NEW YORK — Secret FBI tape recordings show that Mafia leaders regarded the Teamsters Union as an entity they strongly influenced and regularly discussed their contacts at top levels of the nation's largest trade union, according to newly disclosed court evidence.
The tapes, introduced in a federal trial here, also portray an angry Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, reputed head of the Genovese crime family, expressing exasperation at the news three years ago that Teamsters President Jackie Presser was an FBI informant.
"These . . . Chicago guys are going to knock my brains in," Salerno declares on one tape, noting that he had successfully opposed the Chicago Mafia's plans to kill Presser after a similar report appeared in 1981.
Dozens of hours of the recordings, made by microphones hidden in the ceiling of Salerno's Manhattan headquarters, are being played for jurors in the trial of Salerno and 10 reputed Mafia associates.
Much of the evidence introduced at the trial is expected to be included in a massive civil suit being prepared by Justice Department lawyers that will seek to place the giant union in a court-supervised trusteeship on the grounds the Teamsters are controlled by organized crime.
Salerno and the co-defendants are charged with business and labor corruption, including allegations that Salerno controlled Presser's 1983 election as Teamsters president.
Many of the tapes played so far, covering 1984, Presser's first full year in office, include discussions about the union and its boss.
In a March 6, 1984, recording, Salerno asks an associate, Carmine De Angelo, about Presser's health and De Angelo responds that he is well. De Angelo, head of a Teamsters-related New York union, tells Salerno he telephoned Presser about an accusation that the Teamsters were trying to "raid" members of the Typographical Union, but that Presser refuted the charge.
"Jackie's not like that," Salerno agrees.
Discussion of Meeting
Later in March, 1984, De Angelo tells Salerno, "Jackie Presser maybe next week," apparently meaning that Presser may be available for a meeting, according to another tape.
"Is he still sick?" asks Salerno.
"No, he's good," De Angelo replies. "Have him fly in."
No evidence has yet been introduced that such a meeting took place. Presser has strongly denied that organized criminal elements control his 1.7-million-member union.
Later, on a June 6, 1984, tape, Salerno expresses exasperation at a disclosure in The Times, attributed to unnamed federal officials, that Presser has been an FBI informant since the 1970s on organized crime operations.
"Did you read in the papers that Jackie Presser is a stool pigeon for the government?" Salerno asks an associate. "I think these . . . Chicago guys are going to knock my brains in."
Salerno explains on the tape that in 1981, when a similar report without any attribution was published in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, he contacted his New York attorney, the late Roy M. Cohn, and Cohn got the newspaper to publish a front-page retraction of the story.
'Stool Pigeon Again'
"So I sent the . . . paper to Chicago," Salerno continues on the tape. "Now it comes out that he's a stool pigeon again. . . . I can't understand it. Why would he want to squeal on the Teamsters guys?"
This tape corroborates previous testimony by Angelo A. Lonardo, a former Cleveland mobster who turned government informant, about a visit he made to Salerno in 1981 in which he said Salerno promised that he would get the Cleveland newspaper report about Presser retracted.
"Now, when I heard this, this morning--here I am sticking up for the . . . guy," Salerno went on, according to the tape. "I just got through sending a couple of guys over there (for consu1819566446what he's doing, right?"
Salerno then added: "Chicago wanted to kill (unintelligible)."
Both the Justice Department and Presser's defense attorneys have acknowledged in court in recent months that Presser was an FBI informant for 10 years. In fact, Presser is expected to defend himself against federal criminal charges pending against him in Cleveland by arguing that his allegedly illegal acts were authorized by the FBI to help him maintain credibility with the Mafia.
Trial Set Aug. 10
Presser and two associates are scheduled to be tried Aug. 10 on charges that they siphoned off $700,000 in union funds to pay mob-linked "ghost employees" who performed no work for the Teamsters.
A tape that was recorded in May, 1984, indicates that mob figures believed they could choose who would fill the No. 2 job in the Teamsters.
On the May 9 tape, a reputed Miami mobster and co-defendant named John (Peanuts) Tronolone tells Salerno that Ray Schoessling of Chicago, then international secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters, is about to retire.
"This is the message for you," Tronolone tells Salerno. "You're going to name whoever you want to for Schoessling's job. Who do you want to name?"
Tronolone said the message was from Milton (Maishe) Rockman, a convicted mob financier from Cleveland and long-time Presser associate. This matter, however, is left unresolved on the tape.
Backs Atlanta Teamster
Ultimately, Presser backed Weldon Mathis, a Teamster vice president from Atlanta who had helped him politically and whom law enforcement officials say has no known mob ties.
An April 11, 1984, tape features Salerno and associates talking about a Teamsters international vice president, Joseph Trerotola of New York.
Referring to him by his nickname, "Joe T," they express concern over some unspecified information Trerotola has which he also imparted to "the guys from Chicago," according to the tape.
Salerno says: "Well, if you call him (Trerotola) again, ask him . . . who the (expletive) it is so we can try to stop it."
Robert L. Jackson reported from New York and Ronald J. Ostrow from Washington.