Carpenters' District Council building

A sign reading “get vaccinated!” is displayed on the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters District Council building at 1401 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.

Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — The former head of the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council says the national union’s decision to put its Chicago office in charge of St. Louis was “nothing more than a political coup d’etat” that “illegally” gave it control of “tens of billions” in assets held by the union’s pension and benefit funds.

Al Bond’s answer, filed last week in a federal lawsuit brought against him by the Chicago office of the Carpenters’ union, is his first public defense since officials with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters suddenly ousted him, dissolved the St. Louis council and put its operations under Chicago’s control.

In his answer, Bond alleges that “six or so” people in the St. Louis office complained to national union officials in the hopes of ousting Bond and taking over the union.

Al Bond

Carpenters Union official Al Bond is seen on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, at a news conference at Carpenters Hall in St. Louis.

“This was nothing more than a hostile takeover of the Union led by a personal individual attack upon defendant initially by a few ... dissident members who complained to the (United Brotherhood of Carpenters) offices of (President Doug McCarron) because they wanted to replace Defendant,” Bond lawyer John Goffstein wrote in the May 4 filing. “It did not work.”

Now, “tens of billions” in union assets via benefit funds are under the control of the Chicago-based Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council “contrary to the best interests and to the financial detriments” of union members in St. Louis, Kansas City and Southern Illinois and contractors in the region, Bond argues.

It’s unclear how the “tens of billions” amount was calculated. The St. Louis Carpenters pension had $3.6 billion in assets as of last year. The union’s other benefit funds had assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bond has countersued the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, asking a judge to order the reinstatement of the St. Louis council and its officers and the return of its benefit fund assets.

“The Plaintiff, by and through its Chicago affiliate, committed an improper theft of the St. Louis Council assets otherwise belonging to this area’s membership,” Bond says in the filing.

The St. Louis-based council was among the most influential unions in the region’s political and business circles, writing six-figure checks to area politicians and negotiating labor contracts for a sizable chunk of the area’s construction workforce.

In September, Bond’s position was eliminated and the St. Louis council was terminated with little explanation. UBC President Doug McCarron later said the national union was investigating “financial malfeasance” in the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, and union officials said they planned formal, internal charges against Bond for “defrauding” the union.

Doug McCarron

United Brotherhood of Carpenters President Doug McCarron, right, was among labor leaders who met with President Donald Trump on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. McCarron spoke about Trump’s inauguration speech and the president urged members of the media to listen. (AP Photo, Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In legal filings last month, Goffstein revealed Bond had “Department of Justice issues,” disclosing that Bond was looking at hiring “defense firms” as co-counsel.

In March, the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council sued Bond and two outdoor advertising companies owned by James Neumann, seeking to void the agreements between the union and the companies.

The lawsuit accuses Bond of paying Interrail Outdoor LLC $4 million for three billboards, only one of which had been built. Bond entered into an agreement with Interrail in January 2020 but didn’t receive approval from the executive committee until a year later, by which time he already had paid the company $3 million, according to the lawsuit.

Bond also inked contracts with Foxpoint Interactive, another company owned by Neumann, that gave it rights for 32 years to a portion of advertising revenue derived from union property. The terms, the lawsuit claims, are “inconsistent” with the union’s purpose and could cause an “undesirable” tax burden.

But the contracts with Neumann’s firms, Bond argues, were good for the union and received the required approvals. Only one billboard has been installed, Bond argues, because the union “stopped the project in its tracks.”

“This was a great deal for the Union, well within its sphere of influence and legal authority since the union, instead of paying the sign companies for advertising at prime locations at or near union facilities, was able to negotiate a profit-making venture which would also allow them to advertise for prospective Union members,” Bond’s filing argues.

While Bond led the St. Louis Council, a position he had held since 2015, union audits and reports filed with federal regulators never “resulted in anything other than proper oversight,” Bond’s filing argues.

Bond’s lawyer declined to comment. Dowd Bennett attorney Jim Martin, representing the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, declined to comment.

Foxpoint and Interrail, now represented by attorneys Armstrong Teasdale, argue there is no allegation they did anything wrong or should have known Bond was violating union bylaws.

“Bond’s alleged actions or violations do not permit the Union to avoid its obligations in these contracts at the expense of third parties like Interrail and Foxpoint,” the companies argue in their own filing.

An attorney for Neumann’s companies did not respond to a request for comment.

Seattle-based council also suing

Bond isn’t the only former regional leader union officials are currently suing.

In November, national officials took over the Seattle-based Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, alleging fraud in contract votes following contentious strikes there last year.

The union is suing the former head of the Northwest regional council, Evelyn Shapiro, who resigned in the wake of the takeover. She is accusing McCarron and the union’s longtime lawyer, Dan Shanley, of corruption, while the union accuses her of fabrications to “discredit the investigation that uncovered and exposed her repeated instances of vote rigging.”

Meanwhile, a former top Carpenters union official who was indicted in New Jersey, George Laufenberg, has entered plea negotiations with the feds, Politico reported last week. Laufenberg is a former commissioner for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and oversaw Carpenters union benefit funds before the union fired him in 2016. He was indicted in 2019, and a federal grand jury sent several subpoenas to entities tied to the Carpenters union.

Originally posted at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 10.

Jacob Barker • 314-340-8291

@jacobbarker on Twitter

jbarker@post-dispatch.com

Originally published on stltoday.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.

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