Mafia families in Chicago, Cleveland and New York played central roles in the selection of Teamsters Union President Jackie Presser and his immediate predecessor, Roy L. Williams, a Mafia underboss-turned-informant has told the FBI.
In statements that provide an unusually detailed account of mob involvement in the scandal-plagued union’s internal politics, Angelo A. Lonardo told FBI agents that he and Milton J. Rockman traveled between the three cities to line up Mafia support for the two men. Rockman currently is on trial in Kansas City on charges of skimming gambling receipts.
Leaders of the Chicago mob were not enthusiastic over the selection of either Williams or Presser to head the 1.9-million-member union but were persuaded by Rockman’s arguments that both men could be controlled, Lonardo said.
Law enforcement sources say that the Chicago family’s enmity toward Presser has increased since federal officials confirmed earlier this year that Presser has been an informant for the FBI. According to these sources, the Chicago family has proposed retribution against Presser but has been opposed by the New York and Cleveland families.
Ironically, mob figures in 1981 discounted a Cleveland newspaper’s report that Presser had been a government informant and even took steps to have it retracted, Lonardo told the FBI.
The FBI announced last month that Lonardo, a Cleveland underboss who is serving a life sentence on federal drug and conspiracy charges, had agreed to become a government witness. They described him as the highest-ranking Mafia figure ever to cooperate with the government.
His account of mob involvement with the Teamsters was made in many hours of interviews with four FBI agents on Oct. 27 and 28, 1983. A 58-page FBI summary of the interviews was made available to The Times.
Lonardo’s attorney, Joseph Jaffe of Liberty, N.Y., declined to comment on why his client was cooperating with the FBI. However, other sources familiar with the case said they believed that Lonardo was seeking leniency in his own sentencing.
According to the summary, Lonardo said he first learned of the mob’s involvement in Teamster politics in 1981, when the Mafia family in Kansas City sought to promote Williams as a successor to Frank E. Fitzsimmons, who died in office. Williams was a Teamsters international vice president who had come up through the union in Kansas City.
Kansas City mob leaders told Rockman “that Williams was a capable man who they . . . could ‘talk’ to,” Lonardo said. He said Rockman was told that “it would be nice to have the president of the International Teamsters Union in the (Mafia’s) corner.”
“Rockman told Kansas City that he felt that Cleveland (mobsters) controlled Jackie Presser, the then-Teamsters international vice president,” Lonardo told the agents. “Through Presser, they could control delegate votes.”
Delegates on a 17-member Teamsters Executive Council select the union’s president.
Pension Fund Post
Presumably as a means of assuring Presser’s support, Rockman suggested that Williams agree to give Presser his job as director of the union’s huge Central States Pension Fund when he was elected president, Lonardo said.
Chicago Mafia leaders Joey Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone did not like the idea of Williams as president, Lonardo said, because “they wanted their man to be president. They felt they could handle their man better.” Lonardo said he did not know the man’s full name.
In addition, “Aiuppa and Cerone both objected to Presser being head of the pension fund, as they felt they could not trust Presser or depend on Presser,” Lonardo said. “They also felt that no one could talk to Jackie Presser and be able to get him to do what they wanted.”
Told Them Not to Worry
But Rockman--a close associate of both Presser and his late father, William Presser--told the Chicago underworld leaders not to worry, because he could control Presser, Lonardo recounted. Finally, the Chicago Mafia went along.
Rockman and Lonardo then flew to New York to meet with Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, reputed boss of the Genovese family in that city.
Salerno approved of making Williams president and Presser head of the pension fund, saying “it was good that Presser and Williams would be in control of the Teamsters,” Lonardo said. Later, Salerno sent word to Rockman that he had lined up enough delegates on the executive council to elect Williams.
Once elected, Williams refused to make Presser director of the pension fund. Rockman complained to Kansas City Mafia leaders, who told him they were “upset and embarrassed” by their inability to control Williams.
Williams resigned from his union post in 1983 after he was convicted of attempting to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.). He has been ordered to serve a reduced 10-year sentence in the medical ward of the federal prison in Springfield, Mo.
His Washington attorney, Thomas A. Wadden Jr., declined to comment on Lonardo’s account until he has a chance to read the FBI summary, which is expected to surface in the casino-skimming trial that began Monday in Kansas City.
When asked if Williams had ever promised to appoint Presser as director of the pension fund, Wadden said: “I honestly don’t know whether he did or not.”
Teamster spokesman Duke Zeller did not return repeated phone calls Monday.
Another Road Show
Lonardo and Rockman conducted another road show--this time for Presser--after Williams was indicted in 1981, according to the FBI summary.
En route to a meeting with Salerno in New York, the two men discussed an August, 1981, report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Presser had been an informant for the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI.
Rockman discounted the report, and the two men “decided to tell Fat Tony about the article and possibly Fat Tony would know someone who could get a retraction.” Salerno arranged for Roy M. Cohn, Senate counsel for Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) in the 1950s, to work on the problem, Lonardo said.
More than a year later, the Plain Dealer published a front-page retraction that so enraged its news staff that 50 reporters and photographers demonstrated outside the newspaper. The retraction, written by then-Executive Editor David Hopcraft, quoted Presser’s attorney as saying that the informant report had been false.
Attempts to reach Cohn at his New York office Monday were unsuccessful. Hopcraft told The Times that he knew of no involvement in the matter by Cohn, and added: “I have never discussed this matter publicly and will not do so.”
Presser’s actions as an FBI informant led to the Justice Department’s decision in July to drop plans to prosecute him on labor fraud charges when it was determined that FBI agents had allowed him to commit some crimes.
Even though he lined up support for Presser, Lonardo told the FBI that he and Cleveland Mafia leader Jack Licavoli never trusted Presser. It was Rockman, he said, who convinced them that Presser was the man for the job.
“They felt it was better to have someone in office that they knew and, besides, it would add prestige to the Cleveland family to be in control of the head of the Teamsters,” the FBI summary said.