New York Times

Teamsters Leaders Want End of U.S. Supervision

By Steven Greenhouse

August 14, 1999

Ten years after Federal officials gained a strict supervisory role over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in an effort to rid it of mob control, the union's new leadership is pushing hard to get the Government out.

The teamster president, James P. Hoffa, who took office in March, has made ending Federal supervision his chief goal, insisting that the giant union can run its own affairs now that the Mafia's hold on it has been broken.

Hoffa says that the supervision, unprecedented in its scope and duration, is too meddlesome and expensive. For all the millions that the mob has bled from the union, many teamsters complain about the $82 million the union has had to pay for the decadelong Federal effort. "The teamsters' union is as free of corruption as any great institution," Hoffa said.

And with Hoffa saying the teamsters will no longer reflexively endorse Democrats, as it did under his predecessor, Ron Carey, some union officials say he may ask Presidential candidates to support an end to supervision as the price of endorsement by the 1.4-million-member union. Government officials acknowledge that the teamsters has been substantially cleaned up but are uneasy about withdrawing, saying pockets of corruption remain in the powerful union, which was long infamous for shakedowns, intimidation, payoffs and looted pension funds.

These officials say it would be unwise to cut short the supervision -- the most ambitious Government effort to clean up a single union -- which they say has largely succeeded by obtaining the expulsions or resignations of more than 250 teamster officials accused of corruption. "The cleanup has done a tremendous amount of good, but it would be a mistake to say the union is corruption-free, mob-free," said Mary Jo White, the United States Attorney in Manhattan and the Federal official in charge of the supervision. "You don't want to say prematurely, 'It's fixed.' You don't want to backtrack."

The teamsters were forced to accept Federal oversight in 1989, to settle a racketeering lawsuit. The agreement set no time limit on the supervision and established the first rank-and-file elections for the teamsters presidency to give members the power to vote out corrupt leaders. While teamster officials kept the powers to negotiate contracts and handle most union matters, major anti-corruption work was given to Federally appointed monitors.

The oversight has included a Government-appointed investigations officer, with a staff of a dozen investigators; a three-person review board to adjudicate corruption cases, and a Government-appointed elections monitor. The agreement has an understanding that the Federal Government would end its supervision when it was satisfied that the union was clean and would aggressively move against any hints of corruption. Hoffa has vowed to keep organized crime out of the union, long considered the nation's most mob-dominated, saying the Mafia was responsible for the disappearance of his father, the teamster leader James R. Hoffa, in 1975. The elder Hoffa, who led the union from 1957 to 1971 and went to prison for jury tampering, disappeared after promising to end mob control as he campaigned to regain the union's presidency. But many critics of the younger Hoffa assert that he has ties to a corrupt old guard, and they question his motives for wanting to end Federal oversight.

Interviews with prosecutors and teamster leaders indicate that Federal supervision has accomplished something that 40 previous years of investigations and prosecutions had failed to accomplish -- it has rid the teamsters of mob control.

For years, the Mafia handpicked the union's president and the heads of many locals, and strong-armed the union into lending mobsters hundreds of millions of dollars from its pension funds. Federal prosecutors said the Mafia even controlled the elder Hoffa for several years. "The union has come an enormous way since the 1980's," said Michael Cherkasky, the Federal elections monitor. "The union is not controlled by the mob anymore. At local after local where there was pervasive corruption and complete control by organized crime, you see a sea of change."

But law-enforcement officials say the cleanup is far from over. Some mob influence remains, and in a union with 600 locals, including truck drivers, warehouse workers, security guards and flight attendants, an unsettling number of officials continue to steal union money or commit other crimes, though on a far smaller scale than in decades past. Federal officials point to stubborn problems like Local 714 in Chicago, which represents movie-truck drivers and trade show workers. A Federal oversight board ordered it into trusteeship in 1996 after finding the local's leaders guilty of nepotism and doing business with movie-truck companies owned by relatives.

The local's principal officer, William T. Hogan Jr., Chicago's most powerful teamster, was disgraced into leaving the union and dropping his campaign for secretary-treasurer on the Hoffa slate. But many members complain that a corrupt old guard is back because last year Hogan's son, Robert, won the local's top post, and he appointed his father as Local 714's organizing director and his uncle as executive director.

At the same time, there have been shining examples of cleansed locals. For decades, Local 560 in New Jersey was a piggy bank for the mob and was considered the nation's single-most-corrupt union local. It was run by Anthony Provenzano, a captain in the Genovese family, who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a popular union rival and who, prosecutors say, had another teamster murdered for rubbing him the wrong way at a meeting. But after a trusteeship purged the local of more than a dozen mob associates, members attending the local's recent monthly meeting did not hesitate to criticize or joke with Local 560's popular new president, Pete Brown, whom Federal monitors have vetted as clean.

The Federal oversight has been unprecedented in its size and invasiveness. Under agreements with the Government, other unions have had anti-corruption monitors, including the Laborers International Union of North America, which many labor-relations experts consider the most corrupt in the country today. But those unions, in effect, were allowed to handle their cleanups.

The $82 million the teamsters have had to pay for oversight has included $17 million for the three-person review board, the investigation officer and their staff, and $38 million for Federal monitors to conduct three nationwide teamster elections.

With the end of mob control, law-enforcement officials say, the teamsters has again become a union dedicated to winning its members better wages and working conditions. The national economy has also benefited because mob extortion amounted to a criminal tax of several percent on the billions of dollars in freight that teamster truck drivers hauled around the country. Already, in New York City, the authorities estimate that ending mob domination of the union has saved the construction industry millions of dollars.

Control of the teamsters was so central to the prosperity of many crime families, that breaking their hold has hurt them badly, the authorities say. To demonstrate that the union can clean its own house, Mr. Hoffa recently appointed a respected former Federal prosecutor from New Jersey, Edwin H. Stier -- the man who cleaned up Local 560 -- to head an in-house, anti-corruption effort. Hoffa has also begun talks with the Clinton Administration and several members of Congress with the aim of persuading the Government to end its supervision. "We have been under Government supervision for 10 years," Hoffa said. "It's time for a fresh review of this."

White, the Federal prosecutor, and other Government officials declined to say outright whether supervision should be ended, saying they were still weighing the matter. But several former Federal prosecutors were more emphatic about the need to continue supervision. "After five decades of organized corruption in a union, corruption does not go away in one year or 10," said Randy Mastro, who as an assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan oversaw the racketeering lawsuit that forced the teamsters to accept supervision after 40 years of failed efforts by the Government to end the Mafia's choke hold.

The lawsuit, brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, sought to place the union under Federal supervision as part of a comprehensive strategy to kick corrupt officials out and keep them out. It named 26 Mafia leaders and all 18 of the union's board members as defendants, accusing the board of failing to fight corruption and the mob bosses of controlling four teamster presidents, including Jimmy Hoffa. Fearing years of litigation and millions in legal fees, teamster leaders agreed to the most far-reaching Federal supervision of any national union.

In the decade since, the investigations officer, Charles M. Carberry, a former Federal prosecutor, has charged two dozen teamsters with being members of organized crime, including the heads of two large Chicago locals and the president of New York City's teamster council. He has also charged 60 teamsters with associating with mobsters and 150 more with financial wrongdoing.

Carberry said mob control is gone but that mob influence remains in some locals along with plenty of garden-variety graft. "You won't see a capo of the Gambino family as secretary-treasurer of a local anymore," he said. "But one may anticipate they will try to maintain whatever influence they still can, although more subtly than in the past." Both sides in the debate over ending supervision can find ample evidence within the sprawling union to support their view.

Those who want supervision ended can point to successful cleanups like that at Local 282 on Long Island, which Carlo Gambino, once New York's boss of crime bosses, had turned into family property. The local's 3,000 members deliver concrete to New York's construction industry, and the Gambino family recognized that if it controlled Local 282 and its deliveries, it could easily extort money from builders by threatening delays.

In 1982, Federal prosecutors gained an extortion conviction of the local's president, John Cody, who was so feared by builders that they provided him with chauffeurs and helped build his beach house. His successor, Bobby Sasso, also had the Gambinos' blessing, but he was pressured into resigning in 1992 after the review board charged him with extortion.

When yet another mob associate became president, the Federal cleanup went into high gear. Local 282 was put into trusteeship, Mr. Carberry brought charges that resulted in the removal of 22 local officials, and one of the local's trustees, Milton Mollen, stripped 50 local officials of their posts because of mob ties, theft or other wrongdoing. Today, all Local 282 officials must pass an F.B.I. screening.

Years ago local members were too intimidated to talk at union meetings, but nowadays Gary Labarbera, the trustee who runs the local's day-to-day affairs, welcomes rank-and-file input as a way to strengthen the union.

But those who favor continued supervision point to locals still troubled by mob ties. In 1991, Carberry brought charges against four officers of Local 377 in Youngstown, Ohio: two for extortion and two for engaging in a gun battle. But as recently as February, Carberry accused one of the local's shop stewards with finding a construction job for a mob enforcer newly released from prison, while the oversight board expelled one of the local's leaders for running a gambling operation for Pittsburgh's mob boss.

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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