The two top leaders of a Bronx-based coalition of Hispanic construction workers have pleaded not guilty to charges they threatened builders with violence in order to extract money and jobs from them.
David Rodriguez, president of United Hispanic Construction Workers, and Darryl Jennings, his chief lieutenant, were arraigned in Manhattan state Supreme Court Monday on enterprise corruption and grand larceny charges. They were released on bail.
The most serious charge — enterprise corruption — carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison. Defense attorneys say prosecutors are unfairly targeting the group.
Manhattan prosecutors say the coalition would round up as many as 50 members at a time, arm them with pick axe handles and baseball bats, and storm job sites to force builders into paying them tens of thousands of dollars.
Prosecutors say the payments ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars a week and would take the form of so-called security or good will payments.
The coalition's lawyer, Murray Richman, said members showed up at job sites to peacefully advocate for more jobs.
The United Hispanic Construction Workers is a coalition that formed in the 1980s, ostensibly to help minorities fight against racial bias in the white-dominated construction industry.