WASHINGTON — William J. McCarthy, the newly chosen president of the Teamsters Union, said in a 1984 conversation that he needed permission from a reputed New England Mafia boss before he could take a higher post at the labor organization, according to a secret FBI memorandum.
In the conversation, with then-Teamsters President Jackie Presser, McCarthy was allegedly seeking Presser's support to become general secretary-treasurer of the union, according to the internal FBI memo. Presser told the FBI that McCarthy said he first "must obtain the approval and backing" of the late Raymond L. S. Patriarca, the reputed head of the New England mob.
The memo, dated April 19, 1984, was addressed to Oliver B. Revell, then assistant director in charge of the FBI's criminal investigative division. It said Presser, a confidential informant on organized crime matters for more than 10 years, had told FBI agents that McCarthy mentioned his ties to the Mafia in a private conversation with him two weeks earlier.
In addition, The Times has learned that a month after Presser reported these remarks to the FBI, McCarthy's name was mentioned at a meeting between New York mobster Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno and Cleveland mob figure John (Peanuts) Tronolone. The discussion was monitored by the FBI through electronic surveillance.
McCarthy has declined repeated requests to be interviewed. A spokesman, Duke Zeller, said he would attempt to get a response to the allegations from McCarthy but later replied that he was unable to do so. On Wednesday, Zeller said McCarthy may have a statement in the next day or two.
The disclosures provide the first public indication of any links between organized crime and McCarthy, who is widely regarded by other labor leaders as a "tough" but "decent" unionist who rose through the ranks. A member of the Teamsters' general executive board since 1969, McCarthy dates his career with the union to 1947, when he was elected as the youngest business agent of Local 25 in Boston, which he has served as president since 1955.
McCarthy Succeeds Presser
Presser died earlier this month while under indictment on payroll-padding charges. The union's executive board chose the 69-year-old McCarthy to succeed him as Teamsters president until the next general election in 1991.
An FBI transcript of the electronically monitored meeting held in May, 1984, quotes Tronolone as telling Salerno that McCarthy might be worthy of Salerno's support for the union's secretary-treasurer position, which is regarded as the second most powerful post in the Teamsters.
"You're going to name whoever you want to (as secretary-treasurer)," Tronolone tells Salerno, the reputed boss of the Genovese crime family, alluding to his alleged power over Teamster leaders.
Salerno, according to the transcript, said he considers McCarthy, who is from Boston, to be "the head boss of the East Coast." He adds that McCarthy is "very friendly" with Jimmy Cashin, a former officer of the International Longshoremen's Assn. and a close associate of Salerno. Cashin, who once served 11 months in prison on assault charges, was often used as a courier of Las Vegas skim money to Salerno, according to 1981 Senate testimony.
Transcripts Put in Record
FBI transcripts of the Salerno discussions that mentioned McCarthy were among hundreds of pages of overheard conversations that were placed in the federal court record in Manhattan last year during a yearlong trial in which Salerno and eight others were convicted of racketeering activities in the New York construction industry.
However, Salerno and two associates were acquitted of charges that they had tampered with national Teamster elections. The transcripts attracted little attention outside the courtroom because of their length and the diversity of subjects they covered.
In the meeting with Tronolone in Salerno's Manhattan headquarters--and in a subsequent session in June, 1984, which the FBI also overheard--Salerno listens to brief talk about McCarthy but does not indicate that he has reached any conclusion or will back anyone specific for the post.
FBI Reviews Selection
Several months later, Presser selected Weldon L. Mathis of Atlanta as secretary-treasurer after personally clearing the appointment with James E. Moody, an FBI official to whom Presser sometimes reported in his informant role, according to knowledgeable sources. The sources, who declined to be named, said the FBI encouraged Presser to clear top appointments through the bureau to help ensure that such choices were free from organized crime influence.
It is difficult to assess the accuracy and reliability of the information that Presser provided the FBI during the decade that he served as an informant. However, it is known that FBI officials regarded him as an extremely valuable source, even to the extent of believing that they could clean up the scandal-plagued union through Presser.