April 30, 2004

Citing Pullback, Antigraft Team Quits Teamsters


The former federal prosecutor who heads the Teamsters' internal anticorruption program resigned yesterday, along with 20 other investigators and lawyers involved in that effort, saying the union's president was not fully committed to fighting corruption.

The former prosecutor, Edwin H. Stier, sent a sharply worded letter that accused James P. Hoffa, the Teamsters president, of blocking a broad investigation into possible union corruption in Chicago and of dragging his feet in a case of alleged embezzlement by a Teamsters leader in Houston.

"In spite of our efforts to convince General President Jim Hoffa to remain committed to fighting corruption," Mr. Stier wrote, "I have concluded that he has backed away from the Teamsters' anticorruption plan in the face of pressure from self-interested individuals."

The anticorruption program was created five years ago by Mr. Hoffa in an effort to persuade the federal government to abandon its longtime oversight of the union. The Teamsters had agreed to far-reaching federal supervision in 1989 to settle a federal racketeering lawsuit charging the union with being controlled by organized crime. The resignations could jeopardize the union's push to end federal oversight.

In addition to the investigators and lawyers, a 10-member advisory panel also resigned. That panel included many former top federal officials and investigators who had spent years fighting organized crime. But several officials of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said the panel had completed its work months ago.

Mr. Hoffa insisted yesterday that he remained committed to eliminating the union's ties to organized crime, noting that he had put more than 30 corrupt locals into trusteeship.

"The Teamsters union regrets Stier's decision to resign, but rejects the reckless and false allegations he makes about our union's commitment to fighting the influence of organized crime," Mr. Hoffa said in a statement. "As Stier acknowledges himself, no labor union in the history of the United States has conducted as extensive an internal program to free itself of any remaining influence of organized crime as the I.B.T. has under this administration."

Patrick J. Szymanski, the union's general counsel, said Mr. Hoffa had not tried to block Mr. Stier or his investigators. Instead, Mr. Szymanski said, Mr. Stier was displeased by the union's assertions that he had exceeded his jurisdiction and that his investigations were costing the union too much. The union has spent $15 million on Mr. Stier's anticorruption program.

"We think Ed is resigning because we're not letting him do whatever he wants to do," Mr. Szymanski said.

The anticorruption program was created in 1999, and the union has recently negotiated with the Justice Department over its request to end federal supervision. Labor experts said yesterday's mass resignations were likely to delay any federal decision to end the supervision of the union, which has 1.4 million members, including truck drivers, warehouse workers and police officers.

"This is undoubtedly a blow to Hoffa's efforts to get the Justice Department to dissolve the federal supervision, which Hoffa has said is one of his major goals," said Carl Biers, executive director of the Association for Union Democracy, a labor watchdog group.

To buttress his assertion that the union was not stifling investigations, Mr. Szymanski noted that the Teamsters had forwarded Mr. Stier's investigative reports to the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Independent Review Board, a federally appointed panel that helps monitor the union.

"If someone was trying to prevent an investigation, why would we send everything to the government?" Mr. Szymanski asked.

But Mr. Stier accused Mr. Hoffa of delays in moving against Chuck Crawley, the former president of a Houston Teamsters local, who has been accused by the review board of receiving more than $20,000 in kickbacks. Mr. Crawley, who denies any wrongdoing and has not been formally charged, is accused of telling a vendor to inflate the price of a phone system for a new union building and then to kick back the money to him.

Mr. Stier also asserted that Mr. Hoffa and several people around him were trying to shut down a wide-ranging investigation into charges that various Teamster members and officials in Chicago were associates of organized crime, and that some Teamster officials had participated in a deal in which a mob-run company was allowed to use nonunion workers to replace union workers in construction and convention jobs.

"These people didn't want to be investigated, and it eventually got to a point where the situation got to be intolerable," Mr. Stier said. "Hoffa's office was responding to these guys in Chicago, and interfering with our ability to investigate."

Mr. Szymanski said Mr. Stier's efforts were often redundant with the Independent Review Board. He also asserted that parts of the Chicago investigation lacked credibility.

The way Mr. Stier sees it, Mr. Hoffa backed off his commitment to fight corruption when the heat was turned on some people close to him. The way top union officials see it, Mr. Stier is a prickly and proud investigator who grew angry and resigned when union officials sought to place some limits on his investigation.

Also resigning yesterday was James Kossler, who was Mr. Stier's chief investigator and once headed the F.B.I.'s organized crime investigations in New York City.

"I'm resigning because I don't want to be part of a system or situation that they could use to prove to the government and the world that they're policing themselves when they're starting to delay things," Mr. Kossler said. "And now, because of this most recent situation where they've stopped the investigation we were pursuing in Chicago, I just don't want to be a party to it."

Both Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Stier agreed that the anticorruption program — known as Respect, Integrity, Strength and Ethics, or RISE — had helped make the union much cleaner and had helped instill a greater concern about integrity among Teamsters.

Corruption was so endemic in the Teamsters that the United States attorney in Manhattan filed a civil racketeering suit in 1988, accusing the union of having made a "devil's pact" with the mob. The consent decree agreed to by the union involved creating a team of investigators and a judicial panel, the Independent Review Board, to monitor the union closely and to expel members and officials involved with organized crime.

David N. Kelley, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement Thursday that he was reviewing developments at the union. "We continue to urge the Teamsters to work vigilantly to achieve the consent decree's goals of eliminating organized crime and corruption from the union," Mr. Kelley said.

One official who resigned yesterday from the anticorruption advisory panel was G. Robert Blakey, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and a prosecutor who worked in President John F. Kennedy's Justice Department, under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, when it was pursuing James R. Hoffa, Mr. Hoffa's father.

The elder Hoffa was convicted of jury tampering following a federal prosecution and disappeared after he was released from prison and as he was seeking to regain the union's presidency.

"The younger Hoffa is conflicted because he knows that organized crime killed his father," Mr. Blakey said. "But like his father, he knows that to be president of the Teamsters it is necessary to deal with locals that are connected to organized crime. I think he caved in to some people in Chicago."

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