Charging that the Teamsters' top 18 officials have allowed the Mafia to corrupt the nation's largest union, the Justice Department on Tuesday moved in a civil lawsuit to oust any of the 18 found to have violated federal racketeering laws and urged immediate appointment of a court officer to oversee key union operations.
Defendants in the unprecedented legal action include Teamster President Jackie Presser and acting President Weldon L. Mathis, who is running the 1.6-million-member union while Presser is undergoing treatments for brain cancer, and the union's 16 international vice presidents. The 18 Teamster officials make up the union's general executive board. In addition, 26 alleged members of La Cosa Nostra--the Mafia--are included.
U.S. Atty. Rudolph W. Giuliani characterized the suit--filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act--as "a precise, carefully drawn legal effort to end La Cosa Nostra's corruption of this union."
But the AFL-CIO, which recently voted to readmit the scandal-plagued Teamsters to the umbrella organization, branded the action "a clear abuse of the government's prosecutorial power" and warned that it would undermine a free trade union movement if its legal theories are upheld.
Mathis denounced the suit as "shocking," contending that a jury in a related criminal trial on May 3 had "rejected many of the allegations" contained in the complaint.
U.S. District Judge David N. Edelstein set a hearing next Tuesday to determine whether he should issue a temporary restraining order to bar the alleged Mafia members and associates from participating in Teamster affairs and to appoint one or more court liaison officers to discipline union officers and members found to be corrupt and to oversee union spending and appointments to union office.
The order sought by Giuliani also would prohibit Presser, Mathis and the 16 international vice presidents from any racketeering activity or associating with any Mafia member.
Only hours after the suit was filed, Presser was taken by ambulance to a hospital in his hometown of Cleveland. David Hopcraft, a spokesman for Lakewood Hospital, said that Presser's condition was not related to his brain tumors, which caused him to temporarily step down as president of the union on May 4, and is not believed to be life-threatening.
Presser's trial on federal labor fraud charges, which had been set for July 12, was recently postponed indefinitely because of his deteriorating condition.
Giuliani, announcing the long-expected lawsuit at a press conference, quoted the late Robert F. Kennedy, who as a young Senate committee lawyer nearly 30 years ago "first alerted America to organized crime's infiltration into the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. . . . He was right," Giuliani said.
He cited Kennedy's statement that "neither the labor movement nor our economic system can stand this paralyzing corruption."
The suit sought appointment of a court liaison officer to serve while the case is being tried, and for the longer term the naming of a trustee to run new Teamster elections. While Giuliani declined to estimate how long the litigation would take, Acting Assistant Atty. Gen. Edward Dennis in Washington estimated that it could be years before the case is completed.
The government also asked for removal of current international union officers found to be violators of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
According to the complaint, 25 of the 26 Mafia defendants already have been convicted of Teamster-related crimes, including extortion through threats of labor problems, embezzlement of union funds, illegal labor and benefit fund payoffs, murder and RICO offenses. The convictions all took place within the last eight years, some as recently as last month.
The suit said that all 18 members of the Teamsters general executive board have committed mail fraud; that seven of them have committed acts of racketeering including embezzlement and bribery, and that 12 board members have aided and abetted wire fraud in connection with a Mafia scheme to ensure the elections of the last two Teamster presidents, Roy L. Williams and Presser.
In return, Teamster officers have allowed the underworld syndicate "ready access to union funds and jobs and free reign over certain Teamster locals, which La Cosa Nostra figures have used as instrumentalities to extort monies from employers," the government said in a memorandum of law filed with the suit.
"Thus, the (Teamsters) leaders get their union offices and La Cosa Nostra figures get their money--all to the detriment of union members, victimized businesses and the general public," the memo said.
Top Mafia Members Named
In addition to naming as a defendant "The Commission of La Cosa Nostra," the alleged ruling body of organized crime, the suit names many prominent reputed Mafia leaders, including Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, Matthew (Matty the Horse) Ianniello, Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo, Anthony (Tony Ripe) Civella and Carmine (The Snake) Persico.
The complaint charged that the current Teamster general executive board members, through various acts and failures to act, have permitted members and associates of La Cosa Nostra to maintain control over the international union and certain of its locals.
Giuliani minimized a verdict in May by a federal jury in Manhattan that rejected government charges in a criminal case that two Teamster elections had been corrupted by organized crime. In that trial, Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, reputed boss of the Genovese Mafia family, was found guilty on other counts but acquitted of having fixed the Williams and Presser elections.
Giuliani contended that the government had additional evidence to present in this case and noted that a lesser standard of proof is required to win a civil verdict--preponderance of the evidence--as opposed to the stricter standard--guilt beyond a reasonable doubt--in a criminal trial.
Although Giuliani maintained that the government had not scaled back the sanctions it sought in Tuesday's suit because of the Salerno verdict, Justice Department officials in Washington said that a more sweeping crackdown had been contemplated earlier.
The complaint alleged that Mafia figures have extorted Teamster members' rights through a campaign of corruption and violence and that the union's current executive board has failed to remedy corruption inside the Teamsters and that it has allowed many criminals to hold union office.
The suit cited the murders of more than a dozen Teamster dissidents or individuals prepared to testify about Teamster corruption, several other murders and numerous shootings, bombings and beatings as evidence of the pattern of intimidation and violence practiced by the Mafia in its dealings with the international union.
Meese Praises Suit
Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III praised the suit as "a legally surgical step to remove the corrupt influence from the Teamsters." He has recused himself from all Teamster matters, however, because he took part in President Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign, when the Teamsters broke with most of organized labor and supported the Reagan candidacy.
Ronald J. Ostrow reported from Washington and Eileen V. Quigley reported from New York. Labor writer Henry Weinstein contributed from Los Angeles.