Chicago Tribune


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 losing campaign.

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 fundraising laws.

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 came from.

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 under $100.

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 Carey.

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

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