Monitoring the Teamsters

Posted: Aug 01, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- It is astonishing enough that President Bush has retained Bill Clinton's federal prosecutor in Manhattan, one of the Justice Department's key appointments. Mary Jo White, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now claims veto power over who monitors the Teamsters union. What's more, she has partially succeeded. White actually should have no role whatever in picking the three-member Internal Review Board (IRB) created to look out for the scandal and corruption that has long plagued the giant union. Nevertheless, she killed Justice Department plans to name Joseph diGenova, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, as its IRB member. Teamsters President James P. Hoffa then stymied White by selecting diGenova, his first choice as the union's board member even before he was considered as the government's representative. White immediately launched an underground campaign to try to block diGenova again. DiGenova, a conservative Republican, would introduce something new at the IRB. He might recommend that it is time to end the monitoring that has cost the union more than $75 million. White did her best to obstruct the 1998 congressional investigation of the Teamsters conducted by diGenova and his law partner-wife, Victoria Toensing. Nor is diGenova an admirer of Mary Jo White's glacial pursuit of the pre-Hoffa conspiracy between the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO and the Democratic National Committee as the statute of limitations is about to block further prosecution. So, why has Clinton's prosecutor "indefinitely" been kept in office, with apparently an extra-legal veto? "They're scared to death of Mary Jo White at Justice," explains one well-placed Republican lawyer. Attorney General John Ashcroft's confidence does not seem to have recovered from his brutal Senate confirmation process. Ashcroft still has not named a new government representative on the IRB, and sources report retired federal judge Frederick Lacey would like to keep the post. No wonder. In addition to his monitor's annual compensation of $100,000 plus $35,000 in fringe benefits, Lacey's law firm has received $750,000 in fees from the union. The low point of the IRB's inglorious eight years may have come in Lacey's private April 13, 1994, letter to Thomas Puccio. As a court-appointed trustee investigating union corruption at New York's JFK Airport, Puccio was getting close to then Teamster President Ron Carey. Lacey cautioned Puccio "to have in mind what would happen if you brought Carey down" -- the return of "old guard Teamsters," apparently meaning Hoffa. Puccio backed down. After being fully exonerated by a 1994 Lacey report, Carey engaged in the 1996 illegal money swap with the Democratic Party that enabled his re-election that year against Hoffa. Exposure of the plot removed Carey as Teamsters president and, after Bush was declared the winner of the 2000 election, White belatedly indicted him. The scandal that did Carey in was uncovered not by the official watchdog IRB but by Teamsters allied with Hoffa. The third IRB member, selected by the government and union appointees, is one of the Washington establishment's most respected members: William Webster, former federal judge, former FBI director and former CIA director. Yet, Webster was honored May 11 at a New York Marriott Marquis Hotel dinner hosted by one of the most unsavory of old Teamsters, George Barasch. Webster addressed the Union Mutual Benefit Association (UMBA), which is charged in a Garment Workers Union (UNITE) lawsuit as draining millions from Barasch's Allied Trade Council (ATC) for his personal use. The IRB in November 1999 charged that Barasch and his family were siphoning money from benefit plans of the ATC and the Barasch-controlled Teamsters Local 815. A lawyer in the UNITE lawsuit was recently told by Barasch's son, Stephen: "Judge Webster seems to think we're OK." The corrupting influence on its members may be another reason for dissolving the IRB. Before President Clinton left office, the Justice Department ended similar oversight of the pro-Clinton Laborers union and Hotel and Restaurant Employees union. With no Teamster official accused of ties with organized crime for five years, Hoffa's union might also seem ready to be relieved of its federal burden by a Republican administration. But that may not be consistent with retaining Mary Jo White.