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Overseer Assures Corruption-Free Teamsters Election

By Peter Szekely

April 29, 1998

WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - A court-appointed overseer who earlier this week allowed James P. Hoffa to seek the Teamsters union presidency, put his reputation on the line on Wednesday by assuring a corruption-free election.

Election Officer Michael Cherkasky said he will be on the lookout for the kinds of illegal fund-raising schemes that led to the nullification of Ron Carey's 1997 re-election as union president as well as new ploys in the upcoming election.

``What we're trying to do is anticipate not only what has happened in the past, but also what could happen,'' Cherkasky told the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

``If this election is one that doesn't produce a winner who stays in office, then I will have failed you and I will be apologetic,'' Cherkasky, a former prosecutor, told the panel.

After Carey's victory was voided last fall with the discovery that some of his aides laundered union money into his campaign coffers, another official found that Carey had a hand in the scheme as well and barred him from running again.

Carey, who is now on an unpaid leave, has denied any wrongdoing and is appealing the decision.

A date for the rerun election for the top offices of the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters has yet to be set. Cherkasky said he would propose a schedule for the mail-ballot election in the next few days.

Republican lawmakers on the panel, seething over the nearly $20 million the government spent to oversee the union's failed election, have balked at spending taxpayer dollars on the rerun, whose cost Cherkasky put at $7 million to $9 million.

But Cherkasky said the public got its money's worth since the election was part of a process that has helped free much of the union from the grip of organized crime.

``It was absolutely wisely spent in my opinion,'' he said.

A far greater cost to the public would be the expense of prosecuting corrupt union officials who could have seized power without government oversight and of the ``mob tax,'' payoffs that have a widespread impact on prices because the union's reach ``into every nook and cranny of the American economy,'' he said.

Despite what he called Carey's ``terrible tragedy,'' Cherkasky said the 1989 consent decree that settled a federal racketeering suit against the union and kept the union under court oversight has been a ``spectacular success'' as a corruption-fighting measure.

``It is the most significant organized crime measure in the history of the United States, the most successful one too,'' he said. ``It doesn't mean it's been perfect.''

Hoffa, 56, whose father James R. Hoffa ran the union until he went to prison in 1967 and was presumed murdered in 1975, was cleared by Cherkasky on Monday to run in the new election.

Although Cherkasky found several improprieties in Hoffa's campaign, he ruled they were not serious enough to disqualify him from the race.

Having narrowly lost to Carey, Hoffa, a Detroit labor lawyer, is the considered the front-runner against Ken Hall, 41, of Charleston, West Virginia, who played a key role in the popular strike against United Parcel Service last summer.

Subcommittee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, was not as optimistic as Cherkasky about the election.

``Frankly, I am skeptical about the chances for a clean election,'' he said. ``I hope I'm proved wrong.''

On Thursday, the panel will hear testimony from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Richard Trumka, the No. 2 official at the 77-union federation who has been implicated in the Carey money laundering scheme, has invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and has refused to testify.

Two other AFL-CIO aides also were scheduled to appear at the panel Thursday, even though U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White of New York City said in an April 28 letter that their testimony about the money laundering scheme could impair her criminal investigation into the matter.

Hoekstra said he had not yet decided whether to ask the witnesses to testify.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.