Ex-Teamster Boss Tells of Mob Ties : Williams Also Links Presser to Mafia in Testimony From Jail

Times Staff Writer

Former Teamsters President Roy L. Williams testified Monday that he and his successor, current President Jackie Presser, had close ties with Mafia leaders because “organized crime was filtered into the Teamsters Union.”

Williams, who was convicted of attempted bribery in 1982, testified on videotape from his prison cell in Springfield, Mo. He described a long association with mob figures to jurors in the trial of Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno and 10 associates. The defendants are charged with various acts of business and labor corruption, including allegations that Salerno controlled Presser’s 1983 election as Teamster chief.

Tells of Hoffa Advice

Williams, in the most detailed account of union corruption he has ever given, said that the late James R. Hoffa, a former Teamsters leader who disappeared in 1975 and is presumed to have been murdered, told him more than 30 years ago to follow the instructions of then Kansas City crime boss Nicholas Civella. Williams at the time was a rising star in Midwest Teamster affairs.


He said that Civella, who died five years ago, instructed him, in turn, to vote with Ohio Teamster leader Bill Presser to approve mob-related loans for the Stardust casino in Las Vegas from the billion-dollar Teamster Central States pension fund. Presser, who died in 1981, was Jackie Presser’s father.

Williams, a trustee of the pension fund, along with Bill Presser, said that in 1974 he began receiving envelopes containing $1,500 from Civella each month. Under pressure from Congress and the U.S. Department of Labor, the pension fund was reorganized in 1977, the trustees were forced out and independent investment advisers were installed to make all loan decisions.

Helped With Election

Williams said that Civella met with him regularly over the years, often placing mob associates or their relatives in Teamster posts in the Midwest, and that Civella had been instrumental in getting him elected union president in 1981. He said Civella telephoned other Mafia leaders around the country, asking them to get Teamster delegates in their cities to support Williams.

Although Williams sometimes felt ill-prepared, he said, Civella assured him: “You can handle it. We’re going to do everything we can to get you elected.”

A previous government witness, former Cleveland mobster Angelo A. Lonardo, testified that Salerno and Chicago mob leaders Joey Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone agreed to help get Williams elected. Lonardo said that the same group threw its support behind Jackie Presser in 1983 after Williams resigned because of his conviction.

Bribery Conviction

Williams, 72, and four others were found guilty in December, 1982, of trying to bribe former Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.) to help defeat a trucking deregulation bill the union opposed. Cannon was not accused of wrongdoing.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark R. Hellerer asked Williams if Jackie Presser ever said “anything to you about his ties to organized crime.”

“Yes,” Williams replied. “He said that he could handle any problem through the group in Cleveland if we just let him know it, that he had friends--ties--with the group in Cleveland.”

Williams said that, in the language of the mob, no one ever used words like “crime” or “Mafia.”

Offer to Fix Case

He repeated charges he had made two years ago to the President’s Commission on Organized Crime that Presser once had offered to fix a federal embezzlement case against Williams for $10,000 through contacts in Washington. But Williams said he never took Presser up on the offer and ultimately was acquitted.

Presser and two associates are facing trial in Cleveland later this year on charges that they placed mob-related no-show employees on the union payroll at a cost of $700,000 to the union treasury.

Williams, who suffers from emphysema, was deemed too ill to be brought to New York from his prison cell. He testified on the tape while drawing oxygen through plastic tubes in his nose, often becoming short of breath and asking for breaks.

He was granted immunity from further prosecution for what he might say, and he acknowledged that he hoped prosecutors might recommend an early parole from his 10-year sentence if his testimony is useful to them.