Associtated Press

Teamsters Vote Supervision May End

By Kevin Galvin

Associated Press Writer

Wednesday, July 22, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department told a federal judge Wednesday it lacks the money to continue its supervision of the Teamsters election, a signal it may abandon a cornerstone of the government's efforts to clean up the union.

The revelation is a setback to what has been praised as an effective campaign against organized crime, but Republican lawmakers said they could not justify spending more taxpayer money on a union election.

``Why should the taxpayers of this country be asked to pay for the cost of overseeing a union election?'' Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who played a critical role in blocking the funds, said in a Senate speech last week. ``It is inconceivable. It is inappropriate. It makes no sense.''

U.S. District Judge David Edelstein had given federal prosecutors in New York until Wednesday to present a plan to finance the election. U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said in a letter Wednesday that ``we continue to be in discussions with members of Congress'' but nevertheless would respond Thursday to a proposal for an unsupervised election.

Under terms of a 1989 consent decree designed to loosen organized crime's grip on the 1.4-million-member union, the Teamsters agreed to begin holding rank-and-file elections.

The government elected to supervise the 1996 election, but that contest underwritten with more than $17 million in federal money was overturned after an illegal fund-raising scheme was uncovered.

Outraged that the campaign of Ron Carey, the union's incumbent president, violated the election rules, Republicans led by Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., blocked any new money for the rerun last year.

But in New York, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that under terms of the consent decree, the government would have to pay the estimated $8.6 million cost of the rerun if it intended to monitor the election.

Hoekstra, who has chaired a House Education and Workforce subcommittee probe into the scandal, and other Republicans approved a plan that would allow Justice to use money seized from criminals in the financing.

Gregg, who chairs the Senate Appropriations panel with jurisdiction over the Justice budget, objected.

``To allow this one to go forward without any supervision is really chancing it, and the Republicans will have to bear responsibility if anything goes wrong,'' said Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the ranking Democrat on Hoekstra's committee.

Regardless of the content of Thursday's government filing, the election is likely to be delayed again past its fall schedule.

The deal Gregg blocked, but which Justice is still pursuing, would generate only about $4.1 million. Emboldened by the appeals court decision, the union has refused to pay the rest.

``If government supervision is to go forward, and the union would prefer that it did, it's going to have to be funded by the government,'' said union spokesman Matt Witt.

Justice officials note that strides have been made against racketeering since the consent decree took effect.

Investigations by the Independent Review Board, which operates independently of the election office, have led to the expulsion or removal of more than 200 union officers and members over allegations of corruption or ties to the mob.

Michael Cherkasky, a former prosecutor who took over the election office in 1997, told Congress this year that the consent decree ``is the most significant organized-crime measure in the history of the United States. ... The most successful one, too.''

Jeff O'Mara, spokesman for Cherkasky, said ``we are hopeful that the parties will reach a solution.''

``This is law enforcement that works and is extremely cost effective,'' O'Mara said. ``It is critical that independent supervision, for which there is universal support, continues.''

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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