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An Irishman who stole millions as a corrupt New York contractor has been hailed a hero by a federal judge and set free.

James Murray fled to Ireland in 2006 after he was indicted for money laundering. He cheated workers out of wages and benefits but returned to the U.S. to testify against corrupt union bosses. Prosecutors had recommended he do time, but the judge sentenced him to time served.

"You made a decision to return to this country to fight the corruption by breaking the wall of silence," Manhattan Federal Judge Kimba Wood told Murray.

"You and your family should be proud. The government says you were a unique cooperator. What you have done for all New Yorkers makes you a genuine hero."

Even the Irishman thought the judge went over the top.

"I'm not a hero," he said after being sentenced.

A Union member, Patrick Brennan, said that Murray was just looking out for himself.

"It's the way the system works. He cut a deal," Brennan said. "Every scared rat, what they do is cut a deal. Whoever cuts the first deal gets the best deal."

It is unclear what persuaded the contractor to come back to the U.S.

His helped federal prosecutors take down union big Michael Forde and other officials in the powerful District Council of Carpenters.

The Irishman also testified against Genovese soldier Joseph Olivieri, who once ran New York’s biggest contracting association.

Murray has paid $4.3 million to the union benefit funds under an agreement and now must pay the government a further $5.6 million.

During a previous court appearance Murray had described how he came to America, his rise in the construction business and the mafia ties he created

"I was looking for work. I had an argument with my father, and I came to the States."

He dropped out of school at 13 the reason being, he told the court he had a difficulty reading. When he got to New York he started work as a carpenter before he started up his own business renovating homes. A fellow Irishman then helped him develop his modest business into a bigger operation.

To get the bigger jobs he signed up with the New York City District Council of Carpenters, pledging to build his projects with the union labor.

"You can't work unless you're union," he reminded the court.

Things were going well for Murray, who called his company “On Par Contracting” and soon had 700 workers on the pay roll courtesy of the union and some shady background figures . Their extensive list of projects included the Times Square Tower, high-rises, hospitals and university projects.

"We were everywhere," he said. "We were all over the city, all over the tri-state area." And money was rolling in for the Irish firm.

By ignoring union agreements he had signed, he increased profits by employing fellow Irish men illegally, who were just off the boat. He payed these young men $25 to $40 an hour as opposed to the $75 demanded by union workers.

"We didn't pay the benefits," he said. "We paid the guys in cash."

This gave the company the upper hand when pricing jobs.
“You could be the low bidder," he said. Construction expenses, he said, run roughly "one-third materials, two-thirds labor." It was "a big cost savings."

Murray also bribed every union official he could, shop stewards for leaving workers off the books. Business agents were paid not to come snooping and the top union leaders were paid to keep everyone in line.

More than $100,000 was given to District Council chief Michael Forde.

"He would help me get the shop stewards," explained Murray.