Lawyer charged in BLET bribery allegation

February 8, 2011

The following statement was released Jan. 7 by United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven M. Dettelbach:

“An information has been filed charging Robert L. (Pete) McKinney, age 59, of Houston, Texas, with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in federally funded programs. He is accused of paying cash bribes to two high-ranking officials in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).

“Corruption in organized labor will not be tolerated. Today’s filing demonstrates our commitment to prosecuting all those involved, whether they are the self-dealing union official or a licensed attorney seeking union business.

“The information charges that McKinney paid bribes to railroad union officials, including the union president, seeking to represent injured union members. McKinney was a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney, specializing in representing injured railroad workers.

“McKinney practiced at the law firm of McKinney and McKinney, LLP, located in Houston, Texas. Edward W. Rodzwicz served as national president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. The BLET represents more than 55,000 members and in 2004 merged with, and is now a division of, the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“BLET Official No. 1 [not named by the U.S. attorney] served as special representative. As special representative, BLET Official No. 1 was assigned to recruit non-union railroad workers for membership in BLET.

“BLET Official No. 1 reported directly to Rodzwicz. The BLET’s members, who are employed by common carriers by railroad, are covered by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), which provides for recovery of damages by railroad employees and their survivors. In order to facilitate the retention of qualified and experienced FELA attorneys by its injured members, the BLET maintains a list of designated attorneys who are held out to its members as competent and professional FELA attorneys.

“The members of this list are referred to as designated legal counsel. Designation status on the DLC list provides a FELA attorney with valuable access to BLET members as potential clients, and to local BLET officials as sources of information and referrals concerning accidents and workers.

“The BLET affirmatively recommends the DLC attorneys to its members for FELA-related and other business. As national president, Rodzwicz had authority over the designation status of DLC attorneys.

“The information states that from in or about June 2006, and continuing until in or about October 2009, McKinney conspired with Edward W. Rodzwicz and BLET Official No. 1 to unjustly enrich Edward W. Rodzwicz and BLET Official No. 1 by paying them cash bribes in order to be placed on the DLC list for BLET workers and to have BLET workers directed to his firm. The conspirators referred to these payments as campaign contributions in an effort to conceal the true nature of the payments.

“The information states that the conspirators accomplished this by meeting in a hotel parking lot where McKinney delivered large cash payments to BLET Official No. 1. McKinney would also have large sums of cash delivered to BLET Official No. 1 at BLET conventions. Edward W. Rodzwicz and BLET Official No. 1 would then split the cash payments, according to the information.

“Rodzwicz, formerly of Avon, Ohio, is currently in federal prison for his role in an unrelated crime. If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation. In all cases the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases it will be less than the maximum.

“This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Justin J. Roberts and Bridget M. Brennan, following an investigation by the Cleveland offices of the U.S. Department of Labor, OIG Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri also provided assistance.

“An information is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”