MUNSTER — Two union members were arrested Thursday morning on federal extortion charges in the alleged attack on non-union laborers two years ago at a Dyer construction site.
Thomas R. Williamson, 67, of Schererville, and Jeffrey R. Veach, 55, of Portage, were indicted Wednesday for committing a Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy and two counts of attempted Hobbs Act extortion. The charges were unsealed Thursday.
The men allegedly used threats and violence against non-union laborers Jan. 7, 2016, to extort a favorable labor contract from the owners of a construction company and a steel-working company, the indictment states.
The men appeared with their attorneys, Paul Stracci and Kevin Milner, at initial hearings Thursday morning, court records state.
The men entered not guilty pleas and were released on $20,000 unsecured appearance bonds, records state. The men are prohibited from traveling outside the continental United States under the terms of their bond agreements.
The allegations stem from a brawl that broke out Jan. 7, 2016, at the work site for Plumb Creek Christian Academy, located in the southwest corner of 213th Street and Calumet Avenue in Dyer.
D5 Iron Works claims in a lawsuit filed that year in U.S. District Court Williamson approached its workers Jan. 6, 2016, at the construction site to solicit a labor agreement that would call for Iron Workers Local 395 to work the job.
He was told to leave.
Williamson returned the next day and began arguing with workers about the labor agreement. He and other men allegedly returned later that day and attacked the laborers. Some of the men from Iron Workers Local 395 wore steel-toed boots during the attack and yelled, “This is 395 territory," the lawsuit states.
At least one worker at the site suffered a broken jaw, according to the lawsuit.
Dyer Police Chief David Hein told The Times in June 2016 he referred his investigation of the brawl to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He said police worked with the U.S. Department of Labor on the investigation.
Veach and Williamson are named defendants in the lawsuit. The parties failed to reach a settlement at a March 22 conference meeting, court records state. A trial is scheduled for Nov. 26.
Robert T. Hanlon is representing D5 Iron Works and its employees in the lawsuit.
“These guys acted like a bunch of animals," he said about the union members allegedly involved in the attack. "They get what they deserve.”
He said the union members were "cowards," who exercised their Fifth Amendment rights during depositions in the civil case.
“They should have manned up and owned up to what they did, but they were cowards and couldn't even do that.”
He said the settlement conference in March was a "big waste of time," but a second court-ordered conference is scheduled for October. He said he expected the case would head to trial.
Jeffrey Veach was listed Thursday on the Iron Workers Local 395 as a business agent and president for the union.
A person who answered the phone Thursday at Iron Workers Local 395 said the union did not comment on "active investigations."