CLEVELAND — Indicted Teamsters Union President Jackie Presser is free of cancer, his defense lawyer told a federal judge Friday, apparently clearing the way for his trial on fraud and racketeering charges by the end of the year.
The attorney, John R. Climaco, said the daily radiation treatments Presser is undergoing at the Cleveland Clinic have weakened the union leader but are due to conclude in about 10 days.
Presser's recent loss of hair, presumably caused by the cancer treatments, have fueled speculation inside the nation's largest union and in government circles that his trial may have to be postponed indefinitely because of his health. But Climaco's statements during a pretrial hearing before U. S. District Judge George W. White appeared to indicate otherwise.
White is expected to set a trial date at the conclusion of the next hearing in the case, set for Sept. 29.
Climaco said the 61-year-old Presser is recovering steadily from the treatments, which began after the removal of two benign tumors from his lung last January.
Climaco criticized a Times story published in July that quoted unnamed government sources as saying the union leader on at least one occasion had been treated at the Cleveland Clinic under an assumed name and that "his prognosis is bleak."
"He has never used an assumed name, and his prognosis is not bleak," Climaco told the court.
Climaco said the government had leaked grim assessments about Presser's health as part of "a calculated effort from the inception of this case . . . to destroy my client." Climaco did not elaborate, but he has frequently accused the government of attempting to do whatever it can to weaken Presser's hold on the Teamsters.
Prosecutor Denies Leaks
Chief U.S. prosecutor Stephen H. Jigger reminded White that "we have categorically denied" being the source of any leaks.
Jigger also said Climaco should be censured by the court for recent statements in which he publicly scorned Allen Friedman, an uncle of Presser who may be a prosecution witness.
Presser is accused of siphoning $700,000 from his hometown local by putting "ghost" employees on the payroll who did no work.
Climaco told reporters here last week that Friedman, who was convicted of embezzlement in 1983 on grounds he was one of the ghost employees, had given conflicting testimony in the past--a charge denied by Friedman's attorney.
Uncle Sues Presser
Friedman, who has been in failing health, filed a $12-million damage suit against Presser on Tuesday, accusing his nephew of having involved him in the payroll scheme even though Friedman had sought to perform regular duties for the Cleveland union, Local 507.
White told the attorneys there have been too many leaks or out-of-court statements by both the prosecution and the defense. "I'm warning both sides," White said, adding that he will jail lawyers for contempt of court if the practice continues.
Sensitive information about the case has been submitted under seal and discussed in closed court sessions.
"The purpose of this rule (of silence) is a fair trial," he said.
Robert L. Jackson reported from Cleveland and Ronald J. Ostrow from Washington.