Chicago Teamster official charged with extortion

John T Coli

In an 11-page indictment returned Wednesday, the US District Court of Illinois charged high-ranking Teamster official John T. Coli Sr. with extorting “quarterly cash payments” from a business identified as “Company 1.”

Although the indictment does not identify the business by name, the Sun Times on Wednesday quoted an anonymous source who claims that it is Cinespace Chicago Studios.

According to the indictment, Coli demanded that “Company 1” deliver $25,000 cash payments from “around October 2016” until “about April 4, 2017.”

During that time, Cinespace played a major role in a state movie and TV production boom that generated nearly half a billion dollars in local spending. The studio is home to several popular shows, including Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, and Empire.

Coli is the President of the Teamsters Joint Council 25, an organization that represents more than 100,000 workers in Northern Indiana and Illinois and is affiliated with 26 local unions.

He is also Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 727, which boasts nearly 10,000 members in occupations ranging from “funeral directors to zookeepers, parking garage attendants to pharmacists, trade show workers to paratransit drivers,” according to its website.

He has served on the state’s labor advisory board since 2015 under Governor Bruce Rauner, and was a supporter of former Governor Pat Quinn and current Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Besides facing extortion charges, the allegations described in the indictment violate a law that prohibits Coli from “willfully requesting, demanding, receiving or accepting a thing of value or sum of money” from a company that acts on behalf of “Company 1.”

The extortion charge is punishable by up 20 years in prison. Additionally, the indictment indicates that the United States shall seize “any property which constitutes and is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense” including “a personal money judgment in the amount of at least approximately $100,000.”