The U.S. Labor Department and a federal grand jury are investigating allegations by two former employees of Teamsters Union Local 848 in El Monte that thousands of dollars in union dues are missing, The Times has learned.
Department investigators have subpoenaed financial records of Local 848 for the past three years, according to Terrell Dixon, Deputy Area Administrator for the Labor Department's Office of Labor Management Service Standards.
"We have been investigating Local 848 since December," Dixon said. But he declined to provide any further details of the investigation, citing the involvement of the grand jury. D.J. Jackson, another Labor Department official, said the department's portion of the investigation could last as long as six months.
The investigation began after two former business agents of the local--David Taliani of Riverside and Rod Henderson of Menifee Valley--complained to union officials that $170,000 in union dues was unaccounted for.
Additionally, Richard Douglas, a member of Local 848's executive board, said in an interview that he had written a letter to Teamsters President Jackie Presser in Washington about "irregularities with our books" and other problems at the local, but said that he had received no answer. A spokesman for Presser declined comment.
Jim Santangelo, chief executive of Local 848, acknowledged that there is a Labor Department investigation and that he will comply with the subpoena of financial records. But he denounced as "nonsense" allegations that money has not been properly accounted for.
"There is absolutely no missing money," Santangelo said.
John Vandevelde, a lawyer representing Local 848, said the three years of records the Labor Department has subpoenaed came to "hundreds of thousands of pages."
Local 848 has 3,400 members, including truck drivers, warehouse employees and industrial workers.
The Labor Department's Dixon would not say what prompted the agency to begin its investigation of Local 848's finances.
However, it followed by two months the firing of Taliani and Henderson by Santangelo. Taliani and Henderson had been business agents for the local since May, 1984.
Previously, Taliani and Henderson were the leaders of the National Industrial Union, a small independent union with slightly more than 800 members, formed in 1980 by several locals that had seceded from the Aluminum Workers. However, they arranged a merger with Teamsters Local 848 in what they said was an effort to increase their power at the bargaining table.
A few months after the merger was consummated, Henderson said, he became curious about the union's finances because Santangelo told him he could not pay him as much money as he had promised because Local 848 was short of funds.
Henderson said his curiosity increased when he and Taliani began to get complaints from workers that they had brought into the Teamsters. The members complained that they did not receive notices of Teamsters meetings, were not sent Teamsters newspapers, and did not receive receipts for dues paid to Local 848.
When Henderson and Taliani checked computer files at Local 848, they could find no membership records for the workers they had brought into Local 848, Henderson said.
"They weren't being carried as Teamsters," added Taliani.
Along with the absence of membership records was a lack of accounting for the dues subtracted from the paychecks of these workers. The money, Henderson and Taliani asserted, seemed to have vanished.
Taliani said he and Henderson had three meetings with Santangelo and other officials of the local over the next several months in an attempt to clear up the matter.
"Every time we asked them about it, they gave us a different set of figures," Taliani said.
"Finally we called the companies involved and asked them to send us records of how much checkoff money (dues deductions) they sent to the Teamsters," Taliani said. He and Henderson said that a comparison of the two sets of figures in September showed a discrepancy of $170,000.
Tom Solberg, the plant manager at Utility Vault Co., a Fontana firm that manufactures pre-stressed concrete products, confirmed that he had sent such records to Taliani last fall before Taliani was fired by the Teamsters.
Santangelo acknowledged that he had three meetings with Taliani and Henderson about the alleged missing money. "Each time they sat down with me, I sat down with our bookkeeper," he said. "On the third time, I had the bookkeeper go through it for hours."
He said that at the end of the meeting Taliani said, " 'I understand. It's fine.' I said, 'Are you guys positive you are satisfied?' They said, 'Yes.' That was in September."
Taliani and Henderson denied making any such statements.
They said they told Santangelo there was still a discrepancy of $170,000. The two men said they filed written charges with the local's executive board against Santangelo, and other Local 848 officials for "violation of fiduciary duty" and "misappropriation of funds." Taliani and Henderson said Santangelo refused to acknowledge the charges and the executive board has taken no action.
Santangelo, who has headed the local since 1979, said he fired Taliani, 41, and Henderson, 39, on Oct. 19 because they had created dissension in the local and failed to do any organizing. He also said Taliani owed the union money for some insurance payments on a car the union provided him.
Taliani denied that he owed the union any money. He and Henderson said they were fired because they had raised questions about the dues money and other alleged financial irregularities in the local. The two men said they organized workers at two plants.