Union boss pleads guilty in plot to keep injury lawyer on board

Steve Korris Mar. 12, 2010, 12:00am

ST. LOUIS – Edward Rodzwicz, union president for 55,000 railroad workers, pleaded guilty on March 4 to charges that he took $20,000 to keep a personal injury lawyer on the union's list of designated local counsel.

U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw set sentencing on June 3.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Teamsters union, has already reformed its rules for recommending lawyers.

Rodzwicz led the union from Cleveland but faced prosecution in St. Louis because he visited the lawyer there.

The lawyer, identified in the indictment as Cooperating Attorney, had swiped a client from another lawyer on the list.

A compliance committee recommended pulling the lawyer from the list, but the decision rested with Rodzwicz.

After meetings in Little Rock, St. Louis, and Las Vegas, he and the lawyer met outside Harrah's casino.

The lawyer handed over $10,000 in cash.

Two days later, Rodzwicz sent notice that the lawyer would stay on the list.

They closed the deal on Sept. 16, in Kansas City, with another $10,000.

Federal agents took Rodzwicz into custody on Oct. 13.

Grand jurors indicted him on Oct. 29, on charges of bribery, actions in furtherance of unlawful activity, and embezzlement.

The indictment described union designation as highly lucrative.

Rail workers fare better in court than others because they resolve injuries under a law older than workers compensation, the Federal Employers Liability Act of 1908.

The union's website advises that, "Usually the damages under the FELA can be significantly greater than that which would normally be collected if under worker's compensation."

According to the indictment, "Attorneys handling FELA matters are generally more effective if they have both experience with federal law relating to FELA, and familiarity with the railroad business."

It stated that designation provided valuable access to potential clients and local union officials as sources of information on accidents.

Rodzwicz pleaded not guilty on Nov. 4.

The next day, Shaw set trial to start on Jan. 4.

Rodzwicz pleaded for time, and Shaw granted four more weeks.

Four days before trial would have started, Rodzwicz again asked for time.

Prosecutors didn't oppose a delay, and Shaw set trial to start March 1.

On Feb. 24, Shaw set a March 4 hearing on a change of plea.

At the hearing, Rodzwicz pleaded guilty of bribery in connection with a federally funded program.

The union qualifies as a federally funded program because of benefits it receives.

He pleaded guilty to interstate travel in furtherance of unlawful activity.

He did not plead guilty of embezzlement, and Shaw held it in abeyance.

He allegedly embezzled $491.25 by billing the union for the St. Louis trip.

The government moved quickly on the case, and union leaders moved quicker.

On Dec. 17, they transferred control of the list from the president to an advisory board.

They explicitly prohibited officers and employees from soliciting or accepting gifts or anything tangible from lawyers seeking spots on the list.

They prohibited lawyers from doing the same.

Lawyers on the list must report annually that they abide by the rules.

Who started the chain of events by complaining about Cooperating Attorney, the record doesn't show.

Much of the record remains under seal.

As of March 8, the union website showed Jerome Schlichter, of Schlichter, Bogard and Denton, as designated counsel in Missouri and Illinois.

He showed a St. Louis address in Missouri and a Belleville address in Illinois.

William Jungbauer, of Yaeger, Jungbauer, Barczak and Wendt in St. Louis, made the Missouri list.

So did city lawyers Joseph Bauer, of Bauer and Baebler, and Dennis Rathmann.

Across the river, David Blunt of Edwardsville made the Illinois list.

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