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Probers Study FBI ‘Sting’ That Discredited Possible Witness Against Presser

Times Staff Writers

Senate investigators are studying government files which show that the FBI conducted a “sting” operation in 1982 that damaged the credibility of a potential key witness against its own secret informant, Teamsters Union President Jackie Presser.

The episode involving crime figure Jack Nardi--who already had told a federal grand jury that Presser had made him a “ghost employee” of Presser’s hometown local in Cleveland--is being investigated as an example of injurious rivalry and poor communication between the FBI and a federal strike force that was investigating the Teamster leader.

In planning the “sting” against Nardi, 43, FBI officials did not consult the strike force, although they did notify strike force attorneys a few hours before the undercover operation was launched.

Held in Extortion Attempt

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In that operation, Nardi was caught in an extortion attempt in which he asked for $20,000 in exchange for altering his damaging testimony against Presser. He later pleaded guilty.

Sources familiar with the case rate the FBI’s pursuit of Nardi, the son of a murdered Cleveland Teamster with alleged organized crime ties, as unquestionably good police work.

But the Senate Government Affairs permanent investigations subcommittee is looking at the Nardi case as part of its effort to learn why the Justice Department spent three years investigating Presser for alleged payroll padding before dropping the Presser case in July.

Subcommittee officials refused to comment, but confidential Labor Department records under study by the panel show that members of the department’s inspector general’s office, which conducts racketeering probes, were angry and upset by the FBI’s handling of Nardi. Strike force prosecutors were concerned that the extortion conviction had badly damaged Nardi’s credibility.

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FBI Agreement Cited

Justice Department sources have said that the Presser case was abandoned after his attorney convinced officials that he had been permitted by FBI agents to hire “ghost employees,” who did no work, to maintain his connections with organized crime figures.

Neither the strike force nor the Labor Department ever knew of the FBI’s involvement in Presser’s alleged wrongdoing, these sources said.

Presser’s attorney, John R. Climaco, has said in letters made public in a Cleveland court case that Nardi, through an intermediary, suggested to a Presser aide in November, 1982, that he might change his earlier grand jury testimony against the Teamster chief in return for a $20,000 payment.

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Subsequently, Climaco said, he took the aide, John Joyce, to Joseph Griffin, special agent in charge of the Cleveland FBI office, to tell the story.

Some strike force members, hearing about the visit later, found it hard to believe and said that Griffin was not normally available to a complaining citizen like Joyce. But according to these sources, Griffin interviewed Joyce himself and acted immediately on the information, dispatching five undercover FBI agents to Florida so that Joyce, equipped with a hidden microphone, could meet Nardi in a Miami bar.

Tape Reveals Offer

A still-secret tape of the meeting shows that Nardi offered to change his testimony or disappear as a future trial witness in return for a $20,000 loan, according to Nardi’s lawyer, Barry Halpern of Miami.

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Halpern said that he did not know whether Nardi first conceived of the bribe offer himself or whether another party suggested it to him. But in March, 1983, Nardi pleaded guilty to having received $109,800 illegally as a ghost employee and to soliciting a $20,000 bribe.

Sentencing of Nardi was deferred because of the possible case against Presser. But since the collapse of that case, Halpern has been seeking to have Nardi’s guilty plea thrown out on grounds that neither he nor Nardi ever knew that Presser’s payments to Nardi were condoned by the FBI.

Another ghost employee, Allen Friedman, Presser’s uncle, has been granted a new trial on similar grounds.


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