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Teamsters Lead Organized Crime Commission's List : Mafia Controls Four Unions, Panel Says

April 23, 1985|ROBERT L. JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — A presidential commission that is studying the influence of organized crime in America charged Monday that the Mafia controls the Teamsters Union and three other national unions representing construction site laborers, hotel and restaurant employees and Atlantic and Gulf Coast dock workers.

The charges of mob control came as the 19-member President's Commission on Organized Crime began three days of hearings into labor corruption and labor racketeering.

Commissioner Thomas F. McBride, in presenting findings by the commission staff, said that "the big four" unions controlled by the Mafia are the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Laborers International Union, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union and The International Longshoremen's Assn.

"I'm not saying that every local of these large unions is controlled or even influenced by organized crime," said McBride, inspector-general of the Labor Department in the Jimmy Carter Administration. "In fact, some local union leaders have shown great courage in defying the racketeers."

Named in Indictments

But McBride said that of 930 indictments handed down against labor unions in the last four years, 45% involved the four large unions he mentioned, as did one-third of all labor-related convictions for racketeering, embezzlement, conspiracy, tax evasion and theft of funds from union benefit plans.

"Members of the big four internationals are some of the poorest, hardest-working, most unprivileged members of our society," he said. "They need active and vigorous union protection. But in too many cases their unions have become part of the machinery of exploitation."

Although the Laborers Union, hotel workers union and ILA previously have been accused of mob dominance by the FBI and by Senate investigators, the charge against the Teamsters Union by the presidential panel represented the most sweeping accusation in years by a federal agency against the 1.9-million-member truckers union. The union has sought in recent years to improve its image while offering political support to President Reagan--the only major labor organization to back him in 1980 and 1984.

Commission officials indicated that details of Teamsters Union corruption will emerge over the next two days. Witnesses may include Teamster President Jackie Presser, who has claimed that such charges are a thing of the past and that "a new day" has dawned for the union and its $3.5-billion Central States pension fund, once used as a private bank by the Mafia but placed under supervision of a federal judge three years ago.

Presser Under Investigation

Presser has been the target of a long-running federal investigation into alleged payroll-padding involving his hometown local, Cleveland Teamsters Union 507.

Presser's attorney, John R. Climaco of Cleveland, told the commission by letter Monday that his client wants to delay his appearance because prosecutors in Cleveland are seeking a grand jury indictment against him.

If Presser appears before the commission, he will have to refuse to answer questions, citing his constitutional protection against self-incrimination, Climaco said. The commission, however, voted unanimously to request Presser's appearance this morning.

Two Undercover Witnesses

After McBride's statement, most of the testimony Monday focused on the Laborers Union, which two undercover witnesses--wearing black hoods to conceal their identities--testified is particularly corrupt in Chicago and New York City.

One witness said that general contractors on New York construction sites routinely pay off officials of the Laborers Union and other construction unions to guarantee "labor peace and a good work force."

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