By MARK MAREMONT
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
December 23, 1997
When he worked for far-right politician
Lyndon LaRouche, Richard Leebove spread conspiracy theories about
a left-wing plot to take over the Teamsters union.
Later, he was hired to drum up publicity
for a group of Teamsters who, at times, beat up members advocating
more democracy within the union.
More recently, Mr. Leebove pulled
off his greatest coup. As a union political operative, he was
the person most responsible for toppling Teamsters President Ron
Mr. Leebove, a 46-year-old Detroit
public-relations consultant, served as an aide and spokesman for
James P. Hoffa in last year's bitterly contested campaign for
the Teamsters leadership.
Although Mr. Hoffa lost narrowly when
the ballots were counted, his side was convinced the election
had been stolen. Mr. Hoffa put Mr. Leebove and a small group of
loyal supporters on the case.
The Leebove team soon uncovered a
trove of information, including the first solid evidence that
more than $700,000 had been siphoned from the union's treasury
to benefit Mr. Carey's campaign.
To get the goods, Mr. Leebove's group
employed some unusual tactics.
They recruited a cadre of informants
at Teamsters headquarters in Washington, who furnished sensitive
internal documents and computer files.
Mr. Leebove somehow obtained private
details of a Carey contributor's brokerage account. He lied about
his identity to gather information about other donors.
He also worked hand-in-glove with
federal investigators and reporters digging into the Carey campaign.
Information the Leebove team provided
in early March to the U.S. Attorney in New York City sparked a
federal criminal probe the following day.
Since then, three people, including
a former Carey campaign manager, have pleaded guilty to charges
related to misappropriation of union funds.
Federal officials have overturned
the election and barred Mr. Carey from running again.
Mr. Carey says he didn't know about
the scheme, and he hasn't been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
However, he took a leave of absence
last month, hours before a panel that oversees the Teamsters accused
him of financial impropriety relating to the union election.
"None of this would have come
to light without" Mr. Leebove's group, says a government
investigator. "They're very good, and also very persistent."
As Mr. Leebove sees it, "Two
or three of us brought down the sitting president of the Teamsters."
Mr. Carey, the purported Teamsters
reformer, has been shown to have been aided by crooked dealings.
And Mr. Hoffa, who was derided by his opponents as the flag-bearer
of the union's old gangster mentality, is now claiming the anticorruption
Although his campaign financing also
is being investigated, Mr. Hoffa is the front-runner in the new
election, which hasn't yet been scheduled.
But does the Hoffa camp deserve its
claim to the moral high ground? Put another way: Is the rift inside
the Teamsters so intractable that both sides are willing to use
questionable means to keep the other out of power?
"Hoffa knows exactly who Leebove
is and what he's done," says Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor
at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations,
who has followed Teamsters issues for years and sympathizes with
the Carey faction. "He hired Leebove to do his dirty work,
to dig up dirt and to intimidate and manipulate people."
"That's absolutely not true,"
Mr. Hoffa responds. He says Mr. Leebove has "done a great
service in exposing the criminal element in our union," which,
Mr. Hoffa adds, would never have come to light otherwise.
Mr. Leebove describes his role as
"digging up the truth and exposing corruption."
Mr. Leebove operates from a modest
suite of offices in a nondescript hotelworkers' union building
in Southfield, just outside his hometown of Detroit.
Several rooms are stacked with documents
about the Carey scandal, in seemingly haphazard order. Every so
often, he picks up a headset to take a call from a congressional
staffer, union official or reporter.
Mr. Leebove dropped out of college
in the early 1970s to join Mr. LaRouche's group.
Mr. LaRouche was obsessed with the
Teamsters, believing that foreign interests, Jews and Kennedy
left-wingers were conspiring to take over the right-leaning union
as part of a plot to weaken the U.S. industrial base.
Mr. Leebove, who ran for Illinois
attorney general in 1978 on Mr. LaRouche's U.S. Labor Party ticket,
says he spent much of his time in the late 1970s combating the
dissidents within the Teamsters.
Although he calls some LaRouche rhetoric
"overheated nonsense," he says he believed then, as
now, that liberal "outsiders" back the dissidents as
part of an effort to keep blue-collar workers from controlling
their own destinies.
One of those to whom he provided research
and public-relations help was John Cody, a New York City Teamsters
leader who was running for re-election in his construction-workers
According to a 1978 Newsday article,
Mr. Leebove addressed union members about "a conspiracy in
which money from London, Wall Street, the Rockefellers and the
Kennedys" was funding a Teamsters dissident group to which
Mr. Cody's opponent belonged.
The conspiracy was never proved. Mr.
Cody, who won, was later convicted of labor racketeering and tax
Mr. Leebove says he "might have
said" what Newsday reported but notes that "rhetoric
in a campaign gets overheated." He says he had no idea at
the time that Mr. Cody was corrupt.
Mr. Leebove says he left the LaRouche group in the early 1980s after he found it had grown "too wacky."
But his LaRouche experience provided
a launch pad for his career. He founded a union-oriented consulting
firm, RL Communications Inc.
Today the firm has one other employee
and publishes newsletters for Detroit-area locals, including unions
representing utility workers and police officers.
Blast From the Past
All along, Mr. Leebove has continued
to help Teamsters traditionalists.
One of his early clients was a group called Brotherhood of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters, or Blast, formed in the early 1980s to combat the
leading dissident group, Teamsters
for a Democratic Union, which was campaigning for an end to corruption
and greater democracy.
Mr. Leebove says he published Blast's
newspaper and publicized its demonstrations.
Those demonstrations sometimes turned
At TDU's 1983 convention, a crowd
of Blast members broke into a hotel, roughed up a police officer
and several TDU members and took over meeting rooms.
A staff report of the President's
Commission on Organized Crime later said Blast had been organized
with the backing of Jackie Presser, then the Teamsters president,
and used "violence against dissenters."
Mr. Leebove acknowledges that Blast
members were involved in violence but says it was occasionally
provoked by TDU members.
In any case, he says, it is unfair
to hold him responsible for others' acts.
Although Blast later disbanded, the
union's leaders kept the reformers at bay through the 1980s. But
in 1989, the Teamsters reluctantly agreed to a consent decree
in which the federal government obtained strong oversight of the
Government officials described the
move as an attempt to end the corruption and mob influence that
had pervaded the union for decades, including when it was run
by Mr. Hoffa's late father, James R. Hoffa.
Mr. Leebove and his clients vehemently
opposed the consent decree, calling it an unwarranted government
They also viewed Mr. Carey, who quickly
emerged as the dissident wing's standard-bearer, as the government's
hand-picked ally. Mr. Carey became Mr. Leebove's prime target.
In the 1991 election, Mr. Carey ran
for the union's leadership on a reform ticket, opposed by a slate
that included one of Mr. Leebove's longtime clients, Michigan
Teamsters boss Larry Brennan.
In the prelude to the campaign, union
members allied with Mr. Brennan's slate circulated a newsletter
charging that Mr. Carey might have presided over "some of
the worst corruption in our union."
It cited "informed sources"
to suggest he might be thrown out of the union for this.
Although the newsletter purported
to be from a group called Teamsters for an Informed Membership,
Mr. Leebove says that the group didn't exist and that he wrote
He says he did so to earn money, not
to help any candidate. He says he didn't use his name because
"people might think it's more authoritative" if the
information came from a group.
A few years later, Mr. Leebove again
went after Mr. Carey, this time teaming up with George Geller,
a Michigan lawyer he had known since the 1970s, when both were
The two made a series of detailed
allegations to the government's Independent Review Board, an oversight
body set up in the consent decree, about supposed Carey mob ties
and improper real-estate deals.
Mr. Geller says he made some of his
allegations in anonymous calls to IRB investigators.
The board found that the allegations
couldn't be substantiated. But the Detroit pair succeeded in generating
a lot of unfavorable press for Mr. Carey.
Union Goes After Leebove
Teamsters headquarters started viewing
Messrs. Leebove and Geller as a threat. The union hired outside
lawyers, aided by private detectives, to investigate the pair.
Union officials then circulated to
the press findings of this investigation -- which included Messrs.
Leebove's and Geller's past LaRouche links and their alleged political
"dirty tricks" -- hoping to dissuade reporters from
using the Detroit duo as sources.
Mr. Leebove, who had known Mr. Hoffa
for several years, was among those urging him to seek the Teamsters
presidency. When Mr. Hoffa became a candidate, he made Mr. Leebove
As the 1996 campaign was heating up,
Mr. Leebove phoned Ronald Seeber, associate dean of Cornell's
labor-relations school, noting that two Cornell professors --
Ms. Bronfenbrenner and Michael H. Belzer -- were being widely
quoted as favoring Mr. Carey.
Mr. Leebove "reminded me that
they have long memories," Mr. Seeber says, and said "that
if Hoffa won, our school wouldn't be treated favorably" by
The school relies on unions for students
for its training classes and also for cooperation in its research.
Mr. Seeber says the call seemed "a straight-out threat."
Mr. Leebove followed with an official
election protest, signed by Mr. Hoffa. It claimed that Cornell
was making improper campaign contributions by paying to send Mr.
Belzer to a Teamsters convention, where, it said, he spent hours
"spinning" the media in favor of Mr. Carey.
The protest was dismissed by the election
officer. David Lipsky, then dean of the Cornell school, terms
Mr. Leebove's efforts "an attempt to silence or intimidate
Mr. Leebove calls his Cornell maneuver
a "brushback pitch" and adds: "I don't think there
was a problem letting them know they were taking sides. And there's
no requirement the Teamsters have to send people to that school."
Tracing the Funds
In the campaign's waning days in November
1996, Mr. Carey's camp launched a blitz of mailings to Teamsters
members, some attacking Mr. Hoffa's integrity.
Mr. Leebove recalls being puzzled,
because election filings had indicated the Carey campaign lacked
the funds for such mailings. "We knew, sooner or later, we'd
find out where they got the money," he says.
On Jan. 30, 1997, following Mr. Carey's narrow victory, Patrick Szymanski, one of Mr. Hoffa's lawyers, joined John F. Murphy, a Hoffa supporter who
heads a Teamsters local in Boston,
to review Carey campaign filings in the election officer's Washington
They were amazed by what they found.
A newly formed group dubbed Teamsters
for a Corruption-Free Union had spent $200,000 on the mailings,
and all of it had been raised from seven people-- none of them
During a lunch break, Mr. Murphy called
Mr. Leebove with the list of names. By dinner time, Mr. Leebove
had made some connections using on-line databases.
One contributor, Barbara Arnold, had
She was listed as a Carlisle, Mass.,
Mr. Leebove quickly ascertained that
she was married to Michael Ansara, a former activist of the 1960s
radical group Students for a Democratic Society, who ran a Boston-area
Later, Mr. Leebove went to work on
the phone, employing pseudonyms to determine who the donors were
and whether any were employers.
Teamsters rules say nobody who employs
even a secretary may solicit or donate campaign funds.
Claiming to be a "Mr. Flynn,"
he called Gwendolyn Grace, a California philanthropist who had
given $50,000 to Teamsters for a Corruption-Free Union, or TCFU.
He demanded information and wanted to know why she was interfering
with the union's affairs.
After Ms. Grace complained to the
federal officer overseeing Teamsters voting, Barbara Zack Quindel,
Ms. Quindel wrote to Hoffa attorneys. Singling out Mr. Leebove,
she said: "I will not tolerate harassment of any participant
in this election."
Mr. Leebove admits using fake names
when he spoke to people in the Carey camp. "I don't think
I'm going to get very far saying 'I'm Richard Leebove calling
from the Hoffa campaign,' " he says.
He says he has also claimed to be
a free-lance reporter to gather information.
Another, much smaller donor, Shanti
Fry, is a Democratic activist and part-time bank executive.
Mr. Leebove says he called her, claiming to be
somebody interested in doing business
with the bank, and gathered enough information to determine that
Ms. Fry might be an employer.
Eventually, after a spate of newspaper
articles and the opening of investigations, the Carey campaign
returned all of the TCFU money.
Later, Ms. Quindel ruled that the
donations were improper under Teamsters rules. Ms. Fry, whose
donation was ruled ineligible because it was solicited by an employer,
says her lawyer advises her she did nothing improper. Ms. Arnold's
lawyer says she has no comment. Ms. Grace didn't return phone
Early on, the Hoffa team realized
it needed help from inside Teamsters headquarters in Washington.
Many workers there predated the Carey
administration and privately supported Mr. Hoffa. Mr. Leebove
turned to a veteran Chicago Teamsters organizer, Danny Moussette,
who had many contacts at headquarters.
One of Mr. Moussette's first calls
was to Gregory C. Mullenholz Sr., a midlevel administrator whose
father had worked for the union under Mr. Hoffa's father.
"Greg didn't take much persuasion"
because he had seen some suspicious activities during the campaign,
Mr. Moussette says. Mr. Mullenholz happened to be in charge of
issuing checks for the Teamsters' political-action committee and
knew where its money was going.
Mr. Moussette says he soon was receiving
notes and copies of documents from Mr. Mullenholz and others he
won't name, usually in unmarked envelopes.
Mr.Moussette says his sources also
sent him "a bunch of computer disks" containing, among
other things, copies of memos from William W. Hamilton Jr., head
of the Teamsters' government-affairs department. He later also
received personal notes of Mr. Carey's scheduling secretary. Everything
was passed on to Mr. Leebove.
Mr. Mullenholz declines to be interviewed.
But he has testified to Congress that he helped the Federal Bureau
of Investigation and also gave some Teamsters documents to his
lawyer, who was also a Hoffa lawyer.
In late February, information provided
by one of the informants led to a breakthrough: Mr. Hoffa's investigators
learned that just before Ms. Arnold made her $95,000 Carey contribution,
her husband's telemarketing firm got payments from the Teamsters
treasury totaling $94,000.
They suspected Mr. Ansara had funneled
Teamsters money into the Carey campaign by laundering it through
Mr. Murphy, the Boston Teamsters leader,
outlined the Leebove team's findings and suspicions to Mary Jo
White, the U.S. attorney in New York City, who was helping enforce
the consent decree. "His letter basically provided the information
that started this investigation," says a person familiar
with the probe.
The group also gave information to
Ms. Quindel, the federal election officer, and
fed the news media and Congress, where two committees started
Mr. Leebove says these channels were
important because he still feared that the U.S. attorney's office
and the election officer were part of a pro-Carey conspiracy.
"Coming up with our own evidence made it impossible for them
to keep covering it up," he says. "We needed the news
media, Congress and the FBI to provide checks and balances."
Mr. Hoffa, asked about Mr. Leebove's
use of false names, says he wasn't kept abreast of that. But as
for using "moles" inside the Teamsters, Mr. Hoffa says,
"We had to have whistle-blowers. There was tremendous theft
of Teamsters money."
In his view, his side's "investigation
did a great service to the taxpayers, who were fleeced of the
$22 million it cost to oversee this election, and to the union
members, whose dues money was embezzled."
In May, Mr. Leebove wrote the election
officer with another juicy tidbit: Ms. Arnold had received a deposit
in her PaineWebber Inc. brokerage account of $90,000 at almost the exact
time that she made her similar-sized TCFU donation. He even included
Ms. Arnold's account number and the dates of the transactions.
To Mr. Leebove, it was further proof
that her husband was laundering Teamsters money through her account.
How did Mr. Leebove obtain such information?
He says it came to him in an unsolicited, anonymous fax, which
he won't provide.
What Was Happening
As it turned out, Mr. Ansara did route
Teamsters money through his wife's account, although not in quite
the fashion that the Hoffa camp first believed.
Mr. Ansara has pleaded guilty to conspiracy
and is cooperating with U.S. authorities. His lawyer says he has
Eventually, federal authorities unraveled
various Carey campaign misdeeds.
In one central scheme, money from
the Teamsters had been donated to various liberal interest groups,
on condition that those groups find donors to give smaller amounts
of money to Mr. Carey's campaign.
Some of the funds had been funneled
through TCFU, but there was more to it than that. In essence,
Teamsters' dues money had been illicitly used to benefit Mr. Carey's
In late July, Mr. Mullenholz at Teamsters
headquarters apparently made a mistake. He faxed to his lawyer
-- the lawyer who was also a Hoffa lawyer -- a Teamsters memo
about a grand-jury subpoena probing possible improper Teamsters
donations to the Democratic Party.
The memo's contents showed up almost
immediately in a Washington Times article. Teamsters officials,
who had long suspected a leak, pinpointed Mr. Mullenholz's transmission
through fax records.
They suspended and later fired him.
Gerard Treanor, Mr. Mullenholz's current attorney, says his client
is "a classic whistle-blower. He was troubled by what had
Mr. Leebove, asked if he has any qualms
about the investigative techniques he used to uncover the scandal,
looks startled. "I haven't thought of all the ethical issues
here," he says. "We didn't encourage anyone to do anything
wrong. We just received information and forwarded it to the authorities."
He says he feels vindicated by the
finding of corruption in the Carey camp. "They have said
I'm a conspiracy theorist," Mr. Leebove says with a laugh. "But sometimes even paranoid
people are right."
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