Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria strong-armed a developer to use union workers while converting the old Charleston Chew factory into a luxury apartment complex, according to several people familiar with or briefed on the probe.
Witnesses have been called to a grand jury and quizzed about the development, called The Batch Yard, a $90 million, 328-unit apartment complex that opened last year, the people familiar with or briefed on the investigation said. The buildings had been vacant since the factory closed in 1985.
The developer, Andy Montelli of Post Road Residential in Fairfield, Conn., who sold the complex for $145 million in September, told the Globe several months ago that he had no problems in Everett and that the project went smoothly. He and his attorney, Richard O’Neil, declined to comment further this week.
But according to two people familiar with or briefed on the investigation, prosecutors have focused on a meeting at which DeMaria asked Montelli to hire union labor for the project. Montelli, the people said, told DeMaria that hiring union laborers would significantly increase his costs.
Montelli did, however, end up hiring some union workers and prosecutors want to know why, said two people familiar with or briefed on the investigation.
DeMaria declined to answer questions about the federal investigation. But in response to a separate question about reports that at a recent fund-raiser he said he no longer enjoys going to work, he replied: “This is the best job in the world. I gain strength each day from the overwhelming support and trust placed in me by our residents. I’m proud of the progress we as a city are making. I am working every day to build a bright future for the city of Everett.”
The investigation appears to be part of a larger federal probe of labor unions, said three lawyers familiar with the proceedings.
Four members of a local Teamsters union have been indicted on extortion charges for allegedly harassing a television production crew that was using nonunion workers. Last week, a former member of a different Teamsters local, James E. Deamicis, was convicted for threatening businesses if they did not provide unnecessary jobs.
And federal prosecutors have long been investigating at least one member of a Boston chapter of the Laborers Union, Local 22, according to someone with direct knowledge of the inquiry. That investigation, involving years of wiretapping, is looking at whether a union leader, Anthony Perrone, pressured developers and contractors to use union workers, according to that person, who also said prosecutors also are looking at whether he forced members to campaign for favored politicians or be denied work.
Members of the Laborers Union ended up working at The Batch Yard, according to the person with direct knowledge of the investigation.
Attorney Robert Sinsheimer, who represents Perrone, said, “My client is absolutely and unequivocally innocent. He’s done nothing wrong whatsoever.”
Paul Kelly, who represents the union, said, “Local 22 has fully cooperated with the investigation and has been assured that the local union is not the focus of the investigation.”
The uncertainty surrounding DeMaria may be taking a toll at Everett City Hall, where more than a half-dozen key officials have quit in recent months, including the mayor’s chief of staff, the communications director, the city’s liaison with Wynn Resorts, the chief financial officer, the planning director, the head of city services, and the human resources director.
The most recent departure, assistant city solicitor David Rodrigues, is particularly striking since he, unlike the others, resigned without another job.
Rodrigues had been the principal liaison between the city and Wynn Resorts, which is building a casino in the city.
Rodrigues declined to discuss his departure.
DeMaria, who has served as mayor since 2008, said the turnover is creating new opportunities at City Hall.
“We have welcomed several new members to a team that is dedicated to our city’s future,” said DeMaria, in a statement. “These professionals bring with them exciting new ideas, unique perspectives, great enthusiasm, and a commitment to our residents.”
Prosecutors have also been looking at whether the DeMaria administration has given special treatment to certain developers and contractors, according to two people briefed on the probe, including a company that does a lot of the city’s snow removal and landscaping.
A spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined to comment on the investigation.