longtime Teamsters leader faces 13 counts in the new superseding indictment, more than double the number when he was originally charged in July.

Coli plead not guilty in federal court when charged with extorting $100,000 from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, the clout-heavy studio home to “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.” that has gotten millions of dollars in state grants.

BACKGROUND:

Chicago Teamsters leader John T. Coli Sr. charged in extortion scheme

In the initial charges, feds alleged that Coli threatened work stoppages and labor issues if he did not receive payment from Cinespace every three months, dating back to July 2016. But now, the feds detail a longer lasting scheme, beginning in 2014 and netting a larger amount of alleged bribes — $325,000.

The indictment released Friday also charged that Coli did not make proper reports to the Labor Department and under-reported his income on 2014, 2015 and 2016 income tax forms.

In his first run for mayor, Rahm Emanuel gets endorsed by John T. Coli Sr., then-president of the Teamsters Joint Council 25, on Jan. 25, 2011. I Sun-Times files
Rahm Emanuel gets endorsed by John Coli Sr., president of the Teamsters Joint Council 25, for mayor on Jan. 25, 2011. | Sun-Times file photo

The alleged extortion occurred while Coli was President of Teamsters Joint Council 25, an affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labor organization, which represents more than 100,000 members in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana. Coli led the Teamsters Joint Council 25 for more than 15 years, and had been with the organization since 1971. He announced his retirement just before his first indictment, saying he wanted to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren.

Coli — who also has been a powerful backer of several political candidates, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and sat on a state labor relations board under Gov. Bruce Rauner — has denied any wrongdoing.

The feds are seeking to have Coli forfeit the $325,000 they accuse him of taking in bribes and have placed a lien on his Lake View neighborhood home, which Coli has been trying to sell for about $1.3 million. Coli and his wife bought the house in September 2014 for $1.09 million.

The four-bedroom, three-bathroom home is listed as having a huge family room with a new, two-car heated brick garage with a custom roof deck as well as being wired to charge an electric car.

Cinespace, a family-owned company that occupies 1.45 million square feet of studio and production space on the west side of downtown, got five grants for a total of $27.3 million from the administration of then-Gov. Pat Quinn. The company received a $10 million grant in December 2014 to buy seven industrial properties near its North Lawndale campus. They then returned that grant in March 2015 after the Chicago Sun-Times discovered that most of the property it had said it planned to buy wasn’t for sale, but kept other grants.

Coli helped the studio “navigate the politics of getting grants” from state government, a source has told the Sun-Times. Coli “lobbied for all the state money to get Cinespace to build” in Chicago, the source said.

An employee at Cinespace directed questions about the indictment to Karen Banks, who did not respond to requests for comment. Coli’s attorney has also not responded to requests for comment.

Contributing: Dan Mihalopoulos, Robert Herguth, Jon Seidel