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Top county Democrat named in federal lawsuit

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Porter County Democrat Party Chair Jeff Chidester has been named in a federal lawsuit filed by a Wisconsin man badly beaten four years ago by union ironmakers at a work site in Dyer.

Also named in the lawsuit, filed by Scott Kudingo on May 29, is Chidester’s stepson, Erik Kozuszek, who allegedly participated in the beating of Kundingo on Jan. 7, 2016, while Kudingo was employed by a non-union firm, D5 Iron Works of Illinois, a subcontractor working on the construction of the Plum Creek Christian Academy, affiliated with the Dyer Baptist Church.

According to the suit, Chidester serves as the financial secretary of Local 395 of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Ironworkers. The suit incorrectly identifies Chidester as a Porter County Commissioner.

In January 2020, the former president of Local 395, Jeffrey Veach, and the former business agent, Thomas Williamson Sr., pleaded guilty in federal court in Hammond to one count of extortion conspiracy for their role in the assault on Kudingo, which followed their unsuccessful attempts a day earlier to secure a labor contract for Local 395 from D5 Iron Works. Veach and Williamson are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

The thrust of the suit: that prior to Kudingo’s beating, Chidester used his position “to deliver information concerning new construction to Kozuszek and others” so that they “could engage in extortion of innocent third parties, including (Kudingo), through the use of violence and fear of violence"; and that after Kudingo’s beating, Chidester attempted “to use the contacts and positions” of a relative and an in-law--who at the time were both elected officials in Porter County--"to limit the federal government’s investigation into the brutal attack” and to “conceal the involvement of Kozusek to avoid political fallout.”

Kozuszek, for his part, is specifically alleged by the suit to have clubbed, kicked, and punched Kudingo, to have “refused Kudigo’s pleas for mercy,” and “in an animalistic fashion” to have continued beating him. Kudingo’s jaw was broken in three places, the suit states, requiring the installation of a metal plate and the wiring of his jaw shut. “Kudingo’s medical treatment continues and is expected to continue for years. Part of Kudingo’s treatment may require that his jaw be broken again and he will have to suffer another several months with his jaw wired shut.”

To date, the suit states, Kudingo has incurred medical expenses in excess of $100,000.

The suit also alleges that Kozuszek subsequently admitted his role in the attack to federal authorities and entered into a written immunity agreement. “In essence, Kozuszek ratted out his local union president and a former business agent to save his own hide and avoid going to prison.”

Even so, it wasn’t until Feb. 24, 2020, that Kudingo’s attorney “first learned the identity of Kozuszek as one of the persons that injured Kudingo,” the suit states. That’s because, the suit alleges, “Chidester along with others” caused “false answers” to be filed in an earlier civil lawsuit filed by Kudingo “disavowing any knowledge of any member of Local 395 in the attack.”

“This, in turn, further concealed the identity of the participants in the attack on Scott Kudingo and further advanced the conspiracy entered into by (Chidester and Kozuszek) and other Local 395 members,” the suit alleges.

Chidester and Kozuszek are both named in two of the suit’s seven counts: interference with prospective economic advantage; and civil conspiracy. Kozuszek is alone named in the other five counts: assault; battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; intentional interference with the right to pursue a lawful occupation; and intentional interference with right to work non-union.

The suit is seeking varying amounts in compensatory and punitive damages for each count. The assault count against Kozuszek, for instance, seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive.

 

 

Posted 6/10/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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