Former Teamsters boss John Coli asks judge for home confinement, probation

Former Teamsters boss John T. Coli Sr. is asking a federal judge to give him home confinement and probation instead of prison time next week when he is set to be sentenced for illegally collecting $325,000 from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios.

In a 30-page memo filed late Wednesday, defense attorney Joseph Duffy pointed to Coli’s declining health, including a heart attack earlier this year, as well as Coli’s cooperation with prosecutors against former state Sen. Thomas Cullerton.

Duffy wrote that Coli is now "a thoroughly humbled man" who, at 63, has been "barred for life from associating with the Teamsters — the organization he has been devoted to his entire professional life."

Coli is set to be sentenced Wednesday.

The feds last week asked U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to give Coli a 19-month prison sentence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu argued that Coli, who saw himself as a "celebrity" and "bigger than life" due to his position with the union, felt comfortable threatening to shut down a business when he thought his under-the-table payments might cease.


"This was a naked betrayal of the honest and hard-working men and women of the Teamsters that looked to Coli to represent their interests, not his own," Bhachu wrote.

Coli admitted in 2019 that he’d taken $325,000 in cash payments from Cinespace between 2014 and 2017. Worried at one point the money would stop, Coli told Cinespace President Alex Pissios, "We’ll shut it down tomorrow. We’ll shut it down within an hour. … I will f—ing have a picket line up here, and everything will stop."

But Pissios turned out to be cooperating with investigators. The Sun-Times previously reported that Pissios signed a "non-prosecution agreement" that let him off the hook for failing to tell a bankruptcy judge about a $100,000 bank account he used to support his family and pay gambling debts.

Duffy’s memo alleges that the feds told Pissios he could face a prison sentence of more than seven years if he were prosecuted.

The defense attorney wrote in his memo that the payments to Coli began under Pissios’ uncle, Nick Mirkopoulos, who was grateful to Coli for his efforts to secure state grant money so Cinespace could establish a studio in Chicago.

Mirkopoulos died in December 2013. Duffy wrote that Coli has already paid $300,000 toward restitution and forfeiture.

Coli also once bragged that "you can cut my fingers off, I wouldn’t talk" about the money he’d been collecting. Still, Bhachu acknowledged that Coli later accepted responsibility for his crimes.

RELATED: Feds ask judge to sentence ex-Teamster boss John Coli to 19 months in prison

"Experience in this courthouse teaches this is not an easy thing for a prominent local leader to do," Bhachu wrote in his memo last week. "It is easy to assemble a busload of public figures similarly situated to Coli in this district who could not bring themselves to accept responsibility for their conduct, even when there was overwhelming evidence of their guilt staring them in the face."

Coli also admitted he illegally received income and benefits from representatives of businesses that dealt with the Teamsters. The benefits included meals in Las Vegas and other cities, free tickets to major league sporting events and box seats at NFL and Major League Baseball games, and the use of a yacht and its two-member crew for voyages that included an excursion in and around Italy.

The former Teamsters boss also cooperated with prosecutors against Cullerton. A federal grand jury indicted Cullerton just days after Coli’s guilty plea in 2019. Cullerton entered his own guilty plea to an embezzlement charge this year, and he was sentenced to one year behind bars.

Duffy’s sentencing memo described the extent of Coli’s political ties — and the potential of his cooperation when he agreed to it in 2019. Duffy noted that Coli served on transition teams for former Govs. Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former President Barack Obama.