Wednesday, November 19, 1997

Fallout From Teamster Scandal Runs Deep


   The leadership of the Teamsters
is in turmoil, complicating the government-backed
efforts to rid the nation's biggest private-sector

union of its entrenched corruption.

Both of the union's previous candidates for president, particularly incumbent leader Ron Carey, have run into problems. A court-appointed union overseer disqualified Carey on Monday from running for reelection because of a far-reaching scandal involving his campaign finances. Carey promised to appeal.

The overseer, Kenneth Conboy, also instructed union election officials to closely scrutinize the campaign finances of the controversial remaining candidate, James P. Hoffa. That, in turn, is deepening the fears of the Hoffa camp--and buoying he hopes of Carey backers--that authorities will deny Hoffa the chance to ever run the union.

Meanwhile, the election office moved Tuesday to indefinitely postpone the rerun Teamster leadership election, which had been set to conclude March 17.

That postponement will provide time for the nvestigation of the Hoffa campaign and for the emergence of new candidates for the presidency, particularly from the Carey camp.

Perhaps most important of all, the fallout from the campaign finance scandal could be damaging to the Clinton administration and other Democrats, the top leadership of the national AFL-CIO labor federation and allied liberal political groups. And although the current Teamsters drama is largely being played out in New York and Washington, it also has implications for California.

Here are some of the most common questions being asked about what's to come:

* * *

Question: What's behind the controversy?

Answer: A complex, and illegal, fund-raising scheme engineered by the campaign organization that backed Carey's bid for reelection in 1996 to a second five-year term as Teamsters president.

Three Carey associates have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York is still investigating. It also prompted election monitors to void Carey's narrow victory over Hoffa last year and set up the rerun election.

What's more, Conboy stated in the decision he issued Monday that Carey willingly participated in the effort, despite the union leader's claims he was left in the dark. As part of the money-laundering< scheme, Conboy reported, Carey authorized the diversion of $735,000 of Teamster treasury funds to his reelection campaign.

Q: What happens next in the Teamsters election?

A: Interim Election Officer Benetta Mansfield and her staff will review the Hoffa campaign finances, including $1.8 million from contributors who were not identified because of the small sums they purportedly gave. The Independent Review Board, a panel set up under a court decree to combat corruption in the union, will review whether Carey should be ousted as president.

Meanwhile, former Carey supporters who say they are committed to continuing the effort to root out organized crime have emerged as potential replacement candidates for president.

They include: Ken Hall, a West Virginian who heads the Teamster's parcel division and who served as Carey's lieutenant in the August strike against United Parcel Service of America;

Tom Leedham of Portland, Oregon, director of the union's warehousing division; George Cashman, who heads a Teamsters local in Boston; Diana Kilmury of Vancouver, British Columbia, a rank and file Teamster who also is an international vice president; and Tom Gilmartin of Connecticut, who heads the Teamsters' industrial trades department.

Q: How does the controversy affect the Teamsters' anti-corruption efforts?

A: Although the turmoil won't help matters, optimists say there is no turning back on the reform process. They theorize that many more members have become active in the union and participated in corruption-busting union democracy, making it unlikely that the Teamsters will backslide substantially.

Meanwhile, although Carey and Hoffa both call themselves the candidates best able to clean up the union, both have come under question. Working with government officials, the Carey-led Teamsters removed or sanctioned 390 allegedly corrupt local union officials and put 70 locals into trusteeship.

Questions are being raised, however, about whether some of the Carey moves on that score actually cleaned up the union, or simply rewarded his political friends and punished his enemies.

Hoffa, son of legendary Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, has been tainted by the company he keeps and the memory of his father, who spent more than four years in prison related to union corruption.

Four of the original 27 members of younger Hoffa's campaign slate have been suspended from the union or pressured to bow out of the election. A fifth slate member--Jim Santangelo, head of a Southern California Teamsters local based in El Monte and a candidate for western regional vice president--is under scrutiny by the IRB for allegedly taking an illegal loan. He denies any wrongdoing.

Q: Who else stands to be hurt by campaign finance scandal?

A: For starters, the left wing of the national AFL-CIO, including some of the the top officials trying to revitalize the American labor movement. Although everyone denies wrongdoing, Conboy found that Richard Trumka, the No. 2 official of the AFL-CIO, was involved. In his report, Conboy said that Trumka--widely regarded as the likely eventual successor to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney--helped in a Carey campaign money-laundering maneuver and improperly raised additional funds.

Testimony also was cited indicating the improper contributions for Carey were raised by Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union; Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Paul Booth, the union's national organizing director.

Conboy found that the Carey campaign tried to pull off a mutual-assistance deal with the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton-Gore campaign, but that the scheme never was activated. All the same, it could mean big legal problems for the Democrats, amid the continuing inquiries into their campaign fund-raising last year.

Q: What are the California connections?

A: The Teamsters union itself is one of the biggest in California, with an estimated 270,000 members. What's more, Santa Barbara-based fund-raiser Charles Blitz was named by Conboy as a key figure in the money-laundering scheme.

Blitz is said to have lined up wealthy California contributors who gave money to the Carey campaign in exchange for the funneling of Teamsters money to groups favored by the wealthy Californians. Some of that Teamsters money reportedly was contributed to a group that supported California's Proposition 215 last year, a measure approved by voters to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

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