U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian...

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Jose Luis Magana

The former president of a powerful construction industry union was sentenced Thursday to 51 months in federal prison for enriching himself and others by accepting bribes and illegal cash payments — in a wiretap investigation that began in Suffolk County — from a construction contractor, federal prosecutors said.

James Cahill, ex-president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, previously pleaded guilty to honest services fraud conspiracy for his role as a “leader” in the scheme. The cash bribes were stuffed in envelopes that were oftentimes delivered inside bathrooms at restaurants in Long Beach, Melville, Rockville Centre and Commack, authorities have said.

“Capitalizing on his position as a high-ranking union official, James Cahill accepted payment after payment to favor nonunion labor at the expense of union members,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “Whether it was a cash-stuffed envelope or in-kind benefit, each payment reflected a decision to place personal greed over the union interests that Cahill was duty-bound to serve."

The investigation began in Suffolk County under former District Attorney Tim Sini, but federal prosecutors in Manhattan prosecuted Cahill and several other co-defendants.

The 2020 indictment charging Cahill and the 10 others alleged the defendants, many of whom were from Long Island, agreed to accept dozen of bribes "to corruptly influence the construction industry at the expense of labor unions and their own members who they're supposed to be representing."

Those unions included the Ronkonkoma-based Plumbers Local Union #200 of the United Association, which has jurisdiction over plumbing work in Nassau and Suffolk, as well as the Long Island City-based Steamfitters Local 638, a union with jurisdiction over pipe fitting on Long Island and in New York City.

Seven out of the 11 defendants, who received sentences ranging from probation to 51 months in prison, were from Long Island.

“James Cahill repeatedly chose to enrich himself at the expense of the hardworking men and women whose interests he had a sworn duty to protect, and his sentence to a substantial term in federal prison should serve as a message to all others who would consider engaging in similar betrayals of trust,” Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney said Thursday.

As the leader of the NYS Trades Council, which represents over 200,000 unionized construction workers, Cahill accepted approximately $44,500 in bribes, as well as benefits including home appliances and free labor on Cahill’s vacation home, from October 2018 to October 2020, prosecutors said.  In pleading guilty, Cahill acknowledged having previously accepted at least $100,000 in other bribes from an unnamed employer in connection with his union positions, including as a member of the Executive Council for the NYS AFL-CIO and formerly a union representative of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, prosecutors said.   

Cahill, of upstate Pearl River, introduced the employer to many of his co-defendants and advised the employer he would benefit from an association with the unions without signing union agreements or employing union workers, prosecutors said. The defendants accepted thousands and, in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars of cash bribes from the employer, a contractor who had projects and potential projects within the jurisdiction of Local 638 and Local 200.

 All 11 of the defendants accepted cash from the employer, who “repeatedly requested favorable action” from Local 638 and/or Local 200 for support on various projects and to falsely claim to developers that the employer employed union workers, prosecutors said. 

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