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Presser Abetted Violence by Teamsters, Panel Says

Times Staff Writers

Teamsters Union President Jackie Presser encouraged violence against dissident Teamsters in 1983 and took part in a “highly suspect” Cleveland theater investment that he said made him a millionaire, the President’s Commission on Organized Crime charges in a draft report.

Commission sources said Tuesday that Presser invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when the panel asked him about both incidents.

The commission, moving to wrap up a special report on labor racketeering by next month, has referred the information about Presser’s questionable theater investment to the Justice Department for possible criminal action.

David Margolis, who as chief of the department’s organized crime and racketeering section rejected a federal strike force recommendation in July that Presser be indicted on separate labor fraud charges, refused to comment.

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Duke Zeller, Presser’s spokesman at Teamsters’ headquarters here, did not respond to calls about the two incidents.

The violence, allegedly endorsed by Presser, took place in Romulus, Mich., outside Detroit, at an October, 1983, convention of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a dissident group extremely critical of Teamster leadership.

The Brotherhood of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters (BLAST), a group set up to oppose the dissidents, took over the podium, tore down banners and ran TDU members out of the hall, according to the commission draft report.

The commission said that records of the National Labor Relations Board indicate that participants in the BLAST raid included the presidents of two Teamsters locals, a local vice president, two secretary-treasurers, three union trustees, one organizer and at least 10 business agents for the international union.

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At a meeting two weeks later of Teamsters Joint Council 41 in Cleveland, Presser praised the union officials who led the raid, according to a transcript of his remarks subpoenaed by the commission.

“I know all about that BLAST program taking place in Michigan,” Presser told the joint council. “We should be doing more of that. I’m going to tell you, I’m not going to let up on these people.”

Investment in Theater

Presser’s Cleveland theater investment involved the Front Row Theatre, in which Presser invested “a nominal sum” in 1974, two months before he began a one-year term as a trustee of the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund, according to the commission. The staff report traced the theater’s sale by Presser and his fellow investors and its subsequent sale back to them without Presser. The commission subpoenaed documents from an institution that provided a loan to the theater, the theater’s accounting firm and the company that purchased and then sold back the theater, according to the report.

The report said that the documents and Presser’s statement that the theater had made him a millionaire raise questions about whether the Front Row Theatre was “used as a vehicle to provide approximately $1 million (from the other investors) to Presser for unspecified favors.” The Presser statement was reported in the October, 1980, issue of Cleveland Magazine.

Casino Skimming Trial

In a separate action involving Presser, two defense attorneys in the Las Vegas casino skimming trial in Kansas City charged that the government has deliberately withheld evidence on Presser’s possible involvement in that case.

Frank Oliver, a defense attorney representing alleged Chicago mobster Joseph Lombardo, said the Justice Department has held back “evidence of Jackie Presser’s complicity . . . because of his support of the incumbent President (Reagan).”

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Another defense attorney, Joseph DiNatale, representing reputed Chicago Mafia leader Jackie Cerone, noted that government witnesses have testified that former Teamsters President Roy L. Williams and the late William Presser, a long-time Ohio Teamsters leader and father of the current president, accepted cash payments of $1,500 a month from casino owners in the late 1970s in return for loans from the Central States Pension Fund.

Role as FBI Informant

Referring to Jackie Presser’s role as an FBI informant, DiNatale said that Presser has been the government’s “white knight” and that “any time we get to Jackie Presser, we hit a blank wall.” Presser’s role as an FBI informant and his alleged authorization by the FBI to pay “ghost employees” at his hometown local led the Justice Department last summer to drop any plans to seek his indictment.

Prosecutor David Helfrey denied withholding any evidence from defense attorneys, and U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Stevens Jr. said that defense attorneys should not assume such evidence exists.

Ronald J. Ostrow reported from Washington and Robert L. Jackson reported from Kansas City.


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