By Stephen Franklin, Tribune Staff Writer
January 16, 1998
Government investigators probing the Teamsters'
botched 1996 election have been going door-to-door in Chicago,
quizzing rank-and-file members who gave money to James P. Hoffa's
The investigators appear to be trying to
match contributors with their recorded donations as well as to
see if individuals were used to cover up larger donations.
"They were asked, `Did you contribute?
How much? And were you forced to?' " said Dane Passo, who
runs Hoffa's Midwest campaign office in suburban Berwyn.
"They are just looking at another way
to stop us from raising money," claimed Passo, who said he
hears daily from Hoffa supporters who have been questioned by
investigators in the last week.
The focus on Hoffa, a Detroit attorney and
son of the late Teamsters leader, is part of a broadening federal
investigation of the scandal-ridden--and subsequently voided--campaign
within the giant 1.4-million member union, organized labor's largest.
Hoffa supporters in New York, Los Angeles
and Ohio have similarly been questioned recently by investigators,
but Chicago appears to play a key role in the probe, since it
has been a major source of Hoffa's funds and political support.
Jeff O'Mara, a spokesman for Michael Cherkasky,
the government-appointed election monitor, declined to comment
on the latest inquiry, saying only that the probe "is being
conducted in a professional manner to discover the relevant facts."
The government was urged to investigate Hoffa's
campaign last November, when Kenneth Conboy, another government-appointed
elections monitor, barred union President Ron Carey last November
from running for office again in a re-run election, because of
Carey's role in campaign finance wrongdoing.
Judge David Edelstein of U.S. District Court
in New York, who has monitored the union since it agreed to government
oversight in 1989, last month upheld Conboy's decision to bar
Carey from running again.
He pointed to Carey's knowledge of illegal
fundraising schemes by aides and the transfer of $735,000 of union
funds to his own campaign.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters
reached the deal with the government to stave off a government
takeover because of what federal officials have described as the
union's long-term corruption and control by organized crime.
As the campaign fundraising scandal began
encircling Carey last year, he urged government officials to look
into Hoffa's campaign, saying Hoffa had skirted union campaign
But officials initially put off an investigation,
explaining that Hoffa had lost the election, making any wrongdoing
beside the point.
At issue now is where Hoffa's campaign money
Hoffa campaign officials say there are no
records for most of the funds since they were raised at rallies
and sales of campaign items such as T-shirts and jackets. Under
the union's rules at the time, records were not needed for donations
Rich Leebove, a spokesman for Hoffa in suburban
Detroit, said Hoffa is being unfairly targeted "because Ron
Carey got up and said they (Hoffa) couldn't have raised $1.8 million
this way; it must be dirty."
How much money Hoffa raised is also unclear.
While Hoffa's campaign slate raised about
$3.7 million, Leebove insisted that Hoffa raised only about $400,000
and the rest of the funds were generated and used by candidates
who ran on his ticket. He said the $1.8 million figure came from
The Carey campaign raised about $3.4 million;
his campaign reports did not separate out funds destined for Carey's
re election bid from funds for the rest of his slate.
Mike Melone , a member of Teamsters Local
726, who gave nearly $1,000 to the Hoffa campaign, said he was
surprised when investigators visited him at home in Elk Grove
Village last Saturday.
"They wanted to know where the money
came from. I work hard for my money. I don't know why they would
bother a working stiff like me," Melone remarked.
The union's flawed election was the most
costly in the history of organized labor. Besides the funds raised
by Hoffa and Carey, the government spent nearly $20 million to
monitor the election.
© 1997 Chicago Tribune