Former Teamsters Boss Charged With Extortion, Tax Fraud Expected To Plead Guilty Today | WBEZ
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Former Teamsters Boss Charged With Extortion, Tax Fraud Expected To Plead Guilty Today

John Coli Sr., the former Chicago-area union boss who was influential in Democratic politics and was an early backer of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is scheduled to plead guilty Tuesday after facing federal charges of extortion and tax fraud.

It’s not yet clear what the terms of a possible plea deal could be. Neither Coli’s lawyers nor a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago would comment.

Federal prosecutors allege Coli used his former leadership position at Teamsters Joint Council 25 to get $350,000 in kickbacks from two firms.

One was the Chicago film studio Cinespace, a one-time state grant recipient where a series of network television programs have been filmed, including NBC’s Chicago Fire and Fox’s Empire. The government accused Coli of threatening work stoppages and labor unrest at the studio, which employs Teamsters members, unless Cinespace paid him off.

Prosecutors accuse Coli of then lying on his income taxes and on labor documents to cover up the scheme.

Teamsters Joint Council 25, a Park Ridge-based labor umbrella group, is comprised of 26 locals and more than 100,000 members in Illinois and Northwest Indiana, including 4,600 who work for Illinois state government.

Earlier this year, WBEZ reported federal prosecutors had subpoenaed attendance, travel and reimbursement records and emails involving state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, as part of its investigation into the labor council. 

During the three-year period in which investigators are seeking records, Cullerton — now chairman of the Senate Labor Committee — disclosed in his state economic interest statements that he had received income as an “organizer” for Teamsters Joint Council 25.

Cullerton has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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