Lawyers for former Teamsters union boss John Coli Sr. have asked for probation and house arrest for extorting a Chicago movie studio boss, citing his poor health and cooperation that caused helped federal investigators secure a phantom payment conviction against State Senator Thomas Cullerton. .
In a memo filed late Wednesday, Coli’s lawyers said the 19-month prison sentence sought by prosecutors disregards Coli’s passionate stewardship of his union, his advocacy for the growth of the film industry in the city and the fact that Coli suffered a serious heart attack just eight months ago.
The 30-page filing also details the story behind Coli’s relationship with Cinespace Studio president Alex Pissios, who made secret recordings of Coli threatening an on-set union strike if Pissios didn’t pay him $25,000 in cash. monthly extortion.
“We’ll arrest him tomorrow,” Coli said on a recording, according to court records. “I will (expletive) have a picket line here and everything will stop.”
Coli’s attorneys, Joseph Duffy and Robin Waters, wrote that although Coli regrets making the statement, Pissios was well aware that Coli did not have the authority to call a strike. In fact, they wrote, “the bargaining agreement in place explicitly prohibited the Teamsters from any strike, picket, boycott, or other similar effort to interfere with the studio.”
“So while Mr. Coli certainly regrets making that statement, it was empty bluster and bravado,” the filing reads.
Coli, for years a politically connected and nationally known element in the Teamsters, pleaded guilty in July 2019 charged with one count each of receiving illegal payments and filing a false tax return, admitting to extorting a total of $325,000 from Pissios.
He is due to be sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.
In a sentencing note last week, Assistant US Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu wrote that Coli’s extortion was “protracted, calculated and deliberate”, involving regular payments of bribes in “envelopes full of bundles”. of $25,000 in cash.
Coli has also “dealt with his position as union official” in other ways over the years, earning him more than half a million dollars in perks, including meals in Las Vegas, seats to baseball and football and the use of a yacht and two-person crew to sail around Italy, according to the prosecution case.
“It was not a technical violation of the statute; Coli did not receive any small trinkets, chocolates or promotional products,” Bhachu wrote in the 19-page memo. “The picture painted here is not one of a momentary indiscretion or bad decision, but rather a conscious and prolonged effort by Defendant Coli to exploit his position of trust for personal gain.”
Federal sentencing guidelines called for up to about three years behind bars. Coli, however, is expected to get a significant break due to his cooperation against Cullerton, according to the government filing.
Cullerton was sentenced in June to a year in federal prison for pocketing more than a quarter million dollars in Teamsters pay and benefits with Coli’s blessing, despite having little to no work.
News of Coli’s cooperation in 2019 has made waves in Illinois political circles since Coli used his national standing with the Teamsters to dominate some of the city’s and state’s most powerful elected officials — including including former Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, ex-governor. Pat Quinn and his successor Bruce Rauner.
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It also marked a sharp turnaround for Coli, who for years bathed in an old-fashioned image of unchanging strength, thumbing his nose at investigators.
Coli once told a lawyer during sworn testimony to “Go (expletive) yourself.” He has dodged controversy for years — from suspicious state board appointments to allegations of organized crime ties — often accusing his accusers of using overzealous investigative tactics.
His attitude was also evident in secret conversations recorded by Pissios, including one where he was asked if he had told anyone about the arrangement they had.
“Are you crazy? There’s no one,” Coli replied, according to a transcript filed by prosecutors. “Never. My children, my wife. Nobody. … You can cut off my fingers, I won’t talk.
In their filing, however, Coli’s attorneys described the former labor leader as a driving force behind the state’s thriving film industry, which “has generated massive spending, revenue and job creation.”
“Mr. Coli has been instrumental in promoting this enormous economic growth in Chicago and Illinois,” his attorneys wrote.