The Teamsters Union and the Justice Department held negotiations in New York on Saturday in efforts to settle the government’s civil racketeering case against the union, scheduled to go to trial there on Monday with potentially enormous consequences.
The union’s executive board is scheduled to meet today to review progress of the talks.
If the case proceeds to trial, it would be “the most important labor racketeering case in United States history,” according to G. Robert Blakey, a University of Notre Dame law professor who, as a Senate aide 20 years ago, drafted the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the primary statute the government is utilizing in the case.
The government’s suit, filed last June, contends that the union has been dominated by organized criminal elements for more than three decades. It seeks to oust the union’s top leaders and impose a trusteeship until “free and fair elections” can be held. In the interim, a court-appointed administrator would exercise some of the powers a union president traditionally exercises, including reviewing appointments and expenditures.
If the Justice Department wins the case and succeeds in ousting Teamster leaders and changing the union’s election procedures, “the viability of RICO civil proceedings as a means of breaking up the mob’s control over some unions is going to be established,” Blakey said. “All the (previous) racketeering cases against individual union locals could be looked at as versions of Bull Run, but this is Gettysburg,” the archetype of decisive battles
Many union officials in the country also view the unprecedented case as having monumental consequences. But they decry the government’s effort as a violation of constitutional protections of freedom of association and an overly broad use of federal power.
AFL-CIO Attacks Suit
The AFL-CIO, which readmitted the Teamsters in October, 1987, 30 years after expelling the union on corruption charges, has attacked the suit as “a clear abuse of the government’s prosecutorial power . . . based on legal theories which, if sustained, would undermine a free trade union movement.”
“This is an example of governmental over-reaching to an incalculable degree,” said Barry Feinstein, director of the Teamsters public employee division, who is not a defendant in the case. “I am absolutely convinced that this union is not run by mobsters.”
Moreover, 250 congressmen and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the former Democratic presidential nominee, have publicly opposed the use of the RICO statute to take over a union.
Teamster officials and lawyers have frequently charged that a key allegation in the government’s case was repudiated by a federal jury in New York last May. In a major organized crime case, Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, reputed boss of the Genovese Mafia family, was convicted of several crimes. However, he was acquitted on charges that he had fixed the elections that resulted in Roy L. Williams and Jackie Presser becoming Teamster presidents
The trial is expected to last about six months, and Teamster officials have also expressed concern that even if they win, they would have to endure months of news stories recapitulating past problems in the scandal-ridden union. Four of the union’s last six presidents were indicted on federal crimes and three went to prison.
Randy M. Mastro, the assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the government’s case, declined to comment Saturday on any settlement discussions. But several sources close to the union said Teamster lawyers were meeting with Mastro and Benito Romano, the interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who succeeded Rudolph W. Giuliani after the high-profile prosecutor, who filed the case, resigned earlier this year.
Six members of the Teamsters executive board already have settled with the government, and three of them resigned their union vice presidencies in conjunction with the settlements. Eleven members of the board remain as defendants, including union President William J. McCarthy of Boston.
As lawyers for the Justice Department and the Teamsters met over the weekend, the outlines of what both sides plan to do at trial emerged in documents provided to The Times.
The government plans to call about 140 witnesses, ranging from Angelo Lonardo, former underboss of the Cleveland Mafia until he became a government-protected witness in 1985, to Clyde Summers, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who is an expert on union democracy.
Draft Witness List
The government’s draft witness list states that Lonardo and Aladena (Jimmy the Weasel) Fratianno, a former Mafia hit man who also is now a government-protected witness, will testify “about the structure and operation of La Cosa Nostra, and La Cosa Nostra corruption of the IBT (International Brotherhood of Teamsters) and various of its officers.”
The Teamsters have a tentative witness list of 197 persons, ranging from all their top officials to Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.) and Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, both of whom reputedly will testify that the Teamsters in Washington state “are not controlled, influenced, operated or infiltrated by La Cosa Nostra, any crime organization or element.”
The union’s draft witness list also includes five current and one former FBI agent. The list states that all of them will testify about former Teamster President Jackie Presser’s “cooperation with the government and the FBI’s ratification of Presser’s contacts with organized crime during the course of that cooperation” while Presser was an FBI informant for a decade.
California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp is also on the Teamster list as a potential expert witness on law enforcement practices “as they relate to the government’s claim” that top Teamster officials had a duty to investigate certain alleged misconduct within the union.
The government also has provided Teamster lawyers with a long list of exhibits and other material it plans to introduce at the trial. The greatest number of exhibits relate to union President McCarthy and two of the union’s most senior vice presidents, Joseph Trerotola of New York and Joseph W. Morgan of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
The list includes surveillance records going back to 1965 of now deceased New England Mafia boss Raymond Patriarca “to establish La Cosa Nostra control” over McCarthy.
In his deposition in the case, McCarthy denied that he was connected with or influenced by the Mafia.
The government’s list of exhibits includes a past Massachusetts court case “to establish” a judgment against a Teamster local and the union’s “failure to investigate and/or remedy the problem.”
This is an aspect of the case that troubles Teamster officials and their lawyers--the idea that union officers could be held responsible for failing to take action to remedy alleged corruption in the union. They and other union leaders, including AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, have repeatedly decried the notion of “collective guilt.”
Dealt Blow by Judge
However, U.S. District Judge David N. Edelstein, who is presiding over the case, dealt a blow to the union on that issue last week in an opinion he wrote denying the Teamsters motion for a summary judgment dismissing the case.
Staff writer Robert L. Jackson in Washington also contributed to this story.