Federal authorities made secret recordings at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios as part of an investigation into a Teamsters union boss who was charged with extorting the business. Who knows whether this extortion rap will stick or if the union boss will be acquitted like the Teamsters who extorted the Top Chef program but were acquitted on a technicality.
Surveillance recordings between union head John Coli, Sr., and the alleged victim, Cinespace president Alex Pissios, were critical in charging the union with extorting $100,000 in cash from the studio which bills itself as the largest studio outside of Hollywood. Chicago Fire and Chicago PD television shows are filmed there as was the movie “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” among others.
The indictment against Coli alleges he began shaking down the studio around October 2016 when he was president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, a labor organization that represents the Teamsters Locals in Chicago and Northwest Indiana. He allegedly accepted five payoffs totaling $75,000 in 2016 and $25,000 in 2017 after using “fear of economic loss from threatened work stoppages and other labor unrest unless such cash payments were made.”
These cases are not without a wrinkle, though. According to an article in Chicago Tribune about this issue:
In the early days of the studio, its leaders counted Coli as a key ally. In a 2011 interview in the Tribune, the studio’s founder, Greek studio magnate Nick Mirkopoulos, praised Coli’s role in getting Cinespace started. ‘The Teamsters – John Coli – they were more than fair, and they play the game excellent,’ said Mirkopoulos, who died in 2013 and left Pissios to run the business. ‘We make good teammates.’
Was Coli shaking down the studio from the beginning? Was Mirkopoulos too intimidated to blow the whistle? Did Pissio stop making payments to Coli when he started running the business? It is plausible the studio paid $25,000 per year to keep Coli happy, stopped in 2013 when Pissio took over, Pissio realized it was “in his best interest” to pay $25,000 for each of 2014, 2015, and 2016 (the $75,000 paid in 2016) and $25,000 in 2017 but then turned the arrangement over to the FBI. I’m just guessing…..
Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.