WASHINGTON — Teamsters Union President Jackie Presser was indicted on labor-racketeering charges Friday, three days before seeking election to a five-year term as head of the nation's largest labor union.
A federal grand jury in Cleveland accused Presser and two other union officials of embezzling money from a union local there. It was the latest development in a topsy-turvy legal saga that began to unfold in 1982 when Labor Department strike force attorneys launched an investigation of a so-called "ghost-employee" payroll scheme at Local 507 in Cleveland.
In a related case, the Justice Department announced that an FBI agent was indicted Friday for making false statements that led to the collapse of the government's probe of Presser a year ago.
Chief spokesman Terry Eastland said the Justice Department was continuing an internal probe of any involvement by FBI agents in the Presser case.
From Las Vegas, where Presser, 59, was preparing for the convening Monday of the 23rd convention of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, he said:
"I welcome our day in court as an opportunity to put an end to what has been a five-year pattern of insinuations and leaks of false information."
"For five years," the statement said, "the federal government has attempted to build a case against me, but has succeeded in building nothing more substantial than a house of cards."
Presser is the fourth of the last five presidents of the Teamsters Union to be indicted, the most recent being Roy Lee Williams, now serving a prison term on a bribery conspiracy conviction.
Among other things, the indictment seeks to force Presser to forfeit all eight of his union positions at the national, state and local level. Besides serving as president of the Teamsters, Presser has continued to serve as secretary-treasurer of the Cleveland local.
Presser was charged with two counts of labor racketeering, one count of embezzlement and two counts of filing false reports with the government.
The Cleveland indictment charged that Presser, 59, paid money to "ghost" employees of Teamster Local 507 in Cleveland--people who actually performed no work for the union.
Presser was to stand for the first time for election by Teamster delegates as head of the union; in April, 1983, the Teamsters' 21-member General Executive Board elected Presser to serve the rest of Williams' term on an interim basis.
The indictment returned by the grand jury in Cleveland said that in his role as secretary-treasurer of Cleveland Teamster Local 507, Presser made the payments to his uncle, Allen Friedman; to John Nardi Jr., the son of a slain Cleveland mob leader, and to a third ghost worker, George Argie.
According to the indictment, the defendants embezzled more than $700,000 during a 10-year period starting in 1972. The ghost employees received more than $700,000, which had been disbursed in checks co-signed by Presser, the government alleges.
The grand jury also indicted two Presser associates in the alleged payroll-padding scheme. They are Harold Friedman, president of Local 507 and a member of the union's General Executive Board, and Anthony Hughes, recording secretary of the local. According to the indictment, Hughes and Harold Friedman paid $130,000 of the embezzled money to themselves.
Presser, Harold Friedman and Hughes also were charged with racketeering. Harold Friedman and Allen Friedman are not related.
The indictment alleged that from as early as Jan. 1, 1972, until at least Dec. 31, 1981, the three violated the federal anti-racketeering statute--the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations law--by embezzling money from the local's rank and file in the alleged "ghost-worker" scheme.
Embezzlement of union funds carries a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. The racketeering counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, a $25,000 fine and forfeiture of ill-gotten gains.
The indicted FBI agent, Robert Friedrick, a 13-year bureau veteran, was accused of falsely telling superiors at the Justice Department that several FBI agents had authorized Presser to make the payments.
Friedrick was accused of covering up the fact he had met in June, 1985, with Presser, Presser's attorney, John R. Climaco, and Hughes to find a way to forestall an indictment of Presser.
The agent was accused of falsely telling his superior at the bureau and the parent Justice Department that he had authorized Presser to make the illegal "ghost worker" payments.
Friedrick's statements killed the Presser investigation last July because, with FBI agents authorizing Presser's illegal conduct, it would be difficult in any prosecution to prove criminal intent.
Friedrick, who supervises the Cleveland FBI organized crime strike force, was indicted by a Washington grand jury investigating agents' involvement in the matter.