Stephen J. Traitz Jr., former Roofers Union chief

Stephen J. Traitz Jr., 79, a colorful labor leader who was the central figure in the Roofers union scandal of the 1980s, died Tuesday at his farm in Trooper, Montgomery County.

The barrel-chested former boxer, who attended daily Mass and did not drink liquor, was known for being polite and soft-spoken, but he was caught on FBI tapes being profane and offensive, and, a federal jury concluded, guilty of bribing Philadelphia judges with cash-filled envelopes.

Richard L. Scheff, who prosecuted the case, recalled sitting five feet from Mr. Traitz during his trial, and the defendant "treated me with complete respect."

But on the tapes, Scheff said, "it was a different person."

Mr. Traitz, former business manager of Local 30-30B, was convicted of racketeering, bribery, and other charges in 1987. He was sentenced to prison the following year and remained incarcerated until 1994.

Decades later, he was remembered fondly by top union officials in Philadelphia.

Electricians Local 98 president John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty described Mr. Traitz as "straight, honest, and you knew where he was coming from."

Dougherty said Mr. Traitz was always ready to volunteer himself and recruit others to volunteer, particularly for projects at the Variety Club Camp in Worcester Township for children with physical and developmental disabilities.

Patrick Gillespie, former leader of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council, an organization of the city's construction unions, said Mr. Traitz "was a courageous leader of his organization and he fought hard to make the lives of Local 30 better."

Mr. Traitz was the third major leader among Philadelphia's storied building-trades unions to die this month.

Patrick D. Finley, 64, head of the 45,000-member Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association, died April 10. Samuel Staten Sr., 80, longtime leader of Local 332 of the Laborers International Union of North America, died Tuesday.

"I'm losing my friends," Gillespie said. He described the trio, particularly Mr. Traitz, as part of his "inner circle."

Gillespie said Mr. Traitz was a "very forceful guy. He was very deliberate about his actions and he didn't suffer fools easily. Despite his public persona, he was a very kind man - extremely honest and a good guy."

Gillespie said Mr. Traitz was devoted to boxing, particularly working with the Rev. Mark "Buddy" Osborn, who used his love of boxing to start Rock Ministries in Kensington.

"I didn't have a father figure in my life. I saw in him the qualities of a man, a father and provider," said Osborn, who also was convicted in the Roofers case.

Yes, Osborn said, he and Mr. Traitz went to prison, "but everyone was entitled to redemption."

Mr. Traitz was born in Philadelphia and saw early success as an amateur boxer. He retired in 1960 with 21 wins, two draws, and five losses.

"Every kid should be taught to box," he once told a reporter, arguing that it teaches discipline and self-respect.

As a roofer, he idolized John McCullough, who organized and ran the Roofers union. He recalled being injured on the job, and McCullough's taking care of his mortgage payments and monthly expenses while he recovered.

"He's the greatest man I ever knew," Mr. Traitz said.

McCullough was murdered in 1980 in what was believed to be a mob-sanctioned slaying.

In 1985, Mr. Traitz took over the union. Less than a year later, the FBI installed microphones in the ceiling of the union's headquarters in Northeast Philadelphia.

One of the recordings captured Mr. Traitz and other union officials counting out $300 to $500 cash bribes and stuffing envelopes for judges.

The corruption case scandalized the city court system.

The tapes also documented threats to roofing contractors and beatings inside union offices.

Mr. Traitz argued that the construction business was a world that most people didn't understand. "It's crude. You have to be strong," he told a reporter after his conviction.

As for the bribes, which his lawyer argued were just Christmas gifts, Mr. Traitz later explained: "I had to be able to help my people. Judges was a small part of it. I have to be able to talk to everybody, from the governor to the guy who cleans the floors."

He described himself as "just a roofer."

He added, "There are three things I can do. I can roof good. I can teach guys to box. And I can shovel horse manure. I'm good at shoveling horse manure."

He is survived by sons Stephen J. III and Joseph; daughters, Barbara, Tina, and Donna; a brother, and a close friend, Nancy Pasquale. Mr. Traitz was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara.

Visitation is scheduled for Friday, April 29, from 8:30 to 9:45 a.m. at Visitation B.V.M. Church, 196 N. Trooper Rd., Trooper, followed by a Funeral Mass at 10 a.m.

Entombment will be at St. Patrick's Cemetery, East Norriton.

bmoran@phillynews.com

215-854-5983@RobertMoran215