By Steven Greenhouse
August 14, 1999
Ten years after Federal officials gained
a strict supervisory role over the International Brotherhood of
Teamsters in an effort to rid it of mob control, the union's new
leadership is pushing hard to get the Government out.
The teamster president, James P. Hoffa, who
took office in March, has made ending Federal supervision his
chief goal, insisting that the giant union can run its own affairs
now that the Mafia's hold on it has been broken.
Hoffa says that the supervision, unprecedented
in its scope and duration, is too meddlesome and expensive. For
all the millions that the mob has bled from the union,
many teamsters complain about the $82 million the union has had
to pay for the decadelong Federal effort. "The teamsters'
union is as free of corruption as any great institution,"
And with Hoffa saying the teamsters will
no longer reflexively endorse Democrats, as it did under his predecessor,
Ron Carey, some union officials say he may ask Presidential candidates
to support an end to supervision as the price of endorsement by
the 1.4-million-member union. Government officials acknowledge that the
teamsters has been substantially cleaned up but are uneasy about
withdrawing, saying pockets of corruption remain in the powerful
union, which was long infamous for shakedowns, intimidation, payoffs
and looted pension funds.
These officials say it would be unwise to
cut short the supervision -- the most ambitious Government effort
to clean up a single union -- which they say has largely succeeded
by obtaining the expulsions or resignations of more than 250 teamster
officials accused of corruption. "The cleanup has done a
tremendous amount of good, but it would be a mistake to say the
union is corruption-free, mob-free," said Mary Jo White,
the United States Attorney in Manhattan and the Federal official
in charge of the supervision. "You don't want to say prematurely,
'It's fixed.' You don't want to backtrack."
The teamsters were forced to accept Federal
oversight in 1989, to settle a racketeering lawsuit. The agreement
set no time limit on the supervision and established the first
rank-and-file elections for the teamsters presidency to give members
the power to vote out corrupt leaders. While teamster officials kept the powers
to negotiate contracts and handle most union matters, major anti-corruption
work was given to Federally appointed monitors.
The oversight has included a Government-appointed
investigations officer, with a staff of a dozen investigators;
a three-person review board to adjudicate corruption cases, and
a Government-appointed elections monitor. The agreement has an understanding that the
Federal Government would end its supervision when it was satisfied
that the union was clean and would aggressively move against any
hints of corruption. Hoffa has vowed to keep organized crime out
of the union, long considered the nation's most mob-dominated,
saying the Mafia was responsible for the disappearance of his
father, the teamster leader James R. Hoffa, in 1975. The elder
Hoffa, who led the union from 1957 to 1971 and went to prison
for jury tampering, disappeared after promising to end mob control
as he campaigned to regain the union's presidency. But many critics
of the younger Hoffa assert that he has ties to a corrupt old
guard, and they question his motives for wanting to end Federal
Interviews with prosecutors and teamster
leaders indicate that Federal supervision has accomplished something
that 40 previous years of investigations and prosecutions
had failed to accomplish -- it has rid the teamsters of mob control.
For years, the Mafia handpicked the union's
president and the heads of many locals, and strong-armed the union
into lending mobsters hundreds of millions of dollars from its
pension funds. Federal prosecutors said the Mafia even controlled
the elder Hoffa for several years. "The union has come an
enormous way since the 1980's," said Michael Cherkasky, the
Federal elections monitor. "The union is not controlled by
the mob anymore. At local after local where there was pervasive
corruption and complete control by organized crime, you see a
sea of change."
But law-enforcement officials say the cleanup
is far from over. Some mob influence remains, and in
a union with 600 locals, including truck drivers, warehouse workers,
security guards and flight attendants, an unsettling number of
officials continue to steal union money or commit other crimes,
though on a far smaller scale than in decades past. Federal officials point to stubborn problems
like Local 714 in Chicago, which represents movie-truck drivers
and trade show workers. A Federal oversight board ordered it into
trusteeship in 1996 after finding the local's leaders guilty of
nepotism and doing business with movie-truck companies owned by
The local's principal officer, William T.
Hogan Jr., Chicago's most powerful teamster, was disgraced into
leaving the union and dropping his campaign for secretary-treasurer
on the Hoffa slate. But many members complain that a corrupt
old guard is back because last year Hogan's son, Robert, won the
local's top post, and he appointed his father as Local 714's organizing
director and his uncle as executive director.
At the same time, there have been shining
examples of cleansed locals. For decades, Local 560 in New Jersey
was a piggy bank for the mob and was considered the nation's single-most-corrupt
union local. It was run by Anthony Provenzano, a captain in the
Genovese family, who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering
a popular union rival and who, prosecutors say, had another teamster
murdered for rubbing him the wrong way at a meeting. But after a trusteeship purged the local
of more than a dozen mob associates, members attending the local's
recent monthly meeting did not hesitate to criticize or joke with
Local 560's popular new president, Pete Brown, whom Federal monitors
have vetted as clean.
The Federal oversight has been unprecedented
in its size and invasiveness. Under agreements with the Government, other
unions have had anti-corruption monitors, including the Laborers
International Union of North America, which many labor-relations
experts consider the most corrupt in the country today. But those
unions, in effect, were allowed to handle their cleanups.
The $82 million the teamsters have had to
pay for oversight has included $17 million for the three-person
review board, the investigation officer and their staff, and $38
million for Federal monitors to conduct three nationwide teamster
With the end of mob control, law-enforcement
officials say, the teamsters has again become a union dedicated
to winning its members better wages and working conditions. The national economy has also benefited because
mob extortion amounted to a criminal tax of several percent
on the billions of dollars in freight that teamster truck drivers
hauled around the country. Already, in New York
City, the authorities estimate that ending mob domination of the
union has saved the construction industry millions of dollars.
Control of the teamsters was so central to
the prosperity of many crime families, that breaking their
hold has hurt them badly, the authorities say. To demonstrate that the union can clean its
own house, Mr. Hoffa recently appointed a respected former
Federal prosecutor from New Jersey, Edwin H. Stier -- the man
who cleaned up Local 560 -- to head an in-house, anti-corruption
effort. Hoffa has also begun talks with the Clinton
Administration and several members of Congress with the aim of
persuading the Government to end its supervision. "We have
been under Government supervision for 10 years," Hoffa said.
"It's time for a fresh review of this."
White, the Federal prosecutor, and other
Government officials declined to say outright whether supervision
should be ended, saying they were still weighing the matter. But
several former Federal prosecutors were more emphatic about the
need to continue supervision. "After five decades of organized
corruption in a union, corruption does not go away in one year
or 10," said Randy Mastro, who as an assistant United States
Attorney in Manhattan oversaw the racketeering lawsuit that forced
the teamsters to accept supervision after 40 years of failed efforts
by the Government to end the Mafia's choke hold.
The lawsuit, brought under the Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, sought to place
the union under Federal supervision as part of a comprehensive
strategy to kick corrupt officials out and keep them
out. It named 26 Mafia leaders and all 18 of the union's board
members as defendants, accusing the board of failing
to fight corruption and the mob bosses of controlling four teamster
presidents, including Jimmy Hoffa. Fearing years of litigation and millions
in legal fees, teamster leaders agreed to the most far-reaching
Federal supervision of any national union.
In the decade since, the investigations officer,
Charles M. Carberry, a former Federal prosecutor, has
charged two dozen teamsters with being members of organized crime,
including the heads of two large Chicago locals and the president
of New York City's teamster council. He has also charged 60 teamsters
with associating with mobsters and 150 more with financial wrongdoing.
Carberry said mob control is gone but that
mob influence remains in some locals along with plenty
of garden-variety graft. "You won't see a capo of the
Gambino family as secretary-treasurer of a local anymore,"
he said. "But one may anticipate they will try to maintain
whatever influence they still can, although more subtly than in
the past." Both sides in the debate over ending supervision
can find ample evidence within the sprawling union to support
Those who want supervision ended can point
to successful cleanups like that at Local 282 on Long Island,
which Carlo Gambino, once New York's boss of crime bosses, had
turned into family property. The local's 3,000 members deliver
concrete to New York's construction industry, and the Gambino
family recognized that if it controlled Local 282 and its deliveries,
it could easily extort money from builders by threatening delays.
In 1982, Federal prosecutors gained an extortion
conviction of the local's president, John Cody, who was so feared
by builders that they provided him with chauffeurs and helped
build his beach house. His successor, Bobby Sasso, also had the
Gambinos' blessing, but he was pressured into resigning in 1992
after the review board charged him with extortion.
When yet another mob associate became president,
the Federal cleanup went into high gear. Local 282 was
put into trusteeship, Mr. Carberry brought charges that resulted
in the removal of 22 local officials, and one of the local's trustees, Milton Mollen, stripped 50 local
officials of their posts because of mob ties, theft or other wrongdoing.
Today, all Local 282 officials must pass an F.B.I. screening.
Years ago local members were too intimidated
to talk at union meetings, but nowadays Gary Labarbera, the
trustee who runs the local's day-to-day affairs, welcomes rank-and-file
input as a way to strengthen the union.
But those who favor continued supervision
point to locals still troubled by mob ties. In 1991, Carberry
brought charges against four officers of Local 377 in Youngstown,
Ohio: two for extortion and two for engaging in a gun
battle. But as recently as February, Carberry accused one
of the local's shop stewards with finding a construction job for
a mob enforcer newly released from prison, while the oversight
board expelled one of the local's leaders for running a gambling
operation for Pittsburgh's mob boss.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times