CHICAGO – A prominent leader in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union is accused of squeezing a business out of $100,000 and threatening to harm it financially if it refused to pay, according to a federal indictment handed down Wednesday by a grand jury in Chicago.
John T. Coli, who has wielded enormous political influence in his home state of Illinois, served as president of Teamsters Joint Council 25 during the alleged extortion scheme. It represents more than 100,000 workers in the Chicago area and in northwest Indiana.
The same day as the indictment, a news release from the union said the 57-year-old Coli, who lives in Chicago, is retiring from the Teamsters. He has been affiliated with the powerful union for more than 45 years.
The release didn't mention his indictment.
Coli faces one count of attempted extortion, and five of demanding and accepting a prohibited payment as a union official. He could receive up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the extortion charge. The maximum sentence for each of the other counts is five years behind bars.
The 11-page indictment says Coli demanded that the business make quarterly payments of $25,000 to him in 2016 and into 2017. The name of the business is not given in the court filing. The indictment also doesn't detail how Coli might have suggested he could hurt the company if it did not pay what he demanded, though the filing hints that it may have involved the threat of a work stoppage.
Court documents and a statement from the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago do not provide the name of an attorney for Coli. A date for Coli to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Chicago will be set later, prosecutors said.
In the union's release Wednesday, Coli is quoted as saying he is retiring from "the greatest union in the world" with "tremendous reflection and a big heart."
Coli also served as secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local Union 727, one of around 25 local affiliates under Teamsters Joint Council 25. He also was previously an international vice president of the central region of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.