Former Chicago Teamsters boss John Coli Sr. is engaged in “ongoing plea negotiations” on federal charges that he extorted $325,000 from the Windy City’s largest film studio, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Coli was indicted last summer on charges of extortion “by the wrongful use of fear of economic loss from threatened work stoppages and other labor unrest unless such payments were made” (read that superseding indictment here).
The indictment doesn’t name the studio, but the Chicago Sun-Times has identified it as Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, the 70-acre production center where Chicago Fire, Empire, Sense 8 and numerous other TV shows have filmed. The cash payments allegedly were made to Coli by Alex Pissios, the studio’s co-founder and CEO.
Coli became president of Chicago Teamsters Local 727 on July 1, 2011, after spending nearly two years as its vice president. He became secretary-treasurer – the union’s top post – on July 13, 2017 – the day after he originally was indicted.
According to the Sun-Times, Pissios, who was facing up to five years in prison for on bankruptcy fraud charges, wore a hidden microphone to record his conversations with Coli, who since has been kicked out of the union.
The next status conference in the case is scheduled for July 19. Barring a plea agreement, Coli faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The case also raises questions about local politicians who awarded Pissios $31 million in grants and tax breaks to convert the former steel mill into the largest production facility in the state. According to the Sun Times, Coli introduced Pissios to several Democratic politicians who awarded him the grants.