Steve Traitz Gets The Book Roofers Union Chief Denied Bail, Stays In Jail

Posted: November 10, 1986

Unless you're a federal agent with a yen for union-busting, or an assistant U.S. attorney with a craving for recognition, you probably didn't rest any easier over the weekend because Stevie Traitz was still in jail.

On the other hand, you probably didn't lose any sleep over it, either. Especially if you saw the five-column headline on a Wednesday story that said a judge ordered Traitz freed on bail and you skipped past the single-column head on a Thursday story that said Traitz would stay behind bars regardless.

In fact, the plight of Stevie Traitz isn't likely to concern you one way or the other - unless you can picture yourself in coarse orange coveralls, counting bolts on a cell door and listening to howls in the night, while you ponder the legal fiction known as presumption of innocence.

Traitz is the leader of Roofers Union Local 30-30B. He is charged with a variety of offenses, including illicit handouts to judges and directing his men to rough up roofing contractors for the purpose of extracting unlawful dues and welfare contributions.

The prosecution's shopping list is much more extensive than that, of course, having been culled from 700 hours of audio tape via "bugs" planted in the union's headquarters. But you get the idea.

The Feds are throwing the book at Traitz. And its contents are so voluminous that the Eagles could be breaking camp in 1987 before defense attorneys have deciphered enough to challenge the book in court.

Meanwhile, Traitz, who has not been convicted of anything, is counting bolts in the Detention Center, along with a union organizer and a former roofers business agent.

At the pleasure of the Justice Department, the three men have been languishing without bail. For a sense of what languishing means: when they

went to jail, the Red Sox and the Mets were tied at two games each in the World Series and there was still a game to play in Boston!

If you remember your elementary school civics, this would seem to violate the prized American principle of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. That legacy of Common Law is supposed to be protected by our 5th Amendment guarantee against violations of due process.

But the roofers have been denied that fundamental safeguard because of a meagerly understood law known as the Bail Reform Act of 1984. According to this statute, a citizen may be imprisoned before trial if a federal judge can be persuaded that he or she poses a danger to the community.

Obviously, U.S. Magistrate William Powers was so persuaded, because the 700 hours of bugged tape evidence showed Traitz to be prolific at tough, threatening talk and graphic four-letter words. Naughty, naughty!

Maybe Powers would never overhear such nasty chatter at his country club. But electronic eavesdropping could pick up plenty of the same from the backrooms of any union in this city - with the possible exceptions of the Newspaper Guild, Local 10, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Local 3.

There was a newspaper strike about a dozen years back, when a militant young woman from the copy desk threatened to ring up scabs in the dead of night and "quote Tennyson to them." Roofers, unfortunately, rarely quote Tennyson.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Katz sensibly recognized this cultural distinction when he ruled that a taped snippet of Traitz threatening to kick someone in his privy parts amounted to "vulgar street talk, not action language."

To gain his freedom, Traitz agreed to post 10 percent of $400,000 bail, turn over titles to two farms, cease all union activities, permit tapping of his home phone and remain under virtual house arrest.

But what was good enough for Katz wasn't good for the two eager assistant U.S. attorneys who successfully appealed the judge's ruling. If the union leader is lucky, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals could grant him relief - in its own unsweet time.

Meanwhile, through a perversion of justice worthy of Iran, Stevie Traitz remains a hostage.

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