Councilman, two others charged in local plumbers’ union extortion case

Tom Ford and

Federal investigators charged Minneapolis City Council member Joe Biernat with extortion Thursday, accusing him of illicit deal-making with the local plumbers’ union.

The indictment alleges Biernat and Thomas Martin, the plumbers’ union’s former manager, arranged for $2,700 worth of plumbing work to be done on one of Biernat’s properties at the expense of the Plumbers Local 15.

Martin – who left the union when federal investigators requested union documents last month – was also charged, as well as Joseph William Martin, who allegedly assisted the other men.

Thomas Martin was appointed to Minneapolis’ Plumbers Examining Board by the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee in March 1999 – around the same time prosecutors allege Biernat had the plumbing work done.

Biernat – who chairs the committee – denied the charges Thursday afternoon in a statement with his attorney, Jan Symchych of Dorsey & Whitney.

City Attorney Jay Heffern said there is no reason Biernat cannot continue representing Minneapolis’ 3rd Ward, as Biernat has not been convicted of any charges.

Biernat is the second council member in less than a year federally charged with extortion. Former 8th Ward council member Brian Herron resigned in July after he admitted he took money from local businessmen in exchange for regulatory leniency. Herron is serving a one-year prison term in Duluth.

After the FBI began investigating Minneapolis’ regulatory and inspections services last year, city officials hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent inquiry. Chicago attorney Joe Duffy completed his assessment in February, giving the city a clean bill of health.

Council President Paul Ostrow, from the 1st Ward, said he is unsure whether the city will call on Duffy to re-evaluate Minneapolis.

“We’re, I think, open to having that conversation, but it would be very premature to judge right now,” Ostrow said. “We just have not had a chance to really think through all that.”

– Tom Ford and Shira Kantor

 

– The Star Tribune contributed to this report.